Zack Fink

This user hasn't shared any biographical information

Posts by Zack Fink

I Ain’t Gonna Play SolarCity

SolarCity is an enormous project. It’s the anchor of Governor Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” announced during the 2012 State of the State address where Cuomo said,

We are ready to invest one billion in an economic development package for the City of Buffalo!

Turns out, $750 million worth of State money is going to SolarCity to build solar panels, which will presumably be in high demand as the nation transfers away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources. How quickly that transition will be however, is anybody’s guess. But a simple rule in business is that you don’t build supply when there isn’t sufficient demand. I can make all the widgets I want, but if no one wants to buy them I’m gonna end up broke and throwing those widgets at the people who stop to laugh at me in my dumpster.

Under the arrangement for the SolarCity economic development plan at RiverBend, the State will own the building, and own the specialized manufacturing equipment that will supposedly be able to churn out 10,000 solar panels per day. As one Republican insider puts it, the concept of solar panels may poll well among Democrats, but that’s an extraordinary risk to put on taxpayers should this business fail to meet expectations. Democrats tend to believe in public investment to spur economic growth. Sometimes that can work. But bigger isn’t necessarily better. Especially if a burgeoning market is only just developing. Maybe one day there will be demand for thousands of solar panels every day, but some might argue the lobbies for more traditional fuel sources aren’t going allow that transition to happen overnight. Going forward energy will likely be drawn from multiple sources. Think of our energy as a big pool, which connects to the grid. One needs multiple sources of energy constantly feeding into that pool, at least for the foreseeable. Solar may very well be the long term answer to our energy needs. But it’s unclear if it will be the answer in 2016 when the plant will be up in running ( 2016 is in three months, btw ).

The man with the plan to build SolarCity is Lou Ciminelli, a big donor to Governor Cuomo. How big, you ask? It appears as though Lou and his wife AnnLouise have given the Cuomo Campaign roughly $96,500 over the years. And now this relationship appears to be the subject of a federal inquiry. But that doesn’t include money given through a Limited Liability Company or LLC, known as Highland Park Village. Stay with me now, because this gets complicated. Jon Reznick of Competitive Advantage Research gets credit for finding this connection.

The City of Buffalo issued this press release in May 2012, referring to Strickler Development Group, an LLC owned by Ciminelli. But as it turns out, Strickler had already filed to change it’s name to Highland Park Village. And Highland Park Village contributed yet another $25,000 donation to Cuomo/Hochul in May 2014.

So, here is the timeline…Ciminelli and his wife contribute more than $25,000 to Cuomo in January 2014. It’s over the limit and some of the money has to go back as a refund. Ciminelli gets selected as the developer for SolarCity shortly thereafter, and then in May Highland Park Village gives another $25,000, which in Reznick’s words makes both contributions nice “bookends for both before and after the SolarCity contract was awarded.”

So, if you are keeping track at home, Ciminelli and his wife have contributed $123,850 to Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaigns. And that doesn’t count the other half of the Ciminelli family, including Paul, which would bring the total closer to $128,000.

Investing a billion dollars in Buffalo may be just the prescription the doctor ordered. Nobody disputes that the economy in Buffalo needs a shot in the arm, and already there are signs that construction needs are pushing down the unemployment rate. But when subpoenas start to fly over the manner in which public contracts were awarded, it starts to give off a stink. And that stink could persuade additional private investors to stay away. There may be absolutely no merit to any of the inquiries, but this project probably doesn’t need a taint this early in the game. Especially since it’s roughly a billion dollars worth of taxpayer money.


Hakeem Jeffries for Mayor?

deBlasioFrom the Morning Memo:

Few would dispute that it’s been a tough summer for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

From the ill-advised fight with Uber, to accusations of mishandling the critical outreach portion of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx, to his high profile spat with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to his misadventures at the Park Slope YMCA while a deadly standoff unfolded on Staten Island.

The headlines have been brutal, and now some believe the political winds have begun to blow in a decidedly new direction.

Few potential challengers would ever openly commit to launching a primary challenge against a sitting mayor – especially this early in the game. But ‘lo and behold over the last few days, potential names have begun to surface as trial balloons. And many of those whose names have been floated are doing very little to tamp down the public chatter.

The bottom line is this: some potential challengers smell blood in the water.

There was Don Peebles in the Post the other day. Then ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern – also in Post, which has started a countdown clock for the end of de Blasio’s first term.

NYC Public Advocate Letitia James’ name popped up this week. And of course there are consistent rumors about Eva Moskowitz.

Then there are those whom the political consultants call “the real players” – Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. (Interestingly, all three are former state lawmakers).

But sources say the strongest potential candidate is the one guy who has ruled it out publicly, and that is Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a former assemblyman who told Errol Louis during an “Inside City Hall” interview on Aug. 5th: “I’ve got no interest in running for mayor or holding any other job other than the one I have now.” More >

Perimeter Rule Peril

cuomoboltonFrom the Morning Memo:

On July 27th, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his much anticipated plan for the overhaul of LaGuardia Airport. With Vice President Joe Biden at his side, Cuomo spoke at length about why New York needs to do this now in order to modernize a key port of entry.

The oft mentioned Biden angle is that the Veep once referred to LaGuardia as something more befitting a third world country. Good point. But what the governor did not mention at his presentation is that there appears to be a behind-the-scenes, wink-and-nod deal with Delta Airlines to lift what is known as the perimeter rule.

For the last 30 years, LaGuardia airport has operated under this rule, which prevents flights from traveling more than 1,500 miles. That means if you want to fly to Europe, South America or even California, you need to fly out of Kennedy or Newark Liberty. More >

Indian Point Comes of Age

I feel like I am always saying to one of my friends, “Dude, when your wife finds out about this latest-thing-you-have-done, she is going to have a nuclear meltdown.” Of course, I don’t mean this literally. It’s merely an idiomatic expression. Don’t get me wrong…his wife is going to lose her mind when she hears about certain things he does, she’s just not going to spontaneously combust into a radioactive fireball. At least I don’t think so.

The vexing problem of nuclear power in this country is that while in many ways it is safer and cleaner than most of the energy sources we’ve relied on the past 150 years, when accidents happen they can be catastrophic. It’s quite literally a “nuclear meltdown.” Chernobyl and Three Mile Island come to mind, but even those were minor compared to the doomsday scenario that is possible. More recently, we had the Fukushima disaster in Japan. While it was ultimately contained, the damage was done. And there are scientists who believe the leaking radiation may have greatly altered the biology of life as we know it in irreparable ways that will not surface for years. ( I mean, We should build a nuclear power plant right on the Pacific Ocean! What could possibly go wrong?! Especially on the West Coast where the Continental shelf holds a much steeper drop off, making the coastline more susceptible to tsunamis!! )

In December, Indian Point’s reactor 3 is up for renewal for the first time it’s 40-year history by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Reactor 2 is in the process of being renewed, and the plant is allowed to continue operating while the process unfolds. Earlier this week we did a broadcast story about a marketing campaign by Entergy, the company that runs Indian Point. That includes targeted mailers to the African American community in Brooklyn.


The message is that nuclear power is clean and doesn’t pollute, which is true, sort of. While there may not be emissions of particulate matter that can cause asthma and other health problems, you can’t discount that an accident could potentially cause great harm. Entergy recently hired Harry Giannoulis and his Parkside Group to handle some of those marketing efforts, which we can only assume is aimed at building public support ahead of the impending renewal. They have also launched this website to help inform the public.

Indian Point has had several fires in recent years, including one just recently which led to oil leaking into the Hudson River. Critics of the facility say Indian Point is using 40-year old technology, and why would anyone trust a 40-year old appliance let alone a nuclear power plant. The big post 9/11 fear was that Indian Point would be targeted by terrorists, but the new post-Sandy fear is that extreme weather could also cause problems. Governor Cuomo has gone on record calling for Indian Point to be shut down. That may also help explain why Entergy is trying to get out ahead on this.

The good news is that the other day I drove up 9W to find a decent vantage point from which to shoot some video of Indian Point. There is a decent vista directly across the river, and I shot the plant like crazy. We haven’t shot a lot of Indian Point video over the years, so I made sure it was archived in our system. That way if the big meltdown ever happens? And we are told that we all have about 40 minutes to live? NY1 will have the best footage during that critical period of time. We’ll show the ‘nets once and for all! Take that, Channel 7!!

The Anthony Bonomo Connection

Anthony Bonomo, described by one insider as “just one of those guys everyone in state government knows,” is believed by many to be cooperating with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s case against former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam. The Skelos’ pleaded ‘not guilty’ yesterday to a superseding indictment unveiled last week that contains two new charges. Specifically, that Adam Skelos threatened his supervisor who confronted him about not showing up to work. The arrangement seemed to be that Adam got a no-show job in exchange for the elder Skelos steering state money the firm’s way. That firm ( although not named ) is believed to be Physicians Reciprocal Insurers’ or PRI, owned and operated by one Anthony Bonomo.

What is less known is just how extensive Bonomo’s ties are to state government. According to Competitive Advantage Research, Bonomo, his associates and affiliates are responsible for 126 filings over the last 15 years. The campaign contributions spread across party lines and totaling $2,719,240.93. That’s a lot of dough. Jon Reznick of Competitive Advantage explains the breakdown:

“The individual Anthony Bonomo, his friends and relations including his spouse and likely his children as well as professional associates and the businesses he operates are themselves substantial donors accounting for $2.7 million just that I’ve found in the last 15 years.”

In addition, Bonomo has hired big time lobbyists including former Senator Al D’Amato, Founder and Managing Director of Park Strategies. According to Reznick’s analysis, Bonomo and associates have spent $1,550,500 since 2007.

According to the latest indictment, Adam Skelos threatened his boss with physical violence after being challenged about his failure to show up for work. Someone then called Dean Skelos ( sitting Senate Majority Leader at the time ) to try and explain the problem and work something out. At least one GOP source believes the only person who could have made that phone call was D’Amato, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

So, here is the timeline from which you can draw your own conclusions: In March, Bonomo gives a $50,000 contribution to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign committee. A few days later, Cuomo appoints Bonomo the head of the New York Racing Association or NYRA ( a job that people close to the Administration insist he was qualified for, since he was very knowledgeable of horses and racing. Fair enough ). About a month later, Skelos and his son are slapped with federal corruption charges. And in early June, just four days before the Belmont Stakes – one of the biggest days in racing – Bonomo steps down from his position at NYRA, and presumably starts cooperating with the Feds against Dean and Adam. A month after that the new indictment drops with two new charges including personal details about Adam’s behavior. This signaled to some that federal investigators were likely getting information from Bonomo which helped build the second set of charges.

In statement, Matt Cannon a spokesperson for PRI said,

“In light of the on-going criminal proceeding by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York against Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, we have no comment on the superseding indictment and continue to cooperate with this ongoing investigation.”

What’s particularly interesting about Bonomo is the bi-partisan nature of his giving. Or as one observer put it, he gives to the “incumbency party.” In an interview earlier today, Dick Dadey of Citizens Union said,

“The big donors give to everyone. They raise money for everyone and they give to everyone. Largely because they want to make sure that the issues they have before the government receive attention.”

Bonomo also managed to make many of his donations through much maligned Limited Liability Corporations, or LLC’s. State Senator Daniel Squadron – (D) Manhattan, Brooklyn – has been a vocal critic of the State Lawmaker’s failure to close the LLC loophole, which allows individuals to sidestep ( some would say un)reasonable contribution limits. Sqauadron says,

“Today in the state if you want to give unlimited contributions and hide that fact, the LLC loophole lets you do it. Again and again we see the LLC loophole linked to the worst corruption allegations that come out of Albany.”

According to GOP source, the argument against the LLC loophole is slightly capricious, since unions are allowed to make donations then the individual locals are allowed to give even more. Also a fair point.

Finally, just to really hit home the point of what a gentleman-ly racer and horse epicurean Anthony Bonomo is, John Durso Jr., Director of Communications and Public Affairs for NYRA says,

“Anthony Bonomo is a deeply respected horseman who brought his extensive expertise and experience in horse racing to the New York Racing Association – first as a Board Member and later as Chairman.  His stable houses more than 40 thoroughbreds, and Mr. Bonomo has been integral part of the New York Racing Association’s successful efforts to offer safer, more enjoyable horse racing for horseplayers and racing fans at our three championship tracks.”



Awakening the Sleeping Giant

If aliens decided to attack earth, we would probably come the closest to world peace we have ever been on this plant. The materializing of a common enemy would likely force the entire globe to band together to fight that common enemy.

As frightened as I am of alien invasion – (I mean, let’s be honest…it’s terrifying, right? ) – in many ways it would be beautiful. At least in how it brought us all together here on earth. Picture us on a hill in Big Sur singing the 1971 “Buy-the-world-a-Coke” song recently featured in Mad Men, only instead of selling soft drinks we’d be preparing for a Battle Field Earth type smackdown with a bunch of flesh gnawing Extra Terrestrials who have NO IDEA just who they are messing with.

I realize that’s a far-fectched example (or is it???), but my point is the absence of a common enemy sometimes forces people to turn on each other. It’s not our best attribute as human beings, but let’s face it…this is who we are.

The fact that politics in New York is largely dominated by Democrats these days, more so than it has been in 20 years when you had Republican governors and mayors, does not mean all is well. In fact, Democrat-on-Democrat violence may be at an all-time high. The takeaway here is that one party rule doesn’t lead to a Pax Democrata. In fact quite the opposite. And the absence of a strong Republican Party to challenge any of this Democratic rule has resulted in the left sowing its own seeds of destruction.

The origins of the fight between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio really go back to before de Blasio was even elected. Insiders say things got off on the wrong foot when de Blasio kept insisting on taxing the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten. Sources say Cuomo actually called the mayor before the election and assured him that he would deliver the money. Whatever the mayor needed from the state, Cuomo would secure it to help the mayor fulfill his campaign promise.

The catch? De Blasio merely had to stop saying the word “tax.”

Cuomo was headed into re-election mode and he didn’t need a liberal New York City mayor already unpopular in those coveted suburbs blowing up his spot. The mayor didn’t listen. He kept banging the tax drum. Now, one could argue that if de Blasio hadn’t done that, he may not have gotten the full amount of pre-K cash he was seeking, since Albany is all about posturing and deal making. But the damage was done. The die had been cast. Things deteriorated from there, culminating with the governor making all kinds of promises to the mayor to help secure the Working Families Party endorsement in May 2014, only to face backlash from the left when he was accused of not fulfilling those promises.

That likely set the mayor off. And not getting much of his agenda fulfilled in Albany this year only worsened the situation. Although in fairness, once again the mayor was calling for a tax on the wealthy to fund his 421-a tax abatement plan for developers, and that was a non-starter as far as the Governor and Senate Republicans were concerned.

What’s noetworthy here is that since the popular narrative was established that Cuomo is feeling estranged from the left, something very different appears to be happening. While the mayor was off galavanting in Rome, the governor managed to win the week here at home with liberals – supposedly the mayor’s base. And not just with the Uber fight, but also by using his executive authority to accomplish what the mayor has been harping on but has no real power to deliver, which is raising the minimum wage for some workers to $15 an hour.

It’s ironic, dontcha think? (It’s like rain!!! on your wedding day!!!)

Cuomo also managed to drive a wedge between the Mayor and one of his closest allies, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The speaker and the governor spoke again recently, even after their conversation last Wednesday. Cuomo clearly sees opportunity to make inroads with those who once wrote him off as too conservative.

In the last few weeks Cuomo has signed the sex assault legislation, securing his support among women’s group; established a special prosecutor for cases of civilians who die at the hands of police; and spoke at the NAACP National Convention in Philadelphia. I think it’s fair to say that the battle to win the mantle of the true left is in full swing.

Back in March, the governor went to war with the teachers union over major reforms he wanted to enact in the state budget that greatly undermined teacher’s ability to achieve tenure, and avoid being fired. It was a tough fight, and while he won the battle, in some ways he lost the war. The backlash was intense. Teachers are organized and they fight with no mercy. The governor’s poll numbers began to sink. But supporters of the governor point out that whatever personal hit he took on this issue, it was worth it for the collective good. It was the right fight to wage, even if it cost him in popularity.

What’s curious with the Uber battle and de Blasio, is that the Mayor kinda picked the WRONG fight. Not only did he lose, but he ended up alienated from his base of white progressives, blacks and latinos and New Yorkers who reside in Brooklyn and Queens. At one point the mayor even tried to paint his battle with Uber as something akin to doing battle with oil companies.

One observer points out that may have been bad advice from Press Secretary Karen Hinton, who spent some time battling Chevron for their actions in Ecuador. Uber was not the same fight. Not even close.



New Economy, Same Principle

In 1994, Jeff Bezos of Seattle Washington started an online business called “Amazon.” Originally billed as an online bookstore, Amazon has since diversified, greatly altering the landscape for how we shop in this country. Amazon was what is known in the corporate world as a “Market Disruptor.” It’s innovation blew up the old models, and created new ways to efficiently connect consumers with the products they want. Much like Under Armor has done in the sportswear industry. Not only selling it’s product for cheaper, but undermining classic companies like Adidas by hawking their inventory in new, and innovative ways.

Uber, the taxi service, is a classic market disruptor for the transportation industry. You can fall back on whatever cliche you want to describe it. Like, “you cannot swim against the tide” on this one or my personal favorite “we cannot put the genie back in the bottle,” but the fact is Uber has changed the game. And no amount of social engineering is going to stymie that. If it’s not Uber, it will be something else. Habits and technology are moving too rapidly for the government to really control. That’s not to say there should be no regulation. Of course regulation is needed in most industries, but the market also needs to be given some time to work first. A “shakeout” takes place, and that is precisely what is happening now in the taxi industry as the old models get upended.

Mayor de Blasio had championed a bill in the City Council to cap the growth of Uber. I’ll put aside the unseemly motivations some have suggested he may have had for a minute and focus instead on the process, which was fascinating. Beginning with an extraordinary effort on the part of Uber to launch a well-coordinated media campaign on multiple platforms that eventually turned the tide. In many ways, It was the democratic process at its finest.

On Tuesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito spoke to Mayor De Blasio who was traveling overseas. The Speaker explained that she was losing support among council members on the Uber bill, but still had enough votes to pass it. The Mayor agreed to her idea of bringing all the stakeholders to the table to work out a face-saving deal for everyone. That resulted in the Uber cap bill being pulled, at least for now. The meeting took place yesterday at the City Council offices at 250 Broadway. It was a staff level meeting, but it was the Speaker’s direction that helped bring all the parties to “yes.” Prior to doing a radio interview Wednesday, Governor Cuomo called Mark-Viverito to go over his talking points on Uber. The Uber meeting with City Hall had already been set, and the Speaker hinted to the Governor that they might be prepared to go in a different direction. She asked the Governor to hold off on coming out against the bill publicly, but of course Andrew Cuomo being Andrew Cuomo, he couldn’t resist. His condemnation of the bill helped put the final nail in the coffin, at least as far as public opinion was concerned.

But it was the Speaker who kept what one insider described as the “cooler head” throughout this process. Sometimes the vitriol between the Mayor and the Uber lobby seemed deeply personal and not the dispassionate public policy debate it should be. It’s worth noting that one of the ( hehe ) drivers of the Uber campaign was the very talented Stu Loeser, who served under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It’s no secret that de Blasio and Bloomberg do not often see eye to eye on some key issues, particularly when it comes to regulating business.

But for all the talk about how Mark-Viverito is a “true believer” in sometimes misguided progressive causes, she kinda got this one right. Others have accused her of walking in lockstep with the Mayor on major policy issues, but this was a defining moment for her Speakership. Throwing down a solid marker of independence. Mark-Viverito seemed to grasp that a better solution could be reached, and she was correct. Let’s also remember that she supported congestion pricing and the advent of the green taxi industry. The Mayor did not. That may have helped undermine his argument that he was motivated by concerns about congestion.

The bottom line is this: New York City has always been about innovation and competition. And interestingly enough, that has been a great equalizer. Capitalism, while harsh at times, promotes an ethos that the best idea wins regardless of race or ethnicity. Profit motive, in a strange sort of way, actually steers us toward a more colorblind society. From the time in 1654 when Governor Peter Stuyvesant wanted to expel the Jews from the colony, and the Dutch East India Company actually came to their defense. The Company’s motives were at least partially that they needed the labor and didn’t care what religion somebody practiced. Business came first. So, in many ways New York City has always been ahead of the rest and that has helped fuel the city’s growth.

Besides, people living in Queens or the Bronx should have every right to order a cab to take to their job or their friend’s house at any time they would like. This is the most kinetic and vibrant city in the world, and getting a cab should be easy-like-sunday-morning, regardless of where you live in the five boroughs.


Senate Repubs Report Solid Numbers

Ah, July 15th.

The race is on to see who’s fundraising prowess is tops in State Government this year. Today, filings will document fundraising totals over the last six months. While we are still a year and five months away from the 2016 elections, this first filing period outside the election cycle is a decent barometer not only of where things stand, but who is on pace to make or exceed expectations.

According to a GOP source it was a “strong filing” for the Senate Republicans who hold a one seat majority in the State Senate. There has been much speculation about what happens in 2016, a presidential year with former New York State Senator Hillary Clinton potentially at the top of the ticket for Democrats. But the latest fundraising totals seem to indicate Republicans will have no problem raising the money they need to compete and hold onto their control of the upper house.

Senate Republicans raised close to $2 million from January to July 2015. That is more than twice what mainline Senate Democrats raised over the same period, according to this fine reporting from the great Ken Lovett. By point of comparison, the Senate Republicans raised virtually an identical amount ( $2 million ) over the same period in 2013, which is a comparable year since it was the first period out of the election cycle.

Last fall, Republicans fought hard to protect their incumbents, which they did, but also managed to pick up seats. That gave them a straight majority without needing the help of the IDC to control the chamber. However, it took cash to do that and the Senate source emphasizes that the party drained their accounts in the process. In other words, These new fundraising totals came after starting from scratch.

It’s also notable that Republicans added seven new members in 2014, despite having to fight off the efforts of Mayor de Blasio who pledged to work against GOP control of the Senate, and apparently did just that.

Because Republicans have spent some of their money, they are currently sitting on $1.2 million in cash on hand.

A Senate Democratic source counters that Republicans may be keeping their fundraising pace, but Democrats have grown leaps and bounds from where they were ( when they were stuck in debt ), and have renewed the public’s confidence in their conference.


Keeping the Senate SAFE

When changes to the SAFE Act first came to light, it looked an awful lot like the Senate Republicans and the Cuomo administration were repealing part of the governor’s signature gun safety law without a three-way agreement to do so.

To actually roll back parts of the SAFE Act, originally passed with much haste in January 2013, both houses must pass legislation and Cuomo must sign it. Otherwise the law remains, well, the law.

When laws are written, words such as “will” and “shall” are used to wipe away any ambiguity. If words like “may” or “should” come into play, there is a lot more latitude and discretion.

The 78-page gun and ammunition safety bill known as the SAFE Act, pushed through the Legislature by Cuomo in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. massacre, contains the following passage:

“No commercial transfer of ammunition shall take place unless a licensed dealer in firearms or registered seller of ammunition acts as an intermediary between the transferor and the ultimate transferee of the ammunition for the purposes of contacting the statewide license and record database pursuant to this section.

There seems little room in that passage for interpretation.

So, when news surfaced Friday night that Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and a top Cuomo aide had signed a Memorandum of Understanding making changes to the SAFE Act, it caused quite a bit of confusion, and also prompted a blistering statement from the third man in the room, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

It’s one thing for administration and the Senate GOP to drag their feet on implementing a certain provision within the law. It’s quite another to put it in writing. That’s what was done here. In essence, Cuomo and the Senate Republicans are saying they have no intention of funding the database spelled out in the law to keep track of ammunition sales.

And that is precisely what may subject them to a legal challenge from both the Senate and Assembly Democrats, who are currently investigating their options.

Here’s the bizarre set of circumstances for how it all unfolded:

The MOU was agreed to by the administration and Flanagan. The majority leader put his signature to the final draft first, according to a source familiar with the timeline. Then Cuomo’s director of state operations, Jim Malatras, followed suit.

The MOU was then sent to members of the Senate Republican conference. Late in the day Friday, Sen. James Seward of Oneonta issued a press release taking credit for compelling the “first ever changes to governor’s gun control law.” He also mistakenly claimed the moratorium on Internet sales of ammunition would end.

Seward’s statement appeared to catch everyone off guard – the Assembly speaker, the Cuomo administration and even Flanagan’s office, which apparently did not get a heads up on the rank-and-file lawmaker’s press release plans.

This was not how what something viewed by Flanagan’s people as a major accomplishment was supposed to get announced – later afternoon in what looked for all the world like a Friday news dump. The rollout of this shiny new MOU was officially botched.

There was no opportunity for the Cuomo team to mitigate the effects of what was coming ahead of time. And the MOU itself sounds a bit jarring if one is a SAFE Act supporter. The final paragraph states:

“RESOLVED, that no expenditures of state monies shall be allocated for the purposes of purchasing and installing software, programming and interface required to transmit any record for the purpose of performing an eligibility check…until such time as a plan for the cost of such has been approved by the undersigned.”

The read on this from a number of insiders and veteran Capitol watchers is that as long as Flanagan and the Republicans remain in control of the Senate, the database will never exist – no matter what the Cuomo administration now claims.

Naturally, Democrats and gun control advocates went a little berserk. And that led to a complete walk back Saturday afternoon from Cuomo’s chief counsel, Alphonso David, who issued a statement insisting:

“The memorandum reiterates the administration’s intention to implement a functional database when it is ready and reinforces that the system cannot be launched prematurely.”

One Republican described the Saturday explanation as making the governor “look weak,” since you never want to be in a position of justifying what you’ve done – especially not on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in July when barely anyone is paying much attention.

On Sunday, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence issued a statement calling the suspension of work on background checks “unnecessary and disappointing.” The anti-gun group went on to say that David’s subsequent statement had provided some “comfort,” but they are now calling on the governor to provide a date for when this database will be up and running.

That, of course, is something he cannot do under the terms of the MOU, because it would require Flanagan’s approval. And that is not something the new majority leader – still under fire from conservatives (who, by the way, would have preferred to see Syracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco as leader) for his “yes” vote on the SAFE Act – is likely to give any time soon.

So, what exactly is going on here?

It seems like Cuomo is trying to have it both ways – telling Democrats and those on the left with whom he has been rather unpopular lately that nothing has changed, while also doing a solid for Flanagan in advance of what’s shaping up to be a difficult election year for the Senate GOP.

The database already had technological challenges, as the State Police admitted long ago, and therefore the MOU is virtually meaningless, since monies were withheld for its implementation in the budget back in March – a budget, by the way, that was agreed to by both houses.

Democrats point out that this isn’t about the money, since the Cuomo administration can find money to get the database up and running if the governor had the desire and the will to do so. One Democrat called the non-binding MOU “window dressing for the Republicans.”

Then why do it?

Many people now believe that this was about in internal politics more than anything else. It’s been no secret that Cuomo likely played a role in helping select Flanagan as leader earlier this year after his former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was forced by a corruption scandal to step down.

If Flanagan is going to keep that post, he needed to bring something home for the upstate members who didn’t want him to lead the chamber in the first place. Being able to say that a part of the SAFE Act is now officially dead might be a good way to do that.

One Republican called this a “big win” for Flanagan, and both the NYS Rifle and Pistol Association and the NRA issued statements hailing this as a good first step toward their ultimate (and likely unattainable, as long as Cuomo and Heastie are around) goal of full repeal.

But some of the most staunch Second Amendment advocates aren’t quite convinced.

Assemblyman Bill Nojay, an outspoken Rochester-area Republican, dismissed the MOU as merely conforming “what we’ve all known – the ammunition database provision in the SAFE Act is not workable and has not been implemented.”

“The MOU therefore has all the significance of the Governor and Mr. Flanagan announcing that tomorrow the sun will rise in the East,” Nojay continued. “We all knew that, it was going to happen anyhow, and taking credit for it is political grandstanding.”

“If the Governor and Mr. Flanagan were serious about undoing the many disastrous provisions of the SAFE Act, they had their chance to prove it during the Budget and end-of-session negotiations this year. They didn’t. For them to now tell us what we’ve all known about the failures of the database provisions, and to describe it as a concession or gift to the Second Amendment community, won’t work.”

“We will continue to use every judicial, legislative and political means at our disposal to repeal the SAFE Act or, at a minimum, remove its offensive provisions from the laws of New York.”

So, ultimately, Flanagan – and maybe the governor, if he means to uphold his end of this deal – need to prove the MOU wasn’t just lip service. That might be easier said then done – especially if a legal challenge from the Democrats materializes.

It’s now spelled out in writing – though in a legally questionable manner – that there is an intention to withhold funding agreed to by just two of the three parties it generally takes to make decisions in Albany.

A judge might yet determine that the director of State Operations and the Senate majority leader have no real authority to do that, and the law must be followed as written. If not, a significant and potentially problematic precedent has been set here.

As every good lawyer will tell you – it’s dangerous to put anything in writing.

Departure Lounge

This past April, a weary press corps traveling with Gov. Andrew Cuomo arrived by chartered jet in the storied city of Havana, Cuba. No one knew totally what to expect. Havana is a city people had read a lot about over the years, but never really experienced first hand. After landing at Jose Marti airport, we were whisked away by bus to a hotel in downtown Havana, and it was there that we caught our first glimpse of “Havana Gareth.”

A fixture on the Capitol’s second floor, Gareth Rhodes has always been a behind-the-scenes kind of guy – a quiet fixer, who takes care of logistics. Someone who is always a pleasure to deal with, but never says more than he needs to. Yes, much to the delight of the Cuomo administration, Gareth is a sphinx.

I didn’t have a thermometer on me that day, but I’m pretty sure it was about 156 degrees fahrenheit in old Havana that day. We walked into the hotel, which, if it had air conditioning was barely detectable, and there he was. Gareth had already been on the ground a few days, and he had the place wired. We were told to see him for access cards to tap into the wi-fi. Gareth also knew where we needed to go to exchange money. And he had all the details about the upcoming arrival press conference – including where we needed to be, at what time, and how to get there.

If the oppressive heat was getting to Gareth, he did not show it. He was calm and in control. Slight in stature, Gareth had the chiseled good looks of a British Naval officer stationed in Rangoon in 1899. A man who does his duty. Does it with honor. And can be seen at the officer’s club nightside in his perfectly pressed whites with a slow gin fizz in his hand. Like a character out of a Graham Greene novel, Gareth was literally “Our Man in Havana.”

I write about Gareth Rhodes because Friday will be his last day (at least for now) in state government. He will be heading to law school this fall at some school I had never heard of until last week. I forget the name, but I think it begins with the letter “H” and ends in “arvard.” Too many people go to law school and business school these days and come out wanting to make as much money as they possibly can while shunning the concept of government service. I’m not a player hater, so I have no issue with people wanting to make money. But we also need smart, capable people who want to work in government, and I have feeling we will see Gareth back here one day in one capacity or another.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not even 100 percent sure what Gareth’s job is. He kinda works in the press office, but mostly does advance. (I mean, at this point he is leaving, right? So, who cares?) But the point is that no matter what he does, he manages to stay above the fray. Interacts with the press, but never in a contentious or strained manner – which, to let all of you in on a little secret, sometimes happens between the press and the Cuomo administration.

And it wasn’t just Cuba for Gareth. He does a lot of traveling with Cuomo, and he was by the governor’s side for some of the biggest and strangest of stories. Whether it was 25 feet of snow in Buffalo last year, or snaking through the maintenance tunnels of the Dannemora prison, Gareth had the governor’s back. Not always known as the easiest guy to work for, Cuomo seemed to have an appreciation for Gareth. Saw him as a young go-getter. Someone who he could rely on to take care of things and make those trips successful.

Trips outside New York can be very tricky for a governor = particularly if those trips are overseas. Many gaffes have been made by politicians who ventured outside their comfort zones to broaden their worldly appeal. Having someone like Gareth by the governor’s side always made the press shop rest assured that everything will be taken care of.

So, we take a break from all this end of session madness to wish Gareth Rhodes all the best. He will likely succeed in whatever it is he decides to do. It would be a privilege, however, to the people of New York State if he were to come back and work on their behalf one day.