Silver’s ’08 Opponent: ‘Sad Day for NY’

So far, there hasn’t been a lot in the way of reaction from lawmakers in Albany. (It’s pretty early yet, and the NYT story broke after midnight).

But Democratic District Leader Paul Newell, one of two Democrats who mounted long-shot and unsuccessful primary challenges to Silver in 2008 – the speaker’s first Democratic primary contest in over two decades – was the first to release a statement.

Newell, who represents the 65th AD (Silver’s district), said if the report of the speaker’s imminent arrest is true, then it is a “sad day for Lower Manhattan, and a sad day for New York.”

“I can’t speak to the specific charges against the Speaker,” Newell added. “But I can say that outside income for legislators is a certain recipe for corruption. Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Skelos should have banned it long ago.”

“The 65th Assembly District, and all New Yorkers, deserve better.”

If Silver is lead away in cuffs today, it will definitely strengthen the position of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is many ways – not the least of which is his push for a cap on outside income by state lawmakers and more transparency in the reporting of what they earn while moonlighting.

Silver Grows Sphinx-Like On Education Issues

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver reiterated his opposition to both the effort to increase the state’s cap on charter schools as well as the education tax credit.

But on the more nettlesome issues of changing teacher tenure by tying it to a new teacher evaluation law, Silver said little other than his chamber would review Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposals.

“It’s obviously a complex issue,” Silver said. “It’s being presented to us and we’ll have to look at it.”

Silver questioned the need to raise the statewide cap on charter schools, which would grow from 460 to 560 under Cuomo’s plan.

Currently, 24 charter schools could still be designated under the existing cap as it is, but Cuomo wants to go further with the alternative public schools.

Cuomo’s $142 billion spending plan would increase per pupil tuition assistance to charters from $425 per pupil to $575 per pupil at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

“There appears to be a significant number of charters available, so I’m not sure it’s urgent to raise the cap,” Silver said.

He saved most of his criticism for the education-tax credit, which under Cuomo’s plan would be tied to approval of the DREAM Act, a bill backed by the Assembly Democrats that provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

The education tax credit, a version of which was approved by the Republican-led Senate earlier today, is aimed at encouraging donations that help public and private schools.

Silver called the idea “corporate tax relief.”

“I support parents relief from the costs of education, but I’m not sure that providing corporate tax relief is the way to provide the relief to parents,” Silver said.

Musical Committee Chairs

From the Morning Memo:

The 2015 legislative session is more or less underway, and has been for several weeks now. But a number of high-profile committee chairs remain vacant in both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly.

Spokesmen for both the Senate and Assembly majorities said the news on who is filling theses posts will come in the near future.

In the Senate, the announcement will come either this week or next.

Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — who ultimately makes the decision who gets which post — said the chair and leadership positions will be a decision that’s made “soon.”

Having a committee chairmanship in Albany is no small thing: The job does come with more work, but it also comes with a higher profile, more attention from lobbyists and journalists and offers an opportunity to shape policy.

And the “lulu” (Albanyspeak for stipend) these leadership posts and committee chairmanships carry would be a boost for lawmakers who haven’t seen a pay raise since January 1999.

In the state Assembly, a number of plumb leadership positions are up for grabs following the departure of several senior members.

Joan Millman relinquished the gavel at the Assembly Aging Committee, and Robert Sweeney, the longtime Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee chair, has also departed.

Should either of those posts go to a lawmaker with an existing committee or leadership position, then another assignment will have to be made, potentially with younger members who are yet to enter the leadership structure in the chamber.

This process is generally referred to at the Capitol as “churn.”

There’s a more complicated situation in the Senate, where the five-member IDC holds several committee chairmanships, including Social Services (Sen. Tony Avella), Labor (Sen. Diane Savino), Mental Health (Sen. David Carlucci) and Aging (Sen. David Valesky).

It remains unclear whether the IDC will keep their gavels after Republicans gained a clear majority in the chamber.

Departures in the Senate on the Republican side also free up some space on the leadership ladder.

Newly elected Rep. Lee Zeldin was the chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Committee. George Maziarz, who chose to not run for re-election as he faces a federal investigation, was chairman of the Energy and Telecommunications Committee. Maziarz also led the select committee on State-Native American Relations.

Technically, one committee chair has been filled: Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will contiue to chair the all-powerful Senate Rules Committee.

And before he was even elected, freshman Long Island Sen. Tom Croci was promised the chairmanship of the Senate’s Homeland Security panel, replacing former Sen. Greg Ball, who moved to Texas.

Siena: Cuomo’s Numbers Up Heading Into SoS/Budget

One day before of his combined State of the State and budget address, a new Siena pol finds Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s standing with voters has improved slightly since last month and is now at its highest level since last July.

The governor’s favorable/unfavorable rating is 60-35, up a bit from 58-37 last month – just a few weeks after his re-election to a second four-year term in November. Cuomo’s job performance rating remains negative, 47-51, but has improved slightly from 42-57 in December.

Delving deeper into the latest numbers, Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said Cuomo is viewed favorably by more than three-quarters of Democrats and New York City voters and favorably by independents and downstate suburbanites. Upstate voters are evenly divided and Republicans are decidedly unfavorable in their views of the Democratic governor.

Even a majority of voters who view the current governor negatively have a favorable view of his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died on New Year’s Day, just hours after his son delivered his first of two inauguration speeches. Seventy-six percent of New Yorkers said they a favorable view of the first Gov. Cuomo, compared to just 14 percent who view him unfavorably.

At least 40 percent of those polled statewide believe education and jobs should be one of Cuomo’s top two priorities for the 2015 session. Those are definitely make the top of the to-do list for Democrats, while it’s taxes and jobs for Republicans and suburbanites and upstaters favoring all three.

New Yorkers gave a negative rating to public schools across the state when it comes to preparing students to be college or career ready, and they’re evenly divided on their local schools. Not surprisingly, there’s a regional divide on this issue, too, Greenberg noted, explaining;

“Majorities of downstate suburban and upstate voters say their local public schools are doing an excellent or good job of preparing students to be college or career ready, however, twice as many New York City voters say their local public schools are doing a fair or poor job of preparing students, not a good or excellent job.”

By a 15-point margin – and just shy of the magic 50 percent mark – voters say the implementation of the Common Core standards should be stopped. They also trust the state Education Department and the Board of Regents more than Cuomo of the Legislature when it comes to setting education policy, even though it was SED and the Regents that botched the Common Core implementation, causing widespread consternation in recent years.

Greenberg said 38 percent of voters trust SED the most to set education policy, followed by 23 percent who trust the Regents most, 18 percent who trust Cuomo, and eight percent who trust the Legislature.

Cuomo is widely expected to make education reform a main focus of his speech tomorrow. He’s been discussing the need for broad changes to the public education system – including giving the governor more control over setting policy – since before the November elections.

Seventy percent of voters support the idea of continuing the 2 percent property tax cap, and support cuts across both regional and party lines. Support is weakest in New York City (63 percent) and strongest among Republicans (79 percent).

New Yorkers remain unimpressed with the Senate and Assembly as government bodies, with the lower chamber’s favorable/unfavorable rating at 42-41, and the upper house at 45-44.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s negatives – 37 percent – outweigh his positives – 21 percent – with 42 percent of New Yorkers having no clue who the Manhattan Democrat is, despite the fact that he’s the longest-serving legislative leader in Albany.

As for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, his split is: 13-18, with 68 percent saying they don’t know enough about the Long Island Republican to have an opinion about him.

Siena poll, 1/20/15 by liz_benjamin6490

Rosenthal: Assembly Woman Will Drive Dem Approach to WEA

Also from the Morning Memo:

In the wake of the Senate’s passage this week of eight of the 10 planks in Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act (minus, yet again, the controversial abortion-rights piece), Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver accused the Republicans of approving “watered down” versions of the bills.

He refused to respond to GOP calls for the Democrat-led Assembly to follow the Senate’s lead, passing those parts of the WEA on which the two houses can agree and leaving the abortion battle to be fought another day.

Silver said it would be up to his conference to decide whether to go the piecemeal route or to continue to insist on an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to this particular package of bills.

But ultimately, it will be the women of the conference who will drive the decision, according to Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

“It’s a brand-new year, it’s a brand-new session; this is a subject that the women of the Assembly – including at least five new ones – will be meeting to discuss with the speaker to see what our options are,” Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, said during a CapTon interview last night.

“But we’re certainly not bound by anything the Republican Senate has done.”

“I think we’re going to approach this systematically,” the assemblywoman continued. “…and we’re going to develop, as a women’s caucus, a position on how we’re going to proceed this session. The women have gotten together. We’re acting in concert much more than ever in the past.”

The problem here is that the women in the Democratic conference aren’t necessarily of one mind on this issue.

Though they initially stuck together on the push for all 10 WEA planks – providing crucial cover in the process for the speaker, who was under fire for his handling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment case – a few members struck out on their own last year, saying the time had come to pass those WEA bills on which the Senate and Assembly could agree.

That’s a position NOW NYC Chapter President Sonia Ossorio also supports.

Cuomo made the WEA a top campaign issue during his successful bid for a second four-year term last fall, even going so far as to create a new party solely for the purpose of focusing on women’s rights (and galvanizing a very important voting bloc).

Cuomo mentioned the WEA during his election night victory speech, and is expected to do so again during his State of the State/budget address on Jan. 21.

Tracey Brooks of Family Planning Advocates of NYS appeared on CapTon Tuesday night following the Senate vote and expressed disappointment that the chamber had again left out the abortion-rights plank.

Brooks left the door open to possibly changing the wording of the abortion bill (yet again) in order to make it more amenable to Republican lawmakers.

She also declined to speak in absolute terms about the all-or-nothing approach, noting there’s a long time between now and the scheduled end of the 2015 session in June.

Lentol’s Wish List for Criminal Justice Reform

In today’s Morning Memo, Nick Reisman reports:

State lawmakers have adopted a wait-and-see approach for what criminal justice reforms Gov. Andrew Cuomo may propose when he delivers his combined State of the State and budget address one week from today.

Senate Republicans starting this month will hold a series of hearings on the issue, with Majority Leader Dean Skelos pledging to review whether elected officials helped create a negative atmosphere that ultimately played a role in the recent shooting deaths of two New York City police officers.

Assembly Democrats, however, are looking in a different direction.

Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joe Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat, is pushing some long-sought reform measures favored by defense attorneys and Democratic lawmakers in both houses.

Republicans and Democrats both expect a deliberative approach to the issue, raised after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold-related death of Eric Garner.

“It will be kind of like a work in progress,” Lentol said. “We’ve been trying to pass a number of reforms that could help make the criminal justice system operate better. And by operate better, I mean ease certain tensions in the minority community.”

In an interview, Lentol said he would like to see changes to laws governing witness identification such as double-blind lineups and the videotaping of interrogations, in addition to reforming the discovery process in criminal cases.

“We’ve tried to get them done in the Assembly, but they’ve never seen the light of day in the Senate,” Lentol said, adding: “Those are three big reforms that need to be done before we even start talking about grand juries and special prosecutors.”

Senate Republicans plan to hold a series of hearings on criminal justice issues starting this month, but have shown little willingness to take up previously proposed measures in the Democratic-led Assembly.

Skelos, who has been critical of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s public statements supportive of protests and demonstrations following the Garner decision, said the hearings will examine the atmosphere in which the two officers were killed.

“We have to remember there have been 50 assassinations of police officers in this country in the past year,” Skelos said. “Is it the mood that’s being projected elected officials? What can we do to protect our police officers?”

“Because people disagree on the outcome of the grand jury does not mean you trash the whole thing,” the senator added.

Added protections for law enforcement could be an area of bipartisan agreement. For example, Lentol said he backed a proposal from GOP lawmakers to install bulletproof glass in squad cars.

“It’s a top priority,” Lentol said. “It’s very simple to start out with bulletproof glass. How expensive could that be? There are a lot of other safety measures that we can take. We can do that together.”

The Fight Over The Women’s Agenda Turns To Assembly

Assembly Republicans called on the Democratic conference to split up the omnibus women’s agenda and approve eight of the measures that stand a chance of becoming law.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, meanwhile, shot back, saying Republicans are now backing bills with weaker language at the expense of strengthening abortion rights.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb pointed to the unanimous vote of the measures in the Senate, which are aimed at curtailing domestic violence, human trafficking and addressing pay equity.

“We should move forward protecting and enhancing the women of our state,” Kolb said at a news conference this morning. “The party aspect of that is not even an issue. I think the Senate has demonstrated there’s bipartisan support all across the state.”

But Democrats in the Assembly, as well as abortion-rights groups, insist the omnibus package known as the Women’s Equality Agenda, should be approved a single piece of legislation.

At the heart of the issue is a measure aimed at codifying Roe v. Wade in state law, one that Republican opponents in the state Senate say is unnecessary and an expansion of existing rights.

“If you talk about a women’s agenda, a woman’s right to control her body is still the number one issue among women in this state, in this country,” Silver told reporters later in the day. “With the new Congress, the first thing Republicans did was introduce bills to restrict a woman’s right to control medical decisions relating to her body.”

Still, aspects of the women’s agenda are slowly becoming law.

The Legislature approved in 2013 a component that addresses order of protections filed by women who are victims of domestic violence. And last year, a version of the human trafficking legislation was approved and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, the main sponsor of the human trafficking legislation, says the bills that can become law ought to be taken up separately.

“I remain convinced as I was in the last session and the session before is there are very good bills before us,” she said.

Paulin also disputes the claim the current legislation being fought over has been watered-down or compromised, saying in some cases the bills are essentially the same measures.

“We shouldn’t be holding some women hostage to the one bill that codifies Roe,” she said. “I’m for that. I’m strongly pro-choice. But it seems a little absurd to me that we’re packaging all women’s advancements around one.”

Silver: No WEA Vote Without Abortion Provision

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Monday shrugged off the vote in the state Senate on eight of the 10 measures in the women’s agenda, saying that without a vote on the abortion plank, the competing bills won’t match.

“Until the Senate, you know, decides a woman’s right to choose is part of the women’s agenda, I am not sure we are going to have matching bills,” Silver said. “Our conference will take up the issue as needed.”

The Senate this afternoon in quick succession approved a package of measures aimed at curtailing discrimination against women in the workplace and in housing as well as anti-domestic violence legislation.

But the Senate has declined to consider a bill that would codify the Roe v. Wade ruling in state law.

The Senate’s move this afternoon is designed to do several things, including removing the women’s agenda off the GOP conference’s plate early, as well as pressure the Assembly to take up the remaining legislation that has already been approved.

The bills are passing with votes from Senate Democrats, even as the minority conference’s condemns the lack of action on the abortion plank.

Silver has stated in the past the women’s agenda was negotiated as a single legislative package, and breaking them out into individual pieces of legislation was against those deliberations.

Assembly Republicans on Tuesday plan to pressure Silver on passing the women’s agenda bills approved today by the Senate.

Lopez Looking At Run For NY-19

Assemblyman Peter Lopez, a Republican who represents a seven-county district around the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley, confirmed on Monday he is considering a run for the 19th congressional district.

“We’re looking at it,” Lopez said off the floor of the Assembly chamber.

Lopez, a Schoharie resident, first took office in 2007.

The NY-19 is currently represented by Republican Rep. Chris Gibson, who plans to leave office at the end of his current term and consider a run for statewide office in 2018.

The district has a Democratic tilt and backed President Obama’s re-election in 2012.

Lopez is one of several candidates who is in the mix to succeed Gibson, including Republicans like Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro as well as Democratic County Executive Mike Hein.

Silver’s Re-Election Came With Few Quesitons

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s re-election this week to the top post he’s held for 20 years came with little questioning over the reported investigation into payments he’s received from a law firm.

Indeed, only one conference member actually voted against Silver: newly elected Assemblyman Charles Barron.

And Barron’s criticism of Silver didn’t stem from the investigation, but the more pertinent concern that there wasn’t any representation of black and Latino in vacant legislative seats during the budget process.

“One point five million people, seven to eight hundred thousand of black and latino people were not involved in the state budget process,” the Brooklyn lawmaker said.

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle in an interview played down the impact the investigation has on Silver’s ability to lead the chamber.

“I think our perspective is that having an article in the New York Times quoting an unnamed source about a supposed investigation with no facts, no information would not in any way deter people from voting for someone who they think has lead the chamber with distinction for 20 years and has been one of the great progressive voices in this state’s history,” Morelle said on Capital Tonight.

As Tom Precious at The Buffalo News pointed out, Silver’s track record of being re-elected was no surprise given his adroit ability to respond to minute concerns raised by individual members as well as have an uncanny ability to recall favors he’s owed. At the same time, his rule has been all but unquestioned following the unsuccessful coup of Assemblyman Michael Bragman, an episode that made the speaker more responsive, but all saw the insurgents punished.

As for Barron being a thorn in the side of the Assembly’s Democratic leadership, Morelle was said he expects to work well with the new lawmaker.

“I’m sure we’ll get along fine,” he said. “I note that he has a reputation for being outspoken, but there are a lot of outspoken people in the Assembly.”

He added, “I’ve only met him a couple of times. He seems very nice.”