Langworthy Says Kearns Should Replace Silver As Speaker

When Assemblyman Mickey Kearns announced he would not caucus with his party until Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stepped down, few people outside Western New York even noticed.  Thursday following Silver’s arrest on fraud and corruption charges, the South Buffalo Democrat seemed to offer a bit of an ‘I told you so’ to the Assembly Democratic Conference.

“What I’m surprised about is how long he’s lasted. We had proof that there were young girls that were under oppression that were being abused by some of my colleagues and that wasn’t good enough to remove him from office,” Kearns said.

Kearns has been a vocal critic of Silver since the Vito Lopez scandal but only Charles Barron, a freshman Democrat from Brooklyn, joined him in not supporting Silver as Speaker earlier this month.  That’s something a well known WNY Republican leader was quick to point out Thursday night.

“I want to know where our local delegation, you know, Sean Ryan and Robin Schimminger and Crystal Peoples (-Stokes), where they stand on Shelly Silver’s leadership,” said Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy.

Ryan did release a statement saying he was “disturbed” by the allegations but few Western New York Democrats outside of the Assembly Majority Leader had anything to say.

“Perhaps they should look to Mickey Kearns as the new Speaker of the Assembly. He’s a Democrat. He’s a reformer. He’s somebody that really brings a bipartisan approach to government and he could get things done,” said Langworthy.

This isn’t the first time Langworthy has been supportive of Kearns.  He allowed Kearns to run on the Republican line during his first run for the Assembly in a 2012 special election.

Kearns himself knows it’s unlikely the Democratic Caucus would welcome him back with open arms let alone vote for him as Speaker.  When asked who he’d like to see replace Silver, Kearns was intentionally vague.

“Anyone who’s not under indictment or investigation would be better than Speaker Silver right now,” Kearns added.

Silver’s ’08 Opponent: ‘Sad Day for NY’

So far, there hasn’t been a lot in the way of reaction from lawmakers in Albany. (It’s pretty early yet, and the NYT story broke after midnight).

But Democratic District Leader Paul Newell, one of two Democrats who mounted long-shot and unsuccessful primary challenges to Silver in 2008 – the speaker’s first Democratic primary contest in over two decades – was the first to release a statement.

Newell, who represents the 65th AD (Silver’s district), said if the report of the speaker’s imminent arrest is true, then it is a “sad day for Lower Manhattan, and a sad day for New York.”

“I can’t speak to the specific charges against the Speaker,” Newell added. “But I can say that outside income for legislators is a certain recipe for corruption. Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Skelos should have banned it long ago.”

“The 65th Assembly District, and all New Yorkers, deserve better.”

If Silver is lead away in cuffs today, it will definitely strengthen the position of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is many ways – not the least of which is his push for a cap on outside income by state lawmakers and more transparency in the reporting of what they earn while moonlighting.

Musical Committee Chairs

From the Morning Memo:

The 2015 legislative session is more or less underway, and has been for several weeks now. But a number of high-profile committee chairs remain vacant in both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly.

Spokesmen for both the Senate and Assembly majorities said the news on who is filling theses posts will come in the near future.

In the Senate, the announcement will come either this week or next.

Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — who ultimately makes the decision who gets which post — said the chair and leadership positions will be a decision that’s made “soon.”

Having a committee chairmanship in Albany is no small thing: The job does come with more work, but it also comes with a higher profile, more attention from lobbyists and journalists and offers an opportunity to shape policy.

And the “lulu” (Albanyspeak for stipend) these leadership posts and committee chairmanships carry would be a boost for lawmakers who haven’t seen a pay raise since January 1999.

In the state Assembly, a number of plumb leadership positions are up for grabs following the departure of several senior members.

Joan Millman relinquished the gavel at the Assembly Aging Committee, and Robert Sweeney, the longtime Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee chair, has also departed.

Should either of those posts go to a lawmaker with an existing committee or leadership position, then another assignment will have to be made, potentially with younger members who are yet to enter the leadership structure in the chamber.

This process is generally referred to at the Capitol as “churn.”

There’s a more complicated situation in the Senate, where the five-member IDC holds several committee chairmanships, including Social Services (Sen. Tony Avella), Labor (Sen. Diane Savino), Mental Health (Sen. David Carlucci) and Aging (Sen. David Valesky).

It remains unclear whether the IDC will keep their gavels after Republicans gained a clear majority in the chamber.

Departures in the Senate on the Republican side also free up some space on the leadership ladder.

Newly elected Rep. Lee Zeldin was the chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Committee. George Maziarz, who chose to not run for re-election as he faces a federal investigation, was chairman of the Energy and Telecommunications Committee. Maziarz also led the select committee on State-Native American Relations.

Technically, one committee chair has been filled: Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will contiue to chair the all-powerful Senate Rules Committee.

And before he was even elected, freshman Long Island Sen. Tom Croci was promised the chairmanship of the Senate’s Homeland Security panel, replacing former Sen. Greg Ball, who moved to Texas.

New York’s Shadow Government Still In The Shadows

More than 100 public authorities on the state and local level have failed to file legally required financial reports with the state’s authorities watchdog, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The report found a total of 136 public corporations, authorities and other quasi-public entities have missed deadlines to file annual reports and audit reports within 90 days of the fiscal year to the Authorities Budget Office.

State authorities must submit a budget within three months prior to the start of the fiscal year, April 1. Local authorities must do so within 60 days before April 1.

Several of the authorities listed in the report plan to resolve, but are yet to begin the formal dissolution process.

The state has sought in recent years to get a handle on the proliferation of authorities and industrial development agencies that have flourished in New York for decades with little oversight.

The authorities model was embraced by master builder Robert Moses, who was able to leverage the borrowing power of the entities in order to complete vast infrastructure projects.

January 2015 Delinquent List by Nick Reisman

Siena: Cuomo’s Numbers Up Heading Into SoS/Budget

One day before of his combined State of the State and budget address, a new Siena pol finds Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s standing with voters has improved slightly since last month and is now at its highest level since last July.

The governor’s favorable/unfavorable rating is 60-35, up a bit from 58-37 last month – just a few weeks after his re-election to a second four-year term in November. Cuomo’s job performance rating remains negative, 47-51, but has improved slightly from 42-57 in December.

Delving deeper into the latest numbers, Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said Cuomo is viewed favorably by more than three-quarters of Democrats and New York City voters and favorably by independents and downstate suburbanites. Upstate voters are evenly divided and Republicans are decidedly unfavorable in their views of the Democratic governor.

Even a majority of voters who view the current governor negatively have a favorable view of his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died on New Year’s Day, just hours after his son delivered his first of two inauguration speeches. Seventy-six percent of New Yorkers said they a favorable view of the first Gov. Cuomo, compared to just 14 percent who view him unfavorably.

At least 40 percent of those polled statewide believe education and jobs should be one of Cuomo’s top two priorities for the 2015 session. Those are definitely make the top of the to-do list for Democrats, while it’s taxes and jobs for Republicans and suburbanites and upstaters favoring all three.

New Yorkers gave a negative rating to public schools across the state when it comes to preparing students to be college or career ready, and they’re evenly divided on their local schools. Not surprisingly, there’s a regional divide on this issue, too, Greenberg noted, explaining;

“Majorities of downstate suburban and upstate voters say their local public schools are doing an excellent or good job of preparing students to be college or career ready, however, twice as many New York City voters say their local public schools are doing a fair or poor job of preparing students, not a good or excellent job.”

By a 15-point margin – and just shy of the magic 50 percent mark – voters say the implementation of the Common Core standards should be stopped. They also trust the state Education Department and the Board of Regents more than Cuomo of the Legislature when it comes to setting education policy, even though it was SED and the Regents that botched the Common Core implementation, causing widespread consternation in recent years.

Greenberg said 38 percent of voters trust SED the most to set education policy, followed by 23 percent who trust the Regents most, 18 percent who trust Cuomo, and eight percent who trust the Legislature.

Cuomo is widely expected to make education reform a main focus of his speech tomorrow. He’s been discussing the need for broad changes to the public education system – including giving the governor more control over setting policy – since before the November elections.

Seventy percent of voters support the idea of continuing the 2 percent property tax cap, and support cuts across both regional and party lines. Support is weakest in New York City (63 percent) and strongest among Republicans (79 percent).

New Yorkers remain unimpressed with the Senate and Assembly as government bodies, with the lower chamber’s favorable/unfavorable rating at 42-41, and the upper house at 45-44.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s negatives – 37 percent – outweigh his positives – 21 percent – with 42 percent of New Yorkers having no clue who the Manhattan Democrat is, despite the fact that he’s the longest-serving legislative leader in Albany.

As for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, his split is: 13-18, with 68 percent saying they don’t know enough about the Long Island Republican to have an opinion about him.

Siena poll, 1/20/15 by liz_benjamin6490

Scaffold Fight Gears Up Once Again

From the Morning Memo:

The fight over the Scaffold Law is brewing once again in Albany.

The law is one business groups have sought to scale back and alter for decades, saying its more onerous features make it difficult to do business in New York.

But a coalition of well-funded and political savvy labor groups in the last several years have been pushing back on the business community’s efforts to change the law.

The Scaffold Safety Coalition, composed of a mix of community advocacy organizations as well as a mix of public and private-sector unions, announced today they’ve grown their members to more than 30 groups as the new session kicks off in Albany.

“Our coalition is stronger and broader than ever before, and we’ll do what it takes to keep construction workers in New York safe,” said Josie Duffy, Policy Advocate for the Center for Popular Democracy. “Last year was a wake-up call: the big business groups behind the so-called ‘reform’ movement will say and do anything – even tamper with academic research – all in the name of putting profits over worker safety. More and more New Yorkers are coming together to say enough is enough.”

When it comes to the cost of the law, the coalition’s members say its insurance premiums that are to blame.

“With construction activity booming and insurance carriers still refusing to open their books and provide real data about the Scaffold Safety Law, the last thing Albany should be debating is weakening worker safety,” said Gary La Barbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “We recognize that insurance premiums have increased substantially, we need to figure out the problem, not blame the workers.”

Coalition members also include influential labor organizations such as SEIU 32BJ, Hotel Trades Council and CWA District 1.

The Scaffold Law is a perennial battle in Albany, with opponents of the measure blasting it for its costs imposed on local government projects.

Albany Timetable: Wait ‘Til June?

Planet Albany can operate in a time zone unto itself.

The legislative session lasts six months, but many contentious issues ranging from rent regulations to criminal justice reform won’t be resolved until June.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver this week list preserving existing — and potentially strengthening — rent regulations as a top priority, along with hiking the state’s minimum wage once again as well as providing access to tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

“Rent regulation expires this year. We want a strong tenant protection regulation, we want to see the DREAM Act enacted this year, we want to see a minimum wage increase,” Silver said. “These are priorities of the Democratic conference going forward.”

Priorities, yes. But they’re also contentious issues that take time to parse through and potentially link to other items.

Rent control was wedded to the state’s cap on property taxes in 2011 — a sort of mutually assured destruction for lawmakers of differing regions of the state that requires both to be renewed.

At the same time, mayoral control of public schools in New York City is due to expire in June as well.

“It’s obviously up for renewal and I think it has worked well in the city of New York and hopefully it will continue,” Silver said.

That push for having mayors control their local school districts may spread to upstate cities as well.

“I’m a firm believer in the continuation of mayoral control. An issue as important as education should be directly in the hands of an executive – like the mayor,” said Senate IDC Leader Jeff Klein. “I understand there’s other localities that are interested in mayoral control. I know the mayor of Rochester talked about it for a while, I’ve had conversations with Mayor Spano in Yonkers, so maybe we need to expand it beyond just New York City.”

Albany has six months to deal with these deadlines, but don’t expect them to be reconciled until the last possible moment or even granted emergency, temporary reprieves as the details are worked out.

History dictates that the rhythm of Albany starts this way: The governor gives the State of the State, officials and the press react. Then, a for a time, quiet.

The governor gives his budget proposal, the Albany membrane is stimulated once again, convulsed into budget hearings, advocacy demonstrations and the like.

Then, once the budget is approved (in theory by March 31, the deadline for the end of the fiscal year), nothing really happens in Albany for weeks.

Lawmakers even have canceled scheduled session days in the early spring despite looming deadlines. Like students working on an end-of-semester term paper, Albany lawmakers inevitably pull all-nighters.

This year is a little different: Gov. Andrew Cuomo postponed his State of the State address until Jan. 21 and plans to keep his budget address scheduled for Jan. 27.

State lawmakers this week said that will likely make for a busier-than-usual February. Four budget hearing days are scheduled for next month.

The Senate and Assembly are both scheduled to be in Albany 58 days this year, but are planning, maybe optimistically, to leave early, by June 17.

With no state elections or federal primaries looming this year, lawmakers could very well stay at the Capitol beyond that day should major issues remain unresolved.

Then there are issues with no deadline, but aren’t expected to be taken up until June, either. That includes reforming the state’s criminal justice system after the Eric Garner ruling. Governor Andrew Cuomo has indicated he wants to take a deliberate approach on the complex issue.

“I would be a little patient for the next couple of weeks,” said Sen. Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican. “There have always been differences between the Assembly and Senate when it comes to these issues.”

Senate, Assembly To Meet 58 Days

The Senate and Assembly will meet 58 days this year in Albany, according to the newly released session calendar.

Five days are set aside for legislative budget hearings.

It’s three extra days longer than 2014 and 2013 and it also reunites the two chambers, who held several session days separately last year.

The final day of the legislative session is a little early this year: June 17.

2015 NYS Legislative Session Calendar by Nick Reisman

DEC’s Rebrand Backlash

Also from today’s Morning Memo:

Some staffers at the state Department of Environmental Conservation are not taking kindly to the Cuomo administration’s grand rebranding plan.

The “State of Opportunity” program announced in December is the result of a two-year research project and part of a $217 million contract to streamline and modernize the state’s messaging.

That includes the introduction of a single logo to be used by virtually every agency, replacing any unique branding – some of which has been used for years.

Excluded from this effort are iconic and easily recognizable brands – like the “I heart NY” tourism campaign and the NY Lottery logo.

Everything else, however, will eventually have to go – and that includes the circular blue, green and white logo long employed by the DEC – to be replaced by a standardized, and color-coded, NYS logo.

According to a memo sent to all DEC staffers yesterday, and obtained by CapTon, the new logo “will be mandatory for all agency, division and program communications.”

That applies to everything the agency creates – from its website to its brochures, uniforms and signage.

Longtime DEC staffers aren’t pleased about the switch, noting it’s going to cost a pretty penny to change over all the signs in the many parks and historic sites across the state.

A frustrated DEC employee, who is also a member of PEF, recently vented his frustrations in an email to a union official, writing:

“We have tens of thousands of signs, trail markers, educational material, equipment, clothing, etc. that will be thrown out just because they have DEC brand.”

“As a employee of DEC, I thought we were supposed to conserve and reduce waste rather than create it. As a frugal person, the thought of this much waste is insane. We are not able to meet even min staffing needs and yet we picture millions of dollars being spent on new signs just for starters.”

“…This isn’t even for the employees that are getting cheated out of money that could better their work progress, but for the tax payers that want to go for a hike, go hunting, or take a bike ride and cannot because the public land is not accessible, yet due to lack of staff and funding yet we will spend millions to change a perfectly good brand.”

Last Friday, according to a source, DEC employees who work at the agency’s Albany HQ held a ceremony to mourn the loss of their beloved logo, lowering it (in a flag version) as taps were played.

In the coming weeks, DEC staffers will be expressing their love for the departed logo by wearing it displayed on shirts and pins when they go to work.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi insisted there are no immediate plans for a mass overhaul of DEC signage, saying the new logo will be “swapped in as needed.”

Immediate changes have been made to the agency’s website (and other sites across state government), letterhead and other communications, according to Azzopardi. But the administration is aware that a large-scale changeover of every sign across the state would be very expensive.

Eventually the logo will be uniform, Azzopardi said, but there is no timeline for that to occur.

Minus Two Staffers for Schneiderman (Updated)

AG Eric Schneiderman is starting the new year with a couple of holes to fill on his staff.

The DN’s Ken Lovett reported this morning that Andrew Friedman, who has served as Schneiderman’s deputy communications director for less than two years, is departing to take a job at the influential political consulting firm BerlinRosen. Friedman started his new job today at the New York City-based firm, which has strong ties to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Shortly after noon, the Albany-based lobbying and law firm Malkin & Ross announced that another Schneiderman staffer, Justin Berhaupt, has jumped ship to join its ranks. Berhaupt, an Albany Law School grad and Delmar resident, had served as the AG’s legislative advisor.

While working for Schneiderman, Berhaupt , who is also a former Assembly staffer and Senate counsel, was the strategist behind I-STOP – the real-time database of controlled substance prescriptions as a means to reduce addiction and diversion – and the Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013, which reformed and modernized the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law for the first time since the 1970’s.

“Justin’s knowledge of the Legislature will be invaluable to our clients, as well as his experience in private law practice and on the campaign trail,” said Artie Malkin, co-founder of M&R.

Both BerlinRosen and Malkin & Ross (or M&R, as it’s also known), are generally Democrat-leaning firms, which represent “progressive” candidates, issues and elected officials.

UPDATE: The AG only has one hole to fill – the one left by Friedman’s departure. Kate Powers, who spent the past four years as legislative director for Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky, is replacing Berhaupt.