Assembly Spends $113K On Legal Fees In March

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office in March approved $113,000 in legal fees for the Democratic-led Assembly related to sexual harassment investigations and the corruption case of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The Assembly last month spent $87,000 to Rossein Associates for outside counsel for the development of sexual harassment policy and investigations.

The chamber also spent $17,000 for Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux outside counsel for independent investigations of sexual harassment.

And the chamber spent $9,000 in fees for Zuckerman Spaeder, which represented the Assembly in the investigation of Silver, who was found guilty of federal corruption charges in November.

The Assembly has been plagued in recent years by a series of harassment cases involving state lawmakers, including Democratic former Assemblyman Vito Lopez and ex-Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak. Republican Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak was sanctioned after an ethics panel determined she had a relationship with a staffer and retaliated against the aide when the relationship ended.

McLaughlin: ‘Grossly Irresponsible’ To Not Hold Water Quality Hearings

Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin on Tuesday questioned why the Democratic-led Assembly is yet to hold hearings on water quality issues around the state, first proposed earlier this year after the village of Hoosick Falls’s municipal water supply was impacted by a chemical contamination.

In a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as well as Environmental Conservation Chairman Steve Englebright and Health Committee Chairman Dick Gottfried, McLaughlin wrote it would be “grossly irresponsible” if the Assembly had been pressured by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to not hold the hearings.

“It would be grossly irresponsible to forgo these hearings due to pressure from the Cuomo Administration,” McLaughlin wrote in the letter sent Monday. “Do not let the governor use you as pawns to cover up his own mistake and unwillingness o take responsibility for mishandling the water crisis.”

The municipal water supply in Hoosick Falls, a village in Rensselaer County near the Vermont border, was found to have been contaminated with the chemical PFOA from a nearby plastics plant run by Saint-Gobain. The Department of Environmental Conservation has since installed a water filtration system that has made the town’s water safe to drink again, but questions remain for McLaughlin over how to prevent the next contamination.

The Cuomo administration earlier this year formed a water quality task force to respond to contamination issues when they are first discovered. The hearings themselves were initially planned for this month, and would have assessed water issues around the state.

“The situation in Hoosick Falls is far from resolved, and those with private wells have been without consistent access to clean drinking water for months,” McLaughlin wrote. “The residents of Hoosick Falls are giving a scary and confusing nightmare and are yearning for answers. As state leaders ,we have an innate responsibility to investigate public health and safety crises and protect those who are not powerful to stand up to government malfeasance.”

McLaughlin Letter on Hoosick Falls Hearings by NY_RACC

24-year-old Meyer Announces Second Bid For NYS Assembly

In a press release Thursday, Democrat Steve Meyer touted himself as “the youngest candidate for Assembly state-wide, and perhaps the youngest state legislature candidate in the entire nation. ” The claim is all the more impressive when you consider this is Meyer’s second bid for the 146th Assembly District.

Considered a rising star for the party in 2014, Meyer won his primary race by a large margin but ran into a brick wall in incumbent Republican Ray Walter. Meyer lost by about 15 points.

He’s ready to take a crack at it again, calling for ethics and economic reform in Albany.

“In the final days of 2015 the former leaders of the state Assembly and Senate were convicted on corruption charges, while at the same time New York continued to rank among the worst states in the nation for job growth and new business,” Meyer said. “These two facts are not unrelated. State government cannot be mired in scandal and still be an effective partner in our economic renaissance.”

Meyer is now the Executive Director of the Erie County Democratic Committee. He also owns “a firm that helps other small businesses and nonprofits get their feet off the ground.”

His opponent has been busy in the interim as well. Walter ran against Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in 2015.

Poloncarz nearly doubled Walter’s vote total. He also beat Walter in his hometown of Amherst.

In his press release, Meyer piggybacked on the County Executive’s success.

“I am committed to creating jobs in western New York, and that means a tax system that’s fair to working and middle-class families and a state government whose leaders are focused on our interests instead of their own,” he said. “We’ve seen what the right kind of leadership can do right here in Erie County, and I want to join County Executive Poloncarz in the fight to keep this area moving forward.”

GOP Chair Nick Langworthy said any narrative that Walter’s a wounded candidate is wrong though. He said his polling shows Walter actually has more name recognition in his own district as a result of the county executive race and remains popular.


Citing Prostate Cancer, Rosa Silver Urges Leniency For Her Husband

The wife of 72-year-old ex-Assembly Speaker Speaker Sheldon Silver is urging a federal district court judge in a letter filed this week to be lenient, citing his prostate cancer diagnosis.

“Your Honor is aware of Shelly’s health issues and it terrifies me that his father and brother both died from the same kind of cancer…please give him as lenient a sentence as possible,” Rosa Silver wrote in the letter.

Federal prosecutors are seeking more than 14 years for Silver, the once powerful state lawmaker who was convicted on corruption charges of fraud and extortion in November.

Silver in a separate letter apologized to his constituents, his family and the Legislature as he sought leniency from the court.

Documents unsealed by Judge Valerie Caproni last week revealed prosecutors had evidence that Silver conducted two extramarital affairs while in office with a lobbyist who had business before the Legislature as well as a former state lawmaker who he secured a job for at the Department of Education.

The documents were unsealed as prosecutors argued the information was valuable to counteracting claims Silver had conducted his life morally and ethically as he is to be sentenced next month.

rosaletter.pdf by Nick Reisman

Gottfried: Recreational Marijuana Legalization Would Take ‘A Lot’ Of Effort

The push for legalizing medicinal marijuana in certain circumstances took 17 years.

An effort to make the drug legal for recreational purposes is just as heavy a lift if not more so due to “nervous” lawmakers, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried in a radio interview this weekend said.

“From the very start, public opinion polls had solid majorities in favor of the bill and those majorities grew,” said Gottfried in a interview on AM 970’s Effective Radio of the bill to legalize prescription-based medical marijuana.

“But New York State elected officials are, despite our reputation for being the progressive capital of the world, very jittery when it comes to any issue relating to drugs. I think it’s going to take a lot of vocal public support and advocacy to get the recreational use done because while there is very strong public support, the folks opposed to it can be pretty vocal.”

The effort to legalize medical marijuana came in the form of an advocacy campaign that targeted individual lawmakers, especially in the Republican-led state Senate. Advocates and patients suffering from terminal illnesses were able to secure support from GOP lawmakers, especially those from western New York.

With the medical marijuana program now in its infancy stages, some state lawmakers, including Manhattan Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger, are backing a measure to provide for recreational marijuana in the state with a model for collecting revenue from state-sanctioned sales.

“Part of what was crucial to getting the medical marijuana bill passed was the families of the young children with severe forms of epilepsy who—it was just amazing that they came to Albany from all parts of the state again and again with their children, which is, when you’ve got a child in a wheelchair because they have dozens of seizures a day … certainly not an easy thing,” Gottfried said.

“But it was the efforts of the patients and families that really made it happen in New York and is going to help us pass bills that make the law a lot better. I think the people of New York have been for (State Senator) Liz Krueger’s tax-and-regulate model for a long time, but it’s going to take a lot of effort to bring a lot of my more nervous colleagues on board.”

Court Documents Allege Silver Affairs, Including Lobbyist

Court documents unsealed by a federal judge on Friday morning claim disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver conducted two extramarital affairs with a lobbyist whose clients had business before the state and a woman whom he helped secure a state job.

The documents, about 19 in all, redact the names of the women Silver is alleged to have had the affairs with, but prosecutors have compiled phone records purporting to show personal relationships with both of them.

Silver is set to be sentenced on May 3 after he was convicted in November of corruption stemming from his masking of bribes as legal referrals.

Attorneys for both women had sought to keep the documents under seal in order to protect their privacy. But media outlets, including The New York Times and NBCUniversal, argued there was a compelling reason for the public to have access to the information, as did U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

In filings, prosecutors insisted the information goes to Silver’s “ethics or integrity, separation of his personal business from his official position, and/or character for truthfulness and honesty.”

“The Government did not seek to admit evidence of those relationships at trial on its direct case, but asserted that such evidence would be relevant and admissible if the defendant introduced character evidence suggesting that he was careful to separate his personal business from official business or that he was a man of integrity or a good family man,” one of the filings states.

Documents allege there is “credible and corroborated evidence that while serving as Speaker of the Assembly, the defendant engaged in extramarital relationships with two women.” In one instance, the information was gained “inadvertent” by investigators who were listening to Silver’s phone calls.

Silver’s relationship with the lobbyist “regularly lobbied the defendant on behalf of clients who had business before the state” the document states while she was able to “obtained certain clients in part because of her access to the defendant.”

In one of the recordings with the lobbyist, Silver and the woman discuss an inquiry from a reporter about “affairs” with state legislators.

“I don’t think he caught us,” Silver is alleged to have said in the conversation.

Silver acknowledges to the woman that it is “not safe” they be seen together in public. In the record conversation, the lobbyist complained to Silver that she was not being treated well by a top member of Silver’s staff.

The second woman, meanwhile, was the beneficiary of a state job that Silver “used his official position” to secure for her. The unnamed post was one Silver “exercised a particularly high level of control.”

Silver kept two different cell phones, one that appeared to be for official use and a second that he used for personal discussions and was billed to a different name.

Redacted by Nick Reisman

AD-65: Transit Workers Back Niou

The labor group representing transit workers continued to flex its political muscles this week as the union endorsed Yuh-Line Niou, the Working Families Party-backed candidate running for the Assembly vacated last year by Democratic ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The union, Transit Workers Union Local 100, represents 42,000 workers and 26,000 retirees and earlier in the week backed Bernie Sanders’s insurgent presidential bid.

“We need strong leaders in Albany who can fight for working people and make sure New York invests in the transit that keeps this city moving,” said John Samuelsen, President of TWU Local 100. “We’re endorsing Yuh-Line because she understands the risks our workers face every day; and she knows that improving and expanding mass transit is critical as downtown continues to grow.”

The union has sought to play a bigger role in New York City campaigns and its endorsement of Niou gives her the backing of labor groups that support both Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

“The men and women of TWU work every day to keep our city growing and thriving,” Niou said in a statement.

“We can all get to work because of the work that they do every day. We depend on them to move millions of people all across the city, and with limited budgets and aging tracks and equipment, they make it happen for all of us. I’m proud to stand with them and proud to have them as part of our campaign.”

The special election to replace Silver will be held on Tuesday, the same day as New York’s presidential primary. Niou faces Alice Cancel, who is running on the Democratic line, and Lester Chang, the Republican candidate.

Silver was forced from office in November after he was found guilty of fraud and corruption.

Former Assemblyman Joins Post Editorial Board

Michael Benjamin, a Democratic former assemblyman from the Bronx, is joining The New York Post’s editorial board.

Benjamin represented the Bronx Assembly district from 2003 through 2010.

He was something of a contrarian while in office, which continued on in his post-elected career as a columnist and public affairs consultant.

Benjamin’s move to the Post comes after editorial page writer Rob George departed for The Daily News earlier this year.

Assembly To Hold Health Insurance Hearing

The Democratic-led Assembly on Wednesday announced plans to hold a hearing on the changing health insurance landscape in New York following the enactment of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. the Legislative Office Building.

In particular, lawmakers will focus on the impact of the coverage mandates the federal government requires states to pay that were not initially included as essential health benefits.

The hearing will also review how the requirement has essentially frozen what the law considers to be health benefit coverage with no ability to update.

Expected to testify at the hearing are New York State of Health Executive Director Donna Frescatore and New York State Department of Financial Services Deputy Superintendent for Health Troy Oechsner.

Moya Decries The Politics Surrounding DREAM Act Passage

From the Morning Memo:

Another budget has been approved in Albany without the DREAM Act — but supporters aren’t giving up.

The bill’s top supporter in the Democratic-led Assembly, Queens lawmaker Francisco Moya, in an interview Tuesday said he hoped the measure would have new life in the post-budget session.

And he hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes it a priority from now until the end of the legislative session on June 16.

“His support for the DREAM Act is there and this is a time he can demonstrate it’s really a priority this year and get to the floor of the Senate this year,” Moya said.

But the bill, which would provide tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants, has a significant roadblock with Republicans in the state Senate.

GOP lawmakers have run hard against the passage of the bill, especially in upstate and suburban battleground districts where support among voters for the proposal is thin.

Moya, however, said the injection of campaign politics is unfair, especially given the rhetoric from Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump on immigration.

I think it’s politics getting in the way of actually having good public policy take effect. the fact they’ve used this as a campaign slogan to run against candidates in their districts is a real problem here,” Moya said.

“I think we cannot let the national tone of politics, the way Donald Trump has been running an anti-immigrant campaign, letting it trickle down here in the state of New York, to allow that to come here and block a piece of legislation that’s been allowed in other states in the country… I think it’s time for us who have led the way on so many issues to allow chidlren who are undocumented the opportunity to go to college.