Andrew Cuomo

Countering de Blasio, Cuomo Talks Compromise

When responding to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pointed criticism this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sought to play up his efforts to work with Republicans in the Legislature.

Cuomo, speaking with reporters on Wednesday night, sought to draw a distinction between his brand of governing — which has angered liberal advocates for what they say is working hand-in-glove with the GOP — versus embracing ideology.

“We had gridlock for many, many years, but under my administration it’s been different,” Cuomo said. “When there’s gridlock, it means nothing happens.”

For Cuomo, the choice is a binary one: He has to work with the Legislature he has, or nothing can be accomplished.

“We had a very productive session,” Cuomo said. “Did we get everything we want? No. We have in New York state a Democratic Assembly and a Republican Senate, so everything is a compromise. It’s a compromise or you go Washington style and you go gridlock.”

Cuomo sidestepped the broader criticisms the mayor leveled at him: Namely that in his aggressive pursuit to accomplish things in Albany, Cuomo has often run roughshod over his enemies and has a tendency to exact “revenge” on those who stand in his way.

“Everything is entitled to their own comments,” Cuomo said, before pivoting back to talk of “compromise” — a word he used multiple times in a brief gaggle with reporters.

A frustrated de Blasio this week bashed Cuomo for undermining his efforts to accomplish his agenda in Albany, which included an extension of mayoral control of city schools, extending rent control for New York City and the renewal of the 421a tax abatement.

De Blasio’s frustrations voiced first to NY1 led to a barrage of fellow liberals piling on a governor who has prided himself for governing from the center.

Only it has appeared to be harder for Cuomo to strike agreements with the Legislature, especially members of his own party who don’t trust him to back bread-and-butter issues in negotiations. Assembly Democrats have said they believed Cuomo and Senate Republicans were largely aligned in the end-of-session talks, putting them at odds with Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie.

Liberals have long suspected Cuomo prefers a GOP-controlled Senate to a Democratic majority in the chamber and have even accused him of tacitly undermining candidates in his own party.

But the governor insisted on framing his work with Republicans as a virtue in order to avoid gridlock.

“Just to remain politically polarized and get nothing done — that’s Washington, that doesn’t work for New York,” Cuomo said. “We need compromise, we’ve reached compromise, the state is moving forward.”

Cuomo Signs 29 Bills Into Law

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday approved 29 bills, many of which focus on local government tax and bond issues.

The bills range from authorizing the New York Zoological Society to provide free one-day admission tickets to its parks to creating a presumption when it comes certain lung disabilities incurred by volunteer firefighters.

On the local level, there are bills relating to bonds for the cities of Yonkers, Buffalo and New York as well as the sale of municipal obligations for Erie County.

The measures are just the tip of a very large iceberg the governor is due to consider between now and the end of the year.

The full list of approved laws can be found after the jump. More >

Families Continue To Pressure Cuomo On Special Prosecutor

From the Morning Memo:

Advocates and the families of individuals killed by law enforcement are not satisfied with the Big Ugly compromise struck by the governor and legislative leaders after the Senate and Assembly failed to pass Cuomo’s proposed criminal justice reforms.

In the absence of a deal, the governor reluctantly agreed to heed AG Eric Schneiderman’s call that he be appointed to serve as a special prosecutor in incidents that result in civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement – but only for one year, and only for a narrow subset of cases.

As part of a larger criminal justice reform package proposed following the Eric Garner case on Staten Island and Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, Cuomo had wanted to create a monitor who would review the records of cases in which grand juries decided not to indict officers of wrongdoing and make recommendations as to whether a special prosecutor should be appointed.

The family members and advocates didn’t like that plan, and after meeting with Cuomo at the Capitol, extracted a promise from him that if it did not pass muster with state lawmakers, he would use his executive powers to appoint the AG to serve as a special prosecutor to handle these cases.

After the meeting, they launched a lobbying effort to convince lawmakers to reject the governor’s reform proposal, which would – they believed – result in them getting what they wanted by default.

Their effort was successful, and lawmakers failed to reach an agreement before the clock ran out on the 2015 session.

Cuomo subsequently said the one-year appointment of Schneiderman fulfills his promise to the family members, which include Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr; and Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham, a Bronx teenager who was shot and killed by NYPD Officer Richard Haste in 2012.

Haste was initially indicted by the Bronx DA for manslaughter, but a judge threw out the case on a legal technicality.

But the family members are not happy with the one-year limit on the AG’s special prosecutor duties, saying it calls into question what will happen to cases that fall outside that timeframe. Also, they want all police abuse cases included in the AG’s purview, and believe the scope Cuomo has outlined is too narrow.

The advocates have launched a series of videos calling on Cuomo to keep his commitment to them. One, which is running on NY1, features Carr. Another, provided exclusively to SoP, stars Malcolm who says straight to the camera:

“Governor Cuomo, I thought we had an understanding for you signing an executive order for a special prosecutor for all police killings, not for one year.”

“…Governor Cuomo keep the commitment you made to me and other New York families who have lost loved ones to police killing,” Malcolm continues. “Don’t backtrack. Be a national leader and advance equal justice. Cuomo do not backtrack. Keep your word to the families.

Martens to Depart DEC

One day after codifying the state’s fracking ban – the signature issue of his tenure at the helm of the DEC – the agency’s commissioner, Joe Martens, has informed his senior staffers that he plans to depart in July.

In an email being sent to all agency employees, Martens says it has been an “honor, an education and a gift” to head the DEC since 2011 – the first year Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office. He also informs staffers that his executive deputy, Marc Gerstman, will serve as acting commissioner “to ensure a seamless transition and continuation of the many initiatives we have in the works.”

An administrative source familiar with Martens’ plans says he will be returning to the Open Space Institute, of which he was president from 1998 to 2011, as a senior advisor.

“I could not be prouder of the way you responded to each and every emergency Mother Nature threw at New York State (and there were many),” Martens writes in his email. “Most recently, our Rangers and ECOs demonstrated their unique skills to help track down and bring dangerous felons to justice. I’m also proud of the leadership we have shown in virtually every one of our program areas.”

“…Throughout all of these initiatives, you continually worked to improve and streamline the way we do business,” the departing commissioner continues. “I am perhaps most proud of the way you have worked creatively with our local government partners as well as our stakeholders: business, agricultural and environmental, to solve problems. Collectively, we have put into practice the belief that when we work together, the public and private sector, we are all better off.”

Though he will likely be best remembered for heading the DEC during the long debate over fracking, which started during former Gov. David Paterson’s administration – in other words, before Martens took the helm – a number of other environmental initiatives were started or accomplished on the outgoing commissioner’s watch.

In his email, Martens mentions everything from lowering the cap on greenhouse gas emissions and securing funding for long-neglected flood control structures and coastal erosion projects to banning the sale and importation of elephant and rhinoceros ivory and undertaking “one of the largest additions to the forest preserve in the state’s history.”

“And, at long last, we concluded our review of hydraulic fracturing and decided that there was simply too many unknowns and the possible risks too great to allow it to go forward,” Martens concludes.

Martens is one of the few commissioners from Cuomo’s first term still on the job. Rumors of his departure have been circulating for some time, and it was once speculated that he might be replaced by former Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican who was the last “yes” voting GOP senator still in the chamber until he lost his seat in the 2014 elections to Democratic Sen. Marc Panepinto.

Grisanti was recently nominated by Cuomo and confirmed by the Senate to a judgeship.

Last December, after the initial announcement that the Cuomo administration had decided to ban fracking in the Marcellus shale, I asked Martens during a CapTon interview if he had plans to depart his DEC post.

“I have no plans,” he responded with a laugh. “If I was going to leave, I would have left before this decision came out, because this took a lot of work.”

School Districts Assess Modest Tax Cap Changes

From the Morning Memo:

Local government advocates and the state’s teachers unions banded together this legislative session to seek broad changes to the state’s cap on property tax increases, which they say has stifled the ability to raise revenues in a continuously challenging economy.

Also included in that coalition were school districts themselves, who backed a push to change the cap so a supermajority is no longer needed to override the measure on the budgetary level as well as end linking the cap to the rate of inflation.

Ultimately, the changes to cap fell short of what the groups wanted: Carve outs were made for payments-in-lieu-of-taxes and capital expenses for BOCES.

The measure itself was approved for another four years despite a push from Senate Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make the cap permanent (Cuomo late in the session quietly dropped the call for a permanent tax cap, as did a campaign from the state Democratic Committee, which he controls).

Though the changes were seemingly minor compared to what was sought, school district advocates in New York aren’t entirely declaring that a loss, given any changes show more could be in store down the road.

“I think that it’s incremental change,” said Dave Albert of the New York State School Boards Association in a Capital Tonight interview. “I don’t think any of us expected there to be widespread changes.”

Still, the cap itself, a signature economic achievement for Cuomo in 2011, seemed unlikely for any major changes.

“This had been pretty sacred and the governor seemed very reluctant to do anything in terms of changes to the cap,” Albert said.

Continuing to link the cap to inflation remains one of the bigger concerns for school districts, as the consumer price index has been largely flat over the last four years.

“School districts don’t buy the same things as consumers — health insurance, it’s not unusual for it to go up double digit percentage rates,” Lowry said. “Next year the expectation is we could have a cap around zero percent.”

Cap supporters point out the vast majority of school districts have been able to approve budgets that plan to raise levies under the limit and only a handful sought spending plans above the limit.

Meanwhile, spending overall at the district level as started to flatten out, even as the state starts to provide more aid after its own coffers filled in the aftermath of the recession.

“We saw for many years school districts cutting programs,” Albert said. “This year they were able to keep tax levies low and even some districts were able to start to restore those programs. But it because of the GEA reduction, it was because of the significant state aid increase.”

School districts are able to live under the cap in part thanks to a boost in state aid and a partial reduction in the Gap Elimination Adjustment (a full phase out is expected in next year’s budget), which they say makes budgeting slightly easier, for now.

“That makes it more possible for school districts to live within this tight tax cap,” New York State Council of School Superintendents’ Bob Lowry said in the same interview.on the show last night. “But if times go bad and that kind of aid disappears, school districts will face more difficult choices going forward.”


Cuomo On The ‘Very Hectic’ Session

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an interview on Time Warner Cable News insisted that while the legislative session this year was a “hectic” one it also had a number of highlights, ranging from a bill designed crack down on campus rape as well as a $3 billion property tax rebate package.

“We had a very hectic legislative session in Albany,” he said in an interview earlier on Monday with TWC News. “We have a Republican Senate and Democratic Assembly, so it’s never easy. I always have to reach compromise between those two bodies.”

State lawmakers did not put the finishing touches on the end of the session until late Thursday, when they signed off on a four-year extension of rent control for New York City as well as a four-year sunset for the state’s cap on property tax increases.

Lawmakers stayed in Albany more than a week longer than they were scheduled to as they negotiated extending and altering rent control as well as a real-estate tax abatement for New York City.

The session, Cuomo, acknowledged, was a turbulent one, considering both legislative leaders in the Assembly and the Senate at the start of the year resigned after their arrests in separate corruption scandals.

“Having said all that, we had a great legislative session,” Cuomo said. “We got a lot of things done and I’m all about getting things done for the state of New York.”

Cuomo touted the property tax rebate program as a major achievement and claimed he “can’t do anything” about property taxes (this is likely disputed by both local government advocates when it comes to their call to curtail mandated spending from Albany as well as fiscal hawks, who would like to see reforms to regulations as well as pension costs).

“I can’t do anything about it because it’s not a state tax, it’s a local tax — town, village, county,” Cuomo said. “But we can do rebates because I think the property tax is what’s killing upstate New York.”

Cuomo said he had a brief respite this weekend when he fished with his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who posted a photo of their catches on Instagram.

“I’m looking forward, frankly, to slowing down a little bit,” Cuomo said.

The fishing trip with Chris was interrupted by the call that escaped convict Richard Matt had been shot and killed.

“I’m spending the day with my brother, and what happens, bing — the phone rings: Richard Matt is down,” Cuomo said. “That was the extent of the vacation, it was about 77 minutes in all.”

Cuomo: Convicts Were Mexico-Bound

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said both Richard Matt and David Sweat were initially planning to escape to Mexico, but changed course after a get-away vehicle failed to show up.

Sweat and Matt, who escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora three weeks ago, did so allegedly with the aid of prison employ Joyce Mitchell, who is charged with providing material support to the two men.

But Mitchell declined to show up with a car to help the men flee and their focus shifting to escaping north instead.

“The plan was to head to Mexico, which would have been aided by Joyce Mitchell’s vehicle,” Cuomo said in an interview on The Capitol Pressroom on WCNY radio. “They would kill Mitchell’s husband and then head to Mexico on the theory that Mitchell was in love with one or both of them and then they would live happily ever after, which wasn’t a fairy tale I was read as a child.”

Matt himself is familiar with Mexico, having fled to the country after he murdered and dismembered his boss. Matt had also killed another American while in the country.

Matt was shot and killed by law enforcement on Friday, while Sweat was apprehending on Sunday after he was wounded by State Police Sgt. Jay Cook. Sweat is expected to remain at Albany Medical Center for several days as his condition improves, the hospital said in a statement on Monday morning.

Sweat was caught by police just miles from the Canadian border. Cuomo said Matt and Sweat had actually separated five days ago after the younger Sweat believed Matt was slowing him down.

Cuomo conducted a round of media interviews on Monday morning following the resolution of the nearly month-long manhunt for the men in the largely rural and sprawling North Country region of the state.

In an interview with Time Warner Cable News, Cuomo said Sweat had dug in for a long-haul to Canada.

“He had a backpack that was fully well equipped,” Cuomo said. “It had maps, it had bug spray.”

Cuomo in the interview with TWC News anchor Jon Dougherty praised Cook for his police work as well the effort by the State Police overall.

He added that a two-pronged investigation would be conducted into how Matt and Sweat were able to escape as well the broader probe into security at state prisons. Both Matt and Sweat were on the “honor block” at Clinton Correctional.

“I want to review all of those system to see if we haven’t gone too far,” Cuomo said. The investigation’s conclusions would then “apply those lessons to the prisons in the rest of the system.”

Gone, But Not Forgotten

From the Morning Memo:

The 2015 legislative is over and in the history books. For the moment, there appears to be little desire by state lawmakers in either the Senate or the Assembly to return to Albany later in the year, barring some sort of emergency.

But despite an end-of-session slate of bills passing that included needed extensions for rent control, the property tax cap, the 421a tax abatement and mayoral control of New York City schools, it’s likely unresolved policy questions will linger through the rest of the year.

For starters, there’s still the question of the 421a tax abatement and what changes will be made by January that both labor unions and developers can agree upon when it comes to the prevailing wage. If the question isn’t resolved in six months’ time, the abatement will expire.

In a more politically nettlesome area, there’s the minimum wage increase. A broader wage hike faltered during the session, despite a last-minute push from Gov. Andrew Cuomo with his allies in labor, the Hotel Trades Council.

Cuomo instead convened a wage board at the state Department of Labor to review potential changes to the minimum wage for workers in the fast-food industry, giving a nod to a growing campaign for better wages in that sector. Still, Cuomo himself has not embraced the campaign’s push for a $15 minimum wage. His proposal at the start of the year would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state.

New York’s minimum wage, now at $8.75, is due to increase at the end of the year to $9.

Whatever the wage board determines, advocates will likely be emboldened for a more expansive and larger wage hike in the future.

Senate Republicans have been in the past resistant to a minimum wage hike. Next year, however, is an election year and one that is due to be a politically difficult one for the GOP in New York with the White House on the line. Then-Sen. Nick Spano, a vulnerable Republican, carried a previous minimum wage increase bill as he faced a difficult re-election. It did him little good, however, when he was defeated by Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

And speaking of Senate Democrats, the rent control agreement could be revisited before it is due to expire. Stewart-Cousins told The Daily News that should the conference win a majority next year, the laws could be looked at for strengthening tenant protections before the 2019 sunset. The comment underscores the dissatisfaction among Democratic lawmakers in both chambers over the rent control agreement for not going far enough, especially when it comes to ending vacancy decontrol.

Finally, there’s the fall out from the negotiations themselves, in which Assembly Democrats viewed Cuomo as having ganged up with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan against their speaker, Carl Heastie.

Cuomo concluded the legislative session with few, if any, Democratic allies in the Senate or Assembly, making governing for the remainder of his second term all the more challenging.

Senate Holds Up de Blasio, Cuomo MTA Appointees

In yet another “screw you” to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Republican-controlled Senate departed Albany without acting on the mayor’s appointees to the MTA Board, multiple sources confirm.

De Blasio had three nominees pending with the Senate to serve on the state-run authority, which manages transit – buses, subways, trains, bridges and tunnels – in New York City and surrounding areas including, Long Island: David Jones, a leader with the nonprofit Community Service Society who has advocated reduced transit fares for low-income New Yorkers; Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the chamber’s Transportation Committee; and Veronica Vanterpool, director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and a member of the MTA’s “reinvention” commission.

The trio would bring some diversity to the Board. Jones is black, and Vanterpool and Rodriguez are Latino. The mayor’s decision to tap the councilman did raise some eyebrows, with questions about whether him doing double-duty as both a board member and chair of the committee that oversees the MTA would present a conflict of interest.

The mayor’s appointees were supposed to replace two holdovers from the Bloomberg administration – John Banks and Jeffrey Kay – and give de Blasio control of the four seats on the MTA Board that are afforded to City Hall.

A Senate spokesman said members of the majority are “performing our due diligence on the mayor’s selections.” He did not confirm or deny that the majority’s decision not to act on the mayor’s appointees was born of the Republicans’ ongoing anger with de Blasio for his failed effort to assist the Senate Democrats in taking back the majority during last year’s elections. The bad blood between the conference and the mayor (not to mention the difficult relationship between Cuomo and the mayor) made this an unusually difficult session for de Blasio in Albany.

The Senate did not hold up everything having to do with the MTA, which is always a bit of a sticky wicket – especially for the downstate members – due to its long-running financial issues. (The authority a $14 billion funding gap in its five-year capital plan, which Albany did not address before the session ended).

MTA Chairman Tom Predergast was confirmed earlier this week for a new six-year term. During his confirmation hearing, he warned that if lawmakers don’t do something about the capital plan gap by the end of the year, the agency might have to delay contracts for some projects.

The Senate also confirmed one of Cuomo’s two MTA Board nominees – Larry Schwartz, a former top aide to the governor who is now working in the private sector for an airport services company called OTG Management, to replace Republican Andrew Saul. Schwartz could not travel to Albany to attend his confirmation hearing in person, and so participated via video conference.

Cuomo’s other nominee, Peter Ward, president of the small (but growing in both numbers and clout) New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council. Ward was supposed to replace Allen Cappelli, a Democratic operative from Staten Island who was selected to serve on the board by former Gov. David Paterson in 2008.

News of Cuomo’s decision not to reappoint Cappelli, who has demonstrated an independent streak during his time on the board, angered both Staten Islanders and transit advocates. Cappelli himself expressed disappointment about his imminent removal.

The Senate could not immediately provide an answer as to why Ward was not confirmed, but Schwartz was. (I’m told a few other gubernatorial appointees were also held up due to the fact that they could not appear in person before the Health Committee, as desired by its chairman, Sen. Kemp Hannon). Sen. Diane Savino, an IDC member from Staten Island, said she had not pushed for the delay, saying she believes the “clock just ran down.”

Cappelli said he has no idea why he was spared – at least in the short term – and believes he will continue to serve on the board until the Senate confirms a replacement. At the moment, lawmakers have no plans to return to Albany before next year’s session, which begins in January.

“At least I can continue to serve and fight for capital projects and service enhancements for a period of time,” Cappelli said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Assembly Passes Big Ugly, Legislature Adjourns

Lawmakers have left the state capitol after members from both chambers overwhelmingly supported a final agreement between Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders.

The Senate approved the measure earlier in the night, followed by the Assembly just before midnight in a vote of 122 – 13.

A handful of Republicans and at least one Democrat opposed the final measure. Assemblyman Charles Barron said the agreement doesn’t guarantee enough protections for tenants in New York City.

“Rent protections, not there I don’t think, 421-a program should’ve been scrapped,” Barron said on the Assembly floor. “When I look at this bill I am disappointed – and I know you think in negotiations you go as far as you think. We can talk about the Republican senate, the governor. To me, the governor is a disgrace to this state.”

Others, including those in the minority looked to the cost-saving measures for taxpayers as a positive.

“For me, the fact that we are able to extend the property tax cap, that we are providing some relief to our property tax payers despite the fact we could’ve done so much more with significant mandate relief,” Assemblyman Bob Oaks said on the floor. “My choice tonight is going to be voting in the positive.”

The final vote marks the end of this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers are due back in January.

In his closing remarks, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that while the past few months have been a challenge, the outcome was worth it.

“After this session our families are stronger, our schools are stronger, and our communities are stronger.” Heastie said. “It truly is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the women and men on both sides of the aisle.”

Heastie’s counterpart in the Republican-led Senate had much of the same to say. In his closing, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan touched on his working relationship with Governor Cuomo since he assumed the leadership role just last month.

“We have had a tumultuous couple of weeks for sure but at the end of the day we worked closely together, we worked well together, certainly disagreements,” Flanagan said. “He is tenacious, as he will often tell people, and I look forward to working with him again.”

On Heastie, Flanagan had no complaints.

“Carl Heastie’s a good guy, he’s a gentlemen,” Flanagan said. “He’s a fair broker, he certainly was very passionate on issues like rent and certainly issues involving the city of New York. He has been good to work with, plain and simple.”

Flanagan pointed to a few of the chamber’s major victories, like the historic increase in education aid included in this year’s budget, along with movement on the Women’s Equality Agenda.

“The log-jam on that broke,” Flanagan said. “We passed all the bills and we got a lot of cooperation from the Assembly.”

Flanagan even hinted at an issue he’s planning to make a priority in the Senate next year: organ donation.

“We are 50th in the country, which is abysmal,” Flanagan said. “For as progressive of a state as we are, and the things that we advocate I find it reprehensible that we are not better at that subject matter, at that issue, and I would hope that my colleagues would think about that very seriously.”

For now, lawmakers will return to their districts more than a week after the legislative session was originally scheduled to end.

In the final days of session, lawmakers were able to tackle key issues like rent control, education reform, and an extension to the state’s property tax cap. But others didn’t make the final cut, including the governor’s education tax credit, a hike in the state’s minimum wage, and an agreement on pension forfeiture.

Whether lawmakers will take any significant action on those issues next year is unclear – members from both chambers are up for re-election the following November.