Andrea Stewart-Cousins

Senate Dems: Ready To Pass Ethics Legislation

The Democratic conference in the state Senate backs a passing new ethics and campaign-finance law changes “immediately,” Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement released Tuesday.

The call comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he would not consider backing a legislative pay increase for state lawmakers if they fail to approve long-sought changes to the state’s campaign-finance laws, including the creation of the public funding of political campaigns and the closing of the so-called LLC loophole.

Cuomo also wants to see lawmakers approve restrictions on outside income.

The governor in an interview on Monday said that even with the carrot of a pay increase dangling in front of lawmakers, the Legislature is balking at the reforms he’s pushing.

“The Senate Democratic Conference has consistently called for common sense ethics and campaign reforms and we agree with Governor Cuomo in his call for passing these initiatives immediately,” Stewart-Cousins said in the statement. “As with all progressive legislation, including the NY-SAFE Act, the Compassionate Care Act, and Marriage Equality, the Senate Democratic Conference stands ready to provide the necessary support to ensure passage. Ethics and campaign finance reforms should not be a partisan issue. We will continue our fight to clean up Albany and pass strong ethics reforms and we look forwarding to working with any state leader who will join us in these efforts.”

Senate Republicans, poised to take the full majority at the end of this month in the chamber, released a statement last week indicating they would support additional reform measures, but did not provide much detail.

Talks over the weekend on a special session stalled, though state lawmakers have not ruled out coming back to Albany in a post-Christmas special session.

Stewart-Cousins Re-Elected Senate Minority Leader

From the Morning Memo:

Andrea Stewart-Cousins was re-elected on Tuesday the leader of the Senate Democrats following a vote in Albany by her conference.

The Yonkers Democrat, first elected to the Senate in 2006, was unanimously re-elected to lead the conference, save for Bronx Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who was neither present for the vote or cast a proxy vote, a Senate Democratic spokesman said.

The first woman to lead a legislative conference in Albany, Stewart-Cousins in a phone interview said she has no plans to shake up the Senate Democrats’ leadership team, meaning deputy leader Mike Gianaris remains her top lieutenant.

“If it’s not broken you don’t fix it,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We have been able to work well together. I think we’ve worked well together in terms of leadership. We have a cohesive leadership team that is very, very focused on why we’re here.”

Democrats came up short in last month’s elections, losing three key upstate races and failing to unseat incumbents who hold all of the Long Island Senate districts.

Still, Stewart-Cousins said she was happy the progress the conference has made under leadership.

After all, she took charge of the Democratic conference following several years of leadership turmoil. Democrats ousted Brooklyn Sen. John Sampson in favor of Stewart-Cousins, one of the first Democratic leaders in the Senate to not represent one of the five New York City boroughs.

Sampson now faces embezzlement charges, and his immediate predecessor as Democratic conference leader, Malcolm Smith, is under indictment for attempting to bribe his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot as a Republican.

Sampson won his primary challenge, Smith lost to Sen.-elect Leroy Comrie.

But Stewart-Cousins says her conference has stabilized over the last several years, which has also seen a group of breakaway Democrats form a coalition with Senate Republicans, essentially denying the party a governing majority in the chamber.

“I think we’ve moved through the storm and each of us individually and together are stronger,” she said. “This is a great group of committed people and I think we’ve gone a long way to prove that. We’ve grown as a conference, we’ve grown as individuals. We’re certainly ready to govern, we’re cognizant of the realitty that we have a lot of offer.”

She also reiterated her priorities for next year, including continuing to boost the women’s agenda — passage of which seems doubtful with Republicans fully in charge of the Senate — as well as infrastructure spending and reforming the state’s criminal justice system.

Stewart-Cousins and her Democratic colleagues were in Albany on Tuesday to push for the creation of a special investigator to probe deaths of unarmed civilians by the police.

But whether all state lawmakers return this month for a special session for a potential legislative pay raise remains to be seen.

Stewart-Cousins said time does appear to be running out to convene both houses by next week.

“I’ve not been privy to any conversations about a special session; of course if there is one we’ll be there,” she said. “As the clock ticks on with no definitive time, it seems like it’s more difficult to pull it off before the end of the year.”

Stewart-Cousins Doesn’t Take Pay Raise Position

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday wouldn’t take a position on a pay raise for herself and her colleagues, though did note that the Legislature has gone 14 years now with a salary hike.

Stewart-Cousins told reporters at an Albany news conference earlier this morning there are more pressing matters, however, such as increasing the state’s minimum wage yet again.

But she stressed that a salary hike for legislators shouldn’t be linked to the minimum wage, which Senate Republicans have not shown a willingness to back following the 2013 agreement.

“What we have done as a conference is continue to say this is not driven by pay raises for us,” she said. “We were looking for pay raises for working people. We’d like to see us address a number of issues including a hike for minimum wage workers who won’t see an increase to $9 until the end of next year. I’m certainly not linking the two, but we certainly have more to do.”

The conference has a whole has not held discussions about a legislative pay increase, she added. The current lawmaker pay is $79,500.

Still, New York City lawmakers are seen as more willing to back a legislative pay increase given the cost of living in the city is greater than the upstate regions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office has said a pay raise without “meaningful” ethics reform that could address outside income of state lawmakers as well as per diem reform is a non-starter.

But a Cuomo administration official in recent days has thrown cold water on the idea of a special session this month.

“There have been no meaningful discussions,” the official said. “With the current timetable an agreement does not seem likely.”

Stewart-Cousins On Her Sons ‘Interacting’ With Law Enforcement

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has talked with her now-grown sons about interacting with police and law enforcement, saying she’s told them to “go through it” and that they “don’t win” in confrontations.

“You tell them that it’s OK, just whatever it is, go through it,” Stewart-Cousins said. “

Stewart-Cousins was on CNN this afternoon to discuss the ongoing fallout from a Staten Island grand jury not indicting NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner.

Stewart-Cousins is the highest-ranking African-American elected official in New York.

“I’m a parent. I have three children, two of them men, and they’re all adults now, happily,” she said in the interview. “But certainly both of my sons have had interactions with law enforcement and they were told that they don’t win in those kinds of confrontations.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in recent days has also discussed talking with his son Dante about interacting with police.

But Stewart-Cousins in the interview said the anger and frustration from minorities isn’t about specific individuals

“The reality is that it’s not necessarily about my children or the mayor’s children, it’s about a system that begins to create respect and equal justice for everyone,” Stewart-Cousins said.

“I’ve got two grandsons, one is a kid who is 12 and he’s a big guy and I think people may perceive him as being someone that he isn’t, older than he is. The reality is that it’s not necessarily about my children or the mayor’s children, it’s about a system that begins to create respect and equal justice for everyone.”

Stewart-Cousins will be a guest on Capital Tonight this evening.

Stewart-Cousins: Dennenberg Issues Won’t Impact Control Of Senate (Updated)

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins does not expect the recent legal troubles of a candidate running a swing district will hurt her conference’s chances of gaining control of the Senate.

Speaking on The Capitol Pressroom on Tuesday morning, Stewart-Cousins called the allegations that Senate hopeful David Dennenberg bilked his law partners out of $2 million “extremely serious” and said she was cancelling her appearance at a fundraising event for him.

The lawsuit, first reported by The Daily News this morning, is below.

Updated: Newsday reports Dennenberg has dropped his bid for the state Senate.

But she pivoted to the rest of the state Senate map, which she said is shaping up to be a positive one for Senate Democrats.

“I think the important thing for everyone to understand why we are so positive where we are is because we have so many great candidates around the state,” she said.

Dennenberg is running for the seat vacated by Republican Chuck Fuschillo, who left in 2013 to lead the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

Democrats remain bullish on several other Long Island Senate seats, including the district being vacated by congressional candidate Lee Zeldin. There, Democrat Adrienne Esposito hopes to break up the Republican hold on Long Island against Tom Croci.

Stewart-Cousins added she expects Gov. Andrew Cuomo to continue his support for Democrats to take full control of the chamber, which is currently led by a coalition of Republicans and five independent Democrats.

Cuomo, however, is considering an endorsement of Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Republican who backed the same-sex marriage law in 2011, after he lost his primary two weeks ago, but retains the Independence Party ballot line.

The governor pledged to back Democrats in the mainline conference when receiving the endorsement of the labor-aligned Working Families Party.

“I think that ultimately the governor will continue what he’s been doing which is support the Senate Democrats being in the leadership,” she said in the interview.

She added Cuomo will likely roll out his endorsements of Senate Democratic candidates “in the midst of his own campaign.”

Republicans at the state level were quick this morning to pounce on the Dennenberg news.

“It’s ironic that the same day Eric Schneiderman announced an ad campaign that absurdly claims that he’s cleaning up Albany, and the day after the State Democratic Party named a witness tamperer its Chair, another Democrat has been accused of corruption,” said Republican spokesman David Laska.

Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, hit right back, pointing to the Senate GOP’s own issues with ethics in recent years, including the current case against Sen. Tom Libous.

“This is funny coming from the conference who blocked any chance at passing real ethics reforms, had members leave the Senate facing corruption investigations and has their Deputy under federal indictment,” he said.

Summons and Complaint by Nick Reisman

Stewart-Cousins: Democratic Majority Will Provide Economic, Progressive Balance

Perhaps the biggest knock made by Republicans when it comes to Democrats having full control of the state Senate is such a majority will pass liberal legislation at odds with the last four years.

Indeed, Senate Republicans can (and have) claim credit for the last four budgets passing on time, as well as the state’s bond rating improving to its highest mark in a generation.

But Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who stands to become the first woman to head a majority conference in Albany, said her conference understands the need for balancing legislative priorities for both upstate and downstate.

“Of course it will be maintained,” she said in an interview last week. “The reality is you didn’t see any block voting by Senate Democrats against doing good things for New Yorkers. We were right there.”

Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein last week announced he would form a new majority coalition with the mainline conference of Democrats in the chamber, ending the two-year coalition with Senate Republicans.

Senate Democrats in the majority would likely pursue a variety of long-sought liberal goals backed by New York City Demcorats, including local control for minimum wage increases as well as funding for the Dream Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Republicans in recent days have suggested this is a bad situation for the upstate region.

But Democrats point to their support for Cuomo’s agenda during his first term.

“The reality is we will continue to work with Gov. Cuomo to make sure New York remains on the right path, but we should also respect the wishes of the majority of voters,” she said.

Stewart-Cousins added that as a lawmaker who has represented a suburban district that includes both poor and affluent communities, she has a broader perspective on state issues.

“There is a diversity within my district,” she said. “I understand downstate and upstate are not the same.”

Updated: Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif responds.

“The Senate Democrats can talk all they want, but here’s what we know – - when they last controlled the State Senate, they raised taxes by $14 billion, eliminated the STAR rebate checks for seniors and homeowners, funneled Upstate school aid to New York City and neglected the entire region. On top of that, they brought chaos and dysfunction to the State Capitol, and left Upstate Senators on the outside looking in. This isn’t up for debate. The Senate Democrats, backed up by ultra-left New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the radical Working Families Party, would be a disaster for hardworking Upstate taxpayers and their families.”

Stewart-Cousins Pitches Upstate on Democratic Senate Leadership

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has a message for upstate New Yorkers: her conference doesn’t favor New York City.

“I’m not a New York City Senator. I’m a Senator in Westchester County. My district is extremely diverse,” she said in a radio interview this morning.

It’s a critique that she and her fellow senate Democrats have to fend off frequently as they partner with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference.

Of the 24 members of the Senate Democratic Conference, 17 of them represent districts that lie entirely or partly within New York City’s five boroughs.

As for the five-member IDC, leader Jeff Klein represents the Bronx, Diane Savino represents Staten Island and Brooklyn, and Tony Avella represents Queens. David Carlucci’s district lies just to the north of the Big Apple’s borders, and David Valesky of the Syracuse area is arguably the only true upstate member of the conference.

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos was quick to point out this makeup in an earlier interview.

“It’s the reality that if you look at a map and see where all the Democrats concentrate, whether it’s the governor downstate, Speaker Silver in the city, most of the Senate Democrats, all from New York City,” he said.

“It seems like they’re really afraid and having this politics of fear doesn’t really help anyone,” Stewart-Cousins said in response. “I am the first leader that has been outside of New York City in almost 100 years. I am somebody who has always listened and understood the different dynamics.”

Having said that, the leader indicated that she understands the concerns that came out of the Working Families Party convention about the legislature’s inability to get liberal priorities passed, despite having a majority of members from the Democratic Party. Though she stressed it was about the issues themselves, not any particular party demands.

“Whether it’s ethics reform, minimum wage. Whether it’s women’s equality, campaign finanace. All of these things were being articulated by a majoirty of both hosues of legislature and the governor and yet they couldn’t be done. It’s not about aligning with the Working Families Party or not.”

As for which candidate she would support in primaries against current IDC members?

“This is day two of our coalition, and I think all of these people in primaries have their own decisions to make and we are continuing conversations. I think we want to sit with people who want to make sure that we can work together and move the state forward in all of the areas including the progressive values that we expouse and champion as Democrats,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Stewart-Cousins joins us for a sit-down interview this evening on Capital Tonight at 8pm.

Stewart-Cousins: ‘Unlikely’ Major Bills Get Done In June

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she remains hopeful that closely watched measures such as the public financing of political campaigns and the 10-point women’s agenda are approved in the chamber, but acknowledged that at this point it appears unlikely they will.

“We’re not controlling the agenda,” Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, said on The Capitol Pressroom on Wednesday. “That is the job of the Republicans and the IDC. There are things that still need to be done.”

At issue now is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s newly avowed support for a Democratic takeover of the state Senate, which would effectively end the governing coalition of Republicans and five independent Democrats.

In addition to supporting a Democratic Senate, Cuomo told the Working Families Party he would back a minimum wage increase plan for local communities, the public financing of political campaigns and the Dream Act, which would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Senate Democrats on Monday held a news conference to push for support of the minimum wage hike as well.

In addition to those high-profile bills, there is still an effort underway to approve the medicinal use of marijuana as well as combat heroin addiction statewide. At the same time, a host of local-control bills are still on the Senate’s docket.

Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos told reporters that he, too, was doubtful anything of significance could still be accomplished now that the political season of campaigning has started, albeit a bit earlier than those at the Capitol were expecting.

“We always continue discussions, but I would say most of the more controversial things would be brought up next year,” Skelos said.

A Siena poll earlier this year showed most voters backed the IDC-GOP coalition in the Senate.

But in the interview this morning, Stewart-Cousins pointed out the state’s voters in 2012 backed a Democratic Senate.

“Everybody gets the fact that we deserve leadership that is progressive… or at least transparent enough who is in charge,” she said.

Senate Democrats Confident Cuomo Will Campaign For Them

Democrats in the mainline conference are confident Gov. Andrew Cuomo will follow through on his promise and help them retake the state Senate.

Speaking at a news conference for increasing the state’s minimum wage, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins insisted Cuomo was clear in backing a Democratic takeover of the chamber, though it remains nebulous as to what form that support will take.

“I’m sure he’ll be campaigning and he’ll be campaigning with the senators who will be helping push forward his agenda,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Cuomo, along with the Working Families Party and a coalition of labor groups on Saturday announced a plan that included the governor’s support for a raft of liberal legislation as well a push for Democrats to retake the Senate.

Cuomo was endorsed by the labor-backed WFP on Saturday over Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout.

Cuomo did not support a full Democratic takeover in the 2012 election, with some liberals believing he has tacitly supported the coalition of Republicans and five independent Democrats who now govern the Senate.

On Sunday, Cuomo laid down conditions for his support of local control for a minimum wage increase, saying he backed a plan that would require a state formula for a local hike.

Both Stewart-Cousins and WFP Co-Chairwoman Karen Scharff insisted Cuomo wasn’t walking back his support for the proposal.

“He’s not changing his commitment,” Scharff said, who also appeared at the news conference this afternoon with minimum wage workers. “That’s exactly what we had wanted, he hasn’t changed that in any of his comments yesterday or today.”

Nevertheless, activists within the party remain weary over how much they can take Cuomo’s commitment to the bank.

“The governor was very clear on his position and I think what we’re doing is supporting these workers, supporting what his intentions are, what his words and giving so many avenues to how we can reach those common goals,” Stewart-Cousins said.

IDC Booed At Democratic Convention

A mention of the power-sharing coalition in the Senate elicited boos and hisses at the Democratic Convention in Suffolk County this morning.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, one of the featured speakers at the convention this morning, noted the Democratic conference has a “numeric majority” in the chamber.

“The Republican minority was empowered by some to maintain control,” the Yonkers Democrat said, resulting a round of loud boos from the audience of Democratic delegates here.

Doubling down on the awkwardness: IDC Sen. David Valesky is here for the second day of convention.

“We’re not going to let that happen again,” Stewart-Cousins said.

She said Senate Democrats will “claim our rightful place next to our Assembly colleagues as the majority.”

Despite the boos, a resolution calling on the IDC to return to the mainline conference fold was tabled by delegates at the first day of the convention.

Not everyone is as upbeat about a Democratic Senate.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not endorse a full takeover of the Senate by Democrats in 2012, and has said he believes the coalition situation is working in the chamber (leading some to think Cuomo has outright given the coalition his blessing to continue).

Newly installed party chairman, former Gov. David Paterson, said on Wednesday Democrats may have to retake the chamber in a piecemeal fashion over the next election cycles.

“It’s possible, but I don’t want to raise expectations,” he said.