Ex-Mario Cuomo Counsel Sues For Prominent Con Con Ballot Placement

A former counsel to Gov. Mario Cuomo is suing the state Board of Elections in order to require the upcoming ballot question on whether to hold a constitutional convention be placed on the front of the ballot presented to voters.

In a statement, Evan Davis said a hearing was shecduled in state Supreme Court for next Thursday.

“This once-in-a-generation chance to reform State government is too important not to be on the front of the ballot,” said Evan Davis. “The public won’t have another chance until 2037.”

The placement of ballot questions has become an issue in recent years after the state ended the practice of using voting machines to cast ballots. Voters now receive paper ballots fed through a machine that tallies votes. The concern is that voters would miss referendum questions if they are placed on the back of the ballot.

In addition to the convention question, voters will consider several constitutional amendments.

Davis is part of the Committee for a Constitutional Convention, part of a coalition that supports voting in favor of the convention.

Opponents of holding a convention worry the process could be hijacked by wealthy interests that could reverse hard-won labor and environmental protections in the constitution.

Cuomo Shrugs Off Teachout, Insists He’s Been Progressive

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday shrugged off the primary challenge from Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who is launching her gubernatorial campaign and petitioning process.

“You have people on the extreme left… and you have people on the extreme right,” Cuomo said on The Capitol Pressroom this morning. “That’s what you call a politcal contest.”

Cuomo added it’s “inaccurate” to suggest he hasn’t been sufficiently liberal, pointing to changes to the state’s tax code — which he has alternatively referred to as a tax cut , even though it generated $1.9 billion in extra revenue — as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage and the controversial gun control package known as the SAFE Act.

Cuomo at the Working Families Party convention last month gained the labor-backed organization’s endorsement after agreeing to help pass a host of liberal-sought legislation, including a new minimum wage increase and the DREAM Act.

Teachout had sought the WFP nomination as well, but came up short in the balloting. Both she and Cuomo received sufficient amounts of the weighted convention vote to get onto the ballot (more than 25 percent) if they were enrolled WFP members. But they are both Democrats and need special permission from party leaders known as a Wilson Pakula, which has a higher threshold (jsut over 50 percent) that only Cuomo managed to cross.

The governor insisted during his interview today he’s been supportive of major liberal legislation in the past.

“I did not promise to be more progressive,” Cuomo said in the interview. “I am a progressive Democrat and this state has been more progressive.”

At the same time, Cuomo has pledged to help Democrats retake the Senate.

On Monday, he clarified that such support is contingent on whether those lawmakers backed a liberal platform as well, suggesting his endorsement isn’t a blanket one for all Democratic senators.

“In terms of a Democrat Senate, I support progressive senators that support progressive issues,” he said.

Cuomo added he wanted to “defer” questions about the Senate leadership until after the legislative session concludes.

Sen. Diaz Sr.’s 1st GOP Convention

Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a conservative Bronx Democrat, just waltzed through the doors of the Westchester Hilton here in Rye Brook where the post-convention day festivities are in full swing.

Diaz Sr., who was accompanied by his wife, told me this is his first GOP convention. He said he is attending at the invitation of state GOP Chairman Ed Cox and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who will be officially nominated here tomorrow.

The senator, who has never made a secret of his friendships with Republicans, seemed to feel his presence here – the only Democrat I’ve seen so far – is perfectly normal.

He explained that Cox had co-hosted a New York Hispanic Clergy event with him last Christmas, and Astorino – as well as Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos – attended the event, too.

I asked the senator several times if he’s planning to cross party lines to endorse Astorino. He’s no fan of his fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and in fact is a frequent critic of the governor.

Diaz Sr. didn’t answer that question one way or another, simply reiterating that he had been invited to attend, and so decided to do so.

Antonacci Pledges Positive Campaign, But Has Some Criticism Of DiNapoli

Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci began his new life as a nominee for state comptroller pledging to run a positive campaign on Wednesday, saying that it was “crucial” considering he will participate in a public matching program.

“Tom DiNapoli is a nice guy and clobbering each other won’t change a thing,” Antonacci said.

Nevertheless, Antonacci had some criticism reserved for DiNapoli, a Democrat who first took office in 2007 following the resignation of incumbent Alan Hevesi.

Antonacci was formally nominated at the state Republican convention on Wednesday by delegates at the Rye Town Hilton in Westchester County.

In particular, he singled out the high cost property taxes and the main cost-driver, public employee pensions, taking issue with DiNapoli’s office pointing to a record-high return for the fund at the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year.

He also blasted DiNapoli for approving more than $103,000 in confidential settlement money to the legislative aides who accused then-Assemblyman Vito Lopez of sexual harassment (Republican candidate for attorney general John Cahill deployed a similar line of attack against his Democratic foe, Eric Schneiderman).

“That would have never happened on my watch,” Antonacci said of the settlement.

He added that DiNapoli’s newly formed anti-corruption panel is “a day late and a dollar short.”

DiNapoli is not participating in the public financing program, which was approved in the 2014-15 state budget and only impacts the state comptroller’s race.

DiNapoli, as well as advocates for public financing, have criticized the agreement for not including all statewide candidates and coming in the middle of an election cycle.

DiNapoli in January reported about $2 million in cash on hand for his re-election.

Kudlow To NY GOP: It’s the Economy, Stupid

TV personality, economist and self-professed “Reagan Republican” Larry Kudlow just wrapped up a speech at the state GOP convention, during which he assured attendees they – and, more importantly, Rob Astorino – can win this fall if they run a “tough, issues-oriented” campaign.

“We must, just as Republicans all across the country must, return to being the big tent party,” Kudlow said.

“The big tent party. We can disagree on matters of conscience, morality and religion, I get that. I’m a pro-life Catholic…But that’s not the issue in this campaign.”

“I don’t feel like having this fight all over again. I don’t. Big tent, there’s room for everybody, OK? There’s room for Catholic conservatives like myself, and there’s room for Log Cabin Republicans also.”

Later, Kudlow reiterated his big tent point, saying: “We are not just the party of angry white men, no disrespect intended.”

Of course, that’s exactly the argument Astorino himself has been making as the Democrats hammer him (and at least one other GOP statewide candidate, AG hopeful John Cahill) on hot button social issues – like gay rights and abortion – casting them as too conservative to represent voters in this blue state.

Kudlow urged New York Republicans to focus on the economy – both in New York and nationally. And while he praised Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for successfully pushing tax cuts in the 2014-15 budget, he said there is much more to accomplish before the state loses its ranking as one of the highest-taxed states in the nation.

Kudlow aimed most of his vitriol at the White House, saying things like: “This is going to be a Republican year because President Obama has now had six years and it hasn’t worked.”

But he also slammed Cuomo for continuing to stall on making a decision on whether to allow fracking in the Southern Tier, calling it “scandalous” that the governor won’t risk upsetting “radical” environmentalists like his his ex-brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

“There is no earthly reason, there is no academic study…not a single study that shows that fracking is harmful,” Kudlow insisted.

“…You must campaign on that…economic growth, taxes, fracking. We can do this. That’s why Astorino can beat Cuomo. If you run a tough, issues-oriented campaign, put the facts on the table, you can win.”

Silver To Select Assembly Dems: Skip National Convention

You might recall reading recently about a growing number of Democratic House members who are taking a pass on the party’s national convention in North Carolina, preferring to stay home on concentrate on their own campaigns rather than attend the (mostly for show) re-nomination of President Obama.

The list of those eschewing the convention includes two New York Democrats – Reps. Kathy Hochul and Bill Owens – who are facing uphill re-election battles in newly-drawn districts that not only gave them new territories to learn, but also increased the number of enrolled Republicans in their respective constituencies.

Both Hochul and Owens were included on Hotline’s list of the nation’s 75 most competitive House races (released today). All told, there are eight New York seats in play.

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, a Long Islander, not only condoned the decisions of Hochul and Owens to stay home rather than fete Obama, but also urged any other incumbents with tough races – not to mention challengers trying to help the party meet its goal of reclaiming the majority – to follow suit.

And Israel isn’t the only party leader urging members to put their own political priorities before a show of fealty to the national Democratic Party and its leader.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told me during a CapTon interview yesterday that he has also encouraged members of his conference who are facing primary challenges to consider skipping what’s essentially a three-day junket that features a lot of partying with some politics squeezed in.

(For the record, that’s my characterization of the convention, not Silver’s).

“There are a number of members who have primary elections, which will take place a week after the Democratic convention,” Silver said.

“So it would be my recommendation that they stay home and, you know, tell the public what they’ve been doing in Albany for two years. I think they have a great message, and the important thing is getting it out to their constituents.”

“In some districts, nobody pays attention until the summer is over…so you have that eight-day period after Labor Day until primary day. And that’s a significant time period. So it corresponds – at least the first few days – corresponds to the convention. And to those I have asked stay home and get your message out.”

“Others, it’s still a long way to November. I think they can use the time appropriately campaigning, but I don’t think it’s as pressing as the September primary.”

Silver declined to say how many seats he’s hoping to win back from the Republicans this fall to grow his already considerable majority.

The speaker has in the past deemed the so-called “veto-proof majority” (having enough members to guarantee overrides of a gubernatorial veto) a “fiction”, noting it’s not easy to get every single member of his conference to vote “yes” on controversial issues and see absolutely zero support from the Republicans.

Nevertheless, the speaker has proven quite aggressive and competitive in past elections, seeking to slim Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb’s ranks even further, despite the fact that the larger his conference grows, the harder it is to feed all those mouths.

On the flip side, the larger the conference, the more difficult it is for conference members to organize sufficient votes to overthrow the speaker – something Silver understands all too well.

NYS GOP Official: ‘Troublemakers’ Pushing Cox-Romney Dispute Story

Both the Romney campaign and the state GOP are strongly denying a Buzzfeed report that a power struggle over delegates has threatened state Chairman Ed Cox’s role (to the degree that he’s got one) at the national convention.

Citing anonymous sources familiar with the situation, Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray says Cox, who was recently elected chair of the New York delegation, was threatened by representatives of the Romney camp that he would not be allowed to take the stage at the convention in Tampa unless he capitulated and installed the delegates they had chosen.

An unnamed Republican operative said the Romney reps had plans to “replace Ed Cox as the person with the authority” to introduce the delegation at the convention.

Cox’s chief of staff Tony Casale said the Buzzfeed story “came so far out of left field that I give it very little credibility.” And he suggested some nefarious dirty ticksterism might be afoot.

“Anybody fomenting this is doing a major disservice to Romney,” a clearly angry Casale said. “I’m starting to wonder if it’s coming from Romney or coming from people on the outside, troublemakers….It’s a distraction to the convention and the campaign.”

“A person making accusations ought to come foward and give their name. I don’t believe in unnamed sources – especially when it’s bogus, and this is bogus.”

Casale insisted Romney representatives – specifically Rob Cole, the campaign’s New York political director – were consulted throughout the delegate selection process. Fifty-eight delegates were elected in the state’s April 24 GOP presidential primary from slates put together by the campaign. Then another 34 at large delegates – a list that includes some well-known politicos like ex-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Gov. George Pataki – were approved by the state committee during a meeting in Albany in May.

Casale reiterated that “we have heard nothing from anyone in Romney officialdom that they are dissatisfied.” Cole echoed that sentiment, insisting the Buzzfeed story is “not true.”

There’s a lot of protestations here, I know. And GOP sources have informed me (anonymously, much to Casale’s chagrin, I’m sure) that there is some fire here underneath all the smoke.

“It’s my understanding that the Romeny Campaign will put a non-Cox Romney loyalist – (former Staten Island BP Guy) Molinari or (former Rep. Rick) Lazio or one of their minions – on the New York State Credentials Committee because NO ONE trusts either Ed Cox OR Tony Casale…including some of the NY GOP’s own vice chairs,” a GOP operative told me via email earlier today.

“It’s another collective national Republican slap to Cox – who, if you remember, had then-RNC Chair Michael Steele bypass him for funding the NYGOP federal campaigns in 2010, choosing to give money directly to counties on the same precept: No trust. Their rationale at that time was ‘they don’t trust the state chair’s judgment in handling thi.’ Same is true today.”

For what it’s worth, Cole refuted the Credentials Committee stuff, too.

Tonko Bucks Trend, Makes Plans For North Carolina

ICYMI: Rep. Paul Tonko told me on CapTon last Friday that he plans to attend the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina in September, even as a growing list of his colleagues are taking a pass on event.

Over the past several weeks, a number of Democrats, including two New Yorkers – Reps. Kathy Hochul and Bill Owens – have announced they will not travel to see President Obama formally accept the party’s renomination for the White House, either because they’d prefer to focus on their own re-election efforts back home, or simply lack the enthusiasm to make the trip.

The convention preparations have been plagued with logistical issues and overshadowed by internal problems at the North Carolina Democratic Party – much to the Republicans’ glee.

When I asked Tonko, who does have a Republican challenger (Bob Dieterich), but isn’t considered particularly vulnerable this fall, whether he’s planning to attend the convention, he replied:

“I will. I think it’s important for us to share in that moment, to help address some of the solutions out there that are very urgent.”

“I’m very bothered by gamesmanship that has been introduced, especially with this extreme thinking. You know, all these years that I’ve had differences with my own Democrats and with Republicans, we had a common thread that brought us to the table and eventually drove consensus, and that is government had a justified role to play in the solution. Today you have a group that says: There’s no room for government, absolutely none.”

I also asked Tonko if he agreed with the suggestion from Rep. Steve Israel, the DCCC chairman, that it might be better for candidates to stay home and hit the hustings.

“I’m certain they support the president,” Tonko said of candidates who are skipping teh convention. “But I think time spent there, you have to determine your priorities. For me, I want to be part of that effort. To have my voice heard, to speak for the delegation and certainly to speak for the district that I represent.”

“I’m very, very much driven to provide for progressive policies right now that keep this nation healthy, that build our economy, that reaches to research. You know, we have always been an ideas economy. I represent the pioneer spirit that triggered a westward movement and an industrial revolution. That’s always been in our DNA and I want to invest in science and technology and high-tech job growth.”

(I believe he’s referring, albeit a bit obliquely, to the Erie Canal there).

Of Phone Calls And Delegates (Updated)

Several sources have called in to elaborate on today’s scoop by POLITICO’s Maggie Haberman about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to dump four of the state’s top labor leaders off the DNC at-large delegate list.

According to these sources, the leaders – DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts, PEF President Ken Brynien, CSEA President/state AFL-CIO vice president Danny Donohue, and NYSUT President Richard Ianuzzi – were notified 48 hours ago that they had been unceremoniously removed as delegates and could only be reinstated if they reached out to the Cuomo administration to request that be done.

Several leaders did so, and were subsequently restored. But Iannuzzi, who is now back on the list, was put there despite the fact that he placed no call to Cuomo, according to a source close to the NYSUT president.

After receiving word that he had been bounced, Iannuzzi promptly called the DNC – not Cuomo – the source said, and assumes someone at the national level interceded on his behalf.

“Dick said he was not going to call the governor, did not call the governor and had no interest in calling the governor,” the source said.

UPDATE: According to a source with knowledge of the call, the individual who interceded on Iannuzzi’s behalf with Cuomo was AFT President Randi Weingarten, who has a longstanding relationship with the governor, thanks to her previous post as UFT president.

Also still in DNC delegate limbo is Donohue, who confirmed through a spokesman that he had not reached out to Cuomo and apparently has no plans to do so.

“The facts are, there was never a procedure before requiring calls be made,” said CSEA spokesman Steve Madarasz. “And I can confirm that Danny did not make a call to the governor about this.”

Of the four, Donohue arguably has the worst relationship with Cuomo – at least publicly. There has been some speculation that’s because he’s running for the presidency of AFSCME and doesn’t want to look weak at the national level.

Roberts isn’t far behind in the rhetoric department, however. During a March CapTon interview, she accused Cuomo of “playing cowboy” with Tier 6 and suggested she would prefer a government shutdown to passage of a pension reform plan by the Legislature. (Of course, that didn’t happen).

Both NYSUT and CSEA declined to endorse Cuomo in 2010 (PEF did, but later came to regret it during last year’s difficult contract negotiations, according to Brynien), and Donohue has since said his union is open to backing someone other than Cuomo – assuming that’s even a realistic option – when he seeks re-election in 2014.

The public sector unions have tangled with Cuomo over all sorts of policy issues – from creation of a teacher performance evalution system and Tier 6 to his refusal to reinstate the so-called millionaire’s tax (later assuaged by an overhaul of the state’s entire tax code).

Labor leaders have spoken ominously about the possibility that their tense relationship with the governor could cost him union support when – and if – he should decide to seek the White House in 2016. It appears he still has a lot of patching up to do.