Zack Fink

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Posts by Zack Fink

Campaign Laws Are Clear on Some ( but not all ) Things

In a recent interview with Brian Lehrer on WNYC, Mayor de Blasio was asked whether he would rule out using a 501(c)(4) Super PAC for his re-election campaign in 2017. The mayor responded with,

It’s just too early to say, and I’ll say it in very simple terms. I’ve said clearly if people choose to run for this office, God bless them.

Technically speaking, Super PAC’s are not allowed to coordinate with the campaigns. They must spend money independently. So, by indicating he will decide whether or not to employ a super PAC as the campaign moves forward, does that possibly demonstrate a failure to understand where the boundaries are when it comes to political fundraising? Some in State government believe it does.

The answer is also somewhat revealing in that Mayor de Blasio is currently under scrutiny from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for fundraising practices on behalf of the Senate Democrats dating back to 2014. At issue is whether the Mayor intentionally subverted state campaign finance laws by funneling money to County Democratic organizations which then wheeled that money to specific Senate candidates in the Hudson Valley. People who are much more well informed about state election law than me say it’s pretty clear: that’s not allowed. There are limits on what can be directly earmarked for individual candidates, and using what amounts to a middle man to get more money to those candidates would seem to be a violation of the law. I have no idea whether this actually happened, and it’s for the U.S. Attorney to sort out. But to some critics it sounds like Mayor de Blasio was blind to the very lines one cannot cross when it comes to political fundraising.

In the same radio interview the mayor expounded on why his office has refused to cooperate with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics or JCOPE’s investigation into the Campaign for One New York which raised money to support the Mayor’s agenda before it was abruptly shut down in March. The Mayor said,

We see an entity that again suspiciously seems to only look at us and not other people doing the exact same thing.

In response Seth Agata, former Counsel to Governor Cuomo who now heads JCOPE, told the Daily News’ Erin Durkin,

We are investigating right now the Committee For One New York, not the mayor. He’s confused himself with a separate corporation and that’s very troubling. If he’s that intimately involved with this corporation, perhaps that raises other questions.

One could certainly make the point that in this environment, with a thirsty U.S. Attorney who is willing to investigate what has always been considered “business as usual” in New York State, everyone needs to be extra special careful about navigating and recognizing the boundaries when it comes to political fundraising which ( rightly or wrongly ) exist for a reason. Or as one insider put it about the Mayor, “he does not get it. He keeps blurring the line. This U.S. Attorney is looking at everything.”

People close to the mayor say these two examples do not show any ignorance of the law, nor any indication there is a failure on de Blasio’s part to understand the nuances of those laws. They “vehemently disagree” with that assessment, and argue the Mayor “knows exactly where the boundaries are.”

In a statement, Andrew Friedman a spokesperson for the Mayor’s political arm said,

Mayor de Blasio has said repeatedly that he and his staff will cooperate fully with all law-enforcement investigations. Unfortunately, there have been serious questions raised about conflicts of interest, selective enforcement, and politicized investigations by state agencies — JCOPE and the Board of Elections – and those questions should be examined. Most importantly, the Mayor is fully confident that all efforts have been completely appropriate and within the law at all times.

Scandal Means State Senate May Hold

Recently I was driving up to Albany when I noticed an animal carcass on the side of the road. It’s not uncommon to see deer or the occasional badger, but as I got closer I realized the animal was actually a small black bear which is highly unusual. Naturally, my first instinct was to pull the car over, peel the bear skin off the highway’s shoulder, clean it and then wear it over my head and shoulders for the rest of the day. When people would approach me at the State Capitol and say things like, “Hey, Zack…what is that you are wearing?” I’d simply respond with, “Zack is not here. From now on you shall call me ‘Bear Man.”

But then when I really thought about it, I concluded that was a pretty elaborate place to go for a practical joke, so I opted to scrap the idea altogether. Although deep down I think most ( but certainly not all ) of you would have appreciated the humor. I would have been channeling the character who practiced medicine, dentistry and veterinary arts in that movie “True Grit,” only he wasn’t really trying to be funny.

Somehow I suspect that if someone were to do something surreal and outrageous in Albany these next couple of weeks, it wouldn’t even feel that out of place. The whole atmosphere is weird. It’s like disturbia up here. Lawmakers are concerned about wheeling and dealing on legislation, and everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop. The corruption scandals have not only hobbled Albany and wish list items for the remainder of the session, they may have also fundamentally shifted the dynamic for the upcoming state elections.

Democrats have been expressing confidence that they will pick up enough seats and win back control of the State Senate. But some believe the fundraising scandal may have changed the paradigm. Donors could be skittish about filling the campaign coffers of Democratic candidates. A funding scheme to funnel money to Democratic Senate candidates in the Hudson Valley in 2014 is now the focus of a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara. And as one GOP insider put it, “this is certainly not where the Dems thought they would be right now.”

The strategy for Democrats this year, at least before the scandal hit, was to rely on strength at the top of the ticket to pull Democratic challengers over the finish line. Hillary Clinton is the likely nominee and she has already been elected statewide twice in New York State. Some would even argue she did better than expected against Bernie Sanders here in the April 19 primary. So, in other words, it’s a classic “boot straps” strategy. the head of the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Senator Michael Gianaris recently told me,

We always benefit from Presidential elections. That’s why we won four seats in 2012 in the State Senate and why we expect to do well in 2016, all things being equal. But with the contrast of Hillary Clinton and Trump that is going to be more exaggerated. The dynamic is going to be terrific for Democratic candidates all up and down the ballot.

This may prove accurate, but GOP-leaning insiders see it differently. It all comes down to individual candidates in individual races and if you take the ability to aggressively fund raise out of the equation, the math gets much harder for Democrats. For example, Democrats are relying on some rematches, which they believe will break their way in the general. Terry Gipson will take on Senator Sue Serino, who took him out as an incumbent two years ago. But Gipson could get lumped into the negative press about the investigation, and could ultimately fall short regardless of how Clinton fares in the district. Democrats are also recycling Adam Haber on Strong Island for the open seat being vacated by Republican Senator Jack Martins. Martins beat Haber last time, and it’s unclear who the GOP candidate will be. It’s also unclear if Democratic Senator Todd Kaminsky will be challenged after defeating newcomer Chris McGrath for the Skelos seat.

The Kaminsky model was a strong one for Democrats. Run a sitting incumbent Assembly member for the Senate whose district is already contained within the footprint of the Senate district. That way they have a built in constituency. But hopes that Assemblyman Jim Skoufis would run against Bill Larkin haven’t worked out, and Assemblyman Sean Ryan of Buffalo has also opted not to leave the Assembly to run for the seat being vacated by departing Democratic incumbent Marc Panepinto. Staying with Buffalo for a minute, Republicans have recruited Chris Jacobs to run for the Panepinto seat. Jacobs is currently the Erie County clerk and a “proven vote getter,” which means Repubs could conceivably pick up the Panepinto seat which of course they previously held with Mark Grisanti.

I’m not even going to get into the dynamic among mainline Senate Dems and the loyaties of the IDC or Simcha Felder and where they may lie next year, but suffice to say it is yet another variable.

Finally, when it came time to vote for this year’s State budget which contained a massive increase in the minimum wage and a brand new paid family leave program, some believe Senate Republicans adopted a bit of a “Thelma and Louise” strategy by driving off the cliff altogether. Republicans opted to stay united as a conference and all vote for the budget including those progressive policy initiatives. That could hurt incumbents or maybe it helps those in swing districts. Either way, it was incredibly gutsy call by Majority Leader John Flanagan to employ that strategy and enforce discipline. It was probably the right one. We, as they say, shall see.

Cuomo’s Bridgegate?

From the Morning Memo:

Is Gov. Andrew Cuomo facing his version of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate? Some of parallels are actually quite similar.

Two sitting governors claim people close to them went rogue, operating in a manner of which they had no knowledge and would never have authorized.

A federal investigation is launched.

Both governors move immediately to distance themselves from those individuals as ties are cut. Then each governor hires an outside attorney to conduct a top-to-bottom review of what went wrong. For Christie it was Gibson Dunn’s Randy Mastro; for Cuomo, it’s Bart Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor who is now an attorney in private practice.

Christie ultimately survived the worst crisis of his administration stemming from the intentional shutdown of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, although one could credibly argue the incident and its fallout completely derailed his presidential ambitions.

Cuomo’s crisis is only just beginning, and let’s not forget that Cuomo is hoping to play a big role in the upcoming Democratic National Convention this summer with what is widely believed to be an eye on his own White House run sometime in the not too distant future.

Last Friday, Ken Lovett of the Daily News popped a doozy of story involving “improper lobbying and undisclosed conflicts of interests” among some of the key players in Cuomo’s signature economic development plan for western New York known as the “Buffalo Billion.”

Those individuals who have drawn attention from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara include the head of nano-technology at SUNY, Alain Kaloyeros, D.C.-based lobbyist Todd Howe and Joe Percoco, the longtime Cuomo aide and loyalist – quite the list, but it was Percoco’s alleged involvement that simultaneously set every Albany watcher’s hair on fire.

I’ve always had a bit of soft spot for Joe. Including recently when I ran into him at an event and snapped a quick photo of him to which he immediately said: “Ya know, I no longer work in the public sector, which means I can actually beat the S#!%  out of you now.”

Yes, Joe played to type, right out of central casting. He was the muscle. The enforcer. Willing to do things on behalf of the Cuomos (he worked for both former Gov. Mario Cuomo as well as his son) that the Cuomos themselves preferred not to do. For Andrew Cuomo, Percoco would threaten reporters or other electeds who dared go against the governor. Joe “kept a list,” I was once told, and carried the grudges on behalf of Cuomoland.

It was all quite funny, actually. Until it wasn’t. More >

John Emrick Leaving IDC

They say Albany is a transitive place, and each year I am reminded of that fact as people do their time here and then move on to something else. ( I know that kinda makes it sound like a prison sentence, but hey, if the shoe fits…).

The latest such transition comes out of the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate as Chief of Staff John Emrick gets ready to depart Albany. I first met Emrick in 2012 as he and members of the IDC were preparing for what would become their major test of power in the chamber. After the November elections, the IDC forged a deal with Senate Republicans for control of the upper house.

That relationship remains in place to this day, albeit with some changes after the 2014 elections. Keep in mind…there are plenty of people who are deeply offended by that relationship, notably the mainline Senate Democrats. But that was the moment when IDC Leader Jeff Klein truly established his five member conference as an independent force in the New York State legislature, and Emrick was key to making it all happen.

Emrick is almost never without a fantastic Albany story to tell. It sometimes takes him a minute to get warmed up, as he stares at you with those innocent, droopy eyes of his. But once you get him going, there are few people as clever and entertaining. Yes, Emrick is nothing if not dialed in to what is happening here at the haunted mansion on the hill we like to call the State Capitol. Emrick says of his departure:

“It’s with a heavy heart that I leave the IDC, whose members and staff, have become my second family. After years of dedicated public service it’s time for me to spend more time with my family, whose lives I miss each day that I spend away from home. This is an exciting time to take on a new political role and work with the IDC. Senator Klein, Valesky, Savino, Carlucci and Avella, together, change New York for the better. I have been proud to work with them, as they lead the way in the State Senate, and look forward to seeing the conference thrive.”

And IDC Leader Jeff Klein says:

“As the Independent Democratic Conference’s Chief of Staff, John has always been loyal and dedicated to the IDC, a stable third conference, that will continue to focus on governing for the people of New York. His brilliance, vision and Democratic ideals enhanced our conference and made a difference for all New Yorkers. I wish him all the best and look forward to working with him closely in a new capacity during one of the most important political seasons that will determine the direction of the Senate.

Emrick won’t be going far. For the remainder of the year he will be doing campaign work for the IDC, but will be based mostly out of New York City. With his wife, Cassie, having just received a promotion at CBS, it has been a real strain on the two kids with having one parent working all the time and the other up in Albany. That’s why he’d like to be closer to home. But Emrick is sanguine about the transition, acknowledging to me just moments ago that people up in Albany can sometimes become like a surrogate family in what sometimes feel like weeks away from one’s actual home. I couldn’t agree more.

Dana Carotenuto will take the reins as chief of staff for the IDC. She is currently deputy COS and policy director. She was the architect of Klein’s Paid family Leave Program. Be strong, Dana.



Budget Update

It’s not late yet, but it’s coming awfully close. One lawmaker noted that this is the first time in the Andrew Cuomo Era that NO budget bills have even been printed the day before the big deadline. We are in officially in uncharted waters, folks.

So, what is going on exactly? At issue is still this Medicaid funding. People who align themselves with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie depict this battle as an attempt by the Governor to shift $250 million in costs to the city. The counter narrative to this is that the savings will be spread out statewide, in fact some the most rapid Medicaid growth has been on Long Island and those two counties have their hands tied behind their back because of the 2% spending cap. The Governor wants more savings out of Medicaid because as he put it yesterday, counties have “no incentive” to contain the growth of Medicaid since the state took over paying for that growth back in 2012. But insiders say it is going to be tough to find savings since the program is already pretty lean. Cuomo’s own Medicaid Redesign Team made sure of that. And Cuomo appears to have arrived at the figure of $250 million because that is the estimated cost to the state to pay non-profits and other third party providers a new heftier $15-an hour minimum wage set to pass with the budget. The truth is the state is awash in cash. Billions in reserves, some say. But Cuomo wants to pay the third party providers out of the current budget, also to stay within the 2% spending cap. Bottom line? The City will get hit the hardest since they account for 70% of the Medicaid program. Heastie and Mayor de Blasio will not sign off on that.

Some insiders are privately grumbling that Heastie and the Mayor should “bite the bullet” and just absorb the cost. They should be very excited about a bold, progressive budget that includes a much higher minimum wage and the establishment of a paid family leave program. For his part, Heastie has said he will not sign off on any budget that applies “punitive” costs to the City of New York. Some say it’s crazy to hold the budget hostage over this and lose out on those big ticket items.

Others say lawmakers need to think very clearly on this one. If the budget is late, and there is no ethics reform by the end of the year, it’s going to be very hard for the pay commission to give them a raise. The Commission, after all, judges the legislature on it’s performance. And if they fail to perform their basic function which is approving a state spending plan on time, they can forget about that raise they were counting on. Lawmakers haven’t had a raise since 1999. Just some food for thought as the deadline looms.



Budget Holdup

The popular held belief is that the minimum wage is holding up the state budget. That’s true…sort of. While there are all kinds of side squabbles about timetables and carve outs, the bottom line is this: There are enough votes to pass just about every conceivable compromise in the State Senate, if you include all Democrats and a handful of Republicans. Some reluctant Repubs might even vote for the ultimate deal just to keep it out of oppo campaign literature when election time rolls around 7 months from now. Figure they can vote for it even if they have to take a Silkwood Shower afterwards.

What appears to be really holding up the budget, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie more or less said this yesterday, are the cost shifts from the state to the city on Medicaid. In his executive budget Cuomo proposed making the city pay “more of it’s fair share” for CUNY and Medicaid. The governor has since backed off of the CUNY cuts with an agreement from the city to examine where back office redundancies can be identified between the SUNY and CUNY Systems. So, In essence the city agreed to identify cuts down the road ( although no word on whether those cost shifts will precisely match the $485 million Cuomo proposed ). Medicaid, however, is proving to be a little bit trickier.

In 2012, Cuomo agreed to “take over” the growth of Medicaid costs for localities. He did this in part with money from Obamacare, which greatly expanded the federal Medicaid program. Those dollars then go to the states. So, one could make the argument that it is federal pass through money, and New York City should not be shortchanged. However, People who see things the Governor’s way say the state agreed to take over the cost of Medicaid for localities that agree to keep spending within the 2% cap. Aha. New York refuses to adopt the property tax cap, so why should the state shoulder the cost of all it’s medicaid growth? See what they did there. Rewind now to January when Mayor de Blasio was here in Albany to testify on the budget and lawmakers ( almost as if they were reading from talking points ) grilled him on why New York City won’t adhere to the cap.

There are a lot of arguments as to why New York City should not adopt the cap, including that it is once again taking away a tool for the city to raise it’s own revenue. The City must ask Albany for permission before raising taxes on it’s citizens, whether it be sales or income. The property tax cap can be manipulated by the city. So, while the city would argue for keeping that authority, the state is saying you can’t have it both ways. The subtext to all of this, of course, is the ongoing push and pull between Governor Cuomo and mayor de Blasio. But I’m sure that has nothing to do with it.



Let There Be Light

I never thought I would actually get to the point where I would say this, but here it goes…Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is by far the most accessible leader in this building. There, I said it. It’s true, the once press averse Speaker makes himself available for Reporter questions pretty much every session day. In fairness, he sometimes grimaces while he is doing it, but the bottom line is this: he does it. I say this a week after “Sunshine Week” in Albany when there has been renewed attention to the issue of openness in government. And as Erica Orden astutely points out, lately Reporters who cover the Capitol have felt a little shut out by the Governor, who once seemed like he enjoyed his signature “Cabinet Meetings” and “Red Room” press conferences, and now seems determined not to hold them.

This brings me to the rules changes and sunlight reforms embraced by the Assembly. to sum this up, the reforms and the process by which they were achieved is a bit of a mixed bag. Like when someone is named “Employee of the month” and they are simultaneously the biggest winner and the biggest loser. Or like the other day when I was driving and “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains came on the radio and I was really psyched, but then it was followed by “Bennie and the Jets” which kinda ruined my entire afternoon.

On the one hand the reforms are subtle, but will actually make a significant improvement in the way legislative business gets done. For example, allowing all members to have their bills considered by committee. This has been a frequent lament of Assembly Republicans who often find their bills locked up without any chance of ever passing. It will also lengthen the legislative session to two years, and extend what is known as “the kill clock” for bills. Currently, legislation that doesn’t pass within a year, must start the process all over again. Now that period will be two years. Like I said, subtle, but definitely an improvement for rank and file members. Then there is embracing modern technology which includes updating the website, and making the proceedings of committee hearings available for public review. That includes not just summarizing committee votes on the web but also recording them in some fashion. I was actually told several months ago that the Assembly has SO MANY committee hearings that they may not even have the resources to video all of them, and we may have to settle for audio on some. I know, kinda Lame, but certainly better than the current status quo.

Now for the process of achieving these reforms, which was deeply flawed. The “Working Group” was put together almost a year ago. There were no public hearings. Republicans were completely shut out of the process. And the timetable for when the recommendations would be made public changed at least four times by my count. Finally, the Working group failed to suggest term limits for leadership, which is an essential reform to turn the page on the bad old days of Shelly’s 20-year iron-fisted rule. Or, as some Republicans privately groused it took co-chairs Gary Pretlow and Brian Kavanagh an entire year of meeting in secret to determine that the Assembly needs a new website. All legitimate criticism, but the truth is both Pretlow and Kavanagh deserve some credit for taking on the very mission everyone knew would be roundly mocked if it fell short of “from-now-on-every-single-meeting-the-Assembly-has-will-be-in-public-including-conference.”

And this brings me back to the Speaker. The Assembly suffered a major trauma last year with the fall of Silver, and Heastie stepped into the role of Speaker during a very unsteady period. He not only kept the ship from sinking, but he righted it and chartered a new course. The reforms he has embraced don’t go far enough, but there is no question about it, they are a fantastic start.

The Race for Silver’s Seat

On Super Bowl Sunday, the Democratic County Committee nominated Alice Cancel as the Democratic candidate to run for 65th Assembly District in the special election to be held on April 19, the day of New York State’s Presidential primary. This is the seat held since the late 1970’s by Sheldon Silver who was convicted of federal corruption last year and forced to resign. While it’s naturally a Democratic district, Cancel was criticized right out of the gate for being too close to the old Silver Apparatus. That includes not just the Lower Manhattan Democratic clubs, but also Silver’s former Chief of Staff Judy Rapfogel, who was visibly advocating for Cancel when the committee met last month. ( Just a piece of advice for future reference…if you don’t want people linking your preferred candidate to Silver himself then maybe find a surrogate to do your bidding. Don’t show up in person, for goodness sake ).

Full disclosure: I live in this District and have been inundated with mailers and cold calls for the Working Families Party candidate Yuh-Line Niou, who bucked the system when she dropped out of contention for the Democratic nod claiming unfairness in the selection process ( what does she mean?!! It’s perfectly fair that Silver choose his own successor! Just kidding ). Niou has now locked up the support of Tenants PAC, the largest tenant advocacy organization in the city. This is significant since at the heart of the Silver trial was evidence that the former Speaker was talking out of both sides of his mouth on this issue. Telling tenant advocates he was in their corner while winking and nodding to developers as he literally concocted elaborate schemes to take their illegal kickbacks. Niou has also won much of the union support which could make all the difference on election day when it comes to knocking on doors and getting people to the polls. We shall see, as they say.

Who has been far less visible since that fateful Super Bowl Sunday is Cancel. The New York Post even had this great piece about it. I tried several times to get in touch with Cancel. Called her, but she didn’t return and her voice mailbox was full and couldn’t accept any more messages. And when I texted her she told me “John” would get back to me shortly. Whoever that is. If money is any indication, Niou has the advantage with roughly $145,000 Cash on hand. Whereas Cancel appears to have raised no money whatsoever since January.

There is also a Republican in this race, businessman Lester Chang who has about $7,500 cash on hand. Former New York City Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani is actually hosting a fundraiser tonight for Chang at The 88 Palace in Chinatown. Doors open at 7:30. People close to Chang believe he has a good shot in this race if Niou and cancel were to split the Democratic vote.



Minimum Wage War

Lately it feels like budget talks aren’t really happening this year…but apparently they are. There have been Leader’s Meetings, as my esteemed friend and colleague Nick Reisman reported last week. But the word is that unlike in previous years, Governor Cuomo has put a gag order on tipping off the press when they take place. No, the leaders will no longer have to emerge from meetings to a gaggle of pesky reporters trying to ask simple questions about how $140 billion in public money will be spent. That would be wildly inappropriate, and we simply cannot have that.

But there is something else going on behind closed doors that is equally if not more intriguing, and that is the emerging split within the Senate Republican Conference over the minimum wage. Governor Cuomo has been cross-crossing the State with labor leaders making the case for $15 an hour. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan hasn’t ruled out giving the Governor what he wants on this, and a group of mostly upstate Republicans led by Senator John DeFrancisco really DO NOT like that one bit.

The visuals today pretty much said it all. At a press conference called by Senate Republicans to lay out their priorities in their One House Budget Resolution slated to be voted on next week, Flanagan was flanked by Cathy Young and Hugh Farley, who were two of the three other Senators allotted speaking roles ( the third was Sue Serino ). It’s funny because it might have actually been the first time I’ve ever heard Hugh Farley talk. Senator John DeFrancisco was standing all the way on the end, and kind of in the back. And when Flanagan got asked about the minimum wage, DeFran literally walked away from the makeshift stage to talk to someone on the sidelines.

We are told there have been some spirited discussions on the minimum wage when Republicans have discussed the issue during closed door conference. Although these talks have been described to me as “cordial” and “respectful” I was also told that Senator DeFrancisco has been, shall we say, “emphatic” and “forceful” in making his case against doing $15 just because Cuomo asked for it. DeFran has said publicly that he finds $15 to be an “arbitrary” and “political” number, with no evidence or data to back up why it has been selected. Complicating matters is that Cuomo is also seeking a paid family leave bill. So, you basically have the Governor and the Assembly pushing what would some say are two Democratic wish list items in a single year, which is a big ask, especially for both to get done in the next two weeks.

So, what happens? One insider predicts Flanagan ends up going along with both and they simply manipulate the timeline for getting to $15 upstate. that way, Repubs can claim a partial victory ( event though it’s a hollow one ). The other thought is that Flanagan could face a rebellion within the conference, and if they lose that Skelos seat to Democrat Todd Kaminsky next month his days as leader could be numbered.

As for Flanagan’s answer today that their one house budget resolution will address the minimum wage, one insider said that is easy enough to do. They can simply write in a “Let’s table the discussion without prejudice until such time as…” or in other words, we will consider it, but negotiations are “ongoing.”

Hoosick Falls, An American Tragedy

On Monday, Governor Cuomo was in Rockland County to promote his Paid Family Leave legislation. He did not take questions from reporters, but we were hoping to ask about the situation in Hoosick Falls. This is not a new story; many reporters have been doing excellent work on this for several months. But it has not received a lot of coverage in the New York City media market. On Friday, NY1’s “Inside City Hall” aired a special seven-minute report on the water contamination story in Hoosick Falls ( For those of you not in the TV news business, my nightly packages generally run about 2 minutes, so anything over that is considered a luxury ). It was an opportunity to tell the story in its totality from the beginning to where it stands now. It’s a story all of us should be paying attention to – especially with another upstate town, Petersburgh, now facing contamination fears as well.

Our link including video is here:

Today, I wanted to ask Cuomo why his own Health Commissioner Howard Zucker issued a fact sheet in December 2015 telling Hoosick Falls residents that “health effects are not expected to occur from normal use of the water.” The state said this despite its own tests which showed levels for the potentially-hazardous chemical PFOA in at least four water wells in town in the 600 parts per trillion, well over the EPA guideline of 400 parts. The state’s green light came despite the fact that the EPA had already told residents not to drink the water or use it for cooking. Moreover, the factory believed to be responsible for the contamination had already instituted a bottled water program for all residents a few weeks earlier.

Reached by phone earlier today, Director of State Operations Jim Malatras said,

“It’s important to be clear with the facts. The State Health Department answered a question regarding possible health effects of PFOA based upon available scientific information, yet that answer has been conflated with other questions to give the appearance of a change of position by the Department.  As is the case with other unregulated contaminants, we’ve relied on the federal EPA’s advisories and when they recommended against drinking the village water and lowered the advisory level for the chemical, we abided by that decision. At the same time, this Administration has initiated an aggressive response to ensure Hoosick Falls residents have clean drinking water and peace of mind – including expanded well and blood testing, installing water filtration systems at no cost, and beginning work on finding an alternative water source.”    

This is obviously a story that will continue to need more attention, especially when the affected New Yorkers live in a tiny town, nestled in the woods near the Vermont border.