GOP Goes All Out Against Former Republican Ceretto

From the Memo:

When Western New York Assemblyman John Ceretto decided to switch from the GOP to the Democratic Party last year, he ticked off a lot of local Republicans. Now up for re-election, Ceretto’s former allies haven’t forgotten the perceived betrayal.

Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy made that much crystal clear.

“This was one of the great sellouts of all time,” the chairman said of Ceretto. “He was elected and re-elected and re-elected by Republicans and with a lot of help.”

“He is a very unremarkable legislator, which I said the day he switched parties. I kind of said what’s been on my mind here. This is a guy who really doesn’t have it between the ears to handle what the important issues that we needed in Western New York.”

The Democrats hold an overwhelming majority in the Assembly, and under normal circumstances, the 145th district race wouldn’t be that big of a deal, since it won’t influence the balance of power in the chamber. But Langworthy said this year is different.

This is about payback, and there’s also a candidate for the GOP to get behind, as former Niagara Falls City Judge Angelo Morinello is challenging Ceretto for the seat.

“There is massive investment at this point by the state Republican campaign committee for the Assembly,” Langworthy said. “That is an absolute – it’s the number one target opportunity in the state.”

Emails and calendar items are circulating to news organizations, including Capital Tonight, that Republicans say prove Ceretto played politics with state allocations and used government time and resources to campaign.

Though Ceretto has insisted he did nothing wrong, Langworthy said voters won’t tolerate even the perception of wrongdoing.

“We have learned things in the last two weeks about John Ceretto and the way he has run his office which I think will make this race one of the most competitive in the state of New York,” the chairman predicted.

Ceretto meanwhile, said he believes the attacks are clearly a result of sour grapes over his decision to change parties. He nevertheless maintains his switch was the best choice for his constituents and is standing by the decision.

Wal-Mart Heir Gives $500K To Education Reform Super PAC

One of the heirs to retail giant Wal-Mart on Thursday gave $500,000 to New Yorkers For A Balanced Albany, a group that is tied to the education reform group StudentsFirstNY.

A filing with the state Board of Elections on shows Jim Walton made the contribution to the group that has funded efforts aimed at backing candidates sympathetic to issues such as charter school support.

The contribution comes as education policy is once again expected to dominate the legislative session in 2017.

Meanwhile, two more donations were made to the independent expenditure committee supported by the Real Estate Board of New York.

Filings show Varego Holdings contributed $125,000 while Silverstein Properties gave $110,000.

Erie County GOP Calls For Assemblyman Ceretto To Resign

The Erie County Republican Committee is calling for Assemblyman John Ceretto, D-Lewiston, to resign. It said the assemblyman is playing politics with government funding.

The controversy surrounds official emails, obtained by the Buffalo News, between several of Ceretto’s staffers. In them, the staff members discuss what municipalities in the district should receive state allocations controlled by the assemblyman.

In one instance, political aide Robert Nichols, suggested it didn’t make sense to give money to the town of Wheatfield because the supervisor had slighted them at a community picnic. The story also cited a source saying Ceretto’s office used public time and resources for campaign-related activities.

“The Buffalo News today confirmed that dirty Albany politics are alive and well in John Ceretto’s office,” Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said. “After getting caught playing cynical games with taxpayers’ money – and quite likely breaking state law – John Ceretto must resign as should his political henchman Rob Nichols.”

Last year, Ceretto switched allegiances from Republican to Democrat and as a result has become a target of the committee this fall. Former Niagara Falls City Judge Angelo Morinello is running against him in the 145th Assembly District.

Ceretto told the News he allocated state grants to worthy projects in his district.

Assembly Candidate Faults Opponent For Insufficiently Supporting Billy Joel

The Piano Man is an issue in a Long Island Assembly race.

Assembly hopeful Dean Hart on Thursday morning criticized his opponent, Republican incumbent Michael Montesano for not passing legislation in Albany that would name a portion of a state road after the beloved Long Island institution Billy Joel.

“My opponent is either impotent or is simply not trying, because everyone loves Bill Joel,” said Hart, who describes himself as a “long time fan” of Joel’s.

“No wonder Albany is a mess, our representative can’t do something as simple as renaming a small portion of a road in Billy Joel’s backyard, where there’s near universal support.”

Hart is putting his money where his mouth is. The Oyster Bay resident is pledging to spend up to $1 million to install what would be a “giant marble statue” of the singer at the newly refurbished Nassau Coliseum that is scheduled to open next spring.

“Next to Teddy Roosevelt, Long Island really doesn’t have a more famous or popular person than Billy Joel,” Hart said. “I can’t think of a better way to unite long Islanders than by erecting this marbled monument before Billy opens up the new Coliseum in April.”

Joel is a native Hicksville resident and has been close with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

In Letter, Heastie Makes Pay Raise Case

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a letter released on Wednesday called on a state panel to back a recommended pay increase for state lawmakers.

The letter comes as the commission on judicial and legislative compensation is contemplating the first increase in legislative pay since 1999, with one proposal hiking the base salary from $79,500 to $116,900.

“The evidence is overwhelming that a raise in compensation is warranted; indeed, it is long overdue,” said Heastie in a statement.

“Economic variables and public policy fully support a salary increase for statewide elected officials, executive officers, and legislators, just as these same considerations yielded an increase for the judiciary earlier this year. In order to maintain our constitutional framework of government and the appropriate balance among the branches and offices of government, it is important that the compensation of the offices under consideration be increased proportionally.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo — echoing comments made by his appointees on the commission — has called on lawmakers to “make the case” for a pay increase, a push they would have to make amid an election year. The pay raise itself would not be decided until after Election Day.

The panel is also due to determine a potential pay raise for Cuomo’s cabinet officials.

Heastie, however, maintains a safe seat in the Democratic-heavy Bronx and can make the argument without fear of political impact in his district. Indeed, Heastie’s popularity with some of his members — especially those in New York City where a pay raise is especially popular — likely welcome the letter.

Speaker Compensation Commission Letter by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Lawmakers Consider Oversight Options After Arrests

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers want to see more oversight of economic development spending after the arrests of nine people last week in an alleged widespread scheme involving bid rigging and bribery within key projects designed to spur job creation upstate.

“The problem is when public money is involved, there needs to be the highest degree of oversight over that public money,” said Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat who represents an Albany-area district.

Now lawmakers are considering reinstating the power of Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to review state spending under the umbrella of economic development. The comptroller’s office was stripped of that power in 2011, the first year Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office.

“What we might want to do is what any other entity is used to dealing with here in state government, which is admittedly an arduous process but reinstating the comptroller’s role and attorney general’s role in reviewing all these contracts,” McDonald said.

DiNapoli has signaled he would like to have that power to review the spending once again, and Speaker Carl Heastie has told lawmakers and legislative staff he would like new oversight options as well.

“The speaker’s given direction to examine every option, and an option might be to reinstate the comptroller and attorney general in the process right up front,” McDonald said.

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have their own ideas, which includes making it easier for any reform bill to come to the floor for a vote. One bill would allow for votes on bills, should a majority of the entire chamber–not just the party in power–agree to a vote.

“We have to get reform bills to the floor and we can’t let the powerful leaders hold up those bills,” said Assemblyman Jim Tedisco a Republican from the Albany suburbs. “They have to be leaders themselves, rank and file members.”

Tedisco, who is running for the Senate this year, adds new disclosure requirements for state contracts is also needed, enhancing the powers of the attorney general and restoring the power of the comptroller.

“He should have the ability to look at that type of spending and that’s why I think the Truth in Spending bill will help him do that type of audit,” said Tedisco.

Though they are all Democrats, both Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli are considered to be political rivals to Cuomo.

Cuomo this week faulted the SUNY procurement process in the wake of the arrests, which included his former top aide Joe Percoco and SUNY Polytechnic leader Alain Kaloyeros. Cuomo has said he will introduce reforms to the procurement process in his State of the State address. 

Heastie: The Pay Raise Stands Alone

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a lengthy statement on Tuesday urged the proposed pay increase for state lawmakers under consideration by a state commission should stand alone for any ethics reform legislation.

The statement comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in the wake of corruption charges being filed against his former top aide, the leader of the state’s nanotechnology development efforts and prominent developers, publicly suggested the commission may not approve a pay increase for the Assembly and Senate.

At the same time, a Cuomo administration source told The Daily News this week a pay increase may only come if lawmakers back more robust ethics laws changes in addition to what was agreed to earlier this year.

It’s also another sign of Heastie willing to break publicly with the governor, who he has been at odds with over a variety of issues, most recently this summer over his concerns the Assembly was being used in a tug of war in the feud between Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Making the pay raise commission’s decision on a pay hike — composed of gubernatorial and legislative appointees — subject to what amounts to horsetrading on a bill undermines the panel’s mission, Heastie said. The pay raise panel is also due to consider pay increases for members of the governor’s cabinet who lead state department and agencies.

“Last year, when judicial salaries were being considered, the decision to raise compensation was based primarily on economic factors and not by the testimony of judges or the number of judges who were represented during testimony,” Heastie said in a statement. “We should hold the Commission to that same standard in considering raises for statewide elected officials, commissioners, and legislators.”

But the pay raise issue has been a major sticking point for state lawmakers who have not received a salary hike from their base of $79,500 since 1999. Salary problems are particularly acute for lawmakers who live downstate, where the cost of living is generally higher.

“Given the recent investigations, it is understandable that there have been calls for stronger ethics laws in our state, but the issue of a pay increase should stand on its own merit and not be traded for any legislation,” Heastie said in the statement.

“In the Assembly, our door is always open to reforming government to be more open and transparent in order to restore faith to the people of New York. The work we do in the State Legislature is important – we have secured on time budgets, increased resources to education, helped low and middle income families climb the ladder of economic opportunity, and we are making the investments that are necessary to grow our economy.”

Cuomo Coy On Legislative Pay Raise

With the commission charged with considering a potential raise for state lawmakers and Cuomo administration officials poised to holds its final public meeting tomorrow before rendering a recommendation on the issue in November, the governor today declined to take a position on whether he believes a pay hike is warranted.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the commission,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said following an event at which he announced a $63 million transformation plan ($40 million of which will come from the state) for the Greater Rochester International Airport.

“We put together a commission to explore just that question; and we want the opinion of the public,” the governor continued. “I do believe that the commission’s point is right, they need to hear from everyone – including the legislators – as to what their position is and do they believe they deserve a raise and why.”

“And that’s what the commission is going through. Once the commission finishes, they will submit their findings, their opinion, their record. And then I’ll have an opinion that I’ll state. informed by the commission. But the purpose of the commission is to advise me on that question.”

When asked what he might do if a proposal for a 47 percent pay boost – which has been floated during the commission’s deliberations – reached his desk, raising the yearly compensation of New York lawmakers from $79,500 to $116,900 and making them the highest paid legislators in the nation, despite the public corruption scandals that have consumed Albany, Cuomo replied:

“That is an opinion that they’re considering. They’re considering options from zero – right – to forty seven. So there’s a big gap. I don’t want to do an if but let the commission do their work and then I will have a very clear opinion. But I want to be informed by them. They’ve done a lot of hard work. They’ve been all across the state. So let them finish their job. Let them do their report, and then we’ll take it from there.”

The panel was created without any fanfare during this year’s budget negotiations. Its recommendations are due by Nov. 15 and would automatically become law unless legislators vote to reject them. The raises would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017. Critics – and a number of lawmakers – have said that raises should not be awarded absent passage of reforms like banning outside income or at least significantly limiting it, which is something the governor, who received a hefty payment for authoring a poorly-selling book, has proposed.

Three panel members were appointed by the governor, one by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals and one each by the Senate and Assembly.

The Legislature last received a raise in 1999, when lawmakers cut a deal with then-Gov. George Pataki that enabled creation of the state’s first charter schools and also required them to forgo their paychecks – temporarily – in the event of a late state budget, though that didn’t immediately end the state’s chronically delayed spending plans.

Lawmakers previously agreed to create a judicial compensation commission, decoupling their salaries from those of the state’s judges. That commission recommended a $29,100 pay raise for New York jurists.

Three Votes Separate Republican Primary Candidates In AD-138

State Assembly candidate Bob Zinck just completed a comeback that would make Joe Montana proud. After last week’s Republican primary for New York’s 138th Assembly seat, Zinck, the endorsed candidate, was initially down 19 votes to Army veteran Peter Vazquez.

After the Board of Elections counted the initial wave of absentee ballots, the deficit shrunk to just six votes. Tuesday, the BOE added in the final 22 absentee ballots that were turned in at the deadline.

Zinck received 15 votes to Vazquez’s six and won by three. There was one write-in vote.

“I am honored by the support and this goes to show that every vote does count,” Zinck said.

Vazquez told TWC News Rochester reporter Breanna Fuss he felt confident as the process unfolded and was surprised by the result. He said he heard there may have been “foul play” and is reviewing his options.

“We were ahead  by a few the entire race. Again if the reliable anonymous source that we got didn’t call me concerned with what was going on, I would probably say, we also know the reach that (Monroe County Republican Committee Chairman) Bill Reilich has into the county, you know, that there wouldn’t be any kind of foul play. That’s neither here nor there at this point and we’ll explore those options,” Vazquez said.

The count began a little after 2 p.m. and all the absentee and affidavit ballots were counted from across Monroe county. In total there were 289 absentee ballots and 81 affidavit ballots.

Incumbent assemblyman Harry Bronson is the Democratic candidate this November.

Tight GOP Assembly Primary Comes Down To Paper

We should have an answer soon about who will represent the Republican Party in the 138th Assembly District race. Monroe County GOP Chair Bill Reilich said the Board Of Elections will count the remaining 21 ballots cast in last week’s primary today.

After the votes were tallied last Tuesday, the party’s endorsed candidate, Bob Zinck, was unofficially down 19 votes to challenger Peter Vazquez. Reilich said after the initial wave of 93 absentee ballots were counted, Zinck’s deficit had dwindled to six.

“It is a toss up,” he said. “It normally breaks as the results are, but with a six vote swing, it could go either way.”

Reilich said the remaining ballots are absentees that were mailed near the deadline as well as affidavit ballots. He did not rule out the possibility of either side taking the issue to court.

“It’s closer than I would have liked, that’s for sure, but it’s not over until it’s over,” Zinck told TWC News Rochester reporter Tara Grimes last week.

Meanwhile, Vazquez remained upbeat about his chances and pleased with his performance overall, telling Grimes: “Our platform has been put together with all the ideas and concerns that I’ve heard from the citizen’s from the 138th so I’m pretty confident, I’m very happy.”

The winner would face incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Harry Bronson, who won a primary of his own last Tuesday against former TV reporter Rachel Barnhart. I asked Reilich what he thought of the GOP’s chances at taking the seat altogether in November.

“Let’s get past this first,’ he said. “Depends who comes out of this.”