Zack Fink

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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.

 

 

Rookie Mistakes and Impossible Asks Create More Gridlock

“We are nowhere,” said one insider familiar with the negotiations currently taking place among the Senate, Assembly and Governor Cuomo. I suppose no one really expected a huge breakthrough over the weekend. Especially with the Hallmark Holiday of Father’s Day sunday. Democrats also have a fundraiser tonight at Yankee Stadium that ( as first reported by the great Ken Lovett) Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will skip.

It’s kind of a bummer for the speaker, as he was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the stadium. Oh, well.

But let’s take a step back and look at how we got here. Right from the get-go, the newly-elected speaker made it clear that his conference was all about rent. He refused to engage in any discussions about linkages. And he made his top priority the singular focus of his negotiations. Some now view this as a rookie mistake. If you only want one thing, and you make that known, the other side is going to hold that one thing over you – simply because they know how badly you want it, and you’re not giving them anywhere else to go.

Heastie was talking about ending vacancy decontrol, which began in 1993 and was greatly expanded in 1997. The notion that in this climate the state Legislature would be willing to roll back more than 20 years of precedent strikes some observers as not only absurd, but nakedly naive.

Moreover, insiders say after insisting on no linkages, Heastie then went and did exactly that on Friday night when the Assembly introduced a bill with straight extenders for rent regs and mayoral control of the New York City schools. Heastie also rejected a proposal to raise the minimum wage in New York City beginning next year up to $11.50 per hour – something that has been a big priority for Mayor Bill de Blasio. But the speaker was unwilling to compromise on rent in order to accept it. Again, a singular focus.

Defenders of the speaker say it’s a little more complicated than that. They believe it’s “two against one” inside the notorious three-men-in-a-room lair – meaning Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (himself a rookie, and technically even greener than Heastie), are siding against Heastie on rent.

Sources say the Senate was willing to include some sweeteners on rent including “inflaters” that would supposedly keep more apartments under rent protections longer. But people close to the Assembly counter that they start at too low a threshold to be effective. If the governor has a plan for rent, they maintain, why doesn’t he release it? As we all know of course, Cuomo once famously admitted to keeping his bill language secret. I think Jon Campbell of Gannett even sang a song about that in the 2013 LCA show, if I am not mistaken.

Cuomo and Flanagan also want to make it even easier for charter schools to reject, and even kick out, students who don’t do well academically and might tarnish the pretty statistics charter schools often paint to suggest they present a much better alternative to traditional public schools.

Another facet of this is de Blasio. Republicans introduced what’s known as a “big ugly,” according to this solid weekend reporting from Josefa Velasquez and Jessica Bakeman. This bill extends mayoral control of city schools for just one year.

Both Cuomo (at least he did back in February) and the Assembly Democrats want three years. If it is only one year, then de Blasio has to come back up to Albany next year and beg for more during an election year. Observers say that could give Republicans an opportunity to put de Blasio on the shelf for the 2016 elections. In other words, “We will give you more time, if you don’t actively campaign – again – against our members.”

Apparently Senate Repubs still have some very raw feelings over the mayor’s involvement in the 2014 elections, even though one could fairly argue that his involvement actually contributed to Repubs PICKING UP seats in swing districts. Whatever. Next year may be a tough one for Repubs since it is a presidential. Let’s also remember that de Blasio’s predecessor (who, admittedly, was the single largest individual contributor to the Senate GOP conference at the time) got seven years for mayoral control. One year is kind of a diss.

Anyway, It’s all very complicated and still a bit of a log jam right now. I wonder what our old friend the wood frog thinks about all this…

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New Caucus Leadership

In what was described as a close vote, Assemblyman Nick Perry has been elected the new Chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian legislative Caucus. He beat out a fellow Brooklyn Democrat, Walter Mosley, for the position in a race that many viewed as a showdown between the old and new guard in the state Assembly.

The Jamaican-born Perry, who is 64, was first elected to the Assembly in 1992. Mosley was first elected to the Assembly in 2012 to replace now-Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

For weeks, there was a belief among some of the younger members that Mosley had the election in the bag. He was even introduced recently at a press conference as the “next chair” of the caucus, to which he replied a terse “not yet.”

But that was soooo two weeks ago.

The new dynamic, which took shape relatively quickly, had the members rallying around Perry and rejecting Mosley. So what happened?

According to Mosley, who I ran into outside the Assembly chamber Monday evening just as the votes were being tallied, last week’s controversial vote on the troubled East Ramapo School District was to blame.

“East Ramapo killed me,” the assemblyman said, bluntly.

East Ramapo is a district where Orthodox Jews play a dominant role on the local school board. Those same Orthodox board members tend to send their children to private schools and Yeshivas. The charge has been that money is being diverted out of the public school system to benefit the private and parochial school kids, and as a result, some 9,000 black and Latino students get short-changed.

I don’t have any hard demographic data here, but suffice to say there is a belief among some of the Latino Assembly members that the majority of those 9,000 students are Latino, and many hail from immigrant families. It’s a sensitive and politically explosive matter.

You throw in the fact that some Latino Assembly members were already were unhappy there was no Latino candidate running for the position of caucus chair – the last chair, Assemblyman Karim Camara, who resigned his seat to take a job with the Cuomo administration, is also African American – and you have the makings of a divided caucus at vote time.

That is precisely what happened.

Specifically, the vote last Thursday was to establish an independent monitor for the East Ramapo School Board. But according to some, Mosley was nowhere to be found. He not only failed to vote, but he was “hiding out” near the restroom to avoid having to explain his vote (or non-vote, as the case may be).

The caucus is an extraordinarily important body within the Legislature. It is the first line of defense on minority issues. Its members are often out front, providing a champion for those who sometimes don’t have as strong a voice in the debate as they should on the critical pieces of legislation that impact their lives.

The caucus has consistently proven its ability to stand up to leadership when needed. Whoever leads the caucus needs to be ready to take on the tough fights – like when people try to dismiss the concerns of often disenfranchised NYC residents who are disproportionately lower income New Yorkers. Leadership means taking a stand – even when it is unpopular to do so – particularly on sticky issues involving race and religion.

Asked about his conduct during the East Ramapo vote, Mosley was unapologetic, saying he would do exactly the same thing again.

But as one observer put it…leadership also means learning from your mistakes.

The vote tally

The vote tally

 

The Under-the-Radar Election Next Week

On Monday, the Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus will vote for a new Chair. Assemblyman Walter Mosley is running against Assemblyman Nick Perry for what is essentially an open seat. The former Chair, Assemblyman Karim Camara, left the Assembly to head up Governor Cuomo’s new office of faith based initiatives, and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry has been filling in as Acting Chair ever since. While Mosley ( an up-and-comer ) is believed to have the edge, Perry has some of the more senior members pulling for him.

There are however, some Latino members who feel as though the next Chair should be Hispanic, since both Aubry and Camara are African American. One insider called it “regrettable” that there is no Latino candidate. Then you have Thursday’s contentious vote on the East Ramapo School District and that just made the whole situation a little more strained.

Mosley was one of the original sponsors of the legislation, but withdrew his name from the bill after a lobbying campaign by those favor it. The bill ( which passed the Assembly Thursday after an intense debate ) establishes an independent monitor in the troubled East Ramapo school district. I’m greatly oversimplifying here, but there are roughly 9000 Black and Latino students in the East Ramapo District. Because the largely Orthodox community votes in big numbers they continue to dominate the local school board, even though many of them send their children to private schools and Yeshivas. The complaint has been that resources are being diverted out of the local public schools, and that has hurt Black and Latino students, particularly the latter, since many of the students come from immigrant families.

According to a source, Mosley was “hiding” outside the Assembly chamber when the controversial bill establishing a monitor was being debated. When the vote finally came, Mosley opted not to vote at all. He is listed as “EOR,” which basically means he was excused for other reasons, but was not absent. Now, some within the caucus are grumbling that is not exactly a shining example of leadership for a guy who is looking to head the roughly 40-member caucus. Especially if it is a vote that disproportionately affects Latino students. Add in the fact that some Latino members feel they haven’t been getting the representation in the caucus they deserve and you can see how this has the potential to cause a rift along racial lines.  ( It’s like many issues in New York. Often when you scratch the surface race is not located very far beneath ).

Defenders of Mosley say the caucus took no official position on the East Ramapo bill, and members were free to vote their conscience. Mosley had a 6:30 pm class to teach back in the city Thursday, so he needed to hit the road early. But the latest twist puts a harsh spotlight on an election that hasn’t gotten much notice.

 

Pensions and Politics

There is sweetening the pot, and then there is stirring the pot. And the debate over whether to enhance disability pensions for NYC police officers and firefighters has elements of both. No matter which side one falls on, there is a very interesting dynamic taking shape.

This week the City Council voted to embrace Mayor de Blasio’s plan which is not the more generous bill the unions had favored. There were some accusations about springing the vote on the Council in order to prevent the unions from organizing loud protests ( it was put on the Council website late, the media wasn’t informed and the vote was held the same day cops and firefighters had already chosen to travel to Albany for a rally ), but in the end the Council and the Mayor made clear to Albany which bill they approve. Albany has the ultimate say, and Governor Cuomo has now stood with the unions in favor of their more generous bill and against the Mayor and the City Council Speaker.

What’s particularly crazy here though is that the traditionally “tax-and-spend-liberals” from the city ( de Blase and MMV ) are schooling Governor Cuomo and the Senate Republicans about how to hold the line on spending and do the fiscally responsible thing for the taxpayers of the city of New York. Ultimately, the City is on the hook for the rising costs. Not the state. Oh, the irony. I’ll spare you all the details of this, because it’s a little in the weeds, but suffice to say there are some who believe full disability pension benefits were being doled out to uniformed workers for things like heart disease and hypertension, under the claim that the stress of the job either caused these ailments, or exacerbated the effects for those who were preconditioned. The Mayor and the City Council want to limit benefits of 75% of salary to those permanently injured in the line of duty, specifically those who cannot then go work somewhere else. The union proposal is less stringent about who gets 75%, among other allowances.

So, what happens now? The Governor has committed to supporting the union’s disability pension bill, as has Republican State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. But here is where this gets tricky…The City Council has now voted on what is essentially a home rule message for the Mayor’s bill. The State is not supposed to act on legislation affecting a municipality without a home rule message of support. Governor Cuomo told reporters who suggested this could complicate things that their assessment of the situation was “inaccurate.”

There is a school of thought out there that the State can simply do whatever it wants. Specifically, the legislature could put the pension changes favored by the Governor into a larger bill that is of statewide significance. That way there is no technical violation of the home rule message. It’s a bit underhanded, but not beyond the State to do. Or, the legislature can simply pass whatever bill they want and hope that it doesn’t get challenged in court, which is also possible. According to one Councilmember, the State Assembly has never violated the City’s home rule request. It simply isn’t done.

Maybe this is just another one of these issues that lawmakers and the Governor pay lip service to, but have no intention of actually doing, or simply can’t do because of the complicated dynamics that surround it. We have three scheduled session days next week to find out for sure.

End of Session Slog

In the 1970 film “Gimme Shelter,” filmmakers Albert and David Maysles document the 1969 concert at Altamont which resulted in the stabbing the death of a teenager. Albert Maysles (  who just passed away earlier this year ) was the real deal. He and his brother were making documentaries long before every person with an iphone was going around telling people that they are a “documentary filmmaker.” During the 1969 concert, the Hell’s Angels biker gang was hired as security ( what could possibly go wrong?!?! ). Needless to say people were drinking and doing drugs all day, and fights flared up within the audience culminating in the stabbing death of an 18-year old who was trying to rush the stage. But the concert, and the film about it came to symbolize something much deeper than even a tragic murder. In many ways it represented the unofficial end of the peace movement. The Woodstock generation that believed in peace, love, harmony and good music ran up against the reality of bad people who kinda suck.

I enjoyed the movie when I first saw it many years ago, and there is great footage of the Rolling Stones sitting in an editing room after the fact and forlornly watching the stabbing which was caught on film. But the moment that really encapsulated the whole incident to me was a scene where the camera pans in on a very young Jerry Garcia. The Grateful Dead had been scheduled to perform but canceled after things went awry. There is Jerry, and as the camera pauses on him for a few seconds you hear him simply say, “bummer, man.” Truer words have never been spoken. Brilliant in its simplicity. That’s right Jerry, it is a “bummer.” A “bummer” indeed. That pretty much summed up the whole experience without even having to watch the whole movie.

I’m reminded of this as we head into the final weeks of session. I mean, what a year it has been. The New Legislative leaders are eager to put their stamp on the session and get some things done, and Governor Cuomo was out Sunday pushing for one of his priorities, which is the newly improved Education Investment Tax Credit. But it all feels a bit forced. As though it’s more than likely legislators will do the bare minimum then go home. Put this corruption-saturated session behind them and start fresh again next year. You feel it in the hallways up here. People making their usual enthusiastic pitches to the press sound as if their hearts aren’t really even in it. As if we are all in on the notion that not much else is going to get accomplished, so why bother?

Don’t get me wrong…Cuomo will still move to get the EITC passed ( his version of course ), but it seems unlikely the Assembly Democrats will come on board. Speaker Carl Heastie, who is already under fire from NYSUT, the state’s largest teacher’s union for a budget they felt was unfavorable, said as much last week. Heastie called the EITC “a challenge” in their conference. Some have pointed out that should the bill come to the Assembly floor there would be enough Republican votes to help pass it, but Heastie shot that down. Cuomo had originally linked EITC to the Dream Act, so there is also concern among Democrats that the Governor will drop his push for the Dream Act and instead try to create some kind of scholarship program within existing CUNY and SUNY programs. You know, The Dream Act…but not really.

Newly elected Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan issued a press release yesterday laying out his priorities for the final weeks of session ( how refreshing is that, by the way?? We usually didn’t hear much from Dean Skelos when it came to outlining the things he actually wanted ). Flanagan would like to see the tax cap made permanent, which seems odd since veterans up here are often proud of explaining why they NEVER make anything permanent up here. That way, each experiment with a new policy can be evaluated over a set number of years then renewed piecemeal if warranted. ( That also helps keep the ultimate power up here, where Albany lawmakers want it ). Flanagan also said he’d like to work with Cuomo to establish a uniform policy for sexual assault on college campuses. Now, this is an area where something may actually get done. A few hurdles to overcome, notably in the Assembly ( once again ), which didn’t see any need to rush it through before budget.

There is also the specter out there of comprehensive criminal justice reform. Some speculated that Governor Cuomo was trying to pull PBA President Pat Lynch onto his side to support whatever controversial reforms he tries push through on police oversight as part of a larger criminal justice reform package when he suddenly embraced the 75%-of-salary-payout for officers permanently injured in the line of duty last week. Remember…conspiracy theories abound up here for a REASON.

So, to sum up…we will have to wait and see what happens with all of this, and how much of a stomach the leaders  ( with their brand new dynamic! ) have for horse trading in the final days of session. Clearly they all want something to take home and brag about before summer break. Otherwise, this whole session could pretty much be sized up as a bit of “bummer.”

The Fallout

A friend of mine is an attorney who puts together corporate deals. Lots of deals in the business world get proposed, but many of them fall by the wayside due to a variety of factors. Sometimes it is painfully obvious right from the get go that a deal will never come to fruition. But will the attorney ever tell the client that? Absolutely not. The lawyers keep billing to get all the work done in time, and they allow the client to come to that conclusion on their own. Needless to say, the client is often the last person to figure it out.

I was reminded of this anecdote from within the legal profession when reporters finally came face to face with Dean Skelos Tuesday outside the Capitol. Just a day after being charged with six counts of federal corruption, Skelos was absolutely defiant. They say the stages of grief are predictable in almost every case, and it was apparent to some that Skelos had moved beyond denial into the all-too-common anger phase. He lectured reporters about “showing respect for law enforcement,” since people tried to talk to him at a ceremony honoring police. He chastised the media for not being better parents, and he referred to the complaint against him as a press release. Yes, if Skelos’ days are numbered as leader of the Senate, he appears to be the only one who doesn’t know it. But I noticed something else also. He reminded me a bit of my grandfather in his waning days. Once such a powerful and even intimidating figure. But as he got older I would occasionally look into his eyes and see vulnerability, fear and even confusion. It was in some respects, very sad.

On Wednesday night, Senate Republicans sent out a press release announcing that 16 Senators “strongly believe” that Skelos should remain Majority leader. Insiders are telling me Skelos might have been better off not sending this at all if he wants to continue to fight for his job. 16 out of a body of 33? That hardly sounds like a mandate. It’s barely half of the Republicans who vote for him. Sources say there is already a scramble behind closed doors to replace him. Upstaters want one of their own, and naturally the downstate folks want someone from their region. But at the end of the day, there are 20 upstate Republicans and just 12 from downstate. That may make the decision for them. In addition, traditionally the Majority leader has shifted between upstate and downstate to placate both blocs. In simple english, It’s upstate’s turn.

Here is why GOP insiders are turning on Skelos. It’s going to be very hard to claim the mantle of reform when one’s leader is facing these kinds of charges. The seat of Majority Leader does not belong to Dean Skelos, or any one individual for that matter. It belongs to the people of the state of New York. It’s an honor and a privilege to sit in that seat. And whoever does needs to have his or her priorities in order. That means an allegiance to the taxpayers of the state, then the party in control and finally one’s self. Insiders believe Skelos has those priorities in exactly the opposite order. Forget for a minute that the people deserve a Majority Leader free from the compromise of having an ethical cloud hanging over him, but what about the Republican party? It puts all Republican Senators in a  very difficult position when they are asked to pledge their allegiance to the leader. Republicans just picked up seats in some swing districts. Do they really want to lose those seats because the members were asked to take a loyalty test for their Skelos?

Dean Skelos may very well be innocent as he claims. Unfortunately, that is no longer the point. What Skelos and his supporters are asking  members of the Senate and the entire state of New York to do is give him the uncompromising benefit of the doubt and assume that Preet Bharara is crazy and Skelos is 100% right. That’s an impossible ask right now. Bharara has a lot to prove, but that’s his burden, not ours. In the meantime, GOP sources believe Skelos needs to do the righteous and magnanimous thing by stepping aside until guilt or innocence can be established in a court of law.

I have always personally admired Skelos with his dashing good looks, and flowing mane of gray, swoopy hair. He looks like a King from some fictional land that still uses middle ages technology to fight wars. Think Game of Thrones, or Lord of the Rings, or some other fantasy world that self-proclaimed nerds spend all day discussing on the internet. Unfortunately for Skelos, this is not a world where the King makes his own rules. It’s a world of checks and balances. It’s hardly a perfect system, but we need to put or faith in it for now.

NYCHA Money…With Some New and Improved Strings

If you work up here in Albany, you’ve probably heard it a million times, “The City is a creature of The State.”Albany giveth, and Albany taketh away. The State of New York could govern the city of New York if it chose to do so, and arguably did during the financial crisis in the 1970’s with the financial control board.

But that doesn’t mean the city has to like it. Sometimes the city stomps it’s feet and holds it’s breath and it STILL doesn’t get what it wants from Albany. See the West Side Stadium, and congestion pricing to name just a few. Then there is the dynamic between our current Mayor, Bill de Blasio, and our current Governor Andrew Cuomo. This has truly taken the constant back and forth between the city and state to new comedic heights.

Let’s circle back to that New York City Housing Authority money you likely first read about here. The State has agreed to give NYCHA $100 million in the upcoming fiscal year budget for repairs and improvements. There is broad agreement that the money is needed, but there was much dispute over how it should be administered and distributed. Much to the de Blasio Administration’s chagrin, the state will provide the funding, but not through a direct appropriation to NYCHA. Instead, all the money will be overseen by the state through DHCR which will strictly control which projects get approved and how each and every penny gets spent. Needless to say this did not go over well with the de Blasio Administration which argued NYCHA knows what it’s needs are and how better to repair the buildings it is currently charged with maintaining. No dice. The money is controlled by the state.

Well now, there is yet another layer to this. According to the just released bill language, the New York City Comptroller is mandated to conduct an audit of the management processes and procedures of NYCHA. So, in other words, the de Blasio Administration gets the money, but not without their sometimes other rival Scott Stringer poking around and looking for problems.

The bill reads (SIC),

“…and provided further that the comptroller of the city of new york shall immediately commence an audit of the new york city housing authority management and contracting process for repairs and maintenance and make recommendation on how to improve the process.”

According to sources, Governor Cuomo read this story in the Daily News about NYCHA not always having the best track record when it comes to spending money, and insisted strong controls be instilled in any appropriation that goes out the Capitol door to the city of New York for NYCHA. I’m sure it has nothing to do with poking de Blasio in the belly with a sharp stick. And frankly, I’m disgusted that you would even ask such a thing.

***Update*** IDC leader Jeff Klein, who fought to get the $100 million into the budget issued a statement through spox Candice Giove which reads,

“Senator Klein is proud that he delivered $100 million in funding to make critical repairs to NYCHA buildings. Equally important to the Senator is oversight of the state’s investment to ensure fiscal responsibility.”

A Few of My Favorite Things…

Golf with my buddies, and drinkin’ cape codders

Private plane parking, right at MacArthur

Yachting on Sunday without any strings

These are a few of my favorite things!

 

I gotta say…even for Albany, last night’s move was bold. After pairing down the budget to keep much of the controversial policy items out, including a minimum wage hike it takes enormous gall to then vote for a tax break for the 1%. It was a gangsta move in my book. Nevermind how this “looks” to the “public.” Pshaw! We are gonna vote for this even if it gives you material about us tolling the bell for billionaires for the rest of the session! Asked to defend this action during a gaggle yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said ( and I swear to you I have not edited this in the slightest, this is actually the verbatim ),

“We felt that it’s important, especially with the state that we have, with all our natural resources, that people be able to create jobs here in New York State.”

That’s some Sarah Palin stuff right there.

One insider suggested to me that Cuomo allowed this tax exemption to go through in order to draw attention away from his radical education agenda. Not sure I believe that, but let’s be honest…the changes the Governor is looking to make are huge. I say “looking to make,” because the bill has not hit the Assembly floor for a vote where it’s chances of quick passage remain murky at best. The Governor is in essence undermining the teacher’s union. Watering down their collective bargaining rights by putting into state law the mandatory dismissal of teacher’s who are rated ineffective. That’s a major departure from where things currently stand. Right now, it is very difficult to fire teachers. Especially those with tenure. Cue the numerous tab stories about “rubber rooms.” If Cuomo gets his way, the dynamic will be permanently altered. I don’t want to compare this to what Scott walker did in Wisconsin, but it’s the New York State Democratic-internecine-warfare-politics version of that.

The question, of course, is will the Assembly Dems go for it. Speaker Carl Heastie has a lot on the line here. It’s his first budget, and there is no question that he has been far more inclusive of the conference when it comes to crafting the bill language. The problem with that, is that it slooooows things down. No good budget ever gets negotiated by committee. At some point, it’s gotta get locked down. On the other hand, it’s not worth it to Heastie to demand a vote on radical changes to something as sacred as education if it means the loss of his speakership.

In conclusion, we may have to wait and see how this day shapes up. Hopefully we can quote Ice Cube at midnight by singing “Today was a good day.”

 

NYCHA Funding War

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

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

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

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

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

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