Zack Fink

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Posts by Zack Fink

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.

 

 

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.”