Dec 9th - 3:49 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this afternoon the appointment of two new CUNY trustees to the 15-member board – Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro and Barry Schwartz – replacing two Pataki-era appointees whose most recent seven-year terms had expired.
Molinaro, a Conservative Party member who crossed party lines to endorse Cuomo in 2010, and Schwartz, executive vice president at MacAdams and Forbes Holdings Inc., replace Kathleen Pesile and Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, respectively.
“The City University of New York system is a world-class higher education institution that provides quality and affordable education to students in the five boroughs,” Cuomo said in a press release. “It is also a powerful economic engine in our communities, nurturing entrepreneurs and innovators and preparing the next generation’s workforce.”
“I am pleased to appoint Borough President James Molinaro and Mr. Barry Schwartz to the CUNY Board of Trustees, who will bring invaluable experience from both the public and private sectors to the University. I thank them for their leadership as CUNY continues to serve the students of New York City with the highest standards.”
Wiesenfeld, a conservative Democrat who worked briefly for the Pataki administration, is a controversial figure who has engaged in some high-profile verbal battles over the years, including an effort to block the playwright Tony Kushner from receiving an honorary degree. (Weisenfeld called him an “extremist” opponent and critic of Israel).
He also had had a very public war with an equally controversial public figure who is practially his political polar opposite – Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron.
Wiesenfeld was initially appointed to the CUNY Board by Pataki in June 1999 and was approved by the Senate after a testy public hearing during that focused on his alleged use of objectionable language in describing Hasidic Jews and African Americans. (He refused to respond to the allegations, lodged by Isaac Abraham, a community advocate in Brooklyn). Wiesenfeld was reappointed to a second term in December 2006.
Pesile was originally appointed by Pataki in June 1998 and then reappointed in June 2005. She is a financial advisor and university educator and also a Staten Islander. She served during the Giuliani administration on the New York City Cultural Affairs Advisory Commissions. There was some controversy surrounding Pesile’s appointment, too, as Pataki sought to speed her confirmation to insure that the board passes a curb on remedial classes that he had urged.
Pesile’s eventual confirmation ended up following the board’s approval of Pataki’s plan.
Dec 4th - 8:48 am
(A shortened version of this morning’s Memo – with video).
We already knew there were divisions among the 25 Moreland Commission members, thanks to the seven-member dissent on public campaign financing included in the preliminary report released Monday.
But that disagreement morphed into open warfare yesterday as Commission Co-Chair Kathleen Rice lashed out at one of the dissenters, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, all but accusing her of lying when it comes to the commission’s ability – and willingness – to include anyone other than state legislators in its public corruption probe.
Rice’s comments came during a Capital Tonight interview last night, and were in response to Mahoney’s appearance on the show Monday evening, in which the Republican Onondaga County executive said it would be a “mockery” for the commission to “pretend” it would investigate the governor.
To do so, Mahoney said, would be a conflict of interest, since the commission was appointed by Cuomo and then deputized by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (She did not address the fact that a Moreland Commission, by definition, is supposed to restrict its efforts to executive agencies).
Mahoney also said there had been “no conversations” within the commission to look at anything other than legislative corruption.
With very little prompting on my part last night, Rice, who is also a Democrat and the district attorney of Nassau County, insisted that Mahoney “doesn’t speak for the commission,” adding: “I think some of the things she said were just out-and-out not true.”
“In fact, the governor and the attorney general have made statements in direct contradiction to what commissioner Mahoney said about the ability to look into the governor,” Rice continued.
“The governor made it very clear and the commission has made it very clear that this commission’s mission is to follow the money where ever it goes without fear or favor.”
Rice also played down the dissent over public campaign financing, saying: “We had more than a majority of people saying (that) was the way to go.”
I asked her about reports that the Cuomo administration had actually encouraged this dissent, in hopes of providing cover for the governor if he fails to get a deal with the Senate Republicans, who have dug in their heels against the idea of using taxpayer dollars to fuel the ambitions of aspiring elected officials.
(Cuomo actually fueled that belied himself yesterday by initially saying leaders should focus on getting a deal on the reform measures where agreement already exists, and then walking that back by issuing – through a spokeswoman – a statement reiterating his strong support for creation of a publicly financed system).
Rice stuck to the administration’s talking points, saying it’s “very clear” where the governor stands on public financing. “We felt it was important for the dissent to be able to be heard,” she said, “and they were.”
You can watch my entire interview with Rice here.
Dec 3rd - 3:10 pm
Since last night’s release of the Moreland Commission report, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has played his cards relatively close to the vest when it comes to creation of a public campaign finance system.
Keep in mind that Cuomo has been expressing support for using taxpayer dollars to fund campaigns for years now – at least since he was running for governor in 2010 – but has not yet expended significant political capital to actually achieve that goal the way he did with similarly controversial issues like same-sex marriage (a supposed non-starter with the Senate Republicans) and Tier 6 (particularly unpopular with Democrats in both houses).
Given Cuomo’s supposed enthusiasm for a publicly funded system, you might think he would have embraced the commission’s report. But instead, he issued the following relatively innocuous statement following the report’s release last night:
“I want to thank the Commission members and staff for their dedication and public service, and look forward to reviewing the Commission’s findings in detail and continuing to work with the Legislature to enact systemic reform.”
And then this morning, (as Nick reports below), Cuomo suggested that the dissent on public campaign financing might be too much to overcome, vis-a-vis the Senate Republicans, and should not hold up a deal on areas of reform on which both houses of the Legislature and the governor can agree.
This sounds a lot like Cuomo’s explanation during the last legislative session on why he wasn’t able to land a deal on all 10 points of his Women’s Equality Agenda – including the abortion rights plank, which the Senate Republicans staunchly refused to allow onto the floor for a vote.
So far, campaign finance reform advocates are trying to remain calm and optimistic. It’s very early in the game, after all, and the 2014 session hasn’t even officially started yet.
But several advocates I spoke with today said the true test of whether Cuomo is serious about creating a public campaign finance system is if he puts funding for said system in his 2014-15 executive budget proposal (assuming, that is, no deal is reached prior to the start of the 2014 session, which, given the Senate GOP’s opposition to the idea, seems highly unlikely at this point).
Two sources close to the campaign finance debate said Cuomo has suggested to advocates that it would somehow be illegal for him to include revenue for a taxpayer-funded system in the budget. But state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office disagrees.
“Article VII of the New York State Constitution grants the Governor broad authority to include substantive legislation in his proposed executive budget,” Schneiderman spokesman Matt Mittenthal said. “The governor’s authority was challenged by the Legislature in Pataki v. Assembly, and the challenge was rejected by the Court of Appeals.”
Unshackle Upstate recently argued in an anti-public campaign finance system white paper that using public funds for a political purpose would be unconstitutional. But advocates noted that the New York City system has existed for decades, and hasn’t never been challenged on constitutional grounds.
UPDATE: Mittenthal sent the following statement on the constitutionality question:
“No law prevents the legislature from giving public money to private individuals when doing so promotes a clear public purpose. There is no doubt that a small donor matching program – as part of a public financing law – would do just that.”
A number of funding mechanisms for a publicly financed system have been floated, including everything from using cash captured by closing corporate loopholes (a lefty favorite) to casino licensing fees (an idea put forth by Democratic activist/gadfly Bill Samuels and promptly shot down by Cuomo).
I emailed Cuomo’s press office to ask whether the governor might put money for a public campaign finance system in the budget, but have yet to receive a response.
Dec 3rd - 1:41 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated Tuesday morning that the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption’s preliminary report could be the basis for some sort of an ethics overhaul package, but hedged on whether that could include public financing of political campaigns.
Instead, Cuomo highlighted where the 25-member panel agrees: tightening disclosure laws, strengthening bribery penalties and better enforcement at the state Board of Elections.
“There is dissent and there is a political division on the question of public financing,” Cuomo said. “There are a lot of other elements of the report where there was no dissent and there was no division. These are inarguable in the report. I believe there is consensus in the report and those are issues we should move forward on.”
Cuomo indicated the dissent in the commission’s preliminary report released Monday evening highlighted the political division of the issue.
Seven commission members, including his own appointees Joanie Mahoney and Pat Barrett signed on to opposing the recommendation of public financing. (NOTE: A reader points out ALL the seven commissioners who dissented were, in fact, Cuomo appointees. And that includes Eric Corngold, who served as an executive deputy attorney general when Cuomo was AG).
“We know that public financing is a political issue,” Cuomo said at an unrelated event at Madison Square Garden. “The Assembly supports; the Senate Republicans don’t support it.”
Cuomo also insisted the ethics reform in Albany is a “work in progress.”
The Legislature in 2011 adopted an ethics overhaul measure that required greater disclosure of sources of outside income for state elected officials, as well as the creation of the latest lobbying regulator, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
“I don’t know if you ever clean up government 100 percent,” Cuomo said. “It’s a work in progress and you continue to refine.”
Several legislative sources on Tuesday expressed doubt that, at this point, a special session would be possible to approve a series of ethics measure, whether public financing is a part of the package or not.
At the same time, lawmakers are still fighting subpoenas from the commission seeking more information on their private business interests (the Senate Republican Campaign Committee settled its subpoena concerns with the commission last week).
But the bottom line for Cuomo was the 101-page report showed there was a need to clean up the Capitol.
“I think what the commission did was make abundantly clear is we need to clean up Albany,” he said.
Dec 2nd - 3:07 pm
A reader with some time on his hands over the extended Thanksgiving weekend went to see “That Hopey Changey Thing,” an off-Broadway play about Democratic politics that currently on stage at the Public Theater. And he was so struck by the experience, that he flagged the production in an email to SoP.
The main character in the play, Richard, works in the New York attorney general’s office, and apparently lived through both the Spitzer and Cuomo administrations there.
The story seems to take place right around the time when former AG Andrew Cuomo is ascending to the governor’s office and handing things over to his replacement, former Sen. Eric Schneiderman, about whom Richard says: “He’s an Albany politician….the politicians like him because he’s a politician.”
I haven’t been able to locate any personal link between Spitzer and the playwright, Richard Nelson. But Nelson has a definite soft spot for the former AG, and he doesn’t seem to think much of his successor or of Albany, writ large.
That much is clear from the brief clip of dialogue that appears on the New York Times website, in which the main character, Richard, says:
“When Eliot resigned – that was a God-awful week – I’d almost gone to the governor’s office with him. I went up two, three times in the transition. You can’t imagine the jokers who are up in Albany. You can’t believe the incompetence, greed, the stupidity.”
“Eliot maybe came on a little too strong, sure, true. But all of us, we’d have walked off a cliff for him. It was harder for those who went to Albany, of course, But it was bad for the rest of us, too. We were crushed. Betrayed? I don’t know.”
“And then Andrew. You see with Andrew, everything is about politics. Celebrity politics. What gets noticed, what makes the impression. And so, he couldn’t forgo the opportunity, and he denigrated Eliot. He just sat on his carcass and ate. And I will never forgive him for that.”
Writes the reader:
“Ironically, despite the professed hatred here, in a later play (it is a series of four) the character is eventually lured to work in the Cuomo administration. Clearly the playwright had a good source (or two or three).”
Nov 27th - 1:33 pm
Former Department of Corrections and Community Services Commissioner Brian Fisher violated the state constitution’s ban on gifts to private entities and exceeded his authority when allowing corrections officers to to do work for an organization that did not comply with grant requirements.
A report from Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott found the organization, Correction Officers and Police Supporting Children through Awareness and Reality-based Education, Inc., or COPS CARE, received more than $600,000 in state grant money, but failed to comply with rules governing how the cash should be used.
The grant money was awarded by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
At the same time, Fisher, who retired from his DOCCS post earlier this year, unilaterally authorized corrections offciers to perform COPS CARE work without charging accruals for leave. That resulted in 400 staff days in work time being improperly charged to the state.
COPS CARE is now defunct as a result of the IG investigation and has reimbursed the sate $54,689, its total remaining assets.
“Recipients of state grants are entrusted with the responsibility to spend these funds prudently, effectively, and in strict compliance with the terms of the grant,” Scott said in a statement. “My investigation revealed that COPS CARE, while well-intended, violated this trust when it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant monies without proper management, and outside the scope of the grants.”
Also as a result of the probe, DCJS has revised its grant monitoring procedures, including using a checklist for all site visits and incorporating new rules to review time records.
Nov 22nd - 5:53 pm
The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption Friday afternoon responded to the flurry of legal filings seeking to quash subpoenas seeking more information on lawmakers outside pay and their legal clients.
In addition to re-exerting their own authority when it comes to investigating the Assembly and Senate, the commission hints at a “significant number” of those who employ state lawmakers in the private sector are cooperating.
Here is their statement:
“In addition to Executive Law 6 and the Executive order, the Moreland Commission has full legal authority, as Deputy Attorneys General, granted by the Attorney General, under Executive Law 63(8) to proceed with this investigation. It should be noted that a significant number of employers of both Assembly members and Senators who were asked for information are cooperating. We had hoped everyone would work together but they did not. We are confident we will prevail in court.”
Nov 8th - 4:47 pm
In a public radio interview that will air in full this weekend, one of the three Moreland Commission co-chairs, Onondaga County DA William Fitzpatrick, says the anti-corruption commission has uncovered criminal activity during its investigation of New York’s Byzantine campaign finance system and will be referring its findings for prosecution.
“We have subpoena power and law enforcement power,” Fitzpatrick told Grant Reeher, host of WRVO’s Campbell Conversations. “If we discover criminality – and I can tell you without being tantalizing, I can tell you that we have – we will refer that to the appropriate prosecutorial agency.”
Fitzpatrick did not elaborate, so we’ll have to wait until Reeher’s interview airs in full Sunday night at 6 p.m. on WRVO.
But that small tidbit is probably more than enough to get the rumor mill churning in Albany (not to mention San Juan, Puerto Rico), and also perhaps put some legislators and campaign contributors on edge.
The Moreland Commission is scheduled to make its preliminary report next month, and its final report is to be filed in January 2015.
That means absent some sort of deal between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders – as has been speculated, but also shot down by Senate Republicans – on an ethics package that enables the governor to shut down the commission, it will be continuing its work through the 2014 legislative session and campaign season, which could very well put a damper on things down at the Capitol in terms of progress on anything other than the budget.
Fitzpatrick also told Reeher that next year will be difficult for New Yorkers as the commission uncovers additional wrongdoing. (This is paraphrased and not a direct quote). Though there has been a lot of reporting about the commission’s lack of indendence from Cuomo, it recently started to flex its muscles, sending out subpoenas that were initially held back.
It appears most of the political committees that received the subpoenas plan to comply, with the exception of the Senate Republicans, who moved to quash the one sent to their housekeeping account.
The Buffalo News’ Tom Precious reported that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos had a rare face-to-face meeting this week, which could be a sign that the two sides are trying to work out some sort of truce that they will eventually extend to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and IDC Leader Jeff Klein.
Nov 8th - 1:03 pm
The Department of Financial Services released a letter Friday sent to German officials seeking to reclaim more than 1,500 pieces of art that may have been stolen during the Third Reich from victims of the Holocaust.
DFS Superintendent Ben Lawsky writes in a letter dated Nov. 7 to prosecutors in Germany that its office may be in possession of the artwork allegedly stolen by the Nazi regime.
“Among our many claims, we are currently working with more than 130 individuals on cases for thousands of artworks lost as a result of Nazi persecution,” Lawsky said.
Lawsky’s department — a product of the merger of the old Banking and Insurance departments, has oversight of the Holocaust Claims Processing Office, which so far has recovered 75 works of art and $165 million in assets returned to either victims or their heirs.
Though German officials are turning to an historian to review the claims, Lawsky offered the services of the DFS in diving into the research.
“Given the challenges inherent in provenance research, we are offering assistance in identifying and returning works of art involved in this case that were unjustly seized during the Nazi era,” Lawsky wrote.
He added that German officials should also look into publishing a list of artwork it has found in order to speed up its return to victims and heirs.
Here’s the letter:
Nov 6th - 3:03 pm
More than a dozen legislators are confirmed for the annual Somos confab in Puerto Rico this weekend, a traditional post-Election Day event that often draws Gov. Andrew Cuomo and is expected this year to include New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.
But a Capitol insider tells me some legislators may be squeamish about heading to Somos this year, given the ongoing Moreland Act Commission on Public Corruption.
“With the Moreland Commission issuing subpoenas left and right, legislators are nervous about the appearance of indulging in a political junket which has generally just been an excuse to get a billable vacation in Puerto Rico,” the source said.
The Moreland Commission has subpoena the campaign finance commitees of the legislative conferences, as well as some law firms that employ state legislators.
The commission’s subpoenas have caused for some consternation between Cuomo and the Legislature, with some lawmakers seeking to reign in the panel by establishing future Moreland Commissions are outside of the governor’s control.
Cuomo hasn’t confirmed if he’s attending the conference, which runs from today through Nov. 10.
Updated: A second source emails to note, “This conference solicits and obtains major donations from special interests that go completely unreported because Somos is not a political committee.”
Here’s a list, via the source, of which lawmakers are scheduled to attend: