Kolb To Heastie: Drop By Any Time

carlheastieFrom the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is deep into his first upstate tour since he ascended to power this past February, pledging to eventually visit every single district of his Democratic members north of New York City to learn their issues and meet their constituents.

This is all part of the more inclusive and rank-and-file-driven approach the Bronx lawmaker promised when he succeeded former Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose top-down management style angered many Democrats – especially newcomers who wanted more of a say.

But so far, new leadership in the chamber hasn’t brought much change to one much-maligned group at the state Capitol: The Assembly Republicans, arguably the Legislature’s least powerful conference.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said during a Capital Tonight interview last night that he would like to see Heastie pay attention to all of upstate – not just the areas represented by Democrats. More >

Heastie: South Carolina Shooting Cooled SAFE Act Changes

carlheastieThe June 17 shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church that left nine people dead cooled legislative talks over changes to the SAFE Act in New York, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Thursday in a radio interview.

Heastie, interview on Binghamton radio’s WBNF, called the issue of gun control more broadly a “sensitive topic” but suggest Assembly Democrats would have been open to changes in the sweeping 2013 gun control law.

“I would say we’ll talk about it, but changes would probably be difficult,” he said. “I would say this: it depends on what the change is. But as I said, South Carolina happened.” More >

Despite Reformers’ Calls, A Special Ethics Session Seems Unlikely

libous1From the Morning Memo:

Add Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to the list of state officials who do not think it is likely lawmakers will approve new ethics legislation in the wake of two convictions in the Legislature.

“I don’t think it’s tolerated right now,” Flanagan said while in Cooperstown on Wednesday. “You see people who are getting prosecuted, who are getting indicted, who are getting convicted. Frankly, it’s bad for everybody.”

Last week, both Republican Tom Libous and Democrat John Sampson were convicted in separate in corruption cases, forcing their ouster from the Senate.

Republicans are pushing to retain Libous’s seat in the Southern Tier, while Flanagan acknowledged that winning Sampson’s Brooklyn district would be a “very, very, very uphill climb.” More >

Kolb Links Pension Forfeiture To Joyce Mitchell Case

joycemitchellThe former prison employee who aided the escape of two convicted killers will still get her public pension thanks to Assembly Democrats, Republican Minority Leader Brian Kolb in a statement on Wednesday said.

“Joyce Mitchell’s retirement will be paid for by the taxpayers of New York State – and she can thank Assembly Democrats for their ineptitude as she cashes her pension checks,” Kolb said in the statement. “Assembly Democrats walked away from an agreed-upon pension forfeiture bill that had passed the Senate and targeted public employees found guilty of abusing their positions. They later replaced it with a watered-down version that had no chance of becoming law and contained an exemption that protects the pensions of Joyce Mitchell and other convicted individuals.”

Mitchell, a former employee of Clinton Correctional Facility, this week pleaded guilty for her role in the escape of David Sweat and Richard Matt and faces up to 2-1/3 to 7 years in prison.

It’s doubtful whether Mitchell’s pension would actually be impacted the pension forfeiture measure considering that is a constitutional amendment, which would take second passage of another sitting session of the Legislature, and then go to voters in a referendum. More >

Heastie’s Plans

heastierubikscube From the Morning Memo:

After surviving a trial by fire over the past five months, during which he negotiated his first-ever budget agreement and an end-of-session Big Ugly, Heastie now has some time to reflect and plan.

He’s in the middle of a tour of upstate members’ districts (he plans to hit all of them), during which the Bronx Democrat is trying to familiarize himself with issues outside his comfort zone of New York City.

Heastie said he doesn’t believe the Legislature will be back in Albany before the start of the 2016 session in January. (He’s siding with the governor in rejecting good government advocates’ calls for a special session to pass more ethics reform, saying that despite recent corruption convictions of former senators, it’s impossible to “legislative morality”).

Before his members return to work, Heastie has some hiring to do. He has to replace Jim Yates, the counsel he inherited from former Speaker Sheldon Silver, who decided to retired at the end of this year’s session.

Heastie said he’s “very sad” to see Yates go, adding: “I wish him the best, and I appreciate everything he’s done.” The speaker does not yet have a plan when it comes to staffing.

As for wholesale changes to the chamber’s committee chairs, don’t expect that, either.

Heastie said “stability” helped his conference enormously this past session, and he relied heavily on the experience of veteran members like Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (Health Committee chair), Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (Education Committee chair) and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (Higher Ed Committee chair) – just to name a few. More >

Assembly Dems Follow Senate On SAFE Act MOU

From the Morning Memo:

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins revealed on CapTon that her conference, though still upset over the Cuomo administration’s memorandum of understanding with the GOP that appears to roll back a key provision of the SAFE Act, does not plan to challenge the document in court.

Last night, during his first extended interview on CapTon since he became speaker back in February, Carl Heastie said his conference will be following the Senate Democrats’ lead, and won’t seek a legal remedy to the MOU that seems to indefinitely delay creation of a database to be used for ammunition sale background checks.

“We’re not looking to do any, to go to court or anything like that,” the speaker said. “i’ve spoken to the governor, we’ve spoken about this a number of times. He’s assured me that when the technology is ready, the database will happen.”

This is a much different tune than the one Democrats in both chambers were singing in the wake of the Senate Republicans’ surprise announcement that they had signed the MOU with a top Cuomo aide – state Operations Director Jim Malatras – that basically said their conference had to sign off on the spending of any state cash to be used for creation of the database. More >

Assembly, Senate Spend More For Lawyers

The state Assembly and Senate spent thousands of dollars on legal fees last month, according to contract approvals from the state comptroller’s office.

In the Democratic-led Assembly, a $227,000 contract for Hogan Lovells was approved for defense in pending sexual harassment litigation. An additional $23,000 was approved for Rossein Associates, an outside counsel the chamber hired to develop a sexual harassment policy and conduct investigations.

An additional $3,000 each was spent for outside counsel for an independent sexual harassment investigation by Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP, while Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP was hired for outside counsel for the appeals process in the Assemblyman Micah Kellner case.

Kellner was accused of conducting sexual explicit chats online with legislative aides; he later sought to have his punishment imposed by then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver overturned.

Meanwhile, in the Republican-led state Senate, $381,000 was approved for legal fees for former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno to the firm O’Connell & Aronowitz.

Is Somebody Impersonating A Buffalo Assemblywoman?

I was warned when I moved to the Buffalo market in 2012, that Erie County politics was a different breed of politics.  I never fully understood that until this week.

On Wednesday night, I posted a blog about recorded racially charged comments made by a Buffalo Common Council Candidate and elected member of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority Board.  One of the people this man criticized was State Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Our staff at Time Warner Cable News Buffalo reached out to her on a cell phone number we’ve had on file for her for some time.  It’s a number we’ve used in the past to set up interviews and get reaction from the Assemblywoman.

A woman who answered a call on this number identifying herself as Crystal Peoples-Stokes offered this statement to one of our staff members:

“We’re all guilty of it sometimes.  It was behind closed doors and he didn’t know he was being recorded.”

I wasn’t expecting the comment but thought perhaps the Assemblywoman wanted to promote forgiveness.  Since she provided no other statement that night I used it in my blog.

Thursday I learned the Assemblywoman’s staff was not happy with the statement which isn’t unusual.  After sleeping on it sometimes reactions change and adjusted statements are not unprecedented.

Here’s where things get unusual.  Through a post in the comment section of my blog, a member of Peoples-Stokes’ staff offered this motivation for the change:

“Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes never spoke to Time Warner Cable News regarding Joe Mascia and never made the above statement to anyone,” said Peoples-Stokes Deputy Chief of Staff Leah Halton-Pope. “To avoid inaccurately reporting the news, I would recommend that those who wish to get a direct quote, contact her or her staff directly,” Halton-Pope suggested.

A Peoples-Stokes staffer also called our Buffalo newsroom and not only claimed that Time Warner Cable News never spoke to the Assemblywoman, but that the cell phone number our organization had used to set up interviews with her in the past was never associated with the Assemblywoman.  When provided with an opportunity to update the Assemblywoman’s statement we were told she would hold media availability Thursday afternoon.

At that press briefing, Peoples-Stokes’ reaction was in stark contrast to the previous quote:

“It’s that sort of hate speech that just doesn’t bode well for a society that’s growing more and more in the direction of people of color. The numbers don’t lie, it’s something that we have to deal with in reality,” said Peoples-Stokes.

We asked the Assemblywoman directly if she spoke with a member of our staff Wednesday evening.  She told us she did not, and that she was asleep at that time.

Our phone logs show that we spoke with a woman identifying herself as Peoples-Stokes at the previous contact number at 6:28 p.m.

It wouldn’t be unprecedented for someone to be misquoted by the media.  I’ve been told by political staffers that we took someone’s comments out of context once or twice.

I’ve never heard this one before… strange stuff.

Heastie Says Cuomo Promised Ammo Database

As he undertakes a tour of different upstate New York regions, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in an interview on Tuesday said Gov. Andrew Cuomo assured him a component of the SAFE Act would ultimately be put in place despite a two-way agreement with Senate Republicans.

A memorandum of understanding reached by Cuomo’s office and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan agreed to not enact a database tracking ammunition purchases, which State Police had struggled this year to develop.

The two-way deal reached with Flanagan was deeply opposed by Assembly Democrats, who questioned with Cuomo could negotiate a change to a law that was approved by both houses.

But Heastie, speaking on WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom this morning, said the governor assured him the database would be put in place once the technology is available to do so.

“I didn’t agree with it,” Heastie said of the memorandum. “He said to me that when there’s the technology to do the database it will be done.”

He added that pressure should be kept on Cuomo to enact the database, which is part of a signature legislative accomplishment from the governor’s first term.

“I think that’s something people will have to hold the governor’s feet to the fire on,” Heastie said.

But the memorandum of understanding is also seen as an aid to Flanagan, a Long Island Republican who was elected majority leader in May following the ouster of Dean Skelos, who remains in the chamber as he fights corruption charges.

Flanagan’s election as leader has been met with skepticism by upstate Republicans, who have pointed to his vote in 2013 in favor of the SAFE Act.

At the same time, Heastie indicated there is no comparison to the SAFE Act MOU and the pending recommendation by a wage board convened by Cuomo to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 for fast-food workers.

In both instances, Cuomo is essentially acting without legislative authority.

But Heastie and Democratic lawmakers in Albany have pushed hard for a minimum wage increase this session, only for it to fall off the table both in the budget talks and at the end of the session, which concluded in June.

“I would like to see the minimum wage increase statewide,” Heastie said. “In this case because we couldn’t get it done legislatively the governor convened the wage board. The SAFE Act was a little different. This was a negotiated piece of legislation.”

Heastie Calls SAFE Act Changes ‘Ill Advised’

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was not a party to the SAFE Act changes agreed to by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans, nor is he endorsing the alterations.

In a statement from the speaker on Friday night, Heastie knocked the two-way agreement with Senate Republicans and the Cuomo administration to block an proposed database for ammunition purchasers to undergo a background check.

He also questioned whether the SAFE Act, a package of sweeping gun control measures approved in 2013, could even be suspended through a memorandum of understanding, which was signed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Cuomo aide Jim Malatras.

“This is an ill advised end run around the Legislature and the Safe Act,” said Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. “I did not participate in this ‘agreement’. The law may not be ‘suspended’ by a Memorandum such as this. I believe the law should be followed and implemented as intended.”

The MOU, released on Friday afternoon by Republican Sen. James Seward, comes after Flanangan had pledged to enact changes to the SAFE Act, which is vehemently opposed by gun-rights advocates, after assuming the majority leader post in May.

Some Second Amendment supporters on Friday, such as Assemblyman Bill Nojay, blasted the move as having little impact. Cuomo’s office as well has insisted the changes announced in the MOU are surface level, in part because of the technical problems the State Police encountered when trying to set up the database.

Senate Democrats, too, criticized the move. A spokesman for the conference in a statement called the agreement “outrageous.”

Still, not everyone was knocking the news. The National Rifle Association in a statement praised the development.

“We applaud the memorandum of understanding that Senate Majority Leader Flanagan signed today,” the gun lobby said in a statement. “This is a step in the right direction to restore a degree of sanity after the SAFE Act’s over-the-top demonization of lawful New York gun owners. The Senate Republican Conference did the right thing by ending this unworkable and costly database.”