Albany

NYSUT Nudges Flanagan On Teacher Eval Bill

NYSUT - Senator Flanagan Sign - Posting BThe New York State United Teachers Union this week is ramping up its efforts to pass a bill that would decouple state examinations from teacher and principal evaluations with a mobile billboard.

The billboard, attached to a truck, will be circling on the area of the state Capitol starting Wednesday and Thursday as lawmakers debate the measure, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated he would sign.

The measure would overhaul a key aspect of a teacher evaluation law that had been approved at Cuomo’s urging over the objections of the union.

The bill decoupling the tests from the evaluations has passed in the Assembly, but remains in a Senate committee.

4 Things To Watch For As Session Ends

From the Morning Memo:

The legislative session is wrapping up in a matter of days and the agenda is relatively thin, given the looming congressional primaries in June and the state races in September.

Lawmakers may actually end the session early this year and there are no hard deadlines for them to reach agreements. Still, there are some issues lawmakers and the governor may try to tackle in the coming days.

1. The Child Victims Act. The bill that would make it easier for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits has languished in the Legislature for years. The last year alone, advocates for the Legislature have hoped the societal reckoning surrounding sexual abuse and assault would shift the debate in Albany. Still, despite a sustained campaign for the bill, it has been opposed by organizations like the Catholic Church. In the Senate, where the bill has struggled the most, Republicans have proposed a compromise measure that would create a public fund for settlements. Some supporters have argued this essentially places a cap on compensation for survivors.

2. Sports betting. There was some muddled confusion in the days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban on sports betting over what, exactly, state legislators needed to act on. Some were willing to fall back on the current law that would allow the state’s gaming commission to write regulations for commercial casinos to open sports books. But the more elaborate regulations, such as creating a regulatory plan for allowing sports bets taken on smart phones, would have to go through the legislative process. That could create a last-minute dash to the finish line for lobbying by sports leagues, betting organizations and casino operators to craft the final agreement on what is expected to be a lucrative new era in sports and wagering.

3. Teacher evaluations. Lawmakers in April began a push to decouple state-based standardized tests from how teachers and principles are evaluated. If it were to happen, it would be a major victory by the state’s teachers unions, which had bitterly opposed the original law in 2015 that had been championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The measure was approved quickly in the Democratic-led Assembly, but remains bottled up in committee in the Republican-controlled Senate. Majority Leader John Flanagan in the Senate has not been as quick to embrace the measure, however. Cuomo has largely sought to make peace with the United Federation of Teachers and the New York State United Teachers unions as he faces re-election this year and Democratic primary challenge. He’s indicated he would sign the legislation if approved.

4. Marijuana Legalization. A major question remains over just how far a report being prepared by the state Department of Health will go toward endorsing the legalization of marijuana, which is already moving forward in neighboring states. Cuomo announced in January the report was being conducted to determine the impact of legalized marijuana in other states. In recent weeks, Cuomo has indicated the report would be finished soon and that the “facts have changed” on the legalization issue as his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, has endorsed a plan that would legalize and commercialize marijuana in New York. As for legislative action, it’s unlikely lawmakers would do anything. Still, New York has liberalized its marijuana laws in recent years, with a medical cannabis program that has since its inception expanded the applicable illnesses for a prescription.

Reform Party Backs Bharara For AG

From the Morning Memo:

The Reform Party on Sunday endorsed former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for attorney general — a nod that may leave the party jilted at the alter since the prominent ex-prosecutor and podcast host has not declared whether he’ll actually run.

The party on Sunday also issued certifications of nomination to candidates Chris Garvey, Nancy Regula and Michael Diederich to run for attorney general, said Frank Morano, a Reform Party leader and New York City political activist.

Bharara has risen to prominence in New York for his aggressive pursuit of public corruption cases that led to the convictions of the top former legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly. Bharara has since become a vocal critic of President Donald Trump following his firing in 2017 as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

He has not closed the door on running for attorney general, a post vacated earlier this month after Eric Schneiderman was accused of domestic violence by four women, though declined to participate in the legislative appointment process.

As of last week, Bharara was not a registered voter in New York, having been purged from the rolls in 2006.

The Reform Party was formed in 2014 by the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino as a ballot line to highlight opposition to the Common Core education standards. The party was rebranded the Reform Party and later was taken control of by Curtis Sliwa, the found of the Guardian Angels.

The party on Sunday also endorsed Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and the Republican gubernatorial ticket of Marc Molinaro and Julie Killian.

Six Weeks And Some Change

New York’s state government over the last six weeks has changed perceptibly, a rapid up shift in the news cycle that’s more akin to 24-7 madness of Washington and not the relatively sleepier halls of the Capitol.

Consider that since April 1:

  • The Independent Democratic Conference has abolished itself and rejoined the mainline Democratic fold in the state Senate as part of a unity effort.
  • Five Republicans in the state Senate have decided to retire and not run for re-election, an unusual amount of churn, even in an election year.
  • The state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, resigned three hours after a New Yorker story carried the allegations of four women accusing him of domestic violence, setting off a scramble to replace him that could reorder other down-ballot races this fall.
  • The Working Families Party has broken with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, endorsing his primary challenger, education advocate and actress Cynthia Nixon as labor unions sympathetic to the governor yanked their support from the WFP.
  • Cuomo has declared that the “facts have changed” on marijuana legalization, pointing to a report first announced in January that could be finalized in the coming days that could endorse a plan for recreational use in New York.
  • The former Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, was found guilty — again — on fraud charges.

We are yet to fully understand the ramifications of the last month and a half. But in a “normal” year, any of these bullet pointed stories could be a lead item in an end-of-year roundup. And we are yet to reach the state party conventions, due to be held next week, the end of the legislative session in June, the congressional primaries, the selection of a lieutenant governor candidate for Republican Marc Molinaro, the retrial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and the trial of developers associated with the “Buffalo Billion.”

Lawmakers are yet also yet to fill the AG post. And, in a break with the expectations of some, it could go to Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood, a career lawyer who is viewed as highly qualified for the post she has no intention of running for outright.

It’s a sign that Albany — a deeply tribal and institutional place — isn’t immune to some societal forces pressing down on the rest of the country and the world, a reckoning that has made the world feel like it has accelerated at far greater rate of speed than many are used to.

The Unnoticed Barbara Underwoods

It took disturbing allegations of domestic violence and drug abuse against Eric Schneiderman for New Yorkers outside of the state’s legal community learn about his potential successor, Barbara Underwood.

For a decade, Underwood has served as the state’s solicitor general, which she was appointed to by then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

“I’ve argued 20 cases in the Supreme Court, 21 cases for our state’s highest court, 33 cases in the Second Circuit,” Underwood told lawmakers during an hour-long session that amount to a job interview on Tuesday, “and I’ve closely supervised the work of attorneys for hundreds more.”

She’s also the fourth woman to clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court, working with Justice Thurgood Marshall. She’s taught at Yale Law School, worked as a federal prosecutor and argued Title IX cases. She served in the solicitor general’s office in the Clinton administration.

Underwood is among the dozen or so people who applied for the legislative appointment to serve as interim attorney general.

Underwood may very well not get the appointment, though she’s the odds-on favorite to the get the job. Politicians have praised her because she’s not going to run for it, sidestepping what is expected to be a crowded and competitive field. We celebrate people who taste power, thrown into the maelstrom by accident and then walk away from it.

Another way of looking at is this: Underwood isn’t seen as a long-term threat by the elected establishment to denying someone else the post. Underwood, who has the resume and experience of a clearly ambitious and pioneering woman, is being cheered in large part because she’s stepping aside.

Left undiscussed are the incentives that push people like Schneiderman or Eliot Spitzer to run for attorney general and result in someone like Underwood — quietly going about their work largely unnoticed — to decide elected office isn’t for them.

New York state government is often maligned and with good reason. But there are a lot of people like Underwood who have resumes longer than your arm and professional lives you never hear about.

More Than A Dozen Vie For AG Appointment

Seventeen people have submitted resumes to receive the Legislature’s appointment to the attorney general post, including a member of Congress and several state lawmakers.

The list, first reported Saturday by Zack Fink of NY1, shows Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of the Hudson Valley on the list, as as have former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, have their submitted their names.

Democratic Assembly lawmakers Tom Abinanti and Daniel O’Donnell are among the legislative AG hopefuls.

David Yassky, a former Taxi and Livery Commission chief, has applied.

Lloyd Constantine, a top official in former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s administration, has also applied for the post. Buffalo attorney Leecia Eve, who has been considered several times for statewide office, including lieutenant governor, has applied.

Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood, as expected, is included as well.

The candidates are vying to replace Eric Scheniderman, who resigned in disgrace Monday hours after The New Yorker reported the allegations of four women who have accused him of physical abuse, domestic violence and drug abuse.

The Legislature is scheduled to begin its public vetting process on Tuesday.

Not on the list include those who are considering running outright for the job this year, including state Sen. Michael Gianaris, New York City Public Advocate Tish James, former gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout and ex-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said Underwood is qualified to remain in the job and keeping her there would not further disrupt the office. Underwood has said she would not run for the job if appointed to fill out the remainder of Schneiderman’s term.

Bharara Doesn’t Rule Out Run For AG

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in is podcast “Stay Tuned” this morning did not rule out running for attorney general, but said he would not participate in the process being conducted by the Legislature to appoint a new attorney general.

“It does have the look and feel of a back room deal and that’s not something I want to be a part of now,” Bharara said in the opening remarks on the podcast released this morning. “They should not have a dog and pony show in the state Legislature.”

Bharara is a highly unlikely choice to be selected by the Legislature at any rate. He rose to prominence as a top federal prosecutor in large part for his aggressive prosecution of public corruption, including the top legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate.

At the moment, the leading candidate to replace disgraced former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman through legislative appointment is seen as New York City Public Advocate Tish James.

Legislative hearings are set to begin on Tuesday with candidate interviews. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has pledged an open process for the appointment.

Bharara was fired as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District last year.

In the podcast, Bharara endorsed keeping acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood in the post on an interim basis, calling her “beyond reproach.”

Bharara’s name has been mentioned as possible AG candidates, which he called flattering. While he’s insisted electoral politics is not his preferred way of making a living, Bharara would not rule out running.

“I don’t know that I want the job. I’ve said many times that politics is not my cup of tea. It’s not,” he said. “I don’t think politics is really for me, but it’s an important job, an important time and we’ll see.”

Cynthia Nixon’s 2018 LCA Show Rebuttal

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon on Tuesday delivered a rebuttal at the 118th annual LCA Show in Albany, poking fun at herself and throwing some barbs at Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Here’s the full routine, per Kyle Hughes of NYSNYS.

No AG Run For Singas

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas will not be a candidate for attorney general, she announced via Twitter late Tuesday night.

“While I appreciate the support of those who have encouraged me to run for New York State Attorney General, I am committed to continuing my important work as Nassau County DA,” she said.

Singas was appointed the special prosecutor last night by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to review the allegations of domestic violence and other claims made by four women against ex-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Special Prosecutor Appointed To Investigate Former AG

From the Morning Memo:

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Signas on Tuesday was designated a special prosecutor, empowered to investigate the assault, drug abuse and other allegations leveled against former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman by four women in a New Yorker article published on Monday.

The designation by Gov. Andrew Cuomo was issued in a letter hours after Schneiderman’s resignation officially took effect at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

“Confronted with the reality of a conflict, we took action to ensure both the integrity of the investigation and the public’s confidence in the process,” Cuomo wrote in the letter to Singas and Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood.

“In doing so, we put in place an elected official and independent prosecutor who could preside over the investigation without the specter of conflict or compromise. I view the District Attorney’s editorial commentary as both inappropriate and misguided given the ongoing investigations.”

Sources on Tuesday said Singas was a possible candidate to replace Schneiderman as attorney general.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, whose office was being reviewed for his handling of assault claims made against Harvey Weinstein by Schneiderman’s office, issued a letter opposing the appointment.

“While I have absolute confidence that DA Singas can conduct a thorough and effective review (and putting aside the legality of the way you have framed this directive), I strongly object to this move, for a number of important reasons,” he wrote.

That itself drew a rebuke from the Cuomo administration on Tuesday night in a statement from the governor’s counsel, Alphonso David.

“The integrity of our justice system is of paramount importance,” David said. “News of former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s alleged improprieties as the State’s chief legal officer are grossly disturbing and must be fully investigated. The brave women who chose to come forward deserve swift and definitive justice in this matter.”