Zack Fink

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A New Hope for Port Authority Reform

From the Morning Memo:

Last Wednesday, the state Senate was poised to vote on a Port Authority Reform bill.  But at the request of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the sponsor, Republican Staten Island Sen. Andrew Lanza, laid it aside.

This is the very same bill that Cuomo and NJ Gov. Chris Christie vetoed late last year on the Saturday night after Christmas. Not content to accept that the reform bill was unnecessary, the legislatures of both states have been pressing ahead with another showdown over the same issue.

New York has been moving the bill relatively quickly. It has cleared all the requisite committees, and is now set for a vote in both houses. Since the Port Authority is a bi-state agency, any bills need to clear all four legislative houses – two in each state. It did so unanimously in all four last year – highly unusual…to put it mildly.

After the vetoes, New York began a new session and had to reintroduce the bill. New Jersey must override Christie’s veto, which will be easy enough to do in the state Assembly. But in the Senate, three Republican votes will be needed, and so far the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Gordon of Bergen County, only a commitment from one Republican. An override vote has nevertheless been set for March 16th.

Enter Tom Kean Jr. The New Jersey Senate Republican minority leader may very well have found a face-saving way for everyone to get out of this.

Kean’s bill, detailed here by Dustin Racioppi,  is a hybrid of the measure the legislative sponsors wanted and what the governors asked for. It’s about 80 prcent of what was included in the original legislation, and 80 percent of what the governors said was needed. It has legislative oversight of the bi-state agency, but not quite as much as the old bill.

It also codifies the reforms adopted by the Port Authority two weeks ago that the governors specifically asked for, which includes changing the governing structure at the Port so there is no longer a situation where the deputy executive director was serving one governor, and the executive director another.

The latter situation is what led to the Bridgegate scandal – or so some have theorized. The bill does not address something the two governors asked for, but have since backed away from, which is calling for the resignations of the board’s commissioners.

Kean had been working on his bill for roughly two months. He saw an opening when the New York Senate paused on the bill last week. That’s when he called Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican. The two leaders spoke by phone last Friday. Kean has sent copies of his bill to the sponsors in both states as well as both governors. He consulted Christie’s office and even some of the commissioners at the port – including Chairman John “What’s the purpose of resigning?!?” Degnan (yes, he actually said that ).

Kean’s bill also includes a provision giving the minority leaders in each house of both states some say over whether a high level Port Authority employee can be called before them to testify. That is clearly a swipe at New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who has led a special commission into Bridgegate, which critics say has lasted over a year and has so far produced zero evidence that Christie knew anything about the lane closures ahead of time.

Wisniewski might take issue with that characterization, but that’s a fight for another day.

Reached by phone over the weekend, Kean said his legislation is:

“The only proposal that has a chance to pass in all four chambers and be signed by both governors. It provides for transparency, oversight and management efficiency. It is a bill that will benefit New York and New Jersey taxpayers and commuters alike.”

If Kean Jr.’s name sounds familiar, that is because his father, Tom Kean Sr., was a two-term Republican governor of New Jersey. Kean Sr. was later tapped by President Bush (the younger ) to lead the 9/11 Commission, which he did with precision and humility. Kean Sr. then had the courage to tell me years later on the record that the Iraq war (the second one ) was “the wrong place to go.”

Kean Jr., who may very well be running for governor himself in 2017, hasn’t always had the smoothest relationship with Christie, who tried to take him out as minority leader two years ago.

As an aside: It is curious to me that Christie has difficulty getting along with just about everyone EXCEPT Cuomo.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan, also reached by phone this weekend, and also a sponsor of the original legislation, said he would review the Kean Compromise. He wants to make sure that this is something Christie would sign. Brennan met with Cuomo’s staff last week who still gave him no guidance on what they’d be willing to accept.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said of the Kean Compromise:

“We’ll review this proposal and, as we have said before, will work with all stakeholders to make the necessary reforms to the Port Authority.”

Bottom line is this: If the two governors are serious about reform, they will figure out a way to embrace some form of Kean’s bill. If they have no interest in greater oversight and want to keep the Port under the control of the executive branch in both states, they will not work with anyone.

That’s why the bills are ready to go again in both houses in New York, and why the New Jersey Senate will still consider an override.

Republicans have no interest in embarrassing Christie in New Jersey – unless, of course, he doesn’t work with them at all on this. Then it seems likely Kean as minority leader may be able to find Sen. Gordon the three votes he would need.

It was Ronald Reagan who once said of nuclear arms negotiations with the Soviets: “Trust, but verify.” In this case, legislators trust that the governors want to do the right thing, but they have the alternative ready just in case. And it was the great Flavor Flav who once said (and I think this applies to the situation the governors have gotten themselves into): “You dropped out of a jelly into a jam.”

The Kean Compromise just might be the best way forward for everyone. Because as Kean said himself, up to now  “Everyone has been talking past each other.”

***Author’s Note*** My quote from Flavor Flav was from when he was a badass with Public Enemy…long before he did stupid reality shows with Brigitte Nielsen. Just to be clear.

Changing the Guard

One of my classic, earliest interactions with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie came in 2012. I was relatively new on the Albany beat, and had stopped into the Center Square Pub on State Street to grab some you know, um, “food.” New to the city ( as well as the beat ) I was flying solo. Just for the record: I am completely fine with that. I don’t know what kind of judgments all of you are making in your heads right now, but like I said, I was totally comfortable going there by myself.

No, really…I mean it. I was.

Sitting at one of the tables near the bar were Carl Heastie, former Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson and a couple of other folks from the good Borough of the Bronx. I moseyed on over and saddled up across from Gibson, who now serves in the City Council. We chatted about the usual things that people who follow state government discuss. We talked some shop, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the look on Heastie’s face. It was absolutely classic. It basically said, “who is this guy?!? And what on earth makes him think he can come sit here with me and my fellow members?!”

I smiled and introduced myself, and he warmed up a bit. But it was a small window into Heastie’s milieu. He isn’t often gregarious, and he can be a tough nut to crack. He’s serious, but also fair. A guy who will likely stay in your corner – if only you can only win him over. In some respects he is similar to the man he succeeds. Shelly Silver could also be a man of few words. But he said what needed to be said when it came time to protect his interests or those of fellow Democrats he was elected to represent.

That might explain why sources are telling me that while NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio was an early supporter of Heastie for speaker, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was not. Chris Smith already detailed some of this in New York Magazine the other day. Officially, both the mayor and the governor claim to have remained neutral in the race. But I was told that at least some Assembly members received calls from unions and the Working Families Party on behalf of Heastie as early Friday, Jan. 23rd – the day after Silver was arrested.

Cuomo, I’m told, also reached out to unions and other power brokers but on behalf of Majority Leader Joe Morelle. When informed that a Morelle speakership wasn’t going to fly, the governor’s next choice was his former handpicked Democratic State Party co-chairman, Assemblyman Keith Wright. But at that point, it was too late. Heastie had more or less locked up the election.

So, why would De Blasio be happy about Heastie in the speaker’s office, but not Cuomo?

Easy, Heastie is an independent guy. He will advocate strongly for the issues and causes city Democrats care most about. That is good for the mayor. But who that is not necessarily good for is Cuomo. The governor prides himself on making sure no one is left out of his vision for the state. That includes the suburbs and upstate, whose residents have often felt their needs get overshadowed by the city’s. In short, Heastie is not someone Cuomo can roll.

Fast forward through those 13 crazy days in January and February that saw Silver get arrested, and the historic rise of a new speaker to fill his place. Heastie has emerged as the person to watch in 2015. In one of his lighter moments, he told us in an interview last week ( in response to the oh-so pertinent question, ‘what is your favorite 80s movie? ) that his favorite movie from that era is “Purple Rain.”

I am also a huge Prince fan, although I would probably consider myself more in the Michael Jackson camp if forced to choose between the two biggest pop stars of my youth. I’m reminded of a very funny Robert Townsend skit from that era starring the late great Robin Harris as a police captain with Prince serving as one of his detectives and he tells him: “Hey, Prince get yourself a man’s suit…and stop wearing your sister’s clothes!”

Yes, Prince and Michael Jackson were highly ridiculed even in that era. But there is no shame in loving Prince or “Purple Rain” for that matter. Although the new speaker might have to one day admit that “Under the Cherry Moon” kinda sucked.

Cross Party Deal in Nassau?

In November, Kathleen Rice was elected to the United States Congress, leaving a vacancy in the office of Nassau County District Attorney. It is within Governor Cuomo’s power to appoint a replacement, and so far he has chosen not to do so. Sources say that decision might be part of a well-orchestrated deal to enable Republicans to win the office this year in exchange for the cross-party endorsement Cuomo received from Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. Cuomo ended up winning Nassau County, although he lost Suffolk indicating to some that Mangano’s endorsement may have played a big role.

Here is how this allegedly unfolded. Cuomo wants the Mangano endorsement, so he works out a deal with Mangano and Republican County Chair Joseph Mondello. If Rice wins, the Governor will not interfere with the office, giving Republicans the opportunity to win it in 2015, an off-year election that could be more likely to produce higher Republican turnout. If the Governor were to appoint someone DA, it would give that person a leg up in fundraising and the ability to use the power of incumbency to run again. By not appointing anyone, the acting DA Madeline Singas, who served under Rice could have less of a chance to retain the office. Singas has already begun fundraising, and insiders say she could face a challenge from Kate Murray, Supervisor for the town of Hempstead. This is also right in the backyard of Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and it never hurts Skelos and the Governor to do each other favors. Besides, The DA’s office is a solid platform for an up-and-comer of either party. Republicans have indicated they’d like that position back under their control. Not to mention the mountain of patronage jobs that would be available to award friends and supporters, which is why party leaders want it.

Now for the denials. A spokesman for Mondello did not even wait for me to explain the deal before telling me it had “no basis in fact.” Yeeesh. I hadn’t even told him what it was yet. A spox for Mangano also denied there was any deal. Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs downplayed the possibility saying he doesn’t think the Governor would “go that far,” while acknowledging that if he did, it would be “pretty bad.” Another insider pointed out however that Cuomo “has no love for Jay.” Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo said, “This ridiculous scenario is not only nonsensical, it’s not even that interesting. If you’re going to print fiction, at least make it good fiction.” Touche, Rich.

Small digression…A few years ago, I finally sat down to watch the film “Lawrence of Arabia” in its entirety. Once I had done so, it became ( only slightly ) less intellectually dishonest when I would go around saying things like, “Peter O’Toole is my favorite actor.” Hey, what can I say? I loved “My favorite Year” as a kid. And let’s not forget his supporting role in “Club Paradise,” which is one of the finest works of mid-80s cinema. The latter film also stars the late great Robin Williams, who plays Jack Moniker, a retired Chicago fireman who decides to go into the hotel business with Reggae Artist Jimmy Cliff on a fictional Caribbean island. Needless to say, things do not go according to plan and hilarity ensues. At one point in the movie, Moniker swims out to the yacht owned by the rich business people and learns they are looking to take over the island and force his small upstart hotel out of business. At that point Moniker says, “I got a little paranoid and thought people were out to get me. Now I know, they are.”

The moral of the story is that just because something sounds like a conspiracy theory, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a hundred percent true.


The Christmas Weekend Veto

At about 4:30 Saturday afternoon, staff from Governor Chris Christie’s office in Trenton New Jersey called the majority offices of both houses of New Jersey’s Legislature. Their message was that a massive structural reform bill for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be vetoed.

In contrast, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office told no one – not even the sponsors of the legislation – that a joint press release would be coming out later that night from the two governors, announcing rejection of the bill and implementation of their own reforms at the Port Authority.

The same release casually mentioned in the last paragraph that “neither governor is approving the legislation as passed.”

The lead was so buried on this one that my news desk at NY1 asked me twice if I was sure Cuomo was vetoing the bill. Yes, I told them, I am sure. But I could understand the confusion.

In New Jersey the news leaked. Of course it did. I covered news in Jersey for 13 years. I coulda told you it would leak. All credit goes to Shawn Boburg at the Bergen Record who has done some excellent reporting on Bridgegate and the Port Authority.

Boburg (who I do not know personally) was the guy who called former Christie aide Bridget Kelly last January to inform her that he had in his possession of an unfortunately worded email of hers that read: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

The problem with this leaking out the way it did is that it made Cuomo look like he was not in control of his own story. The story instantly became the vetoes, not the other reforms the two governors are implementing – many of which are very good.

For example, asking for the resignations of all the commissioners. (Should have been done a year ago, but whatever). Among those who will be asked to tender his resignation is Pat Foye, the Port Authority executive director and Cuomo appointee who sources say has been providing information to US Attorney Paul Fishman about the Bridgegate scandal.

Fishman has been trying to build a case. Sources say they can likely get many of the players on conspiracy, but there needs to be an underlying crime if people are going to get charged with covering one up.

The two governors are also looking to end the destructive relationship between the executive director and the deputy executive director, which some have argued led to the current crisis. Bill Baroni was the deputy and instead of answering to Foye, (technically his boss ), he answered directly to Christie.

Cuomo and Christie have also proposed selling off the Port Authority’s real estate assets, and many believe there will soon be a fire sale for the largest real estate donors who just wrote huge checks to both governors for their respective re-election campaigns. That would be 2013 for Christie, and this past fall for Cuomo.

In fact, most who have been watching this process closely think the unilateral reforms from the two governors “fall far short.”

Or as Assemblyman James Brennan of Brooklyn puts it: “The governor’s proposed reforms may be positive, but they are not relevant.”

There are no whistleblower protections, for example. No yearly outside audits to be presented to the comptrollers and legislatures of both states. No change that would make failing to REPORT a crime a CRIME itself.

All of those provisions were in the now-vetoed reform legislation.

New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Venieri-Huttle called the vetoes “a total rebuke to the ratepayers and the elected members of the legislature from both states.” She also called both Cuomo and Christie – who are not exactly shrinking violets – “spineless” for going this route.

The two bills passed unanimously by more than 600 votes in both states. That is basically unheard of. But there is no chance for an override, because New York is starting a new legislative session in January.

Essentially, to get any kind of reform the process must start over from the very beginning. And that is going to be tough to do.

The two governors likely understand that, which some believe is why the vetoes were announced in the odd manner that they were. Sure, some of the sponsors had their suspicions, as Jesse Mckinley astutely pointed out, especially when Cuomo’s office refused to negotiate or offer any changes to the bill.

But the Saturday night news drop over Chistmas weekend was, well…special. Even for Christie and Cuomo.

Obviously, Christie doesn’t want any more public discussion about him and the Port Authority, which might help explain his desire to veto the bill at the witching hour and abruptly end the conversation.

Christie still harbors presidential ambitions, although his chances are much slimmer now than he seems willing to admit, according to this excellent Op-Ed by Joshua Henne. 

So, now the conversation comes back to Cuomo and his angle. The two governors dined together in New Jersey last week (at Il Villaggio on Route 17, which is not exactly inconspicuous, btw ).

One would assume that during that meal, they made the joint decision to announce these vetoes on the Saturday night over a holiday weekend, as a midnight deadline to take action loomed for Cuomo.

We know Christie, a Republican, helped out Cuomo, a centrist Democrat, in his re-election bid this fall by making three public appearances with him on homeland security issues. Perhaps this was Cuomo’s way of saying “thank you”? We already know that Cuomo and Christie have had an alliance for quite some time.

An honest look back at the Port Authority these last few years reveals that it’s mostly been the New Jersey side that has run roughshod over the rules, and used the place as a patronage pit. New York, curiously, has actually shown a lot less interest in abusing the authority lately.

With the vetoes, Christie seems to think he can turn the page on an ugly chapter in his governorship, and also fulfill his wish to finally get Foye fired for exposing Bridgegate. Cuomo, meanwhile, gets control of his passion project to modernize the New York airports.

It’s really anybody’s guess what these two were thinking and discussing over Italian food in a restaurant known for its proximity to strip clubs.

But perhaps the funniest take on all this comes from Steven Goldstein, founder of Garden State Equality, who wrote on his Facebook page after the vetoes: “The award for the most annoying same-sex couple of the year goes to Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo.”

The DSCC Parkside Connection

Last month the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and its preferred consultant, The Parkside Group, took issue with a posting that candidates were leaned on to use Parkside in advance of the November elections. Senate Democrats lost just enough seats to ensure their minority status for at least the next two years. And while ultimately Democrats blame the “Republican Wave” for their losses, some losing candidates stepped forward to question the DSCC’s alliance with Parkside.

Now comes an email chain we’ve obtained that could help illustrate the point.  As background, the emails are between a staffer from the campaign of Democratic State Senate Candidate Brian Howard, who was running against Republican Kathy Marchione in the 43rd District, and a representative from the DSCC. The Howard Campaign, which was at a significant fundraising disadvantage, wanted to do a robocall to targeted voters. Howard was getting zero financial help from the DSCC. But the campaign was seeking information about voters in the district from Vote Builder, a database the DSCC controls that contains voter information from the New York State Board of Elections. That information about targeted voters can be customized, and it’s a valuable resource to all campaigns. In this case, the Howard camp needed help exporting the file to the company it had hired to do the robocall. A representative from the DSCC did not like that a company other than Parkside was hired, and said as much in this email chain from October.  It’s between Joe Billick, representing the DSCC and a campaign staffer who has asked not to be identified. That staffer writes the first email.

>> On Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 3:18 PM,
>> wrote:
>> I created a large list for Robocalls. I don’t think I have access to
>> export this list.
>> If I do just let me know how. If not can you export it and send it to me
>> in an email?
>> Thank you. It’s in the file called Phones and it’s called Robocall.
>> Thank you,
>> ——————————
>> From: joe.billick
>> Date: Tue, 7 Oct 2014 15:22:28 -0400
>> Subject: Re:
>> To:
>> Hello —–,
>> Did you share the folder with Josh Cherwin?
>> Joe
>> (518) DEM-6157
>> On Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 3:26 PM, >
>> wrote:
>> I just shared with you and Josh Cherwin.
>> ——————————
>> From: Joe.Billick
>> Date: Tue, 7 Oct 2014 15:26:55 -0400
>> Subject: Re:
>> To:
>> Hi —–,
>> Also, who are you partnering with on these robocalls?
>> Joe
>> (518) DEM-6157
>> On Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 3:32 PM,
>> wrote:
>> These are robocalls just mentioning Brian. Joanne Yepsen, Saratoga Springs
>> Mayor will do them
>> I’m concerned that there is still very low name recognition for Brian as
>> we go into the final weeks and join the other campaigns for joint
>> canvassing and phone banking.
>> We are using American Strategies in Washington DC.
>> ——————————
>> From: joe.billick
>> Date: Tue, 7 Oct 2014 16:26:51 -0400
>> Subject: Re:
>> To:
>> Hi —–

  1. >> Thanks for the further detail. It is preferred that you use the DSCC’s
  2. >> main consultant, the Parkside Group, for these types of services. Please
  3. >> let me know if I should put you in touch.
  4. >>
>> Joe
>> (518) DEM-6157
 On Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 4:29 PM, >
> wrote:
>> Oh wow Joe. I did not know that. Nobody told me that. The Rensslaer County
>> democrats are helping us pay for these and they wanted us to use a company
>> that they have used here before.
>> We are very low on funds. I also already set it up with this company
>> earlier this week.

In the end, the DSCC acquiesced and helped them to export the file. The key phrase here however, is “It is preferred that you use the DSCC’s main consultant, the Parkside Group, for these types of services.” Last month, Mike Murphy a spokesman for the Senate Democrats said allegations that the DSCC leaned on candidates to use Parkside was “pure fiction.” In response to this email chain, he said,

“As public records clearly show, DSCC and DSCC-supported candidates used a wide variety of vendors. In this case, a volunteer who does not speak for DSCC made a recommendation, the campaign chose a different vendor and the DSCC completely fulfilled the campaign’s request regardless. 

It is worth noting that Billick works for the New York State Senate Democrats. Often during campaigns people with government jobs volunteer their time to do campaign work, since technically they are not allowed to do that work in their capacity as government employees. Josh Cherwin, mentioned in the emails, is The Executive Director of the New York Senate Democrats.

Post-Election Grumbling

The dust has more or less settled on the 2014 elections, but there is no shortage of Monday morning quarterbacking taking place. It’s a lot of information to absorb here in New York State. A closer Look at Governor Cuomo’s numbers produced this fine story from  ( excellent new hire ) Bill Mahoney at Capital. It was preceded by this great piece from Ken Lovett. But another interesting plot line, which gets less notice, is what exactly happened in the State Senate. Democratic hopes were high earlier this year that a solid slate of candidates would not only pick up seats potentially on Long Island, but incumbents would hold their seats in the Hudson Valley and Rochester. I’m not breaking any news here to tell you that none of that happened.

When elections don’t go the way people had been told to anticipate them going, it’s easy to lay blame. Fair enough. And certainly Democrats did a lot less complaining in 2012 when the team did quite well. But a handful of Democratic insiders who worked on various losing campaigns this past cycle have started to question the methodology of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and their preferred vendor in many instances, The Parkside Group.

Parkside as of the last filing pulled in about $3.6 million this year. Primarily their services include direct mail, television ads, Polling and cards or literature. Sources say that in many instances Parkside representatives made clear to the candidates that if they do not use their services, they will not be receiving DSCC money. Sometimes that was made clear in the form of a threat, other times it was demonstrated through pulled support. The case many Democrats point to is Justin Wagner who ran the last two cycles for the seat currently occupied by Republican Senator Greg Ball. Wagner wouldn’t sign on to Parkside, and as a result he got limited help from the DSCC. Even though that was an open seat and a potential pickup for the Democrats.

Another oft cited example by Democrats is Adam Haber who ran against Republican incumbent Jack Martins on Long Island. Haber spent close to $2 million, much of it his own money. That’s far more than any other Democrat. Roughly $393,000 of that went to Parkside. Insiders say polls never really showed Haber within striking distance, but that did not stop the DSCC or Parkside from taking his money. Lots of it. Parkside also did Haber’s ads, and according to the last filing took $300,000 for them. But in one example of what some call sloppy management, Cablevision was forced to pull one of those ads off the air because it failed to meet a basic requirement. That’s some amateur hour nonsense, according to one insider. Ultimately Haber lost by 12 points.

According to the last filing with the New York State Board of Elections, which was filed 11-days before the election, the DSCC spent $52,100 money on Wagner, $318,391 on Haber. But the DSCC and Parkside both contend that that December 1 post-election filing will show more money was spent by the DSCC on Wagner than on Haber.

When it comes to canvassing, this is not actually a service that Parkside provides directly. Instead, candidates were told ( by Parkside ) to go with Grassroots Solutions, which is indeed a reputable national firm. But some candidates complained that their pricing was “inflated,” so they ended up using The Working Families Party to help get out the vote. Other complaints were that Parkside was not very involved in terms of giving direction. They should have been “showing candidates a path to victory.” But instead offered “very little ancillary knowledge of the individual districts.” In one case a candidate reached out to Red Horse Strategies, a Parkside competitor, and was told if they go with another consultant that candidate “was no longer in the program.” Yeeeesh. This program sounds like something dictated by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.

Finally, there were charges that Parkside “acted in their own self interest rather than what is best for the Senate.” With DSCC Chairman State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens acting as “an account manager for Parkside.” And if any Chairman was coming out of dramatic losses such as these, he or she “shouldn’t be in a job any longer.” Ross Barkan wrote this piece about DSCC leadership earlier this month.

Supporters of the DSCC and it’s current arrangement with Parkside counter that much of this is “sour grapes.” Candidates sometimes don’t like being told scarce resources are being diverted elsewhere. There is a finite amount of money that needs to apportioned appropriately according to the best ability for Democrats to hold or pick up seats. As for charges that prices for mail are “inflated,” they claim that is just flat out false. The prices are cheaper than their competitors and Parkside never takes a retainer…unlike other consultants. No one denies that Harry Giannoulis  and Evan Stavisky of Parkside are good friends with Gianaris. But, Parkside has been doing work for the DSCC since 2000 which is long before Gianaris was even in the Senate. It took on the bulk of the DSCC consulting work after the 2008 election because people complained that the DSCC was spending “too much money on multiple consultants, and no one could keep track.” The old system eventually led to the DSCC being in debt. “Operations need to be streamlined,” they say.

As for specific allegations about say, polling, supporters of Parkside say polling needs to be centralized in order to ensure a consistent result. And they push back against the notion that other consultants weren’t used this election cycle. They claim close to $4 million was spent by the DSCC and candidates on other consultants.

In a statement, Mike Murphy a Spokesman for the Democrats said,

“This blog post is a work of pure fiction as anyone that knows how to use a computer can easily figure out. In fact, it is demonstrably true that DSCC paid numerous different vendors for campaign mail as well as for other services, and DSCC-supported candidates also used a variety of different vendors. The Parkside Group had no role in field operations and in fact DSCC-supported candidates used multiple different vendors for field operations. The Parkside Group has worked for DSCC for almost 15 years and has won races in many of these districts including in places Democrats had never won before.  Almost all mail was paid for directly by DSCC, not by the candidates’ campaigns and out of all the vendors used The Parkside Group was the most reasonably priced.  In a world where the public dissemination of anonymously-sourced items has become more commonplace, there still must be some minimum level of standards, and this reporting falls far short.”

Security of the 1st World

A few years ago, I got wind of a story about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie which involved his security detail. In New Jersey, the Governor is protected by a unit within the state troopers known as the Executive Protection Unit, or EPU. To this day, I have never reported that story, because it involved his children ( I know, what a guy, right??!?! ). When I was told about what happened, I reached out to a high ranking New Jersey State Trooper I knew, who convinced me not to run it. Btw – he gave me something better, and insisted he would be forced to deny the piece on the record which, while a lie, would have hurt the overall credibility of the piece. Besides, I also really didn’t need to give Christie any more reasons to hate the station I was working for at the time. He’d already arrived at those conclusions on his own.

So, as I am discussing this story with the trooper, I explain to him ( or rationalize to myself ) that it’s no big deal for me to quash this story, since I can only really report about 65% of the information I come across anyway. Without hesitation, he immediately snaps back that I have him beat, since he can really only arrest about 30% of the criminals he meets. Touche, policeman. Touche.

As a result, I have closely watched this story involving New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and his security detail. It started several days ago with this piece. Then this came out. And Suddenly questions started being raised ( by the very same newspaper ) about who has a security detail and why.

It’s an interesting point. One can understand the need to protect the Mayor, but when you start seeing cops being used to protect the other two citywide elected’s, I suppose one can ask why exactly that is. Sure, the Comptroller and Public Advocate jobs are “high visibility.” But so are a lot of jobs. And I think it’s fair to say I know some people who are on television a lot more often, and they have no cops chauffeuring them around.

So, as a general rule, I think it’s fair to defer to the NYPD on all security matters. Let them determine who does or does not need a detail. But then again, if protecting these people is absolutely necessary then cops gotta learn how to keep their mouths shut.  It looks pretty sloppy to insist security is necessary, then whine about the insensitive things these executives did to you.

Campaign Diary – Election Eve

It’s been a whirlwind the last several days, but Friday deserves particular notice since my NY1 photographer Bryan Terry and I drove to Rochester and back to cover Cuomo events. Remind me to listen to people when they tell me things I know nothing about. Like when they say, “You do realize Rochester is 6 hours away, right? It really can’t be done in one day.”

Friday happened to be Halloween, and there were terrifying reminders of this fact as we drove north and west to Syracuse, then Rochester and then back. ( Sorry…did I mention that we did this in one day? ) Only our day wasn’t scary because of ghosts, it was frightening for all sorts of other reasons. We made fairly decent time along this journey. I think I speak with some authority when I say that after hitting three different states ( NY, NJ and PA ) the song “All about that Base,” is playing on a radio station somewhere on the dial in America at every moment of the day. I’m not necessarily complaining about this, it’s just a statistical fact.

While Jamming to Megan Trainor, life was good. Until it wasn’t. Halfway through PA I noticed something very frightening on the windshield on the driver’s side of the vehicle. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a ( maybe poisonous, maybe not ) spider. Looked an awful lot like a small tarantula. Everyone says spiders are “good” because they “eat other bugs” but I can’t imagine what insects she was catching in my roof. And why was she on the inside?? Just terrifying. I played it cool, and when we finally did reach Syracuse, Bryan was able to dispose of this beastly arachnid. Yeah, I know. You are not supposed to kills spiders, blah blah blah. But I assure you there was less death and mayhem from this abrupt ending than there would have been if she had landed on my head while I was driving. The haunting was over. You might ask why I couldn’t kill the thing myself and the answer is simple: I was too busy cowering in fear.

The one thing you gotta say about the Cuomo people is they are nothing, if not efficient. The events start on time. The stump speech from the Governor is pretty predictable, and then they herd us into some weird union hall back room for a quick question and answer session. Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” is the campaign’s theme song. I wonder if there is a some kind of message they are trying to send with that song selection. Hmmm. Can’t quite figure it out. Suffice to say I may need a break from Tina after this campaign…and that break may have to last a lifetime.

As we entered what felt like an auto body shop for the Rochester gaggle, a local reporter was holding a boom mic. These are normally used by audio guys when they can’t get close enough to the politician. As Cuomo walked out, he grabbed hold of the boom mic and made a slashing motion towards Erica Orden from the Wall Street Journal. He even made the “Psycho” slashing sound as he did this which went something like, “EEK! EEk! EEK!” ( hey, it was halloween, right?) This obviously brought a weird silence to all of us as everyone looked nervously at one another trying to decide what to do next. Gareth from there Governor’s office just laughed, which gave us our opening. Finally, the local TV reporter just jumped in with her questions, and things quickly got back to normal. The terror was over…for now.

After filing our stories, Bryan and I hit the road back to NYC. We barely even stopped for gas, thinking it was better to keep moving. By the time we got back to the station, Bryan punched in his time card which read 15 hours and 48 minutes. Wow. that is some day. Completely scary.

The next day we found ourselves back in the car ( of course ), this time heading home from three Cuomo events in the Bronx and Harlem. An Elton John song came on the radio. Bryan is a fan, I am not. For those who don’t know this about me, I have – how can I put this – an intense dislike for certain Elton John songs. I know, I know. It’s completely irrational. And I just want you to know that I am working on it. But given how many hours Bryan had put in for us the last few days, I told him he could hear the song in it’s entirety without me angrily changing the station. He’s lucky of course that it wasn’t “Benny and the Jets,” because that would have been a deal breaker.

So, here we are on election eve. By now, most voters have probably made up their minds about who to support. The only question that remains is will they bother to show up. Cuomo’s tone has shifted the last few days into more stridently demanding that people get out and vote. My sense is they are a little worried people are gonna stay home. Then there was that scary pre-halloween letter the Democratic State Committee sent to voters. Warning them to vote…or else. We will see if that winds up being a motivator, or leads to the exact opposite reaction from voters.

Today we are anticipating a huge Democratic GOTV rally in Times Square. For some reason I picture it as Cuomo and his fellow Democrats up on stage as pyrotechnics shoot fire into the sky and Europe takes the stage to sing “The Final Countdown.” We’ll see if I’m right about that too. It would be a fitting end to an old school campaign.

Mental Health, Gun Possession and Rob Astorino

On Tuesday, Rob Astorino was in The Bronx to court Latino voters and make yet another appearance with State Senator Ruben Diaz. Speaking Spanish to the crowd, Astorino tried to draw a contrast with Governor Cuomo by explaining that he doesn’t take the Latino vote for granted, and he comes to the Bronx with specific proposals. One of those ideas was about firearms, and how to prevent them from ending up in the hands of people with mental illness. But the candidate’s wording on this was a little confusing, especially since he has been traveling all over the state promising to repeal Governor Cuomo’s SAFE Act. Astorino said,

“One of the things we want to do is strengthen our gun laws in dealing with mental health criminals.”

Hmmm. That sounds remarkably similar to what the SAFE Act ( in part ) is designed to do. Over the weekend the New York Times Reported that more than 34,000 names have been put on the list barring individuals from legally obtaining guns in New York State. That’s a lot of people. The thrust of the article is that it might even be too many, raising privacy concerns among mental health advocates. So, if anything, the SAFE Act is doing too good a job at keeping guns out of the hands of people considered to be high risk in the age of Adam Lanza.

Astorino then went on to say,

“Even the New York Times said that the mental health issues in the Safe Act are really not doing anything because people are being missed.”

It actually sounds like the article is saying the exact opposite. It’s not that people are being missed, it’s that the bill may be casting too wide a net. However, if you believe all efforts should be made to keep guns away from people who are potentially disturbed or even dangerous, you probably don’t mind that the process for getting guns just got a lot harder if an individual has mental health issues. Finally, Astorino said

“We need to make sure it [guns] doesn’t get in their hands.”

Asked to clarify his remarks, Jessica Proud, A spokeswoman for Astorino said,

Rob has always supported keeping guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill. He has an entire program…devoted to dealing with mental health and violence.

The Times story points out flaws in the bill with regard to the mental health list. It cites the medical community as worried it will stigmatize people who might not get help. It quoted the mental health commissioner as saying he doesn’t even read the reports. By the way less than 300 of the 34,500 even had gun permits. Rob will repeal the Safe Act because it was a bad law, jammed through in the middle of the night with no public debate or input from experts. We will implement our own bill that comprehensively addresses mental health working collaboratively with experts and the public.

There is no change from his position here. He has been consistent since day one and has a long record as county executive tackling mental health after Newtown and instituting background checks at the gun show.


Campaign Diary – Caribbean Edition

Traveling with Governor Cuomo is a unique experience. It moves very fast, without much time for breaks. That is particularly challenging when you are trying to produce for television, which is labor-intensive. But it’s also a fascinating window into what these politicians do, since we are basically embedded with the Governor and his staff for the roughly 12-hour adventure.

On Wednesday at about 5pm the call came in from Cuomo’s office that the trip to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was a go. This set off a scramble within NY1 to try and figure if we could go along. On top of that, we were asked to be the pool, which can be challenging. We ended up not booking tickets until Thursday morning, about 3 hours before our 1:50pm flight was supposed to leave JFK. We made it to the airport in time, although barely. I was joined by my photographer and technical whiz Davide Cannaviccio and Gerson Borrero from City and State. Gerson has been around New York politics for years. He’s very knowledgeable, knows everyone, and is always dialed in to what is going on.

When we landed in the Dominican Republic, Gerson had his friend Evan meet us at the airport to drive us to the hotel. I was in the backseat next to Davide and City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who apparently also knew Evan ( Hey, everybody knows this guy! ). It was one of those situations where you take a look around and say, ‘Ok, this is not something I would have predicted in a million years. I am in the backseat of someone’s SUV driving through the nighttime streets of Santo Domingo and sitting next to Ydanis Rodriguez. Does it get any weirder?’

Once at the hotel, Davide and I filed an “on scene” report from our rooftop for NY1. It was very CNN of us. We then met Matt Wing from the campaign and bumped into Senators Adriano Espaillat and Jose Peralta, who were part of the delegation accompanying Cuomo.

The next morning Evan picked us up and drove us to the Presidential Palace, known as Palacio Nacional, where Cuomo was having a closed door meeting with Dominican President Danilo Medina. Davide shot some of the meeting and part of the tour Cuomo was given of the Palace. None of the leaders of the Dominican Republic actually live at the Presidential Palace anymore. The country’s previous dictators apparently haunt the place, so they opt not to stay there. I don’t know too much about Dominican history, but I did learn much about the infamous Rafael Trujillo from reading Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” To say Trujillo was a “bad dude” might be the understatement of the century.

Cuomo did a brief press conference with the delegation where he acknowledged the growing influence and voting power of the Dominican community in New York. After the presser we got into the motorcade and raced through the streets of Santo Domingo for the next event. I don’t wanna sound too much like a little kid, but speeding in the motorcade was kind of the coolest thing ever. Driving is definitely a contact sport on the island, and our car trips did not disappoint.

Cuomo then held a second meeting with Former President Leonel Fernandez and after that we were off to the airport where we hitched a ride aboard the Governor’s plane to Puerto Rico. In San Juan I met my NY1 Noticias colleague Juan Manuel Benitez, who is a fantastic person to work with on these trips. Cuomo retired to the guest house at the Puerto Rican Governor’s mansion, known as Fortaleza. There he had about an hour or so to watch a little TV and relax. Apparently, Andrew needed a little “Andrew time.” Hey, man…I get it.

Cuomo and Puerto Rico’s Governor Garcia Padilla then walked ( part of the way ) together from Fortaleza to the nearby San Juan Hotel, El Convento where their joint press conference would be held. Walking through the streets in Old San Juan is a political tradition that is appreciated and respected by Puerto Rican voters. Mayor David Dinkins did it in 1992. Cuomo and Padilla looked like they were about to burst into song…I bet it woulda been something like, “Most Happy Fella.”

While this was going on, I was sitting on the floor of El Convento doing a radio interview with the great Pat Kiernan of NY1 morning show fame for his afternoon radio show with Rita Cosby. See Erica Orden’s tweet. I was also having a mild heart attack because our equipment wasn’t cooperating as it should. Twitter was all a flutter with my choice of outfit during my  NY1 hit. ( Pink shirt, sleeves rolled up. What can I say? On the trip I kinda turned into “Island Zack” )

After the press conference Cuomo and the Puerto Rican delegation headed to Fortaleza for a private reception. I wasn’t there, but I was told that a certain Governor did a smashing rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” I don’t know what happened next, but if I were writing the definitive novel about the day long trip I’d say that after finishing his song Cuomo dropped the microphone and walked off the stage.