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Posts by Zack Fink
Sep 2nd - 9:40 am
On Labor Day, people in the news like to use cliche’s like, “this represents the unofficial close of summer.” It’s unofficial of course, because the summer technically hangs around for another few weeks, but it’s an overused cliche’ for good reason since vacations end, school begins and many public pools and beaches close up.
In New York City, one could also say the Labor Day parade along Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn represents the unofficial kickoff of the fall campaigns. Elected officials, particularly those who are standing for re-election, make the ( often sweaty ) march from Lincoln Terrace Park to Grand Army Plaza. It’s a distance of about two-and-half-miles, so you can imagine the disappointment of the press corps Monday when we learned that Governor Cuomo would be doing his press availability after we’d marched the full route with him. I just tried to keep up with the Armada of SUV’s that rolled along in front of us. Picture Clint Eastwood from “In the Line of Fire” to get a mental picture.
Cuomo has done very few campaign events ( if any ) all summer. In fact, I haven’t received a campaign schedule for him since the conventions last May. That’s a little weird, come to think of it. Even during Monday’s parade he was there in his official capacity as Governor. But there Cuomo was in full campaign mode. To continue with the theme of overused cliche’s, the Governor had a “spring in his step.” He was criss-crossing the Parkway shaking hands and posing for pictures with parade watchers who lined up on either side of the parkway. With his glistening curly locks, He looked a little like Dennis De Young at a Styx Concert circa 1976…playing to the crowd, and the crowd was eating it up. It’s funny, Cuomo doesn’t often do the hand shaking and crowd mingling but when he does, he is actually quite good at it.
Another person worth watching in the political fishbowl of the parade route was Tim Wu. Once considered an afterthought to Zephyr Teachout’s insurgent campaign for Governor, Wu has emerged as a potentially much bigger thorn in Cuomo’s side. I remember the first time I met Tim Wu…we were in Albany and he and Teachout were going to hold their first joint press conference before the LCA. Wu was headed to Legislative Office Building, and didn’t know his way around. Since I was walking in that direction ( for his press conference ), someone asked me to lead Wu over there. The avail was set to start at 9:30, and we got into the elevator at roughly 9:35. When the doors closed, Wu and the two people accompanying him held a brief discussion and came to a collective decision to go get coffee first, at which point Wu looked at me and asked with complete sincerity, “Do we have time to get coffee?”
But a lot has changed since then. And Wu could very well end up in a competitive race with Cuomo’s running mate Kathy Hochul. Wu attended the breakfast before the parade where he posed for pictures with Police Commissioner William Bratton, then chatted up Public Advocate Tish James before the start of the parade. He even told me that he met Cuomo, but Cuomo sorta walked away when he asked about debates.
Towards the end of the parade, marchers start to reach some of the more gentrified areas of Crown Heights closer to Grand Army Plaza. As Cuomo’s float approached these blocks the music blaring out of the speakers switched from calypso music to far more recognizable 90s reggae. You could see the looks of recognition and approval spreading over the faces in the crowd as “Murder She Wrote” struck a chord with the new audience. “Hey, I know this song! That DJ guy in college used to spin this every Thursday night in the dorm party we’d go to!”
Politicians at parades always walk a fine line between enthusiastic participation and awkwardly trying to fit in. But, nothing quite takes the cake with a combination of those two as this scene from last year. The bottom line is Cuomo still has pretty good standing with traditional Democratic voters, and to invoke yet a final cliche’ that is not very surprising since “the apple does not fall far from the tree.”
Aug 8th - 2:32 pm
It wasn’t quite as compelling as yesterday, and things wrapped up just before lunch, but this morning it was the Teachout campaign’s turn to make it’s case, and prove she is a bonafide New Yorker. Teachout’s attorney, Lawrence Mandelker, called three witnesses – two friends and Teachout’s mother, who is a Superior Court judge in Vermont. They all gave very believable, straight forward testimony about Teachout’s various living arrangements over the past five years. Two friends recounted visiting Teachout in her multiple apartments for dinner parties, and her mom Mary explained that Teachout hadn’t lived with her in Vermont since she left for college.
Yesterday, The Cuomo campaign’s attorney made a strong case that Teachout’s status as a permanent resident of New York over the last five years is at least questionable. But here’s the thing…the Constitution simply states that a candidate for Governor needs to have lived here for five years prior to election day. It doesn’t say anything about needing Con Edison or Time Warner Cable bills in one’s name to prove it ( Teachout had scant evidence that she was the primary resident on any leases in those early days when she first claims to have moved to New York ). And it might just be too much of a reach for a Judge to knock her off the ballot based on driver’s licenses and tax returns. More often than not these cases don’t amount to much.
I used to cover New Jersey and none of those guys from Jersey City, Newark or Paterson ever actually lived full time in whatever North Jersey city they were elected to represent. They all had shore houses where they spent the bulk of their time, particularly in the warm summer months. Every now and again the issue would get raised during a campaign, but judges rarely waded into the controversy ( probably because those judges had shore houses next door to the politicians they were being asked to rule on ).
So, in conclusion, Teachout had an early experience in the big city similar to many transient New Yorkers looking for affordable space. They crash with friends, jump from apartment to apartment and often don’t stay put for very long at a single address since the idea in this city is to always try and move up somewhere. We anticipate a ruling on Monday before 2pm. It will be sent out by email which is good because that means I don’t have to go back to court and have another huge fight with Court officer about whether we can shoot video.
Aug 7th - 3:04 pm
Years ago, a good friend of mine ended up as the lead item on Page Six for something he probably should not have done ( although the infraction was minor by today’s standards ). To this day, he still jokingly brings up the calm yet brutally honest way I described the situation for him when he called for my reaction that day which was, “well…it’s not good.”
I was reminded of that story while sitting in court this morning listening to former State Senator Martin Connor ( on behalf of the Cuomo team ) question Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Zephyr Teachout about her residency.
By law, Teachout needs to have lived here in New York for the last five years in order to run for governor. Connor called Tecahout as his first witness and proceeded to ask about her various addresses over the time period. Fairly quickly it was established that Teachout obtained a Vermont Driver’s license in 2009 – the first year she would have had to be living here to meet the requirement. Teachout then traded in her Vermont license for a New York one in May 2014, or right around the time she was deciding to run for governor.
During her early days in New York, Teachout lived with a friend in the East Village and didn’t obtain a residence of her own until 2011. She often cited her parents address in Vermont as her permanent address, and received her mail at her Fordham University office.
As late as 2013, after being stopped for a traffic infraction, Teachout provided the police officer with a Vermont address.
There are very few bills with New York addresses ( if any ) to prove New York residency, and for the last three summers she has lived in a cabin in Vermont where she participated in musical theater productions. Some of this was first reported last month. Also this past May, Teachout apparently visited her accountant and amended tax returns to reflect a permanent New York presence.
To top it all off, her cell phone has a Vermont area code.
Finally, and this was my favorite point, the only property Teachout has owned recently was in New Hampshire where she “flies hang gliders,” according to her testimony.
Now, in fairness, the defense has not yet had the opportunity to present its case. And we are told Teachout’s mother, a Vermont judge, will be testifying tomorrow on her daughter’s behalf.
But it was a little surprising to see the candidate on the stand trying to deflect all of these facts that were skillfully drawn out by Connor while her lawyer mostly just sat there. Teachout has said that the Moreland Morass has greatly changed the dynamic of the race in her favor, but if she can’t successfully push back against this challenge, there will be no race to speak of.
Aug 5th - 1:19 pm
Detroit wheels helped expand the horizons of Americans in the 20th century, and arguably no piece of literature has better captured that desire to hit the open road better than “On the Road,” written by Jack Kerouac and published in 1957. Kerouac’s book came to define the restlessness of the post World War II generation searching for an identity. Unable to live up to those who had fought and died just years before them, the newest crop of young people came to be known as the “Beat Generation” as they sought to define themselves through poetry, literature and other forms of artistic expression. The aimlessness and excitement of the open road has been part of the American culture ever since.
I’m also a huge fan of the automobile, and I spent a fair amount of time driving back and forth between New York City and Albany during the six month legislative session. I enjoy my time on the road, but probably more for the silence it affords me for three hours each way ( tranquility is so hard to come by these days, isn’t it?? ). After spending the last few weeks looking at campaign filings, it’s come to my attention that another person appears to enjoy the open road, and that is State Senator Catharine Young (R) – Olean.
According to Young’s recent filing, the Senator has used campaign cash to spend more than $7,000 on fuel alone over the last year. That’s on top of nearly $23,000 in “vehicle expenses,” whatever that means. But that’s just August 2013 through the beginning of July 2014. Go back a little further, to December 2012 through the beginning of July 2013 and one finds another nearly $6,000 in fuel and nearly $18,000 in vehicle expenses. So let’s see, that’s nearly $13,000 in fuel costs since late 2012 and another $40,000 plus on miscellaneous vehicle expenses. That’s sounds like a lot, so we posed to question to the Senator’s office, which referred me to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, where Young recently became Chair.
A Senate GOP Spokesman says,
Senator young puts up to 70,000 miles on her car each year to fulfill her responsibilities as both a State Senator and Chairwoman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. Her district is the furthest from Albany and New York City, and is approximately 4,000 square miles, and yet she chooses not to take taxpayer-funded mileage reimbursement from the state. Her busy schedule means she is literally on the go all the time — attending political events, raising money, promoting candidates and delivering our message all across this great big state. All of these are legitimate campaign expenses.
No answer on what kind of car Young is driving. I’m no expert on car payments, but last year her monthly payments appeared to total more than $520 per month, which sounds like it could be a Cedes or a Jag. But to be fair, if one is gonna hit the road for legitimate campaign purposes, why not be comfortable…and also stylish?
Jul 31st - 11:52 am
Governor Cuomo has repeatedly pointed to Moreland Commission Co-Chair William Fitzpatrick’s statement Monday that there was no interference in the commission’s work. Fitzpatrick said in part Monday,
If I or my co-chairs or any other commissioner had been told or ordered not to pursue a sensitive topic, I can state with a high degree of certainty that we all would have resigned. That never happened.
The Governor has offered this statement up as proof that his aides did nothing wrong, and ultimately the commission acted independently. On Monday Cuomo said,
The question is but did they act independently. Chairman Fitzpatrick says 100%. And by the way, if anyone tried to jeopardize my independence I would have quit. By the way, if you know Fitzpatrick, you know that he would have quit.
Now, the New York Times claims U-S Attorney Preet Bharara sent a warning letter to about potential witness tampering and obstruction of justice. The implication is that members of the Administration may have leaned on Fitzpatrick and others to publicly assert their independence and defend the Governor. Ties between Cuomo and Fitzpatrick are extensive. To get a glimpse at their familiarity, one need only listen to Cuomo’s press conference in Buffalo Monday where he referred to the Moreland Co-Chair as “Fitz.” (I have a friend named Fitz too. He’s a great guy, although he can be a tad ornery at times. I think everyone has a “Fitz” actually, at least in modern day America ).
But here is where this gets interesting. Fitzpatrick’s wife, the Honorable Diane Fitzpatrick is a Syracuse Court of Claims Judge. She was first appointed in 1998 by Governor Pataki. And guess what? She is up for re-appointment for another 9-year term in 2015 by Governor Cuomo, should he be re-elected. Some believe that has at the very least the appearance of a conflict, especially in light of William Fitzpatrick’s flip-flopping public statements. Hence the letter from the U-S Attorney.
In fact, there are a handful of Syracuse area Republicans with close ties to the Cuomos. The Fitzpatricks, J. Patrick Barrett and Joanie Mahoney, all of whom served on the Moreland Commission. Mahoney, even threw a fundraiser for Cuomo earlier this month. Mohoney came forward to defend Cuomo last week, telling TWC News,
No one ever, in my presence, ever said we can or can’t do anything. Whether there were problems, I would put them in the category mostly of personality problems. I think there were some people who had a difficult time getting along.
So, what do these connections prove? Nothing in and of themselves. But what do they look like? That’s a whole other question. There is a saying in politics…does something pass the smell test. If it doesn’t, it has the potential look and smell really awful.
Jul 25th - 11:29 am
When Christie made his remarks about Astorino in Connecticut Monday, the reaction from the Astorino Camp was measured. Through back channels, they reached out to Christie and his people. Their message was simple: “Ok, what’s done is done. Now please fix it.” The response from Camp Christie was, in essence, ready for this…”no.”
Stunning in its arrogance, surprising in it’s defiance. The man who’s job it is to promote Republican candidates for Governor seems to have an inflated sense of his own job security. This is the same guy who caused a minor rebellion on the right when he literally embraced Obama at the height of the 2012 campaign for President, sending a message that “this man Obama has your back.” By now, Christie’s comments have been well reported. And the meeting In Aspen between Astorino and Christie after the fact apparently did not go very well.
Coupla points to draw out on this…first, it’s cosmic timing that Christie, as the head of the RGA, would call Astorino’s candidacy a “lost cause” just two days before the New York Times bombshell about Cuomo and interference with the Moreland Commission. If there was ever a time for Republicans to lend a hand to the Republican candidate in New York, it was this week. Then there is the issue of how the RGA actually distributes its resources in the various races across the country. Christie said “We don’t invest in landslides,” which may be true, except for his own. The RGA spent roughly $1.7 Million on Christie’s “landslide” against Barbara Buono in 2013. A race he more than likely would have won without that money ( he utimately defeated Buono by 22 points ).
Then there are those other races. Last month, Christie campaigned in New Hampshire for gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein, who was down 26 points in the last poll. He has also campaigned ( as one could argue the head of the RGA should ) for Neel Kashkari in California who is down 20. In addition, sources say the RGA is spending more than half a million dollars on ads in New Mexico, even though Republican Governor Susana Martinez is solidly ahead, and more than $800,000 in Iowa where Terry Branstad is up by 15. Going back to 2010, the RGA spent roughly $9 million in Michigan when polls showed Governor Rick Snyder way up. And another $7 million in Massachusetts, even though anyone from Massachusetts would tell you it was unlikely Deval Patrick would lose.
So, like everything, it is a question of resources and spending those dollars wisely. Contrary to the narrative Christie has crafted, he was not ever really an underdog in 2009 against incumbent Jon Corzine in New Jersey. A poll in February of that year showed Christie ahead. The economy in New Jersey had just tanked. The local business community wanted a change, so they came together and pooled resources by funneling money into the RGA in order to elect Christie. No question it was a major victory, but it wasn’t really a Little-engine-that-could scenario either.
Finally, there is the Cuomo-Christie connection. Astorino raised this on Tuesday, suggesting Cuomo may have helped Christie keep a lid on the Bridgegate scandal by remaining quiet and even claiming he knew nothing about it weeks after his handpicked Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye indentified the lane closures on the Fort Lee side of the GWB as a possible violation of law. There are other connections between the two neighboring Governors as well. One of Christie’s top political strategists Mike DuHaime is an Partner at Mercury public affairs. Mike McKeon is also an Partner at Mercury, where he once headed up “Republicans for Cuomo” in 2010. McKeon also helped spearhead a “conversation” with Republicans for Governor Cuomo at the Harvard Club earlier this year.
So, the two Governors, who are known to talk frequently on the phone, do have some connections. After being snubbed by Christie in such a heavy-handed and mean-spirited way, it stands to reason that Astorino will no longer be reluctant to point those out going forward.
Jul 22nd - 4:14 pm
Last week, we discovered that Senator Liz Krueger had donated $3,500 to Oliver Koppel’s campaign for State Senate. This donation was made in July, long after a deal had been struck for the Democrats and the Independent Democrats to end their feud and join forces for a new majority in the State Senate. A spokesman for Krueger said the check she had written to Koppell must have gotten “lost in the mail.” Part of the chessboard deal among labor unions, Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo and the State Senators was that all those involved would not actively support primaries against IDC members. Or at least that’s what some people who were part of that deal think.
Well, perhaps Krueger did not get the memo. Because yet another filing shows that she also gave $2,000 to John Liu who is waging an insurgent campaign against IDC member Tony Avella. That donation was made on July 8th, which was also long after the deal had been in place. I reached out to Krueger to see if this too was an errant check that had somehow leaped out of the mail carrier’s bag only to reappear weeks later, just in time to be recorded in the month of July, but this time there was no answer or explanation.
Krueger’s Spokesman Andrew Goldston had said that Krueger endorsed Oliver Koppell in his race, even though there was never any announcement about that, and it was not mentioned when Krueger and Koppell made a joint appearance to discuss campaign finance in the Bronx this past Spring. Did Krueger endorse John Liu as well? I don’t recall seeing it if she did. Earlier this month, Senate Democrats made it clear they would not be supporting the primaries against IDC certain members despite helping them early on, and encouraging those challengers to run. Sources now say Liu was never part of any deal.
Asked for comment last week, A Senate Democratic Spokesman said the DSCC is not giving any money to Liu or Koppell, but they cannot tell individual members what to do. That should make for a fun session next year, assuming the Democrats can regain power. If I’m not mistaken, the criticism they endured while in power was that they couldn’t control their members, resulting in “dysfunction.” The word almost everybody uses to describe Albany before I got there.
Jul 18th - 6:53 pm
In politics, deals need to hold. Sometimes facts change, and that forces a re-evaluation of an earlier agreement, but for the most part either both sides hold up their end of the bargain, or it’s tough to trust one another moving forward.
After the legislative session ended in June, a deal was made to end the current leadership agreement in the State Senate with a new commitment from The IDC and the Senate Democrats to form a new Democratic Majority. This was a very big deal, and I mean that literally. The labor unions, Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo and Democartic elected officials including Jeff Klein in the IDC all vowed to work together for that new majority in the Senate ( I’d say “work together for the first time in years,” but actually it was the “first time ever,” since de Blasio is a relatively new Mayor ).
So, the deal was set. It was fragile, however, since there is still some lingering bad blood between IDC members and mainline Democrats over the IDC’s decision to form a governing coalition with Republicans the last two years. That’s now over. And as part of the “New Deal” ( hehe ), both Democratic factions agreed to pull their support from threatened primaries against each other’s members. Former City Councilman Oliver Koppell is challenging IDC leader Jeff Klein, in one of the more notable races. Koppell who once had the support of Senate Democrats, no longer does.
But does that extend to all the members?
A spokesman for the Senate Democrats Mike Murphy says, “We have made it abundantly clear that we are not supporting Oliver Koppell.”
But on July 11th, according to the latest campaign finance disclosure, “Friends of Liz Krueger” ( as in, ya know, Senator Liz Krueger ) gave Koppell a $3,500 donation. If I am not mistaken, July 11th was long after that deal was reached. But like a cease fire during a time of war, not everyone abides. Initially, a Spokesman for Liz Krueger said the Senator had endorsed Koppell months ago. but when asked to produce some paper on that, since this reporter has no memory of that endorsement, none was provided. Krueger was also the one who said a few months ago that she was confident there would be no deal between the IDC and the Democrats. Hmmm.
In a statement, IDC Spokeswoman Candice Giove said,
The IDC kept its word and did not support State Senator Gustavo Rivera’s challenger. This is an unfortunate development when so many Democrats have worked hard towards putting a coalition together.
*Update** Andrew Goldston, spokesman for Liz Krueger says,
Sen. Krueger continues to support Oliver Koppell. She had earlier committed these funds to him from her committee, but a check got lost in the mail, so a new one was issued.
Jul 16th - 3:27 pm
Posted by Zack Fink in [...]
It didn’t take long after the legislative session ended in Albany for IDC Leader Jeff Klein to announce that he intended to form a new Democratic majority in the State Senate, only this time with the mainline Democrats. All of this is contingent upon the outcome of the November elections, but first there are those primaries to deal with. The announcement that the IDC would be working with the Democrats ( albeit as separate conferences ) was the culmination of ( literally ) a backroom deal that handed Governor Cuomo the Working Families Party Line.
In exchange for getting the line, Cuomo had to pledge to work with Mayor Bill de Blasio and the IDC to ensure Democratic control of the State Senate. Threatened primaries against IDC-ers Dave Valesky, David Carlucci and and Diane Savino quietly slithered away while two others that had already been set in motion remained. Former City Councilman Oliver Koppell had already pledged to take on Klein, and Former City Comptroller John Liu had already gone ahead with a challenge to the newest IDC-er, Tony Avella. But sources say the deal was that if Koppell wanted to continue his campaign, he would be on his own. No union support, and no endorsements from the Mayor or the Governor. Then just last week, Senate Democratic Conference leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins pulled her support for Koppell, and Klein agreed to drop his support for City Councilman Fernando Cabrera who is taking on incumbent Democratic Senator Gustavo Rivera, also in a primary. That news was first reported by Capital.
So, I guess the question now becomes…is everyone living up to their end of the bargain? Koppell had a window last week to drop out of the race, and claim at least a partial victory. He could have credibly stated that his candidacy helped force a reconciliation, and he is proud to have played a role, blah, blah blah. But he didn’t. He chose to stay in the race, despite the loss of support ( The exception being Gustavo Rivera, who endorsed Koppell and has yet to withdraw that endorsement ). But yesterday, according to financial disclosure reports, a Schedule F payment was approved from The Parkside Group to Koppell for $31,889.19. So, if the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee disavowed Koppell’s candidacy, why are they still giving him money that gets recorded on the final day the financial disclosure report is due?
A spokeswoman for the IDC says Klein stands by his statement last week that he is withdrawing support for Cabrera. A spokesman for the Senate Democrats says the payment to Koppell from Parkside ( the main consulting firm for Senate Dems ) is for “previous work.” That includes a website for Koppell and some literature and palm cards.
Jul 15th - 9:27 am
Last month at the Gay Pride parade, former NYC Public Advocate Mark Green bumped into Randy Credico and Zephyr Teachout while marching with the Jim Owls Club. Teachout and Credico, who have both submitted signatures to run as Democrats in the primary for Governor, had not previously met. Green had an idea. While emphasizing that he has no plans to endorse any candidate or get involved in the primary, but does appreciate healthy competition, he urged the two scrappy upstart candidates to form a non-aggression pact. An agreement not to challenge each other’s signatures in court. The deal was struck and the two candidates shook on it.
I wasn’t there, but I bet it was a proud moment for all involved including the larger left, democracy in general, and of course the good people of the great state of New York.
Teachout later invited Credico to drop out of the race and join her nascent campaign, but Credico declined opting to stay in the race. Credico was coming off his showing last fall in the Democratic Mayoral Primary. The day after the vote was tallied it still was not clear Bill de Blasio had avoided a runoff but it appeared as though some districts in the Bronx who might ordinarily have gone for de Blasio had actually voted for Credico. This later proved to be false but that morning Credico proceeded to facebook message me multiple times to let me know that if de Blasio doesn’t avoid the runoff he, Randy, is solely responsible. Naturally, I told him he was the Ralph Nader of the 2013 election, and that he should be very proud.
Credico aside, the Teachout/Wu campaign could prove more of a thorn in the side for Camp Cuomo. First, there is this excellent story from Blake Zeff at Capital which explains the Kathy Hochul problem for the left as LG, and how Tim Wu could conceivably grab some votes. Then of course there is the issue of Teachout herself. While the leadership of the Working Families Party has joined forces with labor, Cuomo, de Blasio and the new progressive coalition in New York which is determined to elect Cuomo and a Democratic Senate, there are still those in the Working Families Party and elsewhere who are dissatisfied with Cuomo and may want to register a protest vote with Teachout. Just last week, the Village Independent Democrats rescinded their “no endorse” in the gubernatorial election and instead went with Teachout. While the VID doesn’t represent all that many votes, it’s a Barometer of the soul of the Democratic party. Ed Koch came out of there, after all.
When Teachout was first seeking the nomination, some questioned whether she meets the residency requirement. In order to run for Governor, one has to have lived in this state for five years as of election day. Teachout’s history could be subject to a court challenge, or at least a good lawyer could probably make an solid argument against her.
Teachout moved to New York in June 2009 from North Carolina. She began teaching at Fordham in the fall and moved in with a friend in the East Village. Her name will not pop up on the lease or on any utility bills from that period, all of which could be subpoenaed by a lawyer challenging residency. In early 2010 she taught at Harvard University in Boston for about 7 weeks. Later that same year she finally signed her own lease and moved into a place on West 82nd street where she lived for a year. Teachout then stayed with friends again until 2012 when she moved to Fort Green, Brooklyn where she lives now.
Teachout says she is prepared for a legal challenge. She has numerous affidavits lined up from students and others. But there are also questions about her voting absentee. The Board of Elections cannot rule on this issue, but the courts can if the Cuomo campaign files suit. That window is now open, but the earliest it would go before an Albany judge is two weeks from last Thursday’s filing deadline.