Zack Fink

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Posts by Zack Fink

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.


Campaign Diary Book Review

Well, it’s very Cuomo, right? Or as Jimmy Vielkind would say, “Cuomonian.” “All Things Possible” hits bookshelves this week.

The book is written distinctly in Cuomo’s voice. It sounds like one of his speeches, or an epic news conference at the State Capitol. You can almost hear him saying the words as you read. It sounds like he talked about his life for hours into a recording device, then those stories and anecdotes were transcribed into a well organized political memoir.

At times it is brutally honest, but also surprisingly tone deaf. Like the passage about Cuomo’s life lesson taken from a harrowing experience he had at the helm of his family’s 33-foot yacht while trying to navigate through foggy waters off New England’s coast.

Even the bad experiences feel like they are lacking in any real emotional connection. He explains his divorce from Kerry Kennedy in a stark but detached way. Almost like he is describing things that happened to someone else. That wasn’t just a divorce, it was a tabloid nightmare. And whatever your opinion of Andrew Cuomo, anybody who knows him ( even tangentially ) can understand how awful that must have been for him personally. Ten years hence, this would have been a good opportunity to explain in a little more detail how he felt during that time, and what it must be like to wind up on the wrong end of our tabloid feeding frenzy. There might even be a lot of people out there who feel Cuomo was treated very unfairly. He’ll never know unless he opens up, and he chooses not to do that here.

The same can be said about his description of dropping out of the 2002 Democratic Primary.

As I stood onstage, I felt my last bit of dignity drain out.

That’s about as emotional as it gets, folks.

There are some upsides too. His poignant recounting of time spent with his daughters after the divorce is quite touching and sincere ( although he concludes with “I thought I was helping them, but it turned out they were helping me.” Ugh. Somebody please call the cliche’ police ).  So is the ( very short ) passage about meeting Sandra Lee, the woman who helped him put the pieces back together after his setbacks.

As for laying the groundwork for his enemies to dance on his political grave in 2002, Cuomo offers some valuable insight, even if much of it reads like a rationalization. He recalls being tasked with firing holdovers from Hugh Carey’s Administration when his father took office in 1983. Many had thought their jobs were safe since it was a Democrat transitioning to a fellow Democrat.

The newly unemployed didn’t lash out at my father. They blamed the messenger. The Albany media dubbed me “Prince of Darkness,” “Darth Vader,” and Mario’s “hatchet man.”

Cuomo then draws some questionable conclusions about his inability to make traction in the race for Governor the first time out,

This country doesn’t like political dynasties.

Uh, really? That actually sounds a bit laughable in the age of Bush and Clinton, and it’s even stranger coming from the man who married a Kennedy.

Cuomo definitely has a “Maverick” complex, and I say that with sympathy, not snark. It’s like every time he goes up there he is flying against a ghost. It’s hard to follow in Mario Cuomo’s footsteps. But what Mario lacked, Andrew has. particularly when it comes to dealmaking and getting what you want from people. It’s hard to write about that, but that’s also something people want to know more about. Small digression since I referenced “Top Gun.” Have you noticed that Tom Cruise is now so old that we can no longer accept him as an action hero on present day earth? All his movies lately need to be set in the future or on some other planet because we have stopped relating to him as a leading man here in the 21st century. Kinda sad, but also funny.

The section on the gay marriage vote in 2011 is probably the highlight of the book. It’s a very interesting insider’s account of what happened, and it sets up the march to that historic vote with page turning suspense and drama. Cuomo claims he had no idea how Buffalo Senator Mark Grisanti would even vote until they opened up the machines that night on the final day of the session. The Republican Senator ultimately voted in the affirmative.

Then there are other wonky things I wanted to hear more about, like the “Troopergate” report he wrote as Attorney General that exonerated Joe Bruno and undermined the Governorship of Eliot Spitzer. Cuomo dedicates all of three pages to this.

Coupla other notes…Cuomo uses the phrase “man of the house” one time too many times, particularly as he criss-crosses the state this month on the Women’s Equality Express tour. And it wouldn’t be a Cuomo presentation without more than one reference to the Erie Canal, a triumph of engineering that the Governor likes to point to in his speeches. The book doesn’t disappoint here.

Throughout the book, Cuomo writes about the miniature stone castles his grandfather had built in their backyard. At one point he goes to rescue them from the people who bought his old house. The castles almost seem like a metaphor for Cuomo being the Prince of New York. The anointed son. And anyone who feels Cuomo has an inflated sense of entitlement will probably not have that notion debunked by this book.

Finally, and this is just a personal pet peeve of mine…Cuomo ends the book with “This is what makes all things possible.” It drives me nuts when characters in movies or books actually say the title. It just seems so lazy and obvious. It should be inferred. The classic 2010 comedy “Hot Tub Time Machine” does a great mockup of this when Craig Robinson looks directly into the camera early in the film and explains that what they have stumbled on must be “some kind of Hot Tub Time Machine.” The camera lingers for a half beat to make sure you get the joke. And that my friends, concludes my “campaign diary book review.”

Senate Math

“The only poll that matters is the one on election day.”

-Every candidate who has ever been down in a poll prior to election day

When Republican Senator Mark Grisanti lost his primary last month, the electoral map was looking good for Democrats. But then this happened. Followed by this, and suddenly the math for Democrats retaking the State Senate just became a lot more difficult. Democrats will have to hold their seats in the Hudson Valley, and pick up seats in Buffalo and on Long Island, the latter also now looking more challenging. So, what does that mean? Well, for one it means Democrats should not be eyeing better office space at the Capitol just yet.

Sometimes when I do a wonky or boring story, I swear that I can hear the sound of television sets turning off all over New York City. I probably can’t actually hear that, right? But sometimes it feels like I can. Democrats would do well to hear the discontent out there, even if the read on those polls is a little more nuanced and complicated. Some believe all the talk about de Blasio and the New York City agenda taking over the state government may have scared some people into the waiting arms of Republicans who will stand up for putting the brakes on bold or aggressive ideas.

Others say it’s still too early to really get a read on what’s happening in some of those races.

“We are not too worried about it,” says Democrat Mike Gianaris of Queens. “Our own internal numbers are better,” he added.

“Can I see them?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

Gianaris went on to say that he and fellow Democrats believe the science of the Siena poll leads them to question it’s accuracy. Democrats are only now getting started with direct mail and ads, and Republicans have been at it for weeks. When I asked if Denenberg dropping out was an unexpected blow, Gianaris said the Denenberg development was “not good for us, but Grisanti losing his primary was also a surprise.” One door closes another one opens, I suppose. I used to communicate entirely in cliche’s a lot more often. I should really start that up again.

Republicans ( as you might imagine ) have a very different read on what is happening in the Hudson Valley. Republican Senate Conference Leader Dean Skelos issued a statement Monday which read,

This is shaping up to be an extraordinary year for Senate Republicans and we are going to win a clear majority. Every objective measure, including the five Siena College polls released to date, continues to overwhelmingly bear that out




Those Emails

Governor Cuomo may not have used the word “negotiate” when explaining how the two campaigns will accept debate terms, but he did say they were “working it out.” Below is the email exchange between Astorino Campaign Manager Mike Lawler and Cuomo Campaign Manager Joe Percoco leading up to what amounts to a unilateral decision by team Cuomo. I did Joe a solid and blocked out his personal address. Because in the words of the great Peter Cetera, “I am a man. Who will fight. For your honor.”

From: Mike Lawler

Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2014 11:18 AM

To: perc

Subject: Cuomo/Astorino Debate(s)


I hope this email finds you doing well.

Following up on the Governor’s comments that he expects to debate County Executive Astorino and per my August 26th correspondence to you (see attached), I’d like to discuss the debate schedule and format.

As the County Executive has stated on numerous occasions, and as mentioned in the letter, we would like to have 8 regional debates, so that the voters across New York can hear from the Governor and the County Executive about the issues affecting our state and each of their proposed solutions.

To date, we have received, as I’m sure you have as well, 5 official offers to host a debate between Governor Cuomo, County Executive Astorino, and in some instances Mr. Hawkins.  They are as follows:

1)      NY1/Time Warner Cable/News 12

2)      WABC7/Univision/NY Daily News/League of Women Voters

3)      CBS6 Albany and Sinclair Broadcasting Group sister stations (WHAM-ABC in Rochester; WSTM-NBC, WSTQ-CW, and WTVH-CBS in Syracuse; and WUTV-FOX in Buffalo

4)      FiOS-1

5)      Association of Public Broadcasting Stations of New York (WMHT-Albany; WSKG-Binghamton; WNED-Buffalo; WNET-New York City; WCFE-Plattsburgh; WXXI-Rochester; WCNY-Syracuse; WPBS-Watertown

We have officially accepted all 5 invitations and hope that Governor Cuomo and the campaign will join us in doing so.

Please let me know a time convenient for you, so that we may speak directly to work out the details.

Thank you for your time and attention on this important matter.

Best regards,


Michael Lawler

Campaign Manager

Astorino For Governor

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-From: perc

Sent: Friday, September 19, 2014 9:51 PM

To: Mike Lawler

Subject: Re: Cuomo/Astorino Debate


Mike: Great to meet you although via email. ‎ I  got the invites let me go through them and I will get back to you. Thanks and have a good weekend.



From: Mike Lawler

Sent: Tuesday, September 23, 2014 5:48 PM

To: perc

Subject: RE: Cuomo/Astorino Debate(s)

Joe –

Hope all is well.  Just wanted to follow up with you and see where you guys are at.




On Sep 25, 2014, at 7:27 PM, “perc wrote:


Sorry for delayed response. Still working out dates. Will get back to you shortly. Thx



From: Mike Lawler

Sent: Thursday, September 25, 2014 9:41 PM

To: perc

Subject: Re: Cuomo/Astorino Debate(s)


No problem. Is there a time tomorrow we can speak via phone and discuss?

Michael Lawler

Campaign Manager

Astorino For Governor


Sent: Saturday, September 27, 2014 12:52 PM
To: Mike Lawler
Subject: Re: Cuomo/Astorino Debate(s)



We are accepting‎ debates today and announcing shortly. Will send you release asap. Thanks


So basically, they found out roughly when we found out. On a Saturday. While the Governor was in Afghanistan.
End scene.


On Groundhogs…

The suggestion that Mayor de Blasio may have had a hand in a groundhog’s death brought gags and smirks across the city. Nothing was funny about a groundhog losing her life, but watching the story unfold in the press was, let’s face it, amusing. You know who didn’t have a sense of humor about it ( besides Charlotte the groundhog )? Mayor de Blasio, who coolly shook off reporter’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek questions about it Monday. There is of course some irony in a Mayor who championed the rights of horses somehow being implicated in such an awful accident involving an animal.

But let me propose an unpopular idea…maybe it’s time to give up Groundhog Day all together. Groundhogs, after all, are not meant to be handled by humans. They are wild animals. They have not been domesticated like other rodents such as gerbils and guinea pigs. One need only look back to 2009 when Staten Island Chuck bit Mayor Bloomberg as evidence these creatures aren’t exactly in on our joke about the future of foul weather.

In fact, one could argue that because the groundhog bit the Mayor, de Blasio was forced to wear those awkwardly big and unruly gloves which may have contributed to him losing grip of the slippery groundhog.

Bloomberg getting bitten was another somewhat funny groundhog story, but when you think about it, it really wasn’t. This poor groundhog gets hoisted up by a bunch of menacing-looking humans as part of some bizarre ritual dating back to the 19th century. I could sit here and run off the history of Groundhog Day, and how it dates back to German-American Traditions in Eastern Pnensylvania, but who cares?!?! I mean, honestly. Is this really something that needs to be done every year?

Let’s think about it carefully. On February 2nd, a bunch of men in top hats hoist a Groundhog out of his cage to check whether or not he sees his shadow. legend has it, that if the groundhog sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter persist. Ok, for starters there are always at least six more weeks of winter on February 2nd. Even before the polar vortex, the weather in March was usually pretty unbearable. So, six weeks of winter would actually be a welcomed gift, meaning the legend really has no basis in fact. Besides, we are all getting a little too sophisticated for silly superstitions. Especially in the age of instantaneous web searches and Wikipedia.

Finally, the Staten Island tradition only dates back to 1981. So, it’s not like we’d be throwing out some grand ritual dating back to the last ice age that the Lenape Indians first practiced on the land masses that comprise the five boroughs. It’s something we co-opted from Pennsylvania. So Why don’t we just let our friends in Punxsutawney be the ones to keep the antiquated tradition alive? If TV stations are desperate for a groundhog story on February 2nd, I am sure they can figure out a way to get the satellite feed from our neighbor to the west.

The 1993 film “Groundhog Day” really has become the authority on this anachronistic practice. The very premise of the film is a cliche in politics and pretty much everywhere else. I’m picturing politicians grandstanding on the House floor or in some state legislature complaining about a debate they’ve had before saying things like, “It’s like Groundhog’s day all over again!”

The subtext to that movie, and yet another reason why the “holiday” should be retired once and for all, is that Groundhog Day is ridiculous. Period.

So, why don’t we give it rest for now. At least here in New York City, since from now on it’ll always end up as a joke or a scandal. We’ve officially reached the no-turning-back point. I assure you the groundhogs will get over it.


Campaign Diary

The advisory came down Friday afternoon at about 1:45 pm for a 2:15 event. I actually missed it initially because I was in the bathroom fixing my hair ( which is something I never ever do, so why don’t you stop judging me?!? ). I raced down the halls of NY1, grabbed a camera and tore out the door running top speed down 15th street to grab the downtown A train. Governor Cuomo was set to ride the subway from the World Trade Center up to Penn station. I just needed to catch him on the platform before he left the station.

When I pulled into World Trade, I saw that they hadn’t left yet. We did a quick avail, walked the entire length of the station. Went outside. Did another avail, then went back downstairs and walked the entire length of the station a second time. Apparently we needed to board the *last* car on the train. Not the first one, and absolutely not one in the middle. Does everything happen for a reason? Tough to say. But who should be sitting quietly ( which is rare for him ) in that last car but comedian/activist Randy Credico, who’d recently lost his Democratic primary challenge against the Governor.

Randy jumped up to shake Cuomo’s hand. “You look good, Randy,” Cuomo said. “So do you,” Randy answered. What followed next was a quick period of uncertainty. Is this a setup? Are we being punk’d? Cuomo turned to the handful of reporters tailing him ( myself, Azi from Capital, Erin from the Daily News and Jillian from the Observer ) and half smiled as he shook his head in disbelief. His expression spoke volumes. It was a “can you believe this? Only in New York City” look. Cuomo’s handlers were dumbfounded. So were the rest of us. But soon ( and this all happened in a matter of minutes ) it became clear to all of us that this was one of those quintessential New York moments, and it was hilarious. For once, we were all in on the same joke, including Randy.

It’s the kind of thing that happens far more frequently than the statistics would suggest it should in this city. In fact, over the course of a lifetime here, it happens all the time. You choose an unorthodox route somewhere one day and bump into an old friend, a former acquaintance or even an ex-girfriend. New York songwriter Paul Simon actually wrote a song about this. He bumps into his old girlfriend on the street one night, I think it was outside the old West End Gate up near Columbia ( Although I mighta made that last part up ). But they go back inside to drink beer and catch up and sure enough she is still crazy after all these years. A reminder why they might have stopped seeing each other on purpose in the first place. Of course that doesn’t mean it isn’t great to see that person again, seemingly by chance.

Randy did a brief Governor impression in full Cuomo voice. Went over a bit awkwardly. Those of us who go way back with Randy can attest to the fact that his best impression remains Rudy Giuliani. He used to do it at the height of all those police brutality scandals in the mid-90s, and it was comic relief for an ugly situation. Turns out Cuomo and Credico also have some history.

They teamed up in 2003 to urge repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws. A year later their goal was partly realized when Governor Pataki signed the Drug Law Reform Act, which greatly reduced mandatory sentencing guidelines. Although It was not until 2009 that mandatory minimums were eliminated all together for non-violent drug offenses. But make no mistake that Cuomo, Credico and Hip-Hop mogul Russell Simmons ( of all people ) played a big part in their demise. Even rapper 50 Cent was in on the action ( although peripherally ). And that was long before he sampled me in his rap song.

Sometimes a chance run-in is a good opportunity to reminisce about old times. I’m reminded of the song where Billy Joel sits down with an old friend in an Italian restaurant and after some small talk they fondly begin to recall the characters of their youth. Or Philip Roth who brilliantly writes in “American Pastoral” about running into the guy they used to call “the Swede” outside Shea Stadium. The Swede can’t quite bring himself to talk about the problem with his daughter, but then the narrator unravels the story which begins in their old neighborhood near Weequahic Park in Newark.

At last, the train pulled into Randy’s station and he leaped up to exit. Posed for a quick picture with Cuomo. Then dashed out into the crowd. After he left, Cuomo explained his work with Randy all those years ago and praised Credico as someone who has been active and around politics a long time. I guess Sometimes that happens. People head off in very different directions in life, but every now and then their paths cross again. For one reason or another.


This weekend we were informed that Governor Cuomo would be traveling to Afghanistan. Scratch that, he’d already left. He was accompanied by a small delegation of of Governors. Turns out three of those four governors ( including Cuomo ) are up for re-election this year. At 9:30 Sunday morning we got a press release from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver “Commending” Governor Cuomo for his trip overseas. A few hours later we got another press release, this time from Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, also praising the Governor. I kept waiting for Dean Skelos’ release to arrive, but alas, it never did. If it had, Cuomo would have achieved a rare feat affectionately known as The Triple Lindy.