Zack Fink

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De Blasio Asks Senate Repub for Help

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

The bubbly email from Amanda Clarke reads,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Trappings of Hubris

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lavern’s Law Backstory

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End of Session Holdup

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

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

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

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

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

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

**UPDATE**

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

Suffolk Shift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Cuomo Invasion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Actually Blew Up The budget

Last night during Democratic Assembly conference one of the members was texting either Governor Cuomo or a member of his staff and telling him exactly what Carl Heastie was saying. None of it was good. Cuomo saw what was being said and texted Heastie in the middle of conference to say, “why are you bad-mouthing me?” Heastie ( understandably ) lost his mind. This may not be the only reason the budget blew to pieces, but it certainly took an already incendiary situation and threw gasoline on it.

Sources close to Heastie say he wasn’t actually that mad, he was laughing and told his members to tell Cuomo they are good with what they have. But others say after an already exhausting week, this was the straw.

OK, Now It’s Starting To Get A Little Weird…

Nearly 20 years ago I traveled to El Salvador on a relief mission with the New Jersey Air National Guard. A major hurricane had devastated parts of the Caribbean Basin, and the United States military was delivering aid and helping to rebuild in certain areas using Comalapa Airport in San Salvador as a staging area.

The unit I traveled with was delivering military vehicles for the ground operation. We flew down on a C-141 plane with jeeps stored in the cargo bay. But a funny thing happened on the way to El Salvador. For some reason the military diverted our flight from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey to a military base near Pensacola Florida where we were inexplicably grounded for two days.

We eventually took off, landed safely in San Salvador and off loaded the vehicles but while we were waiting for clearance to do that, I remember asking the Colonel, who was the pilot on our mission, what exactly was going on, and why had our plane been re-routed. I was a young reporter at the time, and was hoping to get back to New Jersey quickly to get the story on the air.

The Colonel half smiled when I asked him what had happened, as he looked at me and said: “Son, Let me tell you something I’ve learned during my years of service with the guard. There is a right way to do things, a wrong way to do things, and then there is the Army way.”

It’s a lesson I never forgot, because it helps explain the inexplicable. And it’s fair to say Albany has Army tendencies.

As lawmakers continue to slog through budget negotiations, one should keep in mind that if this were the private sector, it would be time to walk away. Refresh and live to fight another day. There comes a point when as one insider put it, “people are no longer negotiating in good faith.” That may be close to where we are at.

Until yesterday no one had seen Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a week. One person jokingly described him as holed up in his second floor lair maniacally laughing. But the truth is, none of this is actually funny. The staffs are worn out, and so are the members.

Based on numerous conversations around the Capitol the last few days, here is part of the problem: Some of the rank and file members of the Democratic Assembly wanted to hold up the budget in exchange for a better deal on Raise the Age – an issue that is deeply important to them. They were willing to do that…to a point. Just enough to miss the April 1 deadline, but not enough to go nuclear and actually shut down the government.

The latter would have made a statement. And it would have been painful for everybody, but guess who would have gotten most of the blame? Governor Andrew Cuomo. A shutdown would have given the Assembly real momentum to show just how important the details on Raise the Age are to them. Instead, they signed off on an extender that avoids Armageddon.

Let’s face it, when you are threatening to drive the vehicle over the cliff you gotta be “Thelma and Louise,” otherwise the other side knows your limit.

So, while the Assembly is now telling members to expect to be here until Friday, there are rumors either Cuomo or members of the GOP Senate will pull up stakes and go home.  The governor clearly wants a final budget deal, but he can likely live with the extender. So can the Senate. Once again folks, it’s two against one.

Harlem Shuffle

With Brian Benjamin’s big win Saturday, he is all but assured to be voted in May 23rd as the next Democratic Senator from Harlem’s 30th District. The seat is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that numerically it represents number 32. Meaning if all Democrats joined together when he is seated, they could form a governing majority in the State Senate. Benjamin is well aware of this designation, and explained by phone earlier today that his number one priority will be reuniting mainline Senate Democrats and the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference or IDC.

While Benjamin has vowed to remain in the mainline Senate conference, he apparently flirted with an opportunity to join the IDC. As Will Bredderman reported Saturday, Benjamin met with IDC Leader Jeff Klein and sources say he asked for IDC support in his race. Benjamin denies asking Klein for financial support claiming he met with both the IDC and the mainline Democratic leadership. Either way, Benjamin has a fine line to walk and not just because of the Democratic split in the State Senate.

Born in Harlem, Benjamin moved away as a kid living in both Brooklyn and Queens. After attending Brown University and then Harvard Business School, Benjamin chose to return to Harlem. he eventually joined the influential Community Board 10, rising to Chairman. While Harlem is one of the most reliable bases for Democratic votes in Manhattan, it’s also a very traditional middle class community. So, while the politics there tend to be liberal, the customs and practices are often quite conservative.  For example, elected seats don’t open up very frequently. Politicians, many of whom are pillars in the community, tend to stay put as they age. People like former Congressman Charlie Rangel, former Mayor David Dinkins, former Governor David Paterson, former Assemblyman Keith Wright and current Assemblyman Denny Farrell are institutions who stayed in their seats for years. In some cases they remained active in Harlem politics even after leaving office. It is an old school Democratic tradition that can sometimes deter new leadership.

Benjamin’s closest rival in Saturday’s County Committee vote was Al Taylor, the longtime Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Farrell. Taylor, who is a Reverend and wears a bow tie, was much more the candidate from what might be called “Old Harlem.” A Harlem that has changed dramatically in the last two decades. In fact, it’s been a tricky needle for local leadership to thread. While gentrification has brought new investment to the neighborhood, and boosted property values for many longtime residents, rising rents have also forced people out of their homes. “New Harlem,” while vibrant and exciting, also needs to hold on to some of the more settled families that make it one of the most storied and well known neighborhoods in the entire city. Benjamin would appear to be just the guy who can close that gap between old and new Harlem. Born in Harlem Hospital, he has roots in the community which helps boost his credibility. But as someone who moved there just ten years ago and worked in real estate he is also part of the neighborhood’s evolution.

Ultimately, we can lament the loss of the way things were, but change is kind of the story of New York City. Neighborhoods are organic. They shrink and expand depending on the times. The current law of real estate in Manhattan is that it eventually goes up in value since there is a finite amount of space on the island. And once that change takes place it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle. What voters can do is ensure that their leadership steadily guides the ship so that progress can be made without the flavor of a neighborhood being lost forvever.

Former Assemblyman Keith Wright, certainly part of that old Harlem guard, was savvy enough to recognize an individual like Benjamin represents the future. Wright took an enormous amount of guff for fixing the vote Saturday by making sure his people showed up to vote for his candidate and his opponents did not. Whether those allegations are even true or not is hard for me to say. However, Wright, who recently left public office to work for a lobbying firm, intends to remain as Manhattan County Democratic Chair which he describes as an “insiders game.” meaning opponents would have to elect enough district leaders in the 2017 September Primary to force him out. Congressman Adriano Espaillat, who beat Wright for the Congressional seat last year, is said to be considering his own bid for Manhattan County Chairman. Espaillat backed Taylor in the race for the Democratic line Saturday and lost. But that too was an insider’s game with 400 plus County Committee members making the decision about who the candidate will be, not the voters.

So while Benjamin, who is expected to win easily in May, will likely have his work cut out for him if he is going to try and unite the two Democratic factions in the State Senate, he will also have a lot to focus on in his own district. And that is striking the balance of representing an old school neighborhood that is undergoing a very modern transformation.

 

Israel Diary

I think it’s fair to say that the photos in my Twitter feed the last 48 hours really tell the best story about Governor Cuomo’s whirlwind trip to Israel. In fact, I was going to put them all together in a slide show montage and set them to music. Preferably something really contrived and obvious like Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” or “These are the Days” by 10,000 Maniacs. Much like a parent might do for their son’s high school graduation in the year 2000. But then I thought that was a little elaborate for what would ultimately amount to a joke. Even though deep down I feel like most ( but certainly not all ) of you would have appreciated the stab at humor.

I arrived in Israel on Saturday afternoon. Linked up with Avi, the local editor and shooter we had hired for the Cuomo visit. Little did he know, he was about to work an 18-hour day for us Sunday, editing late into the night on both days. And Truth to be told, he could not have been more of a mensch about it.

Cuomo and his team arrived Sunday morning and proceeded to hold back to back to back events, often at unprecedented speed. The Governor is a VERY fast walker as we learned in 2014 when we sprinted through Jerusalem’s old city. Same deal this time. We saw many of the sights. We just didn’t stay too long. Poor Avi had to run backwards as he shot video of the Cuomo tour at one point he kept complaining that he was bumping into something which turned out to be loaded M16 belonging to a member of one of our heavily armed security detail.

When we were hauled into a conference area to wait for Cuomo’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bibi was running a little bit late. Sunday’s are often a critical day for cabinet meetings in Israel. It’s the first day of the week following the Sabbath and their is much to discuss. As the clock ticked and ten minutes soon turned into twenty our attaché Eitan poked his head into the room and informed all of us politely but quite firmly that we needed to keep our voices down. Apparently we could be heard ( quite loudly ) in the Prime Minister’s office next door. I thought, How fitting that a delegation from New York is a little bit louder than most.

Speaking of New York exporting its unique flavor, at one point we were at a business luncheon waiting for Cuomo’s formal press conference to begin and we overheard a conversation that went, “No, no, no, I smeared the hummus ON my pastrami sandwich!” To which someone replied, “this is is the most Jewish conversation I’ve ever heard.”

Cuomo seems to genuinely appreciate all that Jews have contributed to New York life and culture. Or at least he said so at every stop. And no matter what a cynic would say about his political motivations for making the trip ( and they’d say a lot ), it’s hard to argue with the fact that he quite literally showed that he cares just by showing up. You can try and ask average Israelis we encountered ( many of whom have New York ties ) if they were at all bothered or put off by Cuomo’s visit and overwhelmingly the answer was that they could not have been more appreciative. The Governor was greeted warmly and in some cases even cheered on the streets of Jerusalem.

What was even more amazing was that Cuomo and his team pulled the trip off at the last minute. If Cuomo didn’t decide last Wednesday morning to make the trip, it was not much earlier than the night before. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to set up the logistics. And yet the Israeli president Reuven Rivlin and even the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cleared a portion of their schedules to make time for Andrew Cuomo. He even brought them gifts, delivering authentic pieces of Steel from the World Trade Center, attached to the words “peace is our gift to each other,” which were written by author Elie Wiesel.

The intense pace of the schedule threw all of us for a loop including ESD’s Howard Zemsky who I found morosely wandering the lobby of the King David hotel late Sunday night, head firmly planted in palm. Turns out Zemsky had misplaced his cell phone and when it came time for he and the entire Cuomo entourage to leave the hotel en route to the airport to make a 12:05am flight back New York Howard was still without his device. Well, you’re in luck, Howard. Moments after you left someone turned in a blackberry that looks just like yours. At the behest of Cuomo’s Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa via text message I convinced the front desk to transfer possession of that phone to me which I promptly shoved into my luggage for the trans Atlantic Trip. You, as they say, are welcome.

As I edited and prepared to send my video to NY1 Sunday night, I noticed the hour had quickly become 1am on a day that had begun at 8am. I looked around the hotel lobby and saw that Myself and Jesse McKinley from the New York Times were the last two men standing. The Balloons had dropped. The party was over. The janitor was literally sweeping the floor. Jesse looked at me and said we need to get out of here. I could not agree more.

We grabbed a taxi and hightailed it out of Jerusalem to the more cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv. After a 45-minute cab ride we quickly located the only open restaurant at 2am on a Monday morning which just happened to be situated right on the Mediterranean Sea. I only had about a half hour before heading to the airport and braving the notoriously stringent Israeli security apparatus to catch my 5:20am flight back to the states which was yet another long night’s journey into day. And while the small reprieve of downtime was short, it was just enough to appreciate that all was well, even with a heavy dose of sleep deprivation. Cue the Green Day.