Dec 20th - 12:36 pm
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner on Friday called on Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak to step down if sexual harassment allegations directed at him are “even close to being true.”
“This type of behavior is exactly what turns people away from politics and government and it needs to stop. This conduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by our party,” Zellner said in a statement released by the county organization.
A notice of claim was filed on Thursday by three women who worked for the Assembly, which is expected to be the precursor to a lawsuit claiming Gabryszak made inappropriate comments and advances on them.
Zellner also echoed Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s call for an Assembly Ethics Committee investigation of the allegations.
Dec 20th - 10:11 am
Here’s the notice of claim filed against Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak by an attorney representing three of the Western New York Democrat’s former female staffers who allege he created a hostile work environment by making repeated comments of a sexual nature.
The women claim they complained to top aides in Gabryszak’s office, and in one case, the assemblyman’s communications director, Annalise Freeling, was told by her supervisor, Adam Locher, that “Dennis could get carried away from time to time,” and if she didn’t like his behavior, she could “always look for another job.”
As reported by the Times Union this morning, two other women are expected to come forward in the near future with similar allegations against the assemblyman.
The three women who have made this claim are seeking loss of future and current income and health benefits, as well as compensation (an unnamed amount) for their emotional distress and mental “anguish” due to the assemblyman’s “outrageous and inappropriate behavior.”
The Assembly writ large is named, but no allegations are made – unlike in past sexual harassment cases – against the speaker, Sheldon Silver, for knowing about this situation or failing to do something about it.
UPDATE: Silver spokesman Mike Whyland tells Capital’s Jimmy Vielkind that the speaker had no knowledge of the claims against Gabryszak and the trio of aides who are makign this allegations never filed a formal complaint about his behavior or brought this issue to the attention of the Ethics Committee.
UPDATE2: Whyland told me the speaker’s office will be forwarding whatever it receives from the state attorney general’s office to the Ethics Committee, which will be opening a formal investigation into this matter. The committee, which is already working on Manhattan Assemblyman Micah Kellner’s sexual harassment case, will likely hire an outside investigator, in keeping with a policy the speaker instituted in May in response to criticism of his handling of the sexual harassment allegations brought against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
UPDATE3: Here’s Whyland’s official statement:
“The allegations contained in the Times-Union against Assemblymember Gabryszak are very disturbing and will immediately be referred to the ethics committee for a full investigation. The Assembly is committed to a safe and respectful work environment for all its employees and we take all allegations very seriously.”
Dec 12th - 2:21 pm
A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled to much fanfare more than $715 million in economic development grants to 10 different regions of the state, Assembly lawmakers at a hearing raised issues with not having enough input in the process.
“Do you plan to include lawmakers more in the information stream? Because I have not seen that,” Democratic Queens Assemblyman Bill Scarborough asked Empire State Development Corp. President Ken Adams.
Of course, the traditional argument for “member items” — derided as pork-barrel spending for favored causes — is that individually elected legislators know their districts best, and where to spend the money that’s needed the most.
After the hearing, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, said the concerns about being included more in doling out the regional economic development grants does stem from the lack of new member items for the last five years, a spigot that was first cut off by Gov. David Paterson.
“I think that’s part of it,” Schimminger said. “Member items, call them what you may, think of them what you may, nevertheless were a venue by which rank-and-file members could direct funding to projects. When you look through many of the projects that have been funded by regional councils — at least when I look through them — I see projects that would have been funded anyway by a member item or a delegation item process.”
He pointed to the funding for projects like upgrades to the polar bear habitat at the Buffalo Zoo as a grant that would likely have been attached with a lawmaker’s name to, but is not funneled through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
“What’s going on here is the process that once existed in previous administrations of legislative involvement and advocacy with agencies for funding for projects in their districts, even state legislative direct funding through the budget process is now changed, it’s different,” Schimminger said. “These regional councils created by order of the governor have become a universe unto themselves.”
Schimminger does sit on the western New York regional economic development council. Statewide, the councils include a member of the Senate and the Assembly that provide input.
Nevertheless, rank-and-file legislators are feeling left out.
“There is a concern by legislators that they’re not as fully integrated into the regional council process as they might be,” Schimminger said.
Indeed, lawmakers who once were able to present a novelty over-sized check to the district recipient of a member item are now issuing press releases touting the grant money coming from the regional councils.
Republican Assemblyman Mark Johns feted the $59.8 million for the Finger Lakes region, singling out projects such as an $80,000 marketing campaign for the Erie Canal trail and operational skills training at Coopervision, Inc. for $53,974.
“I am pleased to see these local projects receive nearly $334,000 from the Economic Development Council,” Johns said in a statement. “This funding will help create and retain jobs and improve the quality of life for residents in the 135th Assembly District.”
Democratic Sen. Terry Gipson similarly lauded projects going to Bard College and Dia Art Foundation.
“From day one of this process, my staff and I have been working to ensure that Dutchess and Putnam received serious consideration as an important economic driver in our region,” Gipson said. “I remain committed to advocating for smart investments focused on job creation and community development.”
In an interview after the hearing in Albany, Adams said lawmakers have a “formal role” in the grant selection process. And unlike the old member item system, the regional economic development grants are set up to be competitive.
At the same time, he said lawmakers remain “quite influential” forces on the regional councils.
“It’s a new system for distributing economic development resources all across the state and it’s really our responsibility at ESD to make sure members of the Legislature engage their constituents as much as possible and do that outreach at the local level,” Adams said.
At the same time, Adams said “more outreach” will be directed at lawmakers for the next round of competitive funding in 2014.
“We need to partner with them and we’ll do more outreach in the new year with them for round four next year,” he said.
Dec 4th - 1:30 pm
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spent more of his campaign war chest on legal fees as part of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal.
Campaign finance records show Silver spent $25,000 on legal fees for his attorneys at Stroock, Stroock & Lavin.
Filings posted in October show the speaker spent an additional $40,000 on legal representation.
Back in July, it was reported Silver had spent $115,000 as part of the ethics investigation relating to the Lopez scandal.
Lopez, who resigned from the chamber earlier this year, was found to have broken the public officers law in a report that detailed a pattern of sexual harassment and abuse from the Brooklyn Democrat toward legislative staffers.
Silver has apologized for secretly approving more than $103,000 in settlement money, but hasn’t been accused of any legal wrongdoing.
Silver and the Assembly are being sued by the two of the women who accused Lopez of harassment.
Despite the legal bills, Silver still has more than $3 million in his campaign account, records show.
Dec 2nd - 12:52 pm
The law firm that employs Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver contributed $50,000 to the failed effort to raise the judicial retirement age, Board of Elections records show.
Weitz & Luxenberg made the contribution to the political action committee, Justice For All, on Oct. 24, about a week before the referendum failed.
Meanwhile, the firm hired by the Democratic-led Assembly to represent the chamber in Moreland Commission-related proceedings, Kasowitz, Benson & Torres, donated $25,000, the committee’s 27-day post general filing shows.
The proposed amendment was seen as having been supported behind the scenes by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, a childhood friend of Silver’s.
The amendment would have changed the mandatory retirement age for the state’s top court from 70 to 80.
Though judges could not actively campaign for the age change amendment The Justice for All committee, law firms — many of which have business before the court — spent heavily on the effort.
Previously, former Court of Appeals Judge Carmen Ciparick, who gave $1,500 and former Chief Judge Judith Kaye contributed $1,500 as well. Also contributing were politically connected law firms like Ruskin Moscou & Faltischek P.C., which employs Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, and Duffy & Duffy LLC.
Justice For All reported a closing balance of $236,166.
Nov 27th - 3:35 pm
Assembly Democratic spokesman Mike Whyland said in a statement that majority’s campaign committee’s voluntary compliance with Moreland is a separate issue from the government-related subpoenas.
The Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee is already complying with the anti-corruption panel after receiving its subpoena, Whyland noted.
The fact is the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, a non-government entity, is already cooperating with the Moreland Commission and, unlike the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, never contested a subpoena in the first place There is a world of difference between a subpoena to a party committee, which falls within the Moreland Commission’s mandate to examine campaign contributions and spending, and a subpoena that is a fishing expedition if you will, aimed at legislators and their lawful activities unconnected to campaign contributions. The former has nothing to do with the Legislature as a body; the latter, as admitted by one or more of the commissioners, is aimed directly at the Legislature.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said in a separate statement earlier that the SRCC agreement today with Moreladn does not impact the legal challenge from by the Senate and Assembly leadership challenging the commission’s power to subpoena.
Nov 8th - 8:49 am
For now at least, it would seem that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is firmly in control of the Democratic Conference in the Asssembly and by extension, his leadership position.
It wasn’t an overwhelmingly well attended welcome reception that Silver hosted with Asssemblyman Felix Ortix last night here in San Juan, but there were enough members representing enough geographic diversity to make clear that not much has changed since the band was last all together in Albany back in June.
Queens Assemblyman David Weprin said that the speaker has “100 percent support” in the conference, and while that might have been a tad generous, he was not alone in his assessment. Assemblyman Tom Abinanti echoed the sentiment,
“I don’t think there is any wavering in support for the Speaker. He’s done what we wanted him to do which is bring us together, cone up with a budget we can live with ands the Assembly passed a lot of good bills last year. not all of them became law, but t he Assembly was able to come together and pass a whole agEdna, very good pieces of legislation for the state of New York.”
Silver, who might actually be a perpetually reincarnated superhero, never seems to lose his control of this conference.
Last spring it was the women assembly members who steadfastly stood by him as the messy Vito Lopez affair unloaded on his watch. Then we learned about another case where harassment complaints were made, this time against Micah Kellner, a Manhattan Democrat, and NEW questions arose about how the speaker handled them.
We haven’t heard much from Silver or the members since then on this matter, though we do know Kellner will be returning to Albany, since he NYC Council bid failed this fall.
One assemblywoman who was here last night probably summed it up perfectly when she told me “no one talks to each other, ” when it comes to the Assembly leadership. She added, “besides, who would take over?!? There is no one.”
That feeling also seems pervasive if not universal.
However, if we have learned anything from how City Council speaker races are decided, sometimes it’s not the individual members who make leadership decisions but the county chairs who tell them how to vote. Tonight the Democratic chairs of all five NYC boroughs will be having dinner together at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in San Juan. Among the topics expected to be discussed is the future leadership of the Assembly speakership.
Because as one source noted, “20 years is a long time.”
Nov 5th - 3:18 pm
The law firm representing the Assembly in its dealings with the Moreland Commission has broad parameters that include assisting in writing potential legislation, according to a copy of the contract.
The contract, obtained by Capital Tonight through a Freedom of Information Law request, shows the firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres, Friedman LLP is billing the state $285 per hour, which documents say is the standard for the Albany market. The contract is capped at $50,000.
But the contract also provides a window in what duties the firm is expected to perform when it comes to representing the Assembly in any Moreland-related engagement. In this instance: taking an advisory role in writing ethics-related legislation.
The contract says the firm will act “as special counsel advising the Assembly in formulating or amending legislation and policies related to campaign finance, the electoral process, lobbying, conflict of interest, ethics of public officers, intended to restore the public trust and increase accountability in state government.”
At the same time, the contract’s justification adds that the law firm is also expected to provide legal advice when it comes to “the separation of powers and legislative privileges and immunities provide counsel if litigation arises related to these issues.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo created the Moreland Commission, stocked with district attorneys and legal scholars, after the Legislature failed to approve any ethics-related measures in the wake of several corruption scandals to hit Albany.
Cuomo and Moreland’s commissioners have insisted the panel has the power to investigate both the Senate and the Assembly, pointing to the added jurisdictional authority it was given by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Lawyers for both the Senate and Assembly in a joint letter rejected a request from the Moreland Commission for more information on legislators’ outside income and their legal clients.
The commission subsequently issued subpoenas to law firms that employ lawmakers and to legislative conference campaign committees.
In a court filing last month, lawyers for the Senate Republican Campaign Committee urged a state judge to quash the subpoena, arguing the Moreland Commission doesn’t possess the power to subpoena the campaign committee.
Cuomo in recent weeks has been quietly calling state lawmakers about a potential ethics package.
Nov 4th - 1:13 pm
As word spreads around the Capitol that the Legislature is considering an investigation of Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy’s seeking the top post at the Rochester Business Alliance, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in a statement Monday afternoon seemed to indicated in a glowing statement his statement won’t be taking part.
Though the statement makes no reference to the reports that the Legislature may investigate the circumstances of the job offer, Silver offers praise for the lieutenant governor that is downright Duffian.
“I have known and worked with Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy for many years, first as Rochester’s chief of police and later as that city’s mayor, and he has always been a strong advocate for his community. It has been my privilege to serve with him for nearly three years and my admiration for his skill and energy has only grown. Unquestionably, Bob Duffy has done an outstanding job as lieutenant governor both in representing the Cuomo administration and in addressing the interests and concerns expressed by New Yorkers in every region of our state. I consider Bob a friend and colleague who brings integrity and character to our government and I hope he will continue to serve our state for many years to come.”
The New York Post’s Fred Dicker reported today that lawmakers were considering a probe into Duffy seeking the job and the possible influence it may have with the regional economic development councils, which he chairs. Duffy does not have final authorization on the grants and other economic incentives the councils dole out.
A legislative insider confirmed to Capital Tonight that the investigation of Duffy is indeed being considered.
“Most people who’ve looked at it think it’s the clearest and most straightforward conflict of interest in Albany right now. And it risks tainting all of the regional economic councils with the stain of corruption,” the insider said.
The same source added that if the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption doesn’t act, lawmakers may probe Duffy and have its own Senate hearing on the matter (legislative committees, like the Moreland Commission, have subpoena power).
Update: In an email, Silver spokesman Mike Whyland says the Assembly is not considering an investigation of Duffy.
“We have not contemplated nor are we considering calling for any action regarding the Lieutenant Governor,” Whyland said.
Oct 22nd - 11:58 am
Top Democrats in the Assembly today introduced a measure that would permanently move to state’s primary to June, unifying intraparty contests and potentially reigniting another debate with Senate Republicans over how to comply with the federal MOVE Act.
The bill comes a year after New York had three primaries: A presidential, Congressional and state and local contests.
You can read the bill language here.
“Moving New York’s primary date to June is a common-sense solution that not only lifts an unnecessary financial burden off of both local municipalities and taxpayers, it also ensures that more New Yorkers have a chance to participate in the Election Day process,” Speaker Sheldon Silver said in a statement. “As representatives elected by the people of New York we have an obligation to make sure voting is as simple and efficient as possible and this bill helps us achieve that.”
Assembly lawmakers say a unified primary can save up to $50 million if approved.
In 2012, the state Legislature could not agree how to comply with the newly enacted MOVE Act, which requires military and overseas voters receive timely access to absentee ballots.
Republicans across the state had pushed for an August date, arguing that a June primary would make it difficult to collect petitions in the winter.
The inability to reach an agreement resulted in a federal judge setting Congressional primaries to June.
Lawmakers were able to agree on a bill that in 2012 moved the September primary from the 11th to the 13th in order to avoid holding the election on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
For now, it’s unclear what Republicans will push for in 2014.
Should Sen. Lee Zeldin lose his Congressional primary against George Demos, he could ostensibly run again for his current job if the state-level primary remains in September.