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.”

New Yorkers Against Violence Releases Score Cards

A plurality of state lawmakers in the Democratic-led Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate have received “above average” distinctions from the gun control group, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.

The group on Tuesday released its legislative score cards for the 213 members of the Legislature on Tuesday, using three measurements: Their vote on the 2013 SAFE Act, the unsuccessful effort in 2015 to repeal it in the Senate and whether the lawmaker is a sponsor of a safe-storage bill, known as Nicholas’s Law.

In the Assembly, 44 legislators were given “fail” grades; 20 given a news improvement and 78 were rated above average.

In the 63-member Senate, 23 lawmakers received a “fail” while nine were rated needs improvement. Two were rated average, while 27 were rated above average.

The full rankings can be found here.

“At the end of the 2016 legislative session and after last week’s massacre in Orlando, it is important that voters know where their legislators stand on gun safety. The 2013 SAFE Act strengthened New York’s gun laws by closing the private sale loophole and toughening the assault weapons ban. These are common sense laws that need to be passed by Congress if we are to begin to address our national epidemic of gun violence.”

The rankings come just over a week after a man who says he was inspired by the Islamic State shot 49 people to death at an Orlando night club.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has focused in recent months on pushing Congress to adopt tougher gun control laws, saying states with looser measures in place have resulted in illegal weapons coming into New York.

Bill Limiting Airbnb Advertising Approved

A bill that limits the advertising of multi-family dwellings on Thursday was approved by both chambers of the state Legislature and will go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his signature.

“Airbnb has flouted the laws that protect affordable housing and tenants with impunity for years,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, the main sponsor of the bill in the Democratic-led Assembly.

“This bill, once it’s signed into law, will send a strong message that we prioritize hardworking New York families and affordable housing, and will give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on illegal hotels that destabilize communities and deprive us of precious units of affordable housing. I commend my colleagues in both houses for voting against special interests and for hardworking New York families.”

The measure is aimed to curb what supporters contend are “illegal hotels” in New York City that are exploiting limited housing as well as the city’s booming real-estate market.

The bill is seen as a check on Airbnb, the popular person-to-person rental site.

The bill itself was backed by both the Real Estate Board of New York and the powerful Hotel Trades Council.

“Airbnb’s unchecked growth is depleting our affordable housing stock and driving up rent, while threatening good-paying middle class Union hotel jobs in New York City and around the country,” said HTC President Peter Ward. “This bill will go a long way toward better protecting tens of thousands of affordable housing units our members and their families rely on to remain in the neighborhoods they call home, and preserving the quality jobs and quality of life in our communities our members deserve.”

Assembly Plans To Work Through Evening

A potential breakthrough has been reached on agreeing to an extension of mayoral control of New York City schools on Friday afternoon.

A source tells Zack Fink Mayor Bill de Blasio is not opposing a provision tucked into the one-year extension that would require new disclosure of school funding.

The mayor’s acceptance for the disclosure requirement is key, and potentially clears the way for broader agreements on other outstanding issues.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan as well as Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein earlier on Friday morning had indicated they were supportive of the disclosure requirement as part of the mayoral control agreement.

Lawmakers in the Assembly do not plan to return to Albany on Monday, they said after a closed-door conference, and plan to work through the evening.

Heastie has maintained he would not want to hold New York City schools to a different standard than other districts.

After leaving the closed-door conference, Heastie said he would be opposed to placing a “burden” on the district.

“As I’ve said before, I don’t want to do anything that’s going to put an onerous burden on the New York City school district,” he said. “That’s where were I am. We’re not going to do anything that makes New York City uncomfortable, something that’s an unfunded mandated.”

And as for returning on Monday?

“I don’t think we need to do that,” he said.