May 2nd - 6:36 am
From the Morning Memo:
State lawmakers are returning to Albany with a drastically different political landscape than when they left three weeks ago.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and administration is under investigation for political fundraising activities stemming from his effort to help Democrats gain control of the state Senate.
A former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joe Percoco, is under federal investigation for reportedly failing to properly report income as broader scrutiny from the U.S. attorney’s office is placed on the governor’s signature economic development program for western New York, the Buffalo Billion.
In the Senate, Democrat Todd Kaminsky appears poised to replaced Republican former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, makign the GOP technically a minority party when it comes to enrollment.
And there’s still 21 legislative session days to go in the calendar — a virtual eternity in Albany time. Then, lawmakers return to their districts to run for re-election and, for a few, campaign in congressional primaries.
Here are five questions for the rest of the session. More >
May 1st - 2:01 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo this weekend reaffirmed the power of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate and prosecutor cases in which civilians are killed during interactions with law enforcement.
The move comes as Schneiderman’s office is suing Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove, who is accused of moving forward on his own with a case involving the April 17 death of Edson Thevenin.
The reaffirmation is an amendment to the initial executive order issued by Cuomo last year in which he gave the attorney general the power of special prosecutor to pursue cases in which police kill civilians to specifically include the Thevenin case.
Abelove had presented evidence to a grand jury after Thevenin was killed following a chase with police in Troy. The grand jury ultimately declined to indict police officers involved in the shooting.
Schneiderman was granted the special prosecutor status last year after a series of incidents in which civilians died during interactions with police, but grand juries in certain cases chose to not indict law enforcement officers involved.
Cuomo has said giving Schneiderman the authority to pursue the cases removes concerns locally elected district attorneys are to close with police officers to investigate and prosecute such cases.
Apr 29th - 5:46 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Friday afternoon ordered a “full review” of his key economic development program for western New York after news broke the administration had received a subpoena related to the federal investigation.
A former longtime aide to Cuomo, Joe Percoco, along with nanotech czar Alain Kaloyeros and lobbyist Todd Howe and Buffalo developer Louis Ciminelli are the apparent focus of the probe after the administration was issued the subpoena, according to The Daily News.
Cuomo himself has not been issued a subpoena, nor have his top aides.
Soon after the News posted its story, Cuomo administration counsel Alphonso David announced in a statement the review of the economic development program would be led by Bart Schwartz, an independent investigator who had served as chief of the criminal division for the U.S. attorney’s office.
“Any grants made by this program will be thoroughly scrutinized – past, current or future,” David said in the statement.
“This investigation has recently raised questions of improper lobbying and undisclosed conflicts of interest by some individuals which may have deceived state employees involved in the respective programs and may have defrauded the state,” he added.
In the same statement, Schwartz suggested there was “reason to believe” programs and regulatory approvals were “defrauded.”
“The state has reason to believe that in certain programs and regulatory approvals they may have been defrauded by improper bidding and failures to disclose potential conflicts of interest by lobbyists and former state employees,” Schwartz said. “The U.S. Attorney has an ongoing investigation that has revealed important information in this regard.”
While it is not clear what role Percoco, now an executive at MSG, had in the Buffalo Billion program, the Daily News reported he may have received unreported income from Howe.
Percoco is a longtime confidant of the Cuomo family, having worked for the current governor’s late father. He has served as an advance man for the governor and political fixer before leaving last year. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week Percoco had continued to appear at Cuomo appearances, including the Democratic presidential debate in Brooklyn.
“I will conduct my review commencing immediately and report any information I find to the U.S. Attorney and the administration,” Schwarz said. “The administration has made it clear to me that they have zero tolerance for any violation of the public trust from any actor or entity and I should follow the facts.”
The news comes as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office is conducting a separate investigation into the fundraising activities of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Bharara had previously investigated the circumstances surrounding the shuttering of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, but ultimately cleared the governor and his aides of any wrongdoing.
Apr 29th - 4:57 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to seek federal approval that would provide Medicaid coverage to prisons who have severe behavioral and physical health problems before they are released.
Cuomo’s office in a statement said providing those prisoners with coverage would help them transition back into society and reduce recidivism among former inmates.
“We know that many people leaving our jails and prisons have serious mental health and substance use problems,” Cuomo said in the statement. “It makes little sense to send them back into the community with our fingers crossed that they will be able to find the help they need. This initiative bridges the gap, providing essential transitional health services while also ensuring a smooth re-entry period and increasing public safety in communities statewide.”
Department of Health is already in the process of finalizing a waiver request with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. If approved, New York would use Medicaid money to help pay for services 30 days before release.
The move is meant to address what the administration called a “critical gap” in coverage for those incarcerated in either jail or prison as well as health coverage for those who are leaving incarceration.
In prison, inmates receive medical care through the facility. Upon release, many inmates are left without coverage.
If approved, New York would be the first state to have a coordinated continuum of care for those who have access to health coverage through their re-entry.
The Medicaid coverage is expected to impact thousands, and will address issues such as mental health and prescription drug addiction.
While it’s not clear how much the coverage would cost, the administration said the move would save money in the long run by ensuring greater continuity of care and less emergency admissions.
The move would come as New York and most of the nation continues to battle what public health officials say is an epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction, an issue that has especially ravaged parts of upstate New York.
Cuomo has sought during his time as governor to close prisons and reduce recidivism through providing college-level courses, a proposal that was met with opposition from Republicans in the Legislature.
Apr 28th - 2:01 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is turning to some familiar faces for the search to replace retiring State Police Superintendent Joe D’Amico.
Cuomo’s office on Thursday unveiled the panel, which includes a former Erie County sheriff-turned-state lawmaker, a former lieutenant governor and an ex-New York City Police commissioner.
“The State Police play a vital role in ensuring the safety of New York’s families and communities,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Under the leadership of Superintendent D’Amico, the State Police have shown remarkable courage and discipline in their service, and I have tasked this search committee with identifying candidates who will build on that record for all New Yorkers. I look forward to receiving their recommendations in the weeks ahead.”
The search committee includes K2 Intelligence Chairman Ray Kelly, the former NYPD commissioner. Bob Duffy, now the chairman of the Rochester Business Alliance, served as lieutenant governor during Cuomo’s first term and was the mayor of Rochester as well as the city’s police chief.
Cuomo also named Mylan Denerstein, his former counsel, now a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, to the panel.
Former Sen. Michael Balboni, a former deputy secretary for public safety, is on the committee as is Thomas Zugibe, the Rockland County district attorney. Republican Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a former Erie County sheriff, and Rachel Small, the deputy secretary for public safety are on the panel as well.
D’Amico announced earlier this month he would step down from the top post at the State Police after his replacement is found.
Apr 28th - 1:07 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement on Thursday vowed to enhance safety at commuter rail crossings after a disabled vehicle was struck by a Metro-North train in Bedford Hills on Wednesday evening.
Cuomo, in the statement, called the accidents “all too frequent.”
Last year, a train crash struck a disabled car in Valhalla, killing six people, including the person in the car.
“These crossings have caused numerous deaths for years and it happens all across the state. I will not accept the premise that there is nothing we can do,” Cuomo said. “My administration has contacted the federal government, charged with approving grade modifications, and informed them that we must go forward immediately with new design features that create safer crossings.”
Those potential options include motion detectors, alerting cars through painting “danger” areas on the street, voice commands and public information campaigns, Cuomo said.
“I have directed the MTA, which has already been working on options, to have several plans presented next week and asked the federal government to cooperate with their approval in weeks, not months,” Cuomo added. “If we know this system doesn’t work well, we have to act with common sense to change it. And we must act quickly, because enough is enough.”
Apr 28th - 11:56 am
The New York State Building and Construction Trades Council in a statement this week was critical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration rejecting the proposed Constitution Pipeline project that would have run through multiple counties in upstate New York.
The labor group is an affiliate of the New York City Building and Trades Council, which has been a private-sector union ally for Cuomo over the years.
“The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) denial of the permit that would have allowed the Constitution Pipeline to move forward is as disheartening as it is puzzling,” said President James Cahill. “The Southern Tier is dying, and now the prospect of 1,300 good-paying construction jobs has disappeared. Before long, another 3000 jobs are likely to vanish when Amphenol Aerospace and Raymond Corporation pack up their bags and move their operations to a state that can provide them with the low cost energy they need.”
The rejection of the pipeline has been praised by environmental groups given the concerns they raised over the construction’s impact on open space. The Department of Environmental Conservative last week said the pipeline’s backers did not meet the state’s standards for water quality. The DEC also insisted regulators met with the company to resolve the issues they had raised, but no agreement had been reached.
Apr 22nd - 4:32 pm
The Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday rejected a proposed 124-mile natural gas pipeline that would have stretched through four counties in New York.
Regulators at the DEC said the proposed route for the Constitution pipeline failed to meet New York’s standards for water quality.
The New York portion of the project would have included the construction of about 99 miles of 30-inch diameter pipeline instead of co-locating within the existing rights-of-way.
The rejection was first reported by Politico New York and confirmed by the DEC in a statement Friday afternoon.
The DEC in a statement said it had sought “significant” mitigation measures in order to limit the impact on nearby bodies of water.
“DEC had repeatedly requested that Constitution provide a comprehensive and site-specific analysis of depth for pipeline burial to mitigate the project’s environmental impact – but the company refused – providing only a limited analysis of burial depth for 21 of the 250 New York streams,” the DEC said in a statement. “Pipes can become exposed in stream beds if not buried deeply enough, and corrective action can further damage the stream and impact water quality.”
The rejection of the pipeline project was immediately blasted by the state Business Council, saying the decision was based on “fear-mongering” and not facts.
“We are incredibly disappointed that the administration allowed fear-mongering to once again lead the way,” said Heather Briccetti, the president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, Inc. “The decision to deny the approvals necessary for the construction of the Constitution Pipeline will have a direct and immediate negative impact on our state’s economy. Today’s decision also places numerous jobs in jeopardy and puts further strain on our already overworked energy grid.”
The rejection of the pipeline comes on Earth Day and more than a year after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration moved to ban hydrofracking in the state, a controversial natural gas pipeline.
Environmental groups cheered the decision by the DEC.
“Governor Andrew Cuomo’s smart decision to the reject Constitution Pipeline sends a clear message: New Yorkers’ health and safety will not be sacrificed for fossil fuel industry profits,” Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of the group Food and Water Watch.
Apr 22nd - 6:45 am
From the Morning Memo:
Democratic Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson is set to leave the Senate at the end of the legislative session to join Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
Hassell-Thompson, who was first elected to her seat in 2000, will become a special advisor for policy and community affairs of New York state homes and community renewal. She plans to join the administration in July.
“As a nurse, an advocate and a member of the New York State Legislature, Senator Hassell-Thompson has spent her entire career fighting to improve lives and build communities,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I am proud to have her continue this work as a member of my administration and look forward to working with her to build a stronger, fairer and more prosperous New Yok for all.”
Hassell-Thompson’s 36th Senate district, which includes the Bronx and Mount Vernon, is a safe one for Democrats to hold this fall.
The lawmaker, though, has been eyeing the exit from the chamber for the last several years, having run unsuccessfully last year in a Democratic primary for mayor of Mount Vernon. At the time of the campaign, Hassell-Thompson had indicated she would not be running for another term in the Senate.
Jamaal Bailey, an attorney and Bronx district leader who has close ties with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, is running for the seat, as is a well-known Bronx pastor, the Rev. Que English.
Apr 20th - 7:20 am
Well, it’s over, and we survived.
The first presidential primary in years in which New York actually mattered is in the books. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won big in their home state, with the former out-performing many public polls, and the latter performing about as well as predicted, if not better.
Clinton and Trump were the night’s most obvious winners, while their respective opponents – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side; Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on the GOP side – were the clear losers.
But, as with any election, there were some not-so-obvious winners and losers, too. A few thoughts on that…
– Gov. Andrew Cuomo had a very good night.
Though he had to set aside his own widely-speculated White House aspirations to clear the way for fellow New Yorker Clinton, he campaigned hard on her behalf, and won the coveted just-before-the-candidate speaking role at last night’s victory party. He used his time in the national spotlight to tout his accomplishments as governor just as much, if not more, than touting Clinton and her big win.
– It was also a good night for Cuomo’s 2010 Republican nemesis Carl Paladino. The Buffalo businessman jumped the shark in that election cycle with his mad-as-hell demeanor and willingness to pretty much say whatever came to mind.
In other words, he was Trump before Trump was Trump.
And, not surprisingly, Paladino is a big Trump supporter, leading the charge for his fellow real estate developer leading up to New York’s primary. Paladino landed a coveted spot on stage just behind the candidate at his Trump Tower victory speech, and could be seen on national TV, smiling broadly for the cameras just over Trump’s shoulder. Paladino now says he’s considering another run for governor in 2018. But he says a lot of things. Only time will tell.
– Not such a great night for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was late to get on the Clinton campaign bandwagon, though he did serve as an active surrogate for her in the final days before yesterday’s primary. De Blasio spoke at Clinton’s victory party just before Cuomo, with whom the mayor has been at odds for some time.
And shortly before midnight, the New York Times reported that a federal inquiry into the mayor’s fundraising has broadened to include his efforts to support the state Senate Democrats’ failed effort to re-take the majority in 2014. That was a crusade de Blasio took up to fill a void left by Cuomo, who pledged to help his fellow Dems in order to land the WFP nod for his own re-election bid (a deal the mayor helped broker) and then didn’t follow through.
– The WFP itself had a mixed night. The labor-backed party bucked the Democratic establishment to endorse Sanders over Clinton, even though it had supported her U.S. Senate runs in New York. The WFP worked hard on Sanders’ behalf, even though its members were barred from voting for him due to the closed Democratic primary rules.
Sanders fell short, though he did carry upstate, much like Zephyr Teachout (a WFP creation who did not end up running with WFP support) did against Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary.
The WFP saw its candidate in the special election for ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s seat, Yuh-Line Niou, lose to the Democrat, Alice Cancel, who had been selected by Silver allies. But getting Democrats to cross over and vote WFP on the same day as a hotly contested Democratic presidential primary was a long-shot to begin with.
It looks like the WFP fared better on Long Island, where it backed Democratic Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky against Republican Chris McGrath in the race for ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ seat. Just 780 votes separate the two candidates, and McGrath has refused to concede, though Kaminsky has already declared victory.
A Kaminsky win would be very bad for the Senate GOP, tipping the numeric balance of power in the Democrats’ favor, though their ability to actually take control of the chamber hinges on the willingness – or lack thereof – of the breakaway, five-member IDC to return to the fold.
– State GOP Chair Ed Cox and the New York Republican “establishment” did not fare well last night. Cox was not present at Trump’s victory party. And though he insisted he was neutral in the GOP presidential primary, he was widely believed to be part of the anti-Trump set. Now comes a skirmish between the two Cox and Trump/Paladino people over the selection of convention delegates, which should be fun to watch.
Trump’s success also no doubt makes many “traditional” Republicans who are running this fall nervous, especially those who didn’t endorse him. If Trump succeeds in landing the GOP nod at the party’s convention, he could cause a drag on down-ballot candidates. Polls have shown Clinton defeating him handily in New York in the general election.