Santorum To Keynote New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation In Albany

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who ran for president in 2012, will appear in Albany this month to keynote an evangelical group’s lobby day.

Santorum will be speaking at the New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation on March 17, with a speech at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.

Santorum served in the U.S. Senate from 1995 through 2007.

The event is being held in conjunction with the group’s affiliate organization, New Yorkers For Constitutional Freedoms.

“Legislative Day 2015 gives NYFRF an opportunity to share information with our friends and supporters about key legislative issues of concern to the evangelical Christian community in New York,” said the group’s executive director, the Rev. Jason McGuire. “It also gives NYFRF the privilege of welcoming a nationally-known conservative political figure; former U.S. Senator and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA), a stalwart defender of human life and strong families, will serve as our keynote speaker.”

The event comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo focused heavily on a 10-point package measures aimed at addressing women’s issues, including a codification of the Roe v. Wade decision in state law.

With Republicans holding a full majority in the Senate this year, it’s doubtful that abortion plank of the women’s agenda will pass this session.

Violating Albany’s Prime Directive

With apologies to the late Mr. Spock, an anonymous Cuomo administration official today violated Albany’s prime directive: The Bear Mountain Compact.

The so-called agreement for so-called gentlemen in Albany basically requires that anything that happens in Albany stays in Albany, be it extramarital affairs, debauchery, drunkenness, etc.

The staffer was reacting to a Republican-backed bill that appears to be a thinly veiled effort to troll Cuomo in his bedroom: The measure would require financial disclosure from non-relatives who live with state officials, i.e., the governor’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee.

A Cuomo administration official told myself and several others: “It’s an interesting concept – if the bill’s anonymous sponsor ever comes forward, we may suggest expanding it to include all girlfriends, even those of married members.”

The quote is a clever one, but it’s also something of a threat delivered with a clenched-teeth smile.

To be sure, a lot of bad behavior has occurred (and likely continues to) in Albany for decades. On the surface, there’s an effort on the part by lawmakers and their colleagues to keep it a secret (see Lopez, Vito and Silver, Sheldon).

The press, historically, helped play a role in keeping extramarital affairs a secret, most notably with Nelson Rockefeller’s dalliances.

Consider, however, that two state lawmakers in recent years sought to help federal prosecutors by wearing a wire in order to get the goods on their colleagues and obtain some leniency.

Consider how easy — through the recording of a bathroom-stall cell phone video, archived Google chats and a reputation for bullying behavior — a trio of now-former state lawmakers made it for their victims to make sexual harassment complaints.

Consider, too, how easy it is for any state lawmakers to say something blunt or innuendo-laden on social media.

In other words, Albany may be a town of secrets, but in this day and age it’s a lot easier for those secrets to get out.

Siena Poll: Voters Trust Local Governments Over State, Feds

A Siena College poll sponsored by local government advocates released Thursday morning found voters across the state trust their local government over Washington or Albany.

The poll found 28 percent of voters trust the federal or state government to do the right thing, while 43 percent back their local government most or all of the time.

Only 27 percent of voters support the federal government as having a positive job performance of either good or excellent, 30 percent give the state a positive job performance.
Forty-two percent of voters surveyed say local government, meanwhile, is doing a good or excellent job.

The poll was sponsored by the Conference of Mayors, Association of Counties and the Association of Towns.

“While trust in government at every level is near historic lows, significantly more New Yorkers trust their local government most or all of the time than trust those working on their behalf either in D.C. or Albany. And when it comes to assessing the job that they are doing, over four in ten give local government a thumbs up while a third call the federal performance poor and a quarter put that black mark on state government,” said Don Levy, Director of the Siena Research Institute.

Even with the sponsorship from those groups, the results aren’t necessarily surprising: Voters have more direct interaction with the Leslie Knopes of local government compared to, say, Andrew Cuomo.

NYSAC0215 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman

Housing Advocacy Group Backs Scaffold Law

An organization that supports affordable housing for the poor is joining a coalition that is pushing back against efforts to overhaul the state’s Scaffold Law.

Real Affordability for All is joining the larger Scaffold Safety Coalition, the groups will announce later today.

“We cannot build the housing New Yorkers need on the backs of injured workers,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, spokesperson for RAFA. “The Scaffold Safety Law is an important protection that helps keep construction workers safe and out of harm’s way. We must not cut corners on safety and put workers lives at risk in order to provide quality, affordable housing for our city’s residents.”

Real Affordability for All is a coalition of smaller organizations itself, comprising more than 50 groups that seek to address homelessness, the New York City Housing Authority and preserving and developing affordable housing.

Adding to the coalition comes as business groups are mounting an effort to scale back the Scaffold Law, which those organizations contend makes it harder — and more expensive — to do business in New York.

With a housing groups joining the pro-Scaffold effort, the campaign is trying to push back against the claims that the law makes it more expensive for residents in the state.

On Tweet Flacking

Twitter as a force for breaking news, conveying information and yes, self-promotion, came into its own for reporters at the state Capitol during the debate over the 2011 legalization of same-sex marriage.

When news spreads fast, information here can leak like a sieve. Twitter, be it either for the debate over the SAFE Act or the efforts to oust Shelly Silver from the speaker’s chair, is an invaluable tool.

But for a state Capitol known for widespread gossip and half-truths, Twitter pumped the culture up on steroids.

In one instance, a tweet relaying a state senator’s dissatisfaction with an agreement on rent control regulations nearly scuttled a broader deal — an incident that became a case study for how powerful the microblogging website had become.

Into this situation stepped Josh Vlasto, then Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press secretary.

Vlasto became one of the first and most prominent communications aides in Albany to use Twitter to push back — sometimes forcefully — against tweets and comments made primarily by reporters who cover the Capitol. Vlasto also used Twitter to triage the spread of misinformation.

At the first, the development was jarring: The give-and-take between hack and flack expressing dissatisfaction with what was said on social media, usually conducted behind the scenes, was now out in the open.

Vlasto’s criticism — dubbed “tweet flacking” by some administration staffers — could be pointed, just like his emails or his phone calls.

“It’s only Twitter” was an excuse I used a few times to no avail.

But it was a wake-up call for reporters, especially of the younger set: What you tweet, and even retweet, on Twitter matters, even if it’s meant as an online water-cooler comment. Information on social media can spread faster than ever, and there’s a new level of complicated responsibility that comes with that.

The tweet flacking from the second floor continues: Assertions and snark made by reporters seen as unfair or inaccurate are called out by the press team, updates to the governor’s schedule — still sent over comparatively glacial email — are released on Twitter as well.

The governor’s press office also maintains a Twitter account that releases a healthy dose of information and news.

So what to make of the engagement with former Rep. Anthony Weiner on Twitter by the press office?

Weiner, a disgraced former congressman who resigned from office after it was revealed he conducted sexually explicit chats with women online, yesterday Tweeted some snark directed at Cuomo.

“Sunday’s gonna be cold,” he wrote. “Governor Cuomo will soon be closing the subway.”

An hour later, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi tweeted a response in reference to the sexting scandal.

“Yes, it is going to be cold,” he tweeted. “A good reason to keep your pants on.”

Weiner responded a time later with a joke about the federal investigation surrounding the Moreland Commission.

The tete-a-tete may have began with Cuomo making a reference to Weiner’s scandal in a New Yorker profile published this week.

Whatever started it, the joke, on the surface, is a funny one and provided some fodder for a relatively slow news day.

We also didn’t gain much from the back and forth, other than a new penis joke.

It also highlighted a growing trend among Cuomo staffers to add a dash of ridicule — which some in Albany will privately contend is far too personal — to Twitter responses.

“I’m appalled by what they do over Twitter,” said one long-time Albany communications hand. “It’s mean-spirited, it’s cavalier.”

But the back and forth appears to feed a larger outrage machine in which there is more noise than frequency.

The barbed tweets extend to other critics of the administration, including Fred Dicker, a columnist for The New York Post who has written unfavorably about the governor over the last several years.

Dicker, Azzopardi tweeted, wrote a “fact-devoid rant” that was “an especially bizarre trip through the Twilight Zone.”

Dicker in response sent another Tweet knocking the administration and linked to the column in question: “On public payroll,Gov. Cuomo’s mouthpiece engages in another ad hominem attack on journalist.”

Melissa DeRosa, the administration’s communications director responded: “who’s the journalist in this equation?”

Meanwhile, the press office is mixing it up with a digital army of Cuomo critics, some of whom appear to be one person, but with multiple accounts. The outrage is motivated by the Moreland Commission, the SAFE Act, the governor’s education policies or sometimes all of the above.

In another era, they would not have the forum of Twitter and could be dismissed as cranks and haters who have only the letters to the editor page as an outlet. But now those critics can engage directly with public officials — and reporters — via social media.

In one exchange, Azzopardi sarcastically noted how their “obsession seems totally healthy.”

“The truly wonderful thing about Twitter is that every weirdo gets a forum,” he added later.

Assembly Republicans get into the mix, too.

Steve McLaughlin, a GOP lawmaker, is an avid Twitter user who mixes criticism of the governor with outrage knocked Democratic Committee spokesman Peter Kauffmann as a “hack” at the height of the campaign last year.

Kauffmann responded: “I think the Navy must have rejected @SteveMcNY. We only take real pilots and he really wanted to be one when he grows up.”

Outrage from McLaughlin ensued (to be fair, McLaughlin doesn’t need Twitter to make inflammatory and personal comments, including comparing Cuomo’s legislative strategy to fascist dictators, which he later apologized for).

Cuomo himself doesn’t appear to Tweet. But he does view everyone involved in the conversation — especially the press — as active participants, or even combatants, who influence dialogue and ultimately policy. The governor, known to throw sharp elbows, also takes a keen interest in shaping his own media and messaging strategy.

Social media and blogging — instant analysis in an impatient age — have led politicians and their teams to go around a fragmented and distracted press and appeal directly to voters and the public.

The question is how far this dialogue can and should be taken — and the power the image can project — is yet to be resolved.

Scaffold Law Opponents: We Have The Data

From the Morning Memo:

Yesterday, a coalition of labor groups released a letter to state lawmakers asking that they not tinker with the state’s Scaffold Law.

Instead, the unions pointed to a bill that would require insurance companies that provide coverage under the measure to release data detailing claims paid out under the law.

But those who want to see the Scaffold Law reformed say that bill is a “red herring” and counter there is plenty of information already divulged on the cost of the measure, which they contend helps drive up the cost of business.

The information is released by the Insurance Services Office, which “receives data from the carriers and generates various market reports for them since, for obvious anti-trust and competitive reasons, they don’t sit around comparing notes with each other,” wrote Mike Elmendorf, the president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of New York State in an email.

He wrote the data the ISO provides shows something is out of whack with New York compared to the rest of the state.

Insurance carriers in this state are “routinely paying out more in claims/losses than they can collect in premium in this space, which is, of course, why they are fleeing in droves. If they were actually profiting as the trial lawyers claim, why would they not be lining up to sell insurance to our contractors?”

Metropolitan Public Strategies Hires From WFP

Metropolitan Public Strategies has hired a former Working Families Party staffer to lead its organization operations, the consulting firm on Monday announced.

The group founded by Neal Kwatra, a former top aide to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and a former political director for the Hotel Trades Council, is turning to Jess Carrano to become its director of organizing.

Most recently, Carrano was the labor-aligned WFP’s elections director and has been a top strategist with the organization since 2008.

“Jess is simply one of the best organizers in New York State,” Kwatra said in a statement. “Her organizing will be a tremendous asset to our team and the campaigns we are driving. We are really excited about the added dimension her talents give our operation.”

Carrano is credited with helping Democratic Sen. Marc Panepinto win his seat in Buffalo, defeating incumbent Republican Mark Grisanti in the party’s few pickups this election cycle.

Wage Recommends Hike For Tipped Workers

A wage board convened by the state Department of Labor recommended on Friday that workers in the hospitality and service industries who receive tips should have their minimum wage increased from $5 to $7.50 by the end of 2015.

A component of the recommendation would require servers be paid $1 less if their hourly pay exceeds the minimum wage after tips.

The state’s minimum wage is set to increase from $8.50 to $9 by the end of the year.

Advocates for a minimum wage increase had pushed Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call for the wage board after a minimum wage agreement with state lawmakers excluded tipped workers.

The move, which still must be approved by the state labor commissioner, was blasted by industry groups who said it would threaten their ability to hire and keep prices low for customers.

“This decision will handcuff small businesses’ ability to create jobs, decrease the pay of non-tipped employees, and reduce hours for tipped employees,” said Melissa Fleischut, President and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association. “Nobody won today.”

Cuomo this year supports another increase in the minimum wage, up to $11.50 for New York City and $10.50 for the rest of the state.

Morelle Supporters See ‘Interim’ Title As Audition

Even with the “interim” title, State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle’s temporary promotion marks the first time since 1991 that a representative from outside New York City has filled the Speaker’s role.  Those close to the Rochester-area Democrat see this as an opportunity to prove he can fill the role permanently.

“He’s uniquely qualified to be the Speaker.  Whether or not the political realities will come together for him I don’t know.  But I would encourage him to move forward with this,” said Former State Senator Ted O’Brien.

O’Brein and Morelle have a long standing friendship and have worked together in Monroe County politics for decades.  Even O’Brien acknowledges beating out a Downstate rival to win the majority of votes in the Assembly Democratic Conference will be an uphill battle.

“It is tough.  Sixty-one of the members represent districts in New York City.  I think he has to be able to comfort people that he’s going to be looking out for everyone and New York City won’t be disadvantaged by his term as Speaker,” O’Brien said.

Bringing different factions of a party together is something Morelle has experience with.  As the head of the Monroe County Democratic Committee, he was able to keep peace among the David Gantt wing of the party and those more loyal to former Rochester Mayor and Lt. Governor Bob Duffy.

Morelle left the chairmanship soon after a divisive 2013 Rochester Mayoral Democratic Primary, between Lovely Warren and Tom Richards, to focus on his role as Assembly Majority Leader.  O’Brien believes both experiences make him uniquely qualified to lead.

“I think he’s proven during his time as Majority Leader that he can keep this conference that’s so diverse, from so many different parts of the state, working together.  He’s already earned careful consideration,” said O’Brien.

How Morelle handles the next two weeks of critical budget negotiations could be a factor in whether or not he gets to keep the job. While difficult, O’Brien believes it’s an opportunity for Morelle to separate himself from other candidates.

“I hope he goes forward but it’s going to be a special burden for him.  Not only does he have to solicit support as Assembly Speaker, he has to do the job for the next two weeks too.  But if anyone can do that Joe Morelle can,” O’Brien added.

If Morelle were to become Speaker it would mark the first time since 1925 that a Western New Yorker held the permanent post. The last time a Speaker hailed from Monroe County (Morelle’s home county) was back in 1898.

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.