Andrew Cuomo

In New Paltz, A Warm Introduction For Cuomo By A Senate Republican

Republican Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican, gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo a warm welcome at SUNY New Paltz on Tuesday, calling him “courageous” and saying he’s turned the state around during his first term.

“I want to say a couple of words about our governor: Being governor of the state of New York isn’t easy — a lot of conflicting agendas. We have a governor that is courageous, that believes in creating jobs and excellence in education. When he makes a decision, he sticks with it,” Bonacic said. “And he has moved the state forward.”

In thanking Bonacic, Cuomo called the GOP lawmaker a “statesman.”

Bonacic’s praise lines up neatly with Cuomo’s push to run on his record over the last four years as he faces Republican Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, this November.

Cuomo has worked well with Republicans in the state Senate, some of whom have been quiet on Astorino’s uphill bid to defeat Cuomo, who remains both better funded and better known than his challenger.

The Astorino campaign and the Senate Republicans are at cross ways with themselves when it comes on a unified message.

Republicans need to run on a message that their successes — which could be counted as Cuomo victories as well — are good for the state in their bid to keep power in the Senate.

But Astorino, naturally, is running a campaign of change, pushing the theme that Cuomo’s promises on economic development have not been realized.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has pledged to help Democrats retake full control of the chamber after Election Day, helping broker a new coalition agreement with the mainline conference and the Independent Democratic Conference in June.

Astorino: Cuomo’s EPA Loss is A Metaphor for His Campaign (Updated)

Westchester County Executive and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino pounced on the news that the EPA has rejected the bulk of a controversial loan from a state clean water fund to pay for projects related to the new Tappan Zee Bridge, saying the cash was just one more “myth” of the Cuomo administration that is being exposed.

Astorino tried to link the loss of the governor’s “dubious” bridge funding scheme to a long list of seemingly unrelated items, including: The use of federal Sandy aid to pay for TV ads, the property tax cap that wasn’t backed by long-promised mandate relief, the lack of public campaign finance reform, and the now-defunct anti-corruption Moreland Commission – the closure of which by Cuomo is now the subject of an investigation by US Attorney Preet Bharara.

“Mr. Cuomo’s administration was constructed on the silt of corruption, intimidation, and secrecy,” Astorino said in a statement. There is no bedrock beneath it. This governor is going to fall.”

The Tappan Zee Bridge project is an issue particularly close to Astorino’s heart, since one end of the span is located in his county.

He has long criticized the Cuomo administration for various aspects of the project, and recently penned an OpEd saying the billions of dollars the state has reaped from financial services settlements with BNP Paribas and others should be used to pay for the new bridge and other infrastructure projects.

Meanwhile, at an event in New Paltz earlier today, the governor said he has yet to review the EPA decision, but the administration will likely appeal the clawback. He also insisted the Tappan Zee project would not be jeopardized by the loss of these funds, should the appeal fail.

UPDATE: EFC spokesman Jon Sorenen is handling the response for the Cuomo administration, and issued this statement:

“While this loan is not integral to the overall bridge construction, the projects identified here will clearly provide significant benefits for the Hudson River Estuary. EPA Region II is simply wrong in its assessment. We will appeal this decision.”

Cuomo Calls Astorino Photo Flap ‘Silliness’ (Updatedx2)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is refusing to engage with his GOP challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, in a verbal battle over a TV ad paid for by the Erie County Democratic Party that featured a family snapshot from which Astorino’s 11-year-old son, Sean, had been removed.

TWC News’ Bill Carey asked Cuomo about the photo flap during the governor’s appearance at the Inner Habor in Syracuse this morning, and the governor replied:

“I run the campaign that I believe should be run. They talk about the silliness of the political season. I’m not going to engage in that.”

“My campaign is relatively straightforward. I was hired four years ago by the peple of the state to be governor of the state. I’ve worked seven days a week in that job, and I believe my campaign is about saying to them: ‘This is what I’ve done; this is what I’ve accomplished. This is what I said I would do; this is what I actually performed. And letting them judge that performance…I’m not going to get into any political silliness.”

The ad in question ran in Western New York last week in advance of – and during – the Buffalo Bills home opener against the Miami Dolphins. Astorino is a life-long Fins fan, and the ad slammed him for that, while elevating Cuomo as a team player who has invested a lot of time (and state cash) in rebuilding the region’s beleaguered economy – an effort for which keeping the Bills in Buffalo is a key element.

The ad featured a photo of Astorino wearing a shirt the in Dolphins’ trademark turquoise and orange, but it lacked a few features from the original shot – including the team’s logo and Astorino’s son.

The Astorino campaign slammed Team Cuomo, (which, according to Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner, collaborated on the creation of this ad) for doctoring the photo, and then upped the ante by releasing a video this morning of Sean Astorino telling the governor it “wasn’t very nice” of him to alter a photo of what was a treasured father-and-son moment.

UPDATE: Cuomo was again asked about the Astorino photo after an event this afternoon at SUNY New Paltz. According to CapTon’s Nick Reisman, the governor reiterated his “silliness” comments, but also went a step further, saying it would have been “illegal” for the Erie County Democrats to use the likeness of Sean Astorino without permission because he is a minor.

UPDATE2: The Erie County Democrats issued this statement: “It is illegal to use the image of a child in an ad without the parents’ permission – we simply followed the law.” And here’s a link to the law to which the party and Cuomo are referring.

Carey also asked Cuomo if he felt, given the outcome of last week’s primary, that he has made any mistakes.

“This reminds me of a conversation with one of my daughters that came back; we were going through her report card,” Cuomo said. “In life you always want to learn and improve. And what you can do better? And what can you do different? So, I think that is an ongoing process.”

“…I’m the first one to say we have more to do, and I’m not saying that in four years we have fixed everything. But I believe we have fundamentally changed the direction of the state in four years. I think the numbers show that.”

EPA Rejects Bulk of EFC Funding for Tappan Zee (Updated)

In a blow to the Cuomo administration – and a big win for the environmental community – the EPA has rejected almost all of the controversial funding approved by the Environmental Facilities Corp. for projects related to building a new Tappan Zee Bridge, deeming them ineligble for funding from revolving loan fund intended to pay for clean water initiatives.

In June, the EFC’s board of directors voted to provide $511 million worth of loans to the state Thruway Authority for 12 projects related to the bridge, and the Thruway Authority quickly voted to accept the money. The EPA has determined that seven of those projects, worth $481.8 million, do not meet the revolving fund’s criteria, while the other five are eligible.

The EPA informed the DEC and the EFC (headed by former Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll) of its decision in a letter sent today. The Cuomo administration has 30 days to appeal the ruling, otherwise it is final.

Among the projects rejected for funding: $66.7 million for a pedestrian walkway to be attached to the new bridge; $100,000 for relocation of a peregrine falcon nesting box on the Tappan Zee; and $70 million for riverbed dredging and “armoring.”

“In light of this determination, EPA is enclosing the FFY 2014 capitalization grant agreement, which is awarded, as modified, to NYSDEC,” wrote Joan Leary Matthews, director of the EPA Region 2 Clean Water Division.

“EPA’s determination of ineligibility of seven Tappan Zee Bridge-related projects applies to funds from the capitalization grant as well as to the recycled funds in the CWSRF. Therefore, if New York State spends either capitalization grant funds or recycled funds toward projects that EPA has determined to be ineligible, EPA will disallow those costs.”

This is a big problem for the Cuomo administration, which repeatedly insisted that this unusual EFC loan – a funding scheme that has never been tried before – was completely legal.

The loan was approved by Public Authorities Control Board representatives from both the Assembly and the Senate, even though some – the Senate Republicans in particular – made some initial noises about wanting more information on Tappan Zee funding plan before signing off on this proposal. The PACB did halve the $511 million, with the understanding that the administration would be seeking the remainder of the money in 2016.

The administration has so far declined to make public its plan to fund the new Tappan Zee – the biggest construction project undertaken by the governor since he took office in January 2011.

There has been a tacit acknowledgment that a toll hike on the Thruway is likely, but the administration has been particularly reluctant to discuss that in an election year – especially since the last proposed toll hike caused such an uproar, and had to be turned back as a result. Officials suggested that the EFC loan would lower future toll increases by saving some $17 million in interest costs over there years, and they painted anyone who opposed the this plan as in favor of toll hikes.

State GOP Chairman Ed Cox jumped on the news of the EPA decision, releasing the following statement:

“Today’s news is another sad result of Andrew Cuomo’s failed style of ‘government by press release.’ From phony budget surpluses to the corruption of his own corruption commission to raiding clean water funds to pay for a bridge, Andrew Cuomo has eschewed substantive policy in favor of playing for positive press – and the results continue to be disastrous for New York.”

UPDATE: Environmental Advocates Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz issued the following statement (no word yet from the Cuomo admin):

“The Cuomo administration’s attempt to raid federal Clean Water Act funds to pay for bridge construction was appropriately rejected. The Environmental Protection Agency has the responsibility to call ‘balls and strikes’ when states seek to divert federal funds away from their intended purpose, and that is what happened.”

“We applaud the EPA for undertaking a very deliberative review and rightfully determining – despite intense pressure – that Clean Water Act funds cannot pay for construction of the New New York Bridge. There are enormous needs across the state for clean water upgrades and now is the time for Governor Cuomo to direct administration resources to help communities access these funds to keep our waterways clean and healthy.”

It’s also worth noting the just last week, the EFC approved a package of low-interest and interest-free loans worth $370 million that would go toward improvements at 11 water treatment plants and facilities in New York City after being criticized by environmentalists for failing to spread funds around to be used for the purpose for which the revolving fund was created: Clean water and sewage treatment projects.

Sean Astorino To Cuomo: Why Chop Up Our Family Photos?

Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino’s son on Tuesday appeared in an online video taking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to task for a Democratic ad that photoshopped him out of a picture with his father.

The ad, paid for by the Erie County Democratic Committee, was aimed at knocking Astorino for being a fan of the Miami Dolphins as the team played the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, while highlighting Cuomo’s attention to western New York.

The ad featured a picture of Astorino at a Dolphins game, but photoshopped Sean Astorino out of the foreground.

In a video released by Astorino’s campaign, Sean Astorino said it “wasn’t very nice” to cut him out of the photo.

“Before you cut out my pictures again, Mr. Cuomo, why don’t you ask me first?” he says in the video.

It’s unusual for a politician to be upset that a family member wasn’t included a negative TV spot. And it’s also not unusual for politicians to cry foul any time an opponent says or does something that has to do with members of their family. Still, Astorino has put his very telegenic family front-and-center in his campaign.

Rooting For The Home Team?

From the morning, ICYMI:

If you were watching the Buffalo Bill’s home opener against the Miami Dolphins yesterday, you might have caught an ad paid for by the Erie County Democratic Party, slamming Astorino for being a Fins fan.

In case you missed the ad, which ran for several days – including on TWC News – you can see it here. And here’s the script:

“This weekend, when the Miami Dolphins come to town, we’ll all be rooting for our Buffalo Bills – well, everyone but Rob Astorino.”

“You see, Astorino is a Miami Dolphins fan. Governor Cuomo stood with us. He’s delivered for Buffalo and all of Western New York.”

“So, this November, when Rob Astorino comes asking for your vote, let’s remember who was on our team.”

Astorino has not been shy about his love of the Dolphins – a team for which he has been rooting since the age of 5.

Last week, Astorino fought fire with fire, questioning the governor’s relationship with rocker Jon Bon Jovi – a hated figure in WNY, thanks to the belief that a Toronto-based group of which he was a member wanted to buy the Bills and move the team to Canada.

Astorino Tweeted a photo of Cuomo and Bon Jovi at a recent Hamptons shindig, asking LG Bob Duffy: “Better off in WNY being lifelong Fins fan or Jets fan like Cuomo w/ Bon Jovi as BFF? #BillsMafia.”

Astorino spokeswoman Jessica Proud offered a more traditional response to the ad, saying:

“We have the highest taxes in the country, the worst economic outlook, the governor is under criminal investigation and this is what they’re talking about? It says it all.”

This whole fight would have been a lot more significant had Terry and Kim Pegula’s bid for the Bills been unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the new stadium question appears to be on the back burner for now. Cuomo, who was on hand to cut the ribbon yesterday on the newly renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium, said:

“It is beautiful, people are gonna be blown away by how good it is and how much better it functions. And for me, frankly, that’s enough.”

“…The Bills are staying. The stadium’s good. Let’s stay right here for a while. Let’s win today, and the future will take care of itself,” the governor added.

The Bills did indeed “squish the fish,” thrilling the sold-out crowd at the Ralph by beating Miami 29-10.

Samuels To Cuomo: Put Your $ Where Your Mouth Is

Democratic activist and donor Bill Samuels is calling for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to transfer $10 million from his overflowing campaign war chest to the coffers of the state Senate Democrats to help them in their quest to re-take control of the chamber.

“Without a Democratic governing majority in the State Senate, the progressive agenda is doomed,” said Samuels, who served as Finance Chair for the Senate Democrats the last time they took the majority in 2008.

“This is why Democrat leaders around the state – including Mayor Bill de Blasio – are so focused on taking back the State Senate from Republicans,” Samuels continued.

“If Cuomo is serious about passing real campaign finance reform, a real minimum wage increase, real tenant protections, and a real DREAM Act, he will put his money where his mouth is, and invest $10 million of his own campaign funds to ensure that Senate Democrats regain control.”

Cuomo had $35 million on hand in July, and was raising cash hand-over-fist prior to the primary. He spent several million dollars on the primary, but still has vastly more on hand than his GOP challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

Samuels noted that there is currently no limit on the amount of money that can be transferred from one campaign account into another.

(That’s thanks in part, of course, to the fact that Cuomo failed to use his political capital to push the Senate Republicans on the issue of campaign finance reform).

The governor pledged as part of his endorsement deal with the Working Families Party to support a full Democratic takeover of the Senate – something he had previously declined to back, and even arguably thwarted with his support of the IDC’s power-sharing deal with the Republicans.

But after the deal the WFP struck with Cuomo, the IDC also made its own deal to break with its Republican partners and forge a new power-sharing agreement with the so-called “regular” Democrats.

But that deal won’t come to fruition until after the November elections, and some skeptics question whether the agreement will hold if the Republicans manage to win the 32 seats necessary to take the majority.

When the WFP deal was struck, it was reported that Cuomo had vowed to provide up to $10 million for various Senate Democrat campaigns.

But since then, Cuomo hasn’t ponied up a dime or spent time campaigning with key Democratic candidates, though arguably, he was a little tied up with his own primary battle.

The governor even went so far as to publicly lament the surprise loss of Buffalo Sen. Mark Grisanti in last week’s GOP primary, even though that loss was very good for the Senate Democrats and greatly improved their outlook in November.

Meanwhile, de Blasio, who orchestrated the WFP-Cuomo endorsement deal, has been pulling out all the stops to assist the Senate Democrats, even loaning them his top political aide, Emma Wolfe, in advance of the general elections.

De Blasio believes he’ll have a better shot at getting his progressive agenda through Albany if the Senate is controlled by a conference dominated by downstate Democrats, but that might not prove true with all his policy proposals.

Samuels has been (largely unsuccessfully) pressing Cuomo on a host of reform issues for several years now, and also calling him out for failing to act on a statewide campaign finance system.

“After governing like a Republican, it’s not enough for Cuomo to make a few campaign appearances with Senate Democrats,” Samuels said.

“To follow through on his deal with the Working Families Party and prove he is a real Democrat, Cuomo needs to spend big for a Democratic takeover of the State Senate in November.”

“He can’t leave anything to chance or rely on outside groups and independent expenditures. He has to lead and give the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee real resources so that victory is clinched in November and progressivism prevails.”

Per-Vote Cost Correction

Last item from (a very full) Morning Memo:

There have been multiple reports that Cuomo’s primary win this past Tuesday came at a steep price – both literally and figuratively.

The cost-per-vote calculation that has been widely cited was initially reported by The Washington Post’s “Fix” blog, which said the Cuomo-Hochul campaign spent $60.62 for each vote it received to Teachout-Wu’s $1.57.

But, as the Fix’s Phillip Bump readily acknowledged, that figure is based on all $20 million worth of campaign cash the governor has spent since 2011 – presumably with an eye toward this year’s elections.

The per-vote cost goes down to $42.64 if you use the amount Cuomo has spent in 2014 (about $14 million).

That’s still pretty high. And the governor’s campaign maintains it’s also still inaccurate.

By Team Cuomo’s calculation, it’s unfair to include non-primary spending – on ads slamming Astorino, for example – in the final tally.

According to the campaign, the governor spent $2.6 million on the primary, while his running mate, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, dropped about $800,000, bringing their total to $3.5 million – about $1 million of which was spent on TV ads.

That also accounts for spending by the state Democratic Party, which, as we know, acts as an extension of the governor’s political operation. (Note: This has been corrected from the Morning Memo version, which said the $3.5 million total did NOT include state party spending).

Using the Cuomo campaign’s numbers, the per-vote cost was closer to $10.69 – still a lot more than Teachout-Wu spent, but considerably less than $60.62.

After Teachout-Wu Loss, No Endorsement By PEF

Also from the Morning Memo:

The Public Employees Federation went out on a limb prior to the primary and endorsed the insurgent team of Teachout and Tim Wu – the only labor union to do so.

Now that the primary is over and Team Cuomo-Hochul has emerged victorious, PEF is joining several other unions in sitting out the general election, declining to pick a favorite between the Democratic ticket and the Republicans, Astorino and his running mate, Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss.

“I don’t foresee that the Public Employees Federation will do an endorsement in the general election,” union President Susan Kent said during a CapTon interview lat night.

“I think we looked at all candidates prior to making our recommendation for the Zephyr-Wu ticket, and I think now that the primary’s over we will not be making an endorsement.”

“This wasn’t about ‘find a candidate to run against the governor,’” Kent insisted. “This was about Zephyr and Tim, who were candidates that matched up with us very well and our members were excited about it…This was really something that was really a positive movement for candidates that were aligned very well with our goals.”

Four years ago, PEF broke ranks with its fellow public sector unions – CSEA and NYSUT – and backed Cuomo for governor. This time around, Cuomo is running without the support of all three, and he doesn’t have the backing of the AFL-CIO, either.

Kent said the union’s focus will now move to contract negotiation preparation, noting that PEF has to return to the bargaining table next year – a year ahead of its fellow public sector unions.

I asked Kent if she’s concerned that Cuomo (assuming he’s re-elected in November) might retaliate against PEF for its support of Teachout-Wu.

“I’m not going to choose to believe that because the governor cannot get his own way with absolutely everything that he would be someone who would take that out at the contract table,” Kent replied. “…that’s not something I would put up with, as a union president.”

Business Community Hedges on Cuomo

From today’s Morning Memo:

Four years ago, the state Business Council broke with tradition and made an endorsement in the governor’s race for the first time in its 30-year history, backing then-state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic frontrunner, over his Republican challenger, Carl Paladino.

The decision, made while Ken Adams (now a member of the Cuomo administration) headed the Council, wasn’t that big of a stretch, despite the fact that the business community traditionally trends toward the Republican side of politics.

Paladino, despite his own considerable prowess as a businessman, wasn’t considered a viable candidate. His strategy of bringing a baseball bat to Albany to more or less blow up the establishment didn’t sit terribly well in the risk-averse business world.

But this time around, things are different.

The state’s business community has fared fairly well under Cuomo – perhaps not as well as its members would have liked, and too well in the eyes of liberals, which arguably makes things about even.

This year, however, Cuomo’s rhetoric has taken a decidedly leftward turn – especially given his public support of a full Democratic takeover of the state Senate.

All the talk of progressive policies like another minimum wage hike and establishment of a public campaign finance system and a formal fracking ban makes business leaders very nervous.

Also, the Republican challenging Cuomo in the November election, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, is no Carl Paladino, though he is unknown and under-funded and highly unlikely to win.

So that puts the business community in a bit of a fix.

Should they back Astorino, whose policies are more in line with their way of thinking, compared to this new, progressive version of Cuomo (provided his words aren’t just empty campaign promises)? Or should they play it safe, politically speaking, and either remain neutral or support Cuomo outright?

State Business Council spokesman Gary Hughes told me yesterday that whether the organization will choose a favorite in the governor’s race “hasn’t been determined at this time.” He didn’t provide much more in the way of specifics, and couldn’t give me a timeline.

It’s worth noting that Astorino is on the schedule to speak Thursday night at the Council’s annual meeting at The Sagamore in Bolton Landing next week – site of the infamous Paladino-Dicker smackdown.

Cuomo has received multiple invites to attend, but has no far not replied to a single one, Hughes said.

Other candidates – including Democratic state AG Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and their respective GOP challengers, John Cahill and Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci – are all scheduled to attend.

It’s worth noting that the Council didn’t announce its support for Cuomo in 2010 until early October, so there’s certainly still plenty of time for it to act this year.

Also, Cuomo didn’t attend the Council’s 2010 conference, sending his running mate, then-Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy, in his place.

The organization that represents the state’s small businesses, NFIB, hasn’t weighed in on the governor’s race yet, either.

NFIB released its legislative endorsements yesterday, and its state director, Mike Durant, came onto CapTon to discuss the list.

On the governor’s race question, he said:

“We have a major concern with the governor’s agenda for the next four years with the Working Families Party, talking about minimum wage, talking about a progressive Senate.”

“We’ve seen today labor leaders feel like they’re owed favors now. (New York City Mayor) Bill de Blasio feels he has chits. And that should make the business community and taxpayers feel very concerned.”

“That said, it’s still on the table, we’re still looking at that race, and we hope to have a decision in the coming days.”

I asked Durant if he was concerned that backing Astorino would make him an enemy of the Cuomo administration. He (surprisingly) channeled the governor’s failed primary challenger, Zephyr Teachout, recalling her advice for anyone contemplating a run future run for political office: Be brave.