Cuomo Signs Hoosick Falls Legislation

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Thursday that would make it easier for those who live near Superfund-designated sites to sue over water contamination.

The measure was approved in the GOP-led Senate in the final days of the legislative session in the wake of a drinking water contamination in Hoosick Falls.

The new law will also impact those who live in Petersburgh, where a separate chemical contamination in drinking water has been found.

Cuomo’s approval of the bill is good news for Republican Sen. Kathy Marchione, the lawmaker who represents the area in the chamber.

Marchione had been under pressure from Hoosick Falls residents to push for a Senate hearing on the contamination issue. Ultimately, Republicans announced a public hearing in the village next month.

Assembly Democrats have scheduled hearings for September on water quality issues in New York, to be held in Albany and on Long Island.

“This new state law means residents in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and elsewhere will now receive more time to have their day in court and fully pursue civil justice,” Marchione said in a statement. “I am thankful for the support our bill has received and that it will become law.”

Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald, who backed the measure in his house, called the approval a bipartisan victory.

“The far-reaching impact of this legislation will bring fair and resolute legal recourses to members of the Hoosick Falls community and to New Yorkers across the state that have suffered or may suffer from undetected toxins in their water supply,” he said.

Cuomo’s approval of the bill, which removes the statute of limitations for lawsuits to be filed in water contamination sites, comes as a Republican-led oversight committee in the House of Representatives is investigating the federal and state response to the issue.

Cuomo’s office sought and received a deadline extension for turning over documents related to the contamination.

The bill’s approval was also cheered by environmental organizations.

“The signing of this bill into law is not only a huge moral and legal victory for Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh residents, but an important step in holding polluters accountable,” said Liz Moran of the Environmental Advocates of New York. “For too long, when crises like this occurred, residents were left reeling from the public health and economic consequences, while those responsible were allowed to slink away.”

Heastie: No Change Of Heart On Water Hearings

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in Syracuse on Thursday insisted he had planned to hold water-quality hearings even after plans seemingly stalled earlier in the srping.

The Democratic-led Assembly this month announced it would hold two hearings in early September on water quality issues around the state, with forums planned in Albany and on Long Island.

The hearings are drawing interest in the Capital Region amid a water contamination crisis in the village of Hoosick Falls, where the municipal drinking water was found to be contaminated with PFOA, a chemical used in manufacturing plants nearby.

Initially announcing meetings during the height of the budget season, talk quietly died away of the hearings, only for Heastie’s office to announce them amid a vocal disagreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office over the ongoing feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“It was never a changing of my mind,” Heastie said. “I would always say I would look at it. I would never said that we weren’t going to do it. WE allowed the state agencies to deal with certain situations around the state and now in the fall it’s time to find everything that happened.”

Cuomo’s administration has been criticized by some elected officials, including Rep. Chris Gibson, for moving too slowly on the issue. Cuomo’s office has said the state took swift action in Hoosick Falls when it understood the scope of the problem at the beginning of the year.

The GOP-led Senate soon after the Assembly announced water hearings plans to hold a hearing in August in the village. The Republican-led House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation into the government’s response as well, a move Gibson hopes will lead to hearings in Washington as well.

Heastie’s hearings are taking a broader approach to water issues, assessing water concerns statewide.

“This is not just about Hoosick Falls,” he said. “This about trying to make sure we have water quality that is satisfactory for all of our citizens around the state.”

Assemblyman Ryan Calls For Hearings On LDC Practices

The numbers weren’t pretty for industrial development agencies across New York state when the Annual Report on Public Authorities came out at the beginning of the month. The report, which examined IDA projects over a four-year period from 2011-2015, showed 44 percent of companies that received tax breaks from communities did not meet their promises.

In fact, according to the report, with the exception of four major projects that created 3,200 jobs, the other 250 approved projects actually lost 750 jobs. In a press conference Thursday, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, pointed out that things looked particularly dreary in Erie County, where four out of five IDAs lost jobs during that four-year period.

“It’s an alarming number, and it’s very disappointing,” Ryan said.

But the practices of IDAs have long been scrutinized, and the assemblyman said in the past few years the state has passed legislation that should curb the issues. For instance, the agencies can no longer give tax subsidies to retail projects like doughnut shops, pizzerias and liquor stores.

The state also mandated clawbacks be built in to tax break deals, so companies are penalized when they break their promises. Ryan said these measures have significantly reduced how many projects IDAs have approved.

But with the increased scrutiny, municipalities appear to have found a new outlet to give companies tax breaks. According to the report, Limited Development Corporations in New York have increased since 2009, from 86 to 257.

Ryan said LDCs, like IDAs, allow counties to give subsidies, but with much less oversight. In his capacity as the chairman of the Assembly Commission on State and Local Government Relations, Ryan is calling for a series of hearings to discuss LDC practices.

“We know the way to do it, and we know the right way to do it, but we continue to go down this path of doing it the wrong way and so we need to get together collectively to say each of our communities don’t want these practices that lead to fraud, that lead to abuse and worst of all they don’t create the jobs that were promised,” he said.

Ryan said the parties involved haven’t decided where the hearings will be held yet, but he said there are calls to hold at least one of them in Rochester. LDCs in Monroe County are in the process of being dissolved following a scandal that led to the indictment of four people.

“We don’t want want to get to the point where we only take action against these LDCs after they’ve been indicted for fraud and abuse,” Ryan said.

The hearings will be scheduled before the beginning of next legislative session and plan to be the precursor to new legislation. Among the bills Ryan believes could be proposed are an outright ban for new LDCs and legislation that would bring the transparency requirements for LDCs in line with what’s required of IDAs.

WNY Party Leaders Scrambling After Corwin Announces Retirement From Assembly

A day after Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, made the surprise announcement she will not be running for reelection, the race is on to see who will succeed her. Sources said the early front-runner for the GOP nomination is former Niagara County Republican Committee Chairman Mike Norris.

The Lockport attorney announced his candidacy Wednesday. He said he’s already spoken with the GOP chairs in the three counties, Erie, Niagara, and Orleans, covered by the 144th District.

“This seat is something I’ve always had an interest in and while Assemblywoman Jane Corwin has been in office, I have been a full supporter of her and all of the reforms that she stands for,” Norris said.

He isn’t the only candidate who’s name is being tossed around. Republicans have also mentioned two town of Clarence elected officials, Supervisor Patrick Casilio and board member Christopher Greene.

Neither have expressed an interest publicly in running yet and both start at a disadvantage. They’re from Erie County.

When Corwin was first elected in 2008, the majority of the voters in the district were from Erie County. After redistricting, 56 percent of the 144th is in Niagara County.

Corwin said she collected the required amount of signatures to run this year, so the county committees will be able to nominate a candidate to run in her place. Erie County Chairman Nick Langworthy said with the Republican National Convention coming up next week, they’ll have to make the decision in the next few days.

Meanwhile, local Democrats have expressed frustration that Corwin didn’t make the announcement sooner. They appeared to be prepared to allow the four-time incumbent Corwin to run uncontested in a district with a nearly 60-40 GOP enrollment advantage.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner said with petitions due, Wednesday, it’s virtually impossible to collect the required amount of signatures. He said he’s spoken with other party bosses about a potential write-in campaign against the Republican candidate.

Corwin To Retire From Assembly

Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin in a surprise announcement on Tuesday said she would not seek a fifth, two-year term in Albany, declining the nomination after “thought consideration” with her family.

“I pride myself on leading by example and I firmly believe that instituting term limits on state officials will go a long way in ending the corruption and dysfunction in Albany,” Corwin said in a statement.

“I believe in a citizen legislature and instituting term limits on elected officials will restore good faith government and limit career politicians. I am proud of my service and time in the Legislature but as I “term myself out,” it is time to let someone else have the opportunity to represent our community and bring Western New York values to the “people’s house.”

Corwin rose to national prominence, briefly, when she ran for the western New York congressional seat that was vacated by disgraced former Rep. Chris Lee in a special election that hinged in part on the budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan.

Corwin lost the hotly contested race in the heavily Republican district to Democrat Kathy Hochul, who in turn would be unseated by Rep. Chris Collins. Hochul was elected lieutenant governor in 2014 as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ticket.

In the Assembly, Corwin became a voice for Republican lawmakers at the floor leader for the GOP conference in the chamber.

In her statement, Corwin thanked her constituents, her family and her legislative staff.

“I want to thank everyone who has supported me over the years, especially my staff who have served the 144th Assembly District and have done more for our community than most citizens realize,” she said.

“I would also like to thank the members of the local political committees who have volunteered so much of their time. Our election process would not happen if not for volunteers like them. I also want to thank my colleagues and friends in the State Legislature and particularly the members of the Western New York Delegation as well as the local officials I have had the pleasure to work with. Success happens when we play as a team.”

After Pressure, Praise For Assembly Water Hearings

From the Morning Memo:

After sustained pressure from village residents and state lawmakers, the Democratic-led Assembly signaled on Wednesday it will hold long-awaited water quality hearings in early September.

The hearings, to be held in Albany and Suffolk counties, are expected to focus on a variety of water issues in New York, but also specifically on the contamination concerns in the rural upstate communities of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh.

Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, who has pushed both the Assembly and his fellow Republicans in the Senate to hold hearings, praised the development on Wednesday night in a statement, crediting his constituents with making it happen.

“The people of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh should be proud of their efforts and pressure they applied to make these hearings become a reality,” he said. “This is the first but very crucial step to find out who knew what, and when.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s scheduling of the hearings comes amid his own public rift with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the forums could provide critical insight into how the administration handled the initial reports of the PFOA contamination in Hoosick Falls.

Focus will now turn to whether the Republican-controlled Senate will hold similar water hearings in the coming weeks as well.

Sen. Kathy Marchione, the GOP lawmaker who represents the hearing, has come under pressure to push for public hearings on the Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh contamination issues.

Marchione last week announced she was continuing to meet with members of Cuomo’s office to discuss the issue. At the same time, she has pointed to her own legislative efforts to make it easier for residents in areas declared a state Superfund site to sue over contamination issues.

Assembly To Hold Water Quality Hearings

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced plans on Wednesday to hold public hearings on water quality in September.

The hearings were initially called for earlier in the year, but were never formally scheduled, after water contamination issues were raised in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and on Long Island.

“Recent reports of water contamination in municipalities across the state have highlighted the need for a thorough review of measures to ensure clean and healthy water in our communities,” Heastie said in a statement. “Ensuring a safe water supply for our children and families is a top priority for us.”

The hearings were announced in a joint statement with Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Steve Englebright and Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried.

The statement itself doesn’t specifically mention the communities impacted by the water contamination, nor does it spell out a specific schedule of when and where the hearings will take place.

Lawmakers, including Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Republican who represents the area, have pushed both chambers to hold hearings on the water quality issues in Hoosick Falls. The hearings themselves could potentially illustrate how the state — including the Cuomo administration — handled initial water quality concerns raised in the rural village.

The hearings are being renewed after Gov. Andrew Cuomo had criticized the Democratic-led Assembly on Tuesday for not approving new regulations governing day care centers in New York.

Heastie’s office in turn released a statement criticizing Cuomo for his ongoing feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had raised concerns with the day care center legislation.

Cuomo on Wednesday insisted there was no “feud quote-unquote” with the mayor.

“Anyone who says those day care centers should go unregulated, I wholly disagree with,” Cuomo said. “If they call that representing the people of the city, that’s not my city, that’s not the city I grew up in. No one in my city will allow children to be abused.”

Rochester-Area Assemblyman Charged With Fraud In Cambodia

File this one in the “You Can’t Make This Up” category.

Assemblyman Bill Nojay, R-Pittsford, is one of four Americans charged with fraud in Cambodia. Reported by the Khmer Times, court proceedings start Monday in Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

The charges are connected to Nojay’s now-defuct rice exporting company, AKRA Agriculture Partners, which the prosecution claims was always an unfunded shell company, according to the report. The plaintiff, Eng Lykuong, claims the assemblyman’s partners, including former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Sichan Siv, convinced her to invest $1 million into the company.

She said she transferred the money to Nojay’s bank account via First Cambodia Bank in 2012. Lykuong said eight months later, her partners told her the company was bankrupt.

“Her complaint added that the AKRA capital was to be used to buy rice directly from farmers. In return for investing $1 million in the company, equal to a fourth of its alleged initial worth, Ms. Lykuong says she was promised assistance from the defendants in securing U.S. citizenship for both herself and her daughter,” reporter Buth Reaksmey Kongkea wrote.

Nojay said the hearing Monday is a motion to dismiss. He said the first judge involved with the case was removed from the bench after Lykuong attempted to bribe him and his clerk was arrested.

The assemblyman said he’s never met the plaintiff and has been doing business in the southeast Asian country since the 1980s. He expects the charges to be dismissed.

Assembly Candidate’s Password Cracked, Leading to Facebook Hijinks

It was confusing Tuesday morning for friends of Republican state Assembly candidate Angelo Morinello. As they woke up and logged onto their computers and phones, many noticed a Facebook invitation from Morinello – an invitation to like his opponent, incumbent Democrat John Ceretto’s page.

“Right now, we figure about 25 or 30 (people received invitations) but we don’t know. It could be higher than that. A lot of people don’t turn on their computers and look at Facebook daily.”

Once campaign manager Jeffrey Williams saw even he had received the invitation, he knew Morinello’s personal Facebook account had been hacked. Williams admitted his boss, a recently retired Niagara Falls City Court Judge, is still learning the ins and outs of social media.

“He’s had a Facebook page for quite a number of years but the most he’d ever done with it was post (photos of) sunsets,” he said. “Judge Morinello’s password was very easy. It could’ve been figured out by anybody who knew him.”

Morinello’s daughter took to Facebook in response, initially posting a message on the candidate’s campaign page, criticizing their opponents. That post was edited, Williams said, after Ceretto’s spokesperson reached out to him and promised they were not involved.

“It’s been a very dirty campaign. There’s been a lot of articles that have had innuendo and unsigned letters going to people and so when you’re in a race like that and things start escalating in that matter and something like this happens, you immediately think it’s your opponent first.”

This is just the latest example of impersonating a candidate, something that appears to be a trend in Western New York politics. Less than two weeks ago, acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty came under fire because his campaign purchased several internet domains with his Democratic primary opponent’s last name.

Less than a week ago, Rep. Tom Reed’s campaign admitted to creating a parody Twitter account and website for their opponent.

“I think people should just beware it’s a new phase of politics. Social media’s becoming exceedingly important. Anybody can say whatever they want at any time, sometimes anonymously,” Williams said.

Ceretto did not immediately respond to our request for comment. Williams said if Ceretto’s people said they’re not responsible, he’ll believe them, but he has asked Facebook to investigate.


Goldfeder To Lead Yeshiva University’s Government Relations Office

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder is leaving elected office, but he won’t be straying far from government.

The Queens Democrat is due to join Yeshiva University this fall, heading up the school’s government relations office.

“YU has developed several public-private partnerships over the past few years, which are resulting in academic and facility improvements,” said President Richard M. Joel. “When we began exploring how we could take our successes with government relations to the next level, it was clear that Phil was uniquely qualified for this role.”

Goldfeder, first elected to the Assembly in September 2011, in office has focused on education and transportation issues, as well as recovery from the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy.

His resume includes work as a community liaison for the New York City Council and as the director of intergovernmental affairs for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer.

“I have dedicated my life in public service to ensuring a better future for all our families,” Goldfeder said. “This begins by providing our children with a world-class education that will enable them to be successful and contribute to the community. I’m excited to utilize my diverse experience to advance the mission and goals of the University.”