Andrea Stewart-Cousins

Felon Ex-GOP Senator Helps Cuomo Raise Campaign Cash

A former Republican state senator and GOP power broker who pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion in 2012 is co-hosting a high-dollar fund-raiser next month in support of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election effort, Capital Tonight has learned.

Adding insult to injury, the ex-lawmaker in question – Nick Spano – hails from Westchester County. That’s home to County Executive Rob Astorino, who is widely expected to announce his challenge to Cuomo this week, and is badly trailing the Democratic governor in raising campaign cash.

In an email obtained by CapTon, Spano asks “friends” to join him at an April 3 “Hudson Valley for Cuomo Reception” at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown that will be co-hosted by his lobbying firm, Empire Strategic Planning.

The email includes an attached invitation to the event, for which ticket prices start at $1,00 per person and climb to $25,000 for “sponsorship levels with host committee reception.”

The invite, which appears below, makes no mention of Spano or his firm. But Spano leaves no doubt in the accompanying email as to his involvement in the event, specifically noting his firm’s “hosting” role, and adding:

“I hope you can join me in becoming a key supporter of the Governor’s campaign. I have attached an invitation and contribution form for your use, and will be following up with you shortly in the hopes that you will be able to join with us.”

“Governor Cuomo has made a terrific difference in moving New York forward during the past three years. It’s important we keep that momentum going, and the Hudson Valley for Cuomo Reception is our chance to show him we are on-board.”

“I look forward to seeing you at this key event in Governor Cuomo’s re-election campaign. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have.”

Spano lost his Senate seat in 2006 to Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who was making her second attempt at unseating the Republican lawmaker after losing to him by just 18 votes in 2004.

In 2012, Spano was sentenced to one year and one day in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion.

Once one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers, Spano, a Yonkers Republican, admitted that he failed to pay more than $53,000 in federal and state taxes by not reporting income – including a $45,000 commission he received on a real estate deal and rental income from a Yonkers building he owned.

Spano was released from prison last spring. He had to do two extra months in a Brooklyn detention center after violating the terms of his release by holding a celebratory family lunch and doing an interview with Journal News columnist Phil Reisman while transferring from a federal prison to a Bronx halfway house.

This isn’t the first time Spano, known as a moderate Republican during his time in Albany, has crossed party lines to back a Democrat.

In 2009, he endorsed then-Westchester County Executive Andy Spano (no relation), citing a concern over the “extremists” supporting the incumbent Democrat’s GOP opponent: Rob Astorino.

Astorino went on to defeat Andy Spano in an upset victory in the 2009 November election.

Hudson Valley for Cuomo Reception invite. by embenjamin2001

Stewart-Cousins Downplays Avella Impact

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins downplayed on Wednesday the impact of Sen. Tony Avella’s defection to the Independent Democratic Conference.

In an interview, Stewart-Cousins did admit she was “surprised” by the move of the Queens Democrat to the IDC, which is in a governing coalition with the Senate Republicans.

“At this point I’m sorry he made the decision, but clearly I wish him well and we will continue to try again and bring the progressive initiatives that New Yorkers have asked for with a Democratic Senate,” she said.

Stewart-Cousins added she doesn’t believe the move will make it harder for the mainline conference to reclaim a working majority, as opposed to its current numerical one.

“I don’t think so,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We continue to be exactly who we are. We’re representing the best interests of the people of New York. That will not change.”

The move by Avella is the latest effort by the IDC to grow its conference. When the power-sharing agreement was first reached in 2012, Sen. Malcolm Smith joined the conference. He was later booted from the IDC after being charged in a sweeping bribery scandal.

I asked Stewart-Cousins if she was tired with the IDC’s various public and private overtures aimed at converting their conference members.

“The reality is the Democrats have the majority,” she said. “We shall be the governing the majority. Our focus is going to be on the people of the state of New York and not poaching members.”

Stewart-Cousins Raises Concerns Over Common Core, Student Data Share

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a radio interview said she remains concerned over the speed of the roll out of Common Core evaluation standards as well as a plan to collect student data by the state Department of Education.

“I am absolutely in favor of looking at what we’re doing, how fast we’re doing it and really evaluating what we’re looking at putting on the broad agenda to reach extremely important goals,” she said.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State address on Wednesday called for new capital school improvements through a bond act, he didn’t mention the ongoing controversy over the Common Core implementation by the state Department of Education.

State lawmakers in both chambers have said they plan to address the implementation issues, as well as concerns over the data sharing program through contractor inBloom, in the coming legislative session.

“The amount of testing is an issue for a lot of constituents and the way the evaluation is being implemented is a real concern,” Stewart-Cousins said on the Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter. “Also this data sharing is a real concern as well. To be able to talk about letting districts opt out and not let parents opt out is something I know parents are concerned about as well.”

As for the $2 billion education bond proposal as outlined by Cuomo in the address, the Yonkers Democrat said she was supportive, but wanted to see more details.

While updating equipment in some schools through smart boards is a needed improvement, some buildings need whole sale improvements in order to accommodate the changes, Stewart-Cousins said.

“What I also want to see though is how we’re going to fund the reconstruction of so many schools that are crumbling,” she said. “We have to have a bottom line in terms of technology.”

Klein: I Was ‘Sad And Surprised’ Too

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein reacted to Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’s comments today that she was “sad and surprised” to learn of a possible primary challenge backed by the IDC, saying he too, was sad and surprised.

“Leader Klein was equally sad and surprised to learn of the attempts to recruit candidates against him and other IDC members. It is refreshing to hear that Leader Stewart-Cousins has no plans to engage in primaries against the IDC, but her Deputy seems to have other plans. Unfortunately, Leader Cousins does not appear to call the shots within her own conference. With that being said, the IDC believes the best defense is a good offense and we are prepared to defend our seats.”

Gentle reader, this reporter would like to briefly remind you that it is September 2013, a full 14 months — 14! — before Election Day 2014. That’s all, please continue reading.

News broke last week that former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky had broke bread with Klein and discussed a possible run for the Senate against Stewart-Cousins next year. Brodsky, flattered by the attention, says he won’t run against the Yonkers Democrat.

Similarly last week, the potential candidacy of Councilman Ollie Koppell against Klein in a Democratic primary was also raised. Koppell hedged in an interview, saying such a move would be a “tough race.”

Stewart-Cousins Commemorates March On Washington

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — the only black conference leader and first woman in state history to lead a legislative conference — released a statement this morning commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington:

“Today is the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. The fact that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s vision is being marked by the first African-American President reminds us all of the power of his words and the collective efforts of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who joined his call for equal rights and opportunities for all Americans.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., addressing the crowd and the nation, spoke of a time when peace would reign and when compassion and understanding between all races would be a reality. He taught us that violence never brings permanent peace, hate never brings ever-lasting change, and only compassion, civility, and togetherness will rebuild a broken community.

Today is a reminder that if we recommit ourselves to the vision spoken of on that historic day that assured voting rights, equality, opportunity, fair pay, education and equal justice for all, we can achieve the beloved community embraced by Dr. King.”

Stewart-Cousins On Women’s Equality Day: Where’s The WEA?

Recognizing the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement this afternoon used the occaision to make another push for the women’s agenda that failed in the Legislature this past session.

To recap, the Democratic-led Assembly approved the omnibus version of the bill, but the coalition-led Senate only approved nine of the 10 points in piecemeal fashion.

An effort by Senate IDC Leader Jeff Klein to hold a vote for the abortion plank failed.

The result has split the women’s coalition that backed the agenda, with NARAL Pro-Choice New York pushing for the entire package and others now pushing for the remaining items.

The women’s agenda is expected to remain a hot-button issue heading into 2014, a statewide election year.

“Today is Women’s Equality Day when we commemorate the historic passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote. We have made great strides in achieving full equality for women here in New York but we still have much more work to do. I commend the Governor for his Women’s Equality Act legislation. It is unfortunate that the Senate was unable to pass the entire 10-point Act.

“Today should serve as a reminder to all New Yorkers that we have not yet realized the goal of protecting women’s rights, health and values. I look forward to fighting for and passing the Women’s Equality Act and other crucial protections for women’s rights next session.”

Stewart-Cousins: Vote On The Entire Agenda

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins today called for a vote on the full women’s agenda, echoing the push from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that all 10 items of the package should be included.

The question over the agenda, as it has been since January, is whether Cuomo would jettison the abortion plank of the legislation in order to achieve a victory on the other nine provisions, which include measures designed to discrimination and domestic violence.

Not ever member in the mainline Democratic conference is necessairly on board with the proposal, however, which means the bill will need at least a handful of Republican votes.

In her statement, Stewart-Cousins says the proposal should not be viewed as a Democratic or a Republican one.

“All 10 points of this legislative package are crucial for the women of New York including the reproductive health legislation. This legislation simply reconciles state and federal law to protect a woman’s right to choose. In 1970, when the issue of reproductive health was first passed in New York, 12 Republican Senators joined a majority of their Democratic colleagues to support this landmark legislation. Women’s health and equality is not a Republican or Democratic issue. The women of New York deserve a vote on the entire Women’s Equality Act and deserve to know where their elected officials stand on these important issues.”

Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, will be a guest on Capital Tonight this evening at 8 and 11:30.

Kearns: How About A Woman Speaker?

ICYMI: Assemblyman Mickey Kearns – now officially a man without a country since he left the Democratic conference to protest Speaker Sheldon Silver’s handling of the Vito Lopez scandal – was reluctant during a CapTon interview to suggest a replacement for the speaker, whose resignation the freshman Buffalo lawmaker is the first majority member to publicly call for.

But Kearns did say he’s confident there is someone among his former colleagues capable of taking Silver’s place without causing too much chaos – perhaps even a woman.

“Listen, I’m not here to to make a king today,” Kearns said when I asked him the “if not Silver, then who” question. “I don’t know. But all I do know is that there’s 150 members of the Assembly. There has to be someone else there who can lead the Assembly.”

“I don’t know who that person is – he or she – it would be maybe a little refreshing to have a woman speaker. I’m not here to answer that. What I’m saying here today is: People at home should call and contact their legislators and ask them why they still remain to support them. (sic) You mentioned being a caucus of one. I’d rather be in a caucus where at least I have my dignity at the end of the day, and at least I have my conscience to go home to.”

There hasn’t been a contest for speaker since 1994 when Silver, then the 49-year-old head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, succeeded Saul Weprin after he suffered a severe troke and died. But there also hasn’t been a speaker from upstate in years – other than James Tallon, of Broome County, who held the post in an acting capacity for three days in 1991 in between Mel Miller’s felony conviction and Weprin’s election.

There has never been a woman speaker. There has never been a woman leader in the state Senate, either. Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who ousted Sen. John Sampson last December, is the first woman in Albany history to lead a legislative conference. It would be truly historic if there were two women leaders in Albany serving at the same time – one of whom bumped one of the man out of that infamous room where all the deals are made.

So, if there were to be a change in leadership in the Assembly – which, as Nick and the NYT pointed out earlier today is highly unlikely – Silver’s replacement would almost certainly have to come from New York City, given the downstate dominance of the Democratic conference. And since the chamber is so seniority-driven, there aren’t many women who would even be considered contenders – maybe Deborah Glick, Cathy Nolan or Helene Weinstein?

All of them – actually, all of the female Democratic conference members – are standing by Silver, so this discussion is, of course, purely academic.

I’m not sure who – woman or man – has a sufficient power base to win the glorified popularity contest that is the speaker’s race. The black and Puerto Rican caucus would certainly be a driving force in that election, but its members often have trouble staying united.

The lack of unity and dearth of members with clout and power in the conference is a big factor when it comes to Silver’s longevity. Because, of course, you can’t beat someone with no one.

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Stewart-Cousins ‘Hopes’ For No More Charges, But Can’t Be Sure

ICYMI: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told me last night that she’s hopeful Sen. John Sampson is the last member of her conference who will face charges for wrongdoing, but she isn’t 100 percent confident there won’t be more where that came from.

“I want to say that I feel confident,” Stewart-Cousins told me. “I feel confident that the conference that we are today is a conference that is filled with committed public servants who understand what their role is and is more than capable of performing that role.”

“I hope that there would be no other allegations against any of the members of the Legislature, frankly, because I think that we’ve all been hit and it always disturbs the public trust when we are. So it doesn’t matter if it’s this conference or that. We are all unfortunately painted with the same brush when this happens.”

Given the accelerated rate of announcements by federal prosecutors of charges being brought against state lawmakers these days, most Capitol watchers believe Sampson is probably not the end of it. Up to this point, one corruption case has led to another as dirty pols flip on their colleagues or agree to work undercover for the feds in an attempt to lessen their own charges.

Stewart-Cousins said she got a “heads-up” from Sampson the day before he turned himself in to the FBI (in other words, Sunday) after she called him to inquire about reports on his imminent arrest in the NYC tabs. During that conversation she informed him she would not only be stripping him of his ranking committee posts, but also booting him from the conference altogether.

One thing she did not do, however, is call on Sampson to resign. I asked her why not, and she said the senator is an “adult” and has to make his own decisions.

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Stewart-Cousins Boots Sampson From Conference

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has stripped Sen. John Sampson of his ranking committee posts in the chamber and is no longer a member of the conference, she announced in a news released this morning.

Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, ousted Sampson as leader of the mainline Democrats in the wake of the November elections.

Sampson had been the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She called the latest corruption scandal to hit Albany “deeply disturbing” and a violation of the public trust.

“These allegations are deeply disturbing,” Stewart-Cousins said. “The alleged activity represents an offensive violation of the public trust for which there is no place in our government. Senator Sampson has been stripped of his ranking positions and all committee assignments. He has also informed us that in order to avoid being a distraction to the conference he will no longer conference with the Senate Democrats.”

With Sampson booted from the conference, he is now the second member of the Legislature to be without a formal conference. Sen. Malcolm Smith, who joined the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference last year, was kicked out of the IDC by Sen. Jeff Klein last month after he was arrested in a separate corruption case.