Zack Fink

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Westchester County Smackdown

From the Morning Memo:

With just two weeks to go until Election Day, more personal information about Democratic state senator, and county executive candidate, George Latimer continues to spill into the headlines.

The latest revelation is that Latimer owns a previously undisclosed third home in Warren County. The house in the Adirondacks sits on nearly 10 acres in the town of Thurman. It was purchased by Latimer and his wife, Robin, for $152,000 in 2002, according to Warren County property records.

The revelation comes as Latimer has been playing defense over a second property he and his wife inherited in 2012. On that property located 60 Roosevelt Ave., the Latimers owe more than $46,000 in delinquent property taxes over the last five years.

The county executive race this year has taken a nasty turn, with charges of marital infidelity, a hushed car accident and lots of ink about Latimer’s failure to pay the one thing everyone in Westchester hates: property taxes.

Most of the nasty and personal allegations have been leveled against Latimer as he faces the Republican incumbent county executive, Rob Astorino, who wants to win this race and possibly turn around and launch a second challenge to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2018.

Astorino needs not only to win here, but to win big and show that his popularity in blue Westchester County has remained strong. But in the age of Donald Trump, that’s not easy to do, with anger at the president at a fever pitch in New York City and its surrounding suburbs – including Westchester.

Let’s remember, Astorino was approached by Trump in 2014 about a joint ticket to take on Cuomo. Trump wanted to be the Republican at the top of the ticket with Astorino running for lieutenant governor. The plan was then for Astorino take over as governor once Trump abandoned the post to run for president in 2016.

This was all predicated, of course, on the GOP ticket defeating Cuomo and his running mate, former Buffal-area Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul, which was by no means a guarantee. Astorino ultimately declined The Donald’s offer.

Most of next month’s voters probably don’t even remember that story, and don’t really need to in order to hate Trump. But regardless of how rational the anger is in Westchester against Trump and the Republican party, Astorino is no doubt worried about the residual effects.

As for the Adirondack property, the Latimers took out a $129,200 mortgage in 2002 with Countrywide Home Loans. There are no tax liabilities on file for the property with the Warren County Clerk. Latimer did not disclose the property on his 2016 financial disclosure form, but it does not appear as though he needed to since the document specifically says not to list primary or secondary residences. This is what the house looks like.

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For his part, Latimer has countered that Astorino has inflated job numbers in Westchester. Asorino claims 44,000 jobs have been created, whereas Latimer insists it’s closer to 21,000.

In a statement, Jonathan Greenfield a spokesperson for Latimer says,

“Rob Astorino will spread any lie to distract from his own poor record as county executive. He’s lied about the 20% tax cut he promised the county and he’s lied about his relationship with Donald Trump.”

“Out of desperation, the Astorino campaign is focusing solely on personal attacks. With each attack, Astorino slips a little more in public esteem. His candidacy is reduced to nothing more than mudslinging. His stature as a possible governor shrinks with each passing day.”

Nevertheless, it has a been a campaign of surprises, and it remains to be seen what else will surface in this bizarre local race that has become much more interesting than even the mayor’s race in New York City, which is putting everyone to sleep.

And who knew Latimer owns as many homes as J Lo. Fascinating.

Defending Vance

For nearly eight years, Cy Vance has served as district attorney for New York County. He was preceded by legendary Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, who served in the position for nearly 45 years, and was often described as “beyond reproach.” Those were no doubt tough shoes to fill.

And now Vance is arguably facing the worst crisis of his tenure.

At issue are two cases in which Vance failed to prosecute, and both are absolutely explosive. The first involved two of President Trump’s adult children: Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr.

The second revolved around Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful movie executives in the nation, or at least he was until this week when several actresses and former employees accused him of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances, some of which may have been criminal.

But sources, including current and former Vance employees, say they have the utmost confidence in the DA’s legal ethics. They do not believe there was any impropriety, and also insist this was not an example of Vance giving anyone special treatment. They say Vance has “tremendous confidence in his career prosecutors” who do the day-to-day work of bringing cases against Manhattan’s criminals – even the high profile ones.

In the Trump case, WNYC Radio, ProPublica and the New Yorker reported last week that Vance’s office failed to prosecute the Trump offspring after they were accused of misrepresenting the success of the Trump SoHo Hotel and Condominium to investors.

Trump’s lawyer, who was granted a meeting with Vance, had also contributed more than $50,000 to Vance’s campaigns. Those donations have since been returned.

This week The New Yorker Magazine revealed an NYPD wiretap where Weinstein appears to admit to groping an Italian Actress, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, in 2015.

The forcible touching incident was investigated by Vance and his office, and they ultimately declined to prosecute Weinstein. In light of all the new information that has come out about Weinstein’s serial behavior, that would seem to be the wrong decision.

But one former Assistant District Attorney, or ADA said: “I never would have gone forward on just that tape.”

The former prosecutor, who is “not a fan” of Vance, claims the tape did not provide enough evidence to prosecute. Vance also said as much, through Karen Friedman Agnifilo, the chief ADA, or the number two in the Manhattan DA’s office.

Agnifilo would have overseen any investigation related to Weinstein. She also previously served as the deputy chief of the Sex Crimes Unit, so she arguably knows a thing or two about the burden of proof in such cases. 

Martha Bashford is the current head of the Sex Crimes Unit, and would have made the initial determination on whether to move forward against Weinstein in 2015. Bashford was described as someone who has “the highest scruples,” and also someone who “does not care at all” about politics and would not have been intimidated by a boldface name like Weinstein’s.

When the audio of the NYPD sting involving Weinstein and Gutierrez surfaced, Agnifilo said that her “seasoned prosecutors” were not afforded the opportunity to “counsel investigators” on what was necessary to prove a crime under New York Law before the audio was captured in a sting.

An NYPD source then told NY1’s Dean Meminger that the investigators has handed prosecutors a solid case, and this was a complete failure by the Manhattan DA’s office to “protect women from a known predator.”

While it is unusual for this type of dispute to play out in public, prosecutors say this happens all the time between their office and the police department.

A common refrain from police officers is: “I answer to the Captain, not to you.” In essence, cops care about an arrest, and prosecutors care about a winnable case. Those two distinct goals come into conflict all the time, and that is because the standards for each differ greatly.

“Probable cause that a crime has been committed” is the standard for an arrest. “Reasonable Cause a felony has been committed” is the standard for an indictment, and “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard for a conviction. The gulf between an arrest and a conviction can sometimes be as wide as the “grand canyon.”

The International Business Times also reported that Attorney David Boies, who is working with Weinstein’s legal team had donated tens of thousands of dollars to Vance’s campaigns, including $10,000 after Vance failed to prosecute Weinstein in 2015.

Other lawyers connected to Trump have also made donations to Vance, so while there may not be any impropriety, some acknowledge there is at least the appearance of one, and the Manhattan DA’s office needs to be super careful about that.

No mater how you cut it, the timing looks awful.

Two stories within a week suggesting Vance dropped cases. One against Weinstein, who is arguably the most vilified man in America right now, and the other against Trump, who is perennially vilified in New York progressive circles.

But Vance’s supporters say it’s wrong to see a pattern here. Vance is a “very ethical man,” they insist, and both cases were independently investigated by two completely separate units within the DA’s office by the career prosecutors Vance trusts and relies upon. A lot of factors go into whether a case can be prosecuted successfully.

As for campaign contributions that look suspicious, they should always be scrutinized and reported, but it doesn’t necessarily prove corruption here or in any other case.

In fact, that’s the whole crux of the debate on campaign finance reform. What’s legal doesn’t always look right.

Vance also came from the private practice, which is a small community in New York of high-powered attorneys who know each other and raise money for various causes.

Is it a bit too nauseatingly chummy? Probably. But it’s hard to tell someone who their friends should be. And certainly Vance should be smarter about granting a meeting to a friend with business before his office like he did with Trump’s attorney Marc Kasowitz, because I think we all know that attorneys for most defendants in Manhattan are not granted that same privilege.

The 13-Hour Rule

Last night The New York State Department of Labor posted emergency regulations urging that home healthcare providers continue being paid for a 13-hour day in cases where that worker is providing 24-hour live-in care. The guidance was consistent with the Labor Department’s 2010 policy which reasoned that in essence, workers should not be paid for the time they are sleeping and eating, even if one is sleeping and eating somewhere not of their choosing in order to provide care.

Last month, a State Appellate Court ruled in favor of two home healthcare workers who filed suit claiming the 13-hour rule violated New York State’s minimum wage laws, since they were made available to work 24-hours a day by being live-in home health workers. The story was first reported here by Politico’s Dan Goldberg.

New York’s health care providers are concerned about the court’s ruling since they could be on the hook for an additional 11 hours of payment per day for each worker. Moreover, the court opened the door to 6 years of back pay for each those workers who have previously been paid under the 13-hour rule. To put that in perspective there are 125 providers statewide representing 350 offices, according to the New York State Association of Health Care Providers. The ruling could affect thousands of their workers potentially bankrupting the industry. In a statement HCP President Claudia Hammar says,

“The emergency regulation upholds the State’s position that home care workers should be paid for 13 hours of a 24-hour lift-in shift, provided allowance is made for sleep and meal time. While we appreciate that the State issued this guidance, HCP and the home care industry need the State to take immediate steps to ensure that home care providers that have followed previous State Labor 24 hour live-in payment guidance in good faith will not be held liable for six years of retroactive payments. These retroactive payments will bankrupt a significant number of home care agencies, jeopardizing essential care for New York’s most vulnerable populations.”

For now, the Department of Labor seems to be telling the industry to just ignore the court’s ruling. A spokesperson for the Department of Labor could not immediately be reached for comment.

**UPDATE**

George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East issued a statement disagreeing with the Cuomo Administration’s continued policy regarding the 13-hour rule. Gresham says,

“While we understand the significant cost of complying with the recent court rulings overturning decades of New York State policy on 24-hour homecare cases, we strongly believe that it is unfair to continue to ask home care workers to bear the financial burden of providing needed round-the-clock care.”
 In a statement, Cullen Burnell, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor says,

The amended regulation adopted by the Department of Labor on 10/6 codifies the Department’s longstanding interpretations of the statutory requirement to pay for “each hour worked”.  These interpretations are also consistent with well-established federal standards that have been on the books for years.  The amendment clarifies the regulation the Appellate Court relied upon to reach its decision.

The Great Experiment

You know how when you are looking to watch movies on television there are several different options? For example if you are watching HBO and the movie is boring, there are other HBO channels to peruse such as “HBO Family” and “HBO Signature.” Well, my friend had this brilliant idea to add “HBO 80s.” All day and night it would play 80s classics such as “Wargames,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Club Paradise,” “Ghostbusters,” “The Goonies” and of course the most brilliant movie ever made, 1983’s “Trading Places.”

There is a comfort and complacency ( for me at least ) in watching these movies. The jokes hold up. The scenes are non-threatening because I know what’s going to happen next. And just about always there is some kind of neatly wrapped up happy ending that won’t sour your mood that night. It’s honestly much less stressful than watching sports.

When I first got to Albany in 2012, it felt a little like being stuck in a movie people have seen a thousand times. Same old issues, same old script. Same old spending increasing every year as predicted with all of those numbers getting agreed upon behind closed doors under a cloak of secrecy. But then along comes Preet Bharara. He’s wielding the billy club of the powerful U.S. Attorney’s Office and he is threatening to change the script of that 80s movie you’ve seen one too many times. He decides to build cases against two of the three most powerful politicians in Albany – Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. The public eats this up. The editorial boards applaud Bharara and lavish him with praise. The hype of shaking things up and taking on the system becomes the story.

Only it doesn’t really work that way. We’ve all heard the popular prosecutor refrain that they can “indict a ham sandwich.” Sure they can. They can also probably build a case against many of the big players in Albany. They might even be able to put that person in front of a cynical jury and win a conviction ( after dragging that politician in front of the cameras in handcuffs ). But that doesn’t mean the case will hold up. And as we have seen in the last three months both verdicts in the Preet Bharara crusade to take on Albany have now been vacated.

One can certainly point out that after the Skelos and Silver convictions the definition of the law known as “Honest Services Fraud” was greatly narrowed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the corruption case of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. The high court found that “official acts” can be just about anything a politician does and that raises significant constitutional concerns. So in some respects, that’s not really Bharara’s fault. But here’s the thing. In August of 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would consider hearing the McDonnell case and whether or not Honest Services Fraud would hold up. That was months before Silver and Skelos were prosecuted. Bharara had predicated both cases on charges of Honest Services Fraud which the high court was signaling were in trouble. Moreover, Honest Services Fraud had already been taken up by the Supreme Court and unanimously thrown out as far back as 2010 in the case against former Enron Executive Jeffrey Skilling. So it wasn’t a secret the judges weren’t nuts about the statute, and it could not have been a secret to Bharara that if the cases were indeed strong against Skelos and Silver it might make more sense to stick to good old fashioned corruption charges like bribery and mail fraud only. I mean, they got Al Capone on tax evasion, for crying out loud.

So, look, I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again, Bharara made a good effort. Albany needs a wake up call. They gotta actually change the way things are done, otherwise you are following the plots of the same movies over and over again. And who knows? Perhaps retrials on different charges using some of the same evidence will yield better results. My personal belief is the Skelos case is a lot stronger than the Silver case, but we shall see what happens. However, no matter how you cut it, a great opportunity in state history to take on corruption was lost here due to self inflicted wounds. It’s never a good day when prosecutors and former prosecutors are saying and tweeting things like “We will get them next time!”

#SD26 – It’s Actually Worse Than You Thought

Reformers are dismayed after witnessing democracy at it’s not-so-finest Sunday when the New York County Committee met to pick the Democratic candidate for the special election in November.  The winner will immediately fill the 26th Senate District seat for the unexpired term of Daniel Squadron who resigned last month.

The race came quickly down to two candidates. Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a close friend of Squadron’s and the chosen candidate of the Democratic establishment including Mayor de blasio and Governor Cuomo who both endorsed Kavanagh Sunday ( separately, of course ). And Paul Newell who ran unsuccessfully for Sheldon Silver’s open Assembly seat in 2016.

Newell managed to secure 72% of the New York County Committee votes for the Senate seat Sunday, a solid majority. But Some believe the fix was in for Kavanagh who secured just 28% of Manhattan Democratic County Committee vote but who will also get the 35% from Brooklyn which gives him enough to prevail over Newell. The 26th Assembly district straddles both King’s and New York Counties, giving both boroughs a say in the process. And while Manhattan’s selection process was less than ideal, hey, at least they held a committee meeting to vote at all. In Brooklyn, Democratic Boss Frank Seddio just endorsed Kavanagh and handed him Brooklyn’s total. So, Kavanagh ends up with more than 50% of the total vote for the District or enough to win. Some believe this is very unfair to Newell, and one could probably make a strong argument that it is.

But the Manhattan vote deserves additional scrutiny as well. For starters, the committee rules were changed and presented to members just three days before the Sunday vote. Instead of the usual balloting process where several votes occur until there is a winner, on Sunday, it was just one ballot. County Committees are supposed to be a microcosm of the district. But the committee members are Democratic party people who get elected in the Primary. They are not government people. That means they are political in nature, and those who were elected on September 12 were also able to vote yesterday. Although Many appointments were left vacant and had no vote at all.

In Manhattan, the committee is dominated by political clubs. So at one point Newell was arguing the vacancies should be filled for those affiliated with the Downtown Independent Democrats. DID is club Newell came out of which represents the tonier portions of the district including Battery Park and the Financial District. However, Newell also supported Alice Cancel for District Leader in the Primary, who hails from the Lower East Side Democrats. Remember Cancel? She had the support of Lower East Side Democrats plus the Harry Truman Democratic Club last year during the special election for Silver’s seat. The Truman club was Silver’s old club, and cancel wound up winning the seat with support and help from Silver’s longtime friend and Chief of Staff Judy Rapfogel, Cancel then ended up losing the 65th Assembly District seat to Yuh-Line Niou in a contested Democratic Primary later that same year ( more on the Truman Club in a minute ).

So while Newell was arguing to seat DID committee people, he was not arguing to fill the slots for Lower East Democrats, which is Cancel’s club. Cancel’s slate was knocked off the ballot for September 12 leaving a bunch of vacancies. Lower East Side Dems represent the Section 8 and NYCHA portions of the district including the Alfred E. Smith and Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia Houses. As a result, as one insider put it “there were very few black or brown people being represented in that room Sunday.” The two new District leaders from that area, also known as Part B were there however, Daisy Paez and Pedro Cardi ( actually Cardi was an incumbent and ran with Alice, but was re-elected last week ). Just not many of their committee people. And part B represents about a quarter of the Senate District.

As for the Truman Club, without Silver it’s unclear how much clout it will continue to hold. Caroline Laskow and Lee Berman defeated the last remaining Rapfogel supported candidates last Tuesday in the District Leader race, including Karen Blatt who is young and talented, but is perceived by some as being too close to the old guard. As those familar with the club explain, Rapfogel was “never able to build a bench,” because Silver would not allow it. He viewed up-and-comers as a threat, and certainly never imagined he would go out the way he did, which was most certainly not on his own terms.

So in the end the process was flawed in many respects, but it is hard to argue with Kavanagh as the candidate. He is a reformer, even though he will likely end up in the Senate through the very process he and Squadron fought to change. We also haven’t seen the last of Newell. He seems to get closer every time.

Democrats Set to Meet on MTA

With subway issues as a backdrop, sources say Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has called a meeting of downstate Assembly Democrats to discuss the crisis on the rails and other MTA issues. The meeting is scheduled to take place Tuesday morning at 11:30am at 250 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. Prior to the meeting Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D) Bronx, who Chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, which includes oversight of the MTA, will hold a press conference outside City Hall to discuss issues related to MTA bus service, which he feels has gotten shortchanged in all the discussion this summer over problems on the rails.

Recently, The Cuomo Administration floated the idea of congestion pricing 2.0. You’ll remember that the old version went down in flames in Albany back in 2008. Assembly Democrats met for hours behind closed doors that April only to eventually tell Speaker Sheldon Silver that it will fail miserably if brought to the floor. It was never voted on by members. A large part of the objection came from Democrats representing Brooklyn and Queens who could not accept new tolls on the East River crossings. They felt it would disproportionately punish middle class New Yorkers, some of whom – ahem – have few public transit options where they live and must drive frequently into Manhattan.

But today is a very different environment. For starters, as one Assembly member points out, it’s a lot of new members who may have a totally different take on congestion pricing especially if the money it raises goes toward improving mass transit. Moreover, sources say the Cuomo Administration has been signaling to Assembly members that they can do a new pricing plan that does not include East River tolls. One member says they “have heard nothing” about tolls in this plan.

Truthfully, no one has heard much of anything about this plan. That is due partially to the Cuomo team’s desire to roll it out on their terms. It’s also possible the details have not yet been finalized. After all, it is not expected to be announced until the Governor’s State of the State message in January.

So, to close the loop, Democrats will meet tomorrow. Speaker Heastie is setting the agenda for the conference. It’s unclear at this point if the Assembly will consider holding hearings on the MTA, or if the prospect of holding hearings is even on the agenda tomorrow.

The MTA Funding Source No One is Talking About

As the subway crisis reached a boil this Summer, the State’s two top elected Democrats had very different levels of exposure. Governor Cuomo finds himself selecting his press appearances lately and avoiding general avails that he used to do in New York City with some frequency. He hasn’t done one ( willingly ) since June. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie meantime, has been gallivanting around upstate New York as part of his “Summer Tour.” When asked about the subway crisis in Plattsburgh last week, Heastie didn’t have much to add, other than the fact that the Assembly ( which actually has some oversight of the MTA ) has no plans to hold hearings. So it’s been a little bit of political Jiu jitsu for both of them on the subway issue. In fact, I was pretty sure I was watching a movie called “Crouching Cuomo, Hidden Heastie.”

The bottom line is this: The MTA needs more money. And there is a disagreement over where it should come from. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to tax the wealthy ( you know, again ), and Governor Cuomo has floated the idea of Congestion Pricing 2.0, which will likely bear little resemblance to the first iteration. But here is something to consider that doesn’t seem to be on the radar for most of the New York political world.

Starting next year, public companies will be required to disclose the pay ratio between it’s CEO and the company’s average employee. The rule, adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2015 was actually passed as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, but the SEC dragged it’s feet on implementation. And who knows…President Trump could attempt to delay it again. But assuming he does not, this could prove a major headache for New York State domiciled public companies. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the CEO’s of the 350 largest companies make on average 270 times what the average worker earns. Yikes.

Assuming companies are not embarrassed by that kind of pay discrepancy, New York State could move to impose a hefty tax on companies with the worst pay ratio’s. That money could then go to fix the ailing subways, which are evidently, used by the very workers at the bottom end of those ugly ratios.

In fact, Five states have already introduced legislation to do precisely that, including Massachusetts, Illinois and neighboring Connecticut. ( C’mon, New York! You gonna let Connecticut out-progressive you?!? ). And the City of Portland Oregon has already passed a surtax on companies whose CEO’s make more than 100 times the average worker.

Now as a general rule, I’m not a big believer in higher taxes. I think people are taxed just plenty, thank you very much. But this is a little different in that it would be punishing companies for being shameless. The fast track to the 1% for many is that kind of pay differential. The 99% should use all means at their disposal to even the distribution of wealth.

Flanagan on the Mend

After John Flanagan’s bombshell announcement Sunday that he had sought treatment for alcohol abuse, there was a fair amount of Albany intrigue and speculation about the Senate Majority Leader’s future. Flanagan admitted to using alcohol as a “crutch,” in part because of the pressures of the job. With a delicate coalition that includes Democrats keeping Republicans in control of the upper house, it’s probably fair to say that there was concern within Republican ranks about whether the ship could quickly be steadied.

But Flanagan appears to be back at the wheel. First, his announcement Sunday drew praise from across the aisle as Democrats joined Republicans in wishing him the best, and offering their admiration for his bravery in admitting he had a problem. On Monday, Flanagan was back in Albany meeting with the finance staff and the counsel’s office which was shaken last week with the announcement that Beth Garvey would be moving on. Insiders say Garvey’s departure was not a surprise, since she had made clear earlier this year that 2017 would be her last session in that role. Last Friday’s announcement seemed to come from out the blue, and we now know that it came at an even more difficult time for the conference than the public was even aware.

On Tuesday the Majority Leader dined with his sometimes New York City nemesis, Mayor Bill de Blasio. The two leaders met at 12:30 and sat together for about an hour and half at the Columbus Citizens Foundation on East 69th Street. They enjoyed some Italian food which was described by the Republican Leader as “excellent.” Flanagan and de Blasio discussed a variety of topics including family, politics and government. The Mayor and The Majority Leader have been at odds since at least the 2014 election when de Blasio backed challengers to Flanagan’s members in the Hudson Valley and elsewhere. Since then it’s been a fight every year over whether to renew Mayoral control of New York City schools, with Flanagan and the Republicans dangling it over the Mayor like Lt. Pete Mitchell telling ‘Charlie’ Blackwood in “Top Gun” that the information about his encounter with the enemy Mig was “classified.”

Asked for comment on the bury-the-hatchet lunch, Republican Senate spokesman Scott Reif said,

“There are many important issues facing the City and State, and Senator Flanagan believes it’s critical that we work together with the Mayor and others to address them.”

Flanagan’s Tuesday down in the city later included meetings with legislators such as IDC Leader Jeff Klein, a key part of that coalition that keeps Flanagan in charge of the Senate.

So, insiders say it was a solid 48 hours for Flanagan following what was arguably his deepest personal crisis since ascending to Majority Leader in 2015. There will potentially be calls for a leadership change if Republicans lose their majority in the 2018 elections, but for now that’s a long way away, and Flanagan isn’t stepping aside anytime soon. At least not without the fight that is still in him.

De Blasio Asks Senate Repub for Help

When running for re-election, it helps to keep supporters apprised of what you are doing. Keep those who may help drive turnout for example, aware that you care about them and need their help this November. So it makes sense for Mayor Bill de Blasio to call on supporters to help him organize voters over the next few weeks, although it’s a little weird he sent one such email to Republican State Senator Catharine Young (R) Olean. To her State Senate email address, no less.

The bubbly email from Amanda Clarke reads,

Hi, Catharine. My name is Amanda Clarke, Organizing Director for Mayor de Blasio’s re-election campaign.In just a few weeks, we’re hosting a series of volunteer-led organizing meetings all across New York City. They’ll all happen on the same day, at the same time, with the same agenda — our first step towards building the largest person-to-person voter registration and voter contact operation our city has ever seen.

We’ll let you know the date soon, but we will only be able to pull off that ambitious goal if the people who have the most at stake in this election step up and play a role in making it happen. So today, I need to ask you to do something very important. I want to ask you to host an organizing meeting. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned veteran or a first-timer. If you say you’re in, we’re going to have someone work with you as much or as little as you need every step of the way. What do you say?

A few things are funny about this. First is the obvious, that Young is a Republican whose conference has had a long and uncomfortable history with the Mayor ( more on that in a minute ), so she probably isn’t terribly interested in helping the self-proclaimed Progressive Mayor. It’s also probably worth noting that Young’s district in Western New York is closer to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Toronto than it is to New York City. And finally Young is the Chair of Senate Republican Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm of the Senate Republicans, which is kinda the cherry on the cake here. Moreover this email from the Mayor was sent to her government address, which is a no-no when it comes to private solicitations.

Reached for comment, Monica Klein a spokesperson for the Mayor’s re-election campaign says,

“New Yorkers on our email list receive news about the Mayor’s work to make NYC fairer and more affordable, and updates on campaign volunteer opportunities.”

One person close to the Mayor even suggested that Young must have signed up for the email blast herself on the candidate’s website(!), but that was quickly shot down by a source close to Young. Then there is that thing that happened three years ago between the Mayor and the Senate Republicans. You remember that time de Blasio actively campaigned against their members in the 2014 elections then seemed baffled as to why they gave him and his priorities such a hard time in Albany. As one GOP operative put it,

“The agreement extending mayoral control and providing new charter school opportunities for students and parents was a big deal, but it doesn’t wash away three years of bad blood or make up for the fact that most of the Mayor’s priorities are still out of whack.  The Mayor needs to tighten up his campaign so he knows who is a supporter and who isn’t, and while he’s at it he may want to give his staff a geography lesson.  We won’t be organizing anything.”

 

 

The Trappings of Hubris

When you are trying to do the right thing, it helps to be humble. And former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara talked a very big game. The former St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher “Dizzy” Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you really done it.” That’s true. But you’ve got to deliver. I never really had much appreciation for the NFL player who scores a touchdown, spikes the ball in the end zone then does his own version of the “Ickey Shuffle.” I like the player who scores the touchdown, then quietly drops the ball. That’s the guy you fear.

Last week the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. As someone who sat through every minute of testimony during that trial, I had my doubts from the very beginning. At the end of the day, Silver was convicted ( in one of the schemes ) of giving public money to cancer research. That’s a very strange thing to go to jail for. Not only was it cancer, it was mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is little researched or understood but just happens to disproportionately affect Silver’s lower Manhattan district which saw a spike in these cases post 9/11 due to poor air quality in the neighborhood. The grant money was given to Dr. Robert Taub of Columbia University who was doing groundbreaking research on mesothelioma. He then referred victims to Silver who passed them along to his buddies at Weitz & Luxenberg who paid Silver finder’s fees for his referrals. Was this immoral? Probably. Illegal? Not so sure. The problem with the current system is that too much of this stuff is perfectly legal. Lawmakers are allowed to earn unlimited amounts of outside income. It’s enshrined in the State Constitution. So while finders fees may look bad, they happen in the legal profession all the time.

Silver was always just east of the line of legality. He knew where to go and where not to, which was why it was so surprising to see him in handcuffs. The problem of course is that Bharara danced on his grave a little early. The very day after Silver was arrested, Bharara gave a talk at New York Law School where he urged people to focus their outrage and join him in taking on the culture of corruption in Albany. Those comments, and others like them a couple of months later, eventually Brought an admonishment by the Judge, Valerie Caproni, who accused Bharara of orchestrating a “media blitz” by unfairly grouping Silver in with all that is pervasive and distasteful about our state politics.

I’m always a little wary of blustery prosecutors who are unelected. I think they need to be held to the same level of scrutiny as every other politician. When you win big you get credit, but when you haven’t won yet, it’s better to dial it down a bit. Reminds me very much of my years covering Chris Christie in New Jersey. Here is a man who goes out of his way time and again to prove that people’s worst instincts about him are 100% accurate. At least Christie had amassed an impressive record of public corruption convictions as U.S. Attorney in Newark before running for Governor. But when the “I’m a tough talking straight shooter” routine fades away you are sometimes left with a dude who people just don’t really like all that much. Christie had trouble getting along with people. And the one thing I’ll always say about politicians, the good ones know it’s always better to make a friend in this game than a enemy.

So, while I applaud Bharara for taking on the tough fight, I don’t know that the courts are the best arena to clean up the system. And unfortunately what has now happened is Bharara has bought our elected leaders two additional years to sit on their hands and do absolutely nothing to reform the system. Outside income laws need to be changed. It’s that simple. Bharara’s cases may ultimately prove successful, but I guess my feeling is that they are besides the point.