Mar 7th - 2:15 pm
The one-house budget bill submitted by the Assembly Democrats next week will include a revised version of the Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize marijuana for medical use.
Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who has long championed med-mar, confirmed that this is the first time in Albany history that the provision has been included in a budget bill by his conference.
“Unless something dramatic changes, yes, that is the plan,” Gottfried told me during a telephone interview this afternoon. “It’s my bill with some changes that we’ve worked up over the last couple of weeks that would have eventually gone into my bill except we’re putting them into the one-house instead…By putting it in our budget bill, we jump start a three-way discussion.”
“People might ask: Why does this belong in the budget? The answer is: When creating a new state program that’s going to cost money to administer and create a new source of state revenue, it’s perfectly acceptable to have it in a budget bill.”
One change was to have the excise tax proposed in Gottfried’s bill (being carried in the state Senate by IDC Sen. Diane Savino) from a certain number of dollars per pound to a percentage of the dispensing price. This was necessary, Gottfried said, because the sponsors realized that “a pound of dried leaf and a pound of oil extract are very different and should not be taxed the same.”
The other, more substantive change was the addition of provisions to speed up – at least on a temporary basis – the recognition of organizations that are registered to dispense medical marijuana. The way the bill had been written, it could take a year or two before product was available to patients, Gottfried said, due to the time required to write regulations, process registration applications and grow the plants.
How quickly marijuana could get into the hands of the people who need it remains something of an unanswerable question, due to the fact that the federal government would have to sign off if New York is to procure product from states where it is already legal.
“In order for this concept to work, we would have to get the Department of Justice to acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong if the product goes from one tightly regulated state to another tightly regulated state,” Gottfried said. “Because if not, there’s really no practical way anyone can think of to make product quickly available…And I really do not want to see babies dying for a year or two while they’re waiting for New York to get its system up and running.”
There has been considerable movement on med-mar in recent weeks in the Senate, with several Republicans expressing support for the Compassionate Care Act. This is widely attributed to the strong lobbying efforts put forth by a group of Western New York parents whose children suffer from devastating seizures, either caused by epilepsy or a disorder known as Dravet’s syndrome.
At least one Republican senator – Patrick Gallivan – has said he supports a very limited bill that would legalize a high CBD, low THC oil type of medical marijuana. In Colorado, it’s known as “Charlotte’s Web,” named after Charlotte Figi, who suffers from Dravet’s syndrome and was the first patient who had success with the treatment.
Gottfried said he considers it “inhumane” to patients who would need different kinds of med-mar treatment – like smoking to offset the nausea brought on by chemo, for example – to severely limit access to just one or a few types of the plant, adding: “It’s highly unlikely you could ever develop a production process in New York just to serve a dozen patients.”
The Assembly budget bill will not include any money in the coming fiscal year for med-mar, Gottfried said, because the assumption is that there will be little – if any – initial cost in setting up a med-mar system. The cost – as yet unknown – would ramp up in the 2015-16 fiscal year, but the assumption is that it would be more than covered by the revenue generated once the system gets up and running – revenue that Gottfried said could “possibly” exceed $100 million a year.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a limited medical marijuana plan in his budget proposal that would be established via executive order, reviving a 1980s-era law that has been dormant for years. Gottfried and others panned this approach as cumbersome and too limited in scope. Asked if the the administration has taken any steps to implement the governor’s plan, Gottfried replied:
“If you find the name of anyone in the Health Department who’s working on this project, would you let me know? I’ve been trying very hard to find out that name, and so far I’ve gotten no response.”
The administration has indicated, through top Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz, that the governor would “support” the Compassionate Care Act if it passes both houses and ends up on his desk.
Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos appears to have softened his stance on med-mar, saying he’s now open to legalizing marijuana-based oils and possibly vaporizers, but still doesn’t like the idea of “public smoking.” Skelos also has not yet agreed to letting a bill to legalize med-mar come to the floor for a vote.
Mar 6th - 1:01 pm
Queens Democratic Sen. Mike Gianaris on Thursday yoked Senate Republicans to the socially conservative positions of gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino, encouraging reporters to ask GOP lawmakers whether they agree with the candidate’s stance on abortion, gay rights and gun control.
“What we know is Rob Astorino is a very right-wing wolf masquerading in very moderate sheep’s clothing,” Gianaris told reporters at the Capitol. “This is someone who is against a woman’s right to choose, wants to roll back protections for gay and lesbian New Yorkers, wants to roll back some of the important achievements in public safety such as the SAFE Act. It’s something those who want to run with him have to answer for. So for the Senate Republicans I would say the important question is do they agree with their candidate? Do they agree with Rob Astorino?”
Astorino, indeed, holds conservative views when it comes to abortion and gay marriage, and is oppose to the gun control law known as the SAFE Act.
But he has sought to emphasis fiscal issues in a Democratic heavy state like New York. Astorino has also pointed to his victories in two county executive races in the Democratic heavy Westchester County suburb as a sign that the social positions haven’t held him back.
But for Gianaris, the chairman of the Democrat’s fundraising committee, the play is clear: Tying Astorino’s candidacy to the Senate Republicans — whose members range from the generally moderate to conservative — could help in legislative elections.
“He is as radical as they come,” he said of Astorino. “This is not George Pataki running for office in the mid-90s who ran and governed as a moderate. This is someone whose positions are extreme and will hurt New York.”
Still, it’s unclear whether the top-of-ticket would truly impact a legislative race. Republicans in 2010 regained control of the Senate — albeit by a razor-thin margin — despite Carl Paladino being at the top of the ticket and Cuomo’s landslide.
Cuomo himself as reportedly suggested that Senate Republicans should not back Astorino for governor given that he would unleash his campaign war chest and paint the GOP with a broad brush as being out-of-step with most New Yorkers on social issues.
Cuomo has worked well with Republicans in the state Senate, who in turn have allowed votes on gun control and same-sex marriage.
Mar 5th - 12:59 pm
The war of words between former Oliver Koppell and the IDC, whose leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, the former councilman is eyeing as a potential political target, escalated still further this morning, with Sen. Diane Savino jumping to Klein’s defense.
In a statememt, Koppell accused Klein of declaring “war on Democrats across the state” by endorsing a Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant’s second primary challenge to “regular” Democratic Sen. Tim Kennedy in Buffalo, and discussing a potential challenge to Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins by Westchester County Legislator Virginia Perez.
Koppell noted that Stewart-Cousins is the first woman to serve as a legislative leader in Albany, and laced into Klein for daring to consider backing someone against her.
“He is nothing but a lapdog for Senate Republicans,” Koppell said of the IDC leader. “In acting to weaken Democratic Senate leaders, he is empowering Dean Skelos and his Republican colleagues to block progressive legislation.”
Savino responded to Koppell during an interview on “The Capitol Pressroom” with Susan Arbetter, calling the former councilman’s attack “most ridiculous comments” he has made to date.
“When it comes to be declaring war on Democrats and democracy, Oliver Koppell is guilty of that in spades,” Savino said. “…I think he should be very careful about the allegations or the charges he throws around.”
Savino noted that in 2009, it was Koppell who introduced the bill that extended term limits in New York City, allowing then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg and all Council members who were about to be out of a job – including himself – to ask voters to let them stick around in office for another four years.
“That was not just a slap in the face of the Democratic Party,” said Savino, who pointed out that Bloomberg’s Democratic challenger, former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson, should have had a clear shot at the office and came close to unseating the billionaire mayor that year. “That was a skap in the face of democracy, directly overturning the will of the people.”
Mar 4th - 1:26 pm
Despite Sen. Tony Avella’s defection last week, which was widely viewed as a momentum check for the Senate Democrats heading into another crucial election year, the conference managed to raise a significant chunk of cash at its Albany fund-raiser last night.
According to Sen. Mike Gianaris, who heads the DSCC, the event at Taste on Beaver Street brought in more than $300,000 and attracted a “who’s who” of Democratic politics. (He declined to name names, but did say more than 100 people showed up).
” The message is clear,” Gianaris told me during a brief telephone interview this morning. “People realize that even with the occasional zigs and zags, overall we are very strong. We have retired our debt. We have new leaders. We’re feeling pretty good about our chances, and apparently activists do as well.”
Gianaris said $300,000 is the largest amount the Democrats have raised at a single event since he took over the DSCC from Sen. Jeff Klein in December 2010.
The conference can definitely use the money.
While the Democrats have finally gotten out from under the multimillion dollar debt that has been weighing them down for years, they didn’t have much left over after finally paying that off. As of mid-January, they had just under $200 on hand in their regular DSCC account and $43,100 in their housekeeping account.
I’ll be speaking to Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins about the upcoming elections, Avella’s departure, and the primary threat she might be facing from a Westchester County legislator on Capital Tonight at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
Mar 4th - 12:51 pm
It turns out that not just one, but two former political heavyweights who did time on tax evasion charges are connected to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s April 4 campaign fund-raiser in Tarrytown.
As we reported earlier today, former Republican Sen. Nick Spano, who was released from prison last spring after pleading guilty in 2012 to tax evasion charges, sent an email to his contacts announcing that his lobbying firm is hosting the event, and trying to drum up attendance.
Upon reading that blog item, a source emailed to say that he had received an invitation to the fund-raiser via email from Paul Adler, the former chairman of the Rockland County Democratic Party who pleaded guilty in 2001 to bribery and tax evasion charges.
According to Adler’s email, which was forwarded to me by the source, the “Hudson Valley for Cuomo Reception” is an annual event – a “tradition” that began in 2009, Adler wrote, “when we all urged Andrew Cuomo to run for Governor of the Great State of New York.”
“In one short term in office, Andrew Cuomo has worked hard to put NYS back on track. The Governor’s leadership has shown the impact that a responsive and effective government can have on the lives of its people,” Adler continued.
“Now, we need to demonstrate our support for the Governor and his re-election efforts in 2014. Your early and continued support is greatly appreciated and the Governor has committed himself to seek another term to finish re-building NYS back into the Empire State.”
“With your generous support at this event, Andrew Cuomo can continue to: Create Jobs, Cut Taxes, Put Students First, Reduce Gun Violence, Provide Affordable Housing, Make Casino Gambling a Realty and finish the construction of the New Tappan Zee Bridge on time and on budget.”
Attached to Adler’s email is the official invitation to the Cuomo reception – the same invite Spano attached to his email.
The Spano email didn’t make it clear whether Cuomo’s campaign committee was connected to – or aware of – the ex-senator’s efforts on the governor’s behalf. Spano urged recipients to direct questions to him. Adler, on the other hand, includes the phone number and email address of Tom Giordano, the managing director of Cuomo 2014.
I emailed Josh Vlasto, who recently left the administration to work full time on Cuomo’s re-election campaign, to ask if the campaign planned to continue having Spano as a host of the April 4 event. So far, I have no recevied a reply.
Adler is a well known real estate broker and Democratic operative in the Hudson Valley. He was a prominent supporter of Hillary Clinton’s when she ran for the US Senate in 2000. Last year, Adler and his wife, Mary, co-chaired a fund-raiser headlined for Clinton on behalf of then-NYC mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, who was the campaign manager of Clinton’s Senate run.
Adler was sentenced to 19 months behind bars in 2002 after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges - including accepting bribes from developers and attempting to influence members of a local zoning board. He also pleaded guilty to tax evasion for failing to report $150,000 worth of income.
In addition, Adler’s files were reportedly seized by the FBI in 2001 as part of a probe into President Bill Clinton’s commutation of the sentences of four Orthodox Jews who had been convicted of stealing federal anti-poverty funds in New Square.
The clemency came on Bill Clinton’s last day in office, and after the Hasidic town had overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton for Senate by a margin of 1,400 to 12. The federal probe was subsequently dropped.
Mar 3rd - 12:45 pm
This is an updated version of the second item in today’s Morning Memo:
The Journal News reports that Virginia Perez, a Westchester County legislator, is giving “serious consideration” to a primary challenge against Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and has had “several” conversations about her potential run with Klein.
While Perez is still weighing her options, she seems like a good fit for the IDC, which is co-controlling the Senate through a power-sharing agreement with the Republicans. Consider this:
Perez, who was first elected in 2011, is a supporter of bi-partisan coalitions. She joined with another county Democrat last December to form a partnership with Republicans in the county Legislature — similar to the structure in the state Senate.
“Being bi-partisan is the best way to serve the public,” she said. “We don’t need gridlock. Extreme partisanship doesn’t get us anywhere.”
This news comes on the heels of last week’s surprise announcement by Queens Sen. Tony Avella that he would be departing company with the regular Democrats to join forces with the IDC.
Almost immediately, there was talk of a potential primary challenge against Avella, who has less than $3,000 in his campaign account. Avella shrugged off such talk, saying he’s not worried about any political payback for his decision.
He also called a mini protest (four people holding signs) that materialized outside his appearance at a Queens public school last Friday “ridiculous.”
The possible Perez vs. Stewart-Cousins primary also comes after months of speculation that former NYC Councilman Oliver Koppell might challenge Klein himself this fall. Koppell has been ratcheting up his public criticism of Klein and has met with DSCC Chairman Mike Gianaris to discuss a possible primary. But he has not made any formal announcements – or formed a campaign committee, or started fund-raising – to date.
Klein praised Perez to the Journal News through a statement released by his spokeswoman, saying she “has a very bright future, and has the talent, experience and drive to make a great senator.” He also noted he has “deep ties throughout Yonkers,” which he has represented for many years.
A spokesman for Stewart-Cousins and the regular Democrats declined comment.
UPDATE: AS of mid-January, Stewart-Cousins had $250,621 on hand in her personal campaign account, but, of course, would have access to DSCC funds, should she need them. Perez had $2,817, but would probably be able to rely on some assistance from the IDC, should she decide to run.
Also, Perez has at least one black mark against her: She filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy back in 2012, citing unmanageable debt. She said at the time that her situation was “nothing to be ashamed of,” and one that many people in her district can related to, so perhaps it gives her a “real person” talking point, but it could also be used against her in a campaign.
Mar 3rd - 12:21 pm
ICYMI, here’s the lead item today’s Morning Memo:
The New York City-based war over charter schools will reach a head in Albany tomorrow, as hundreds from either side descend on the state Capitol for dueling rallies.
On one side: Former NYC Councilwoman and charter school operator Eva Moskowitz, who is furious with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio for reversing co-location decisions by his predecessor, former Mayor Bloomberg, that would have allowed for the expansion of three schools operated by her Success Academy network.
Moskowitz has cancelled school tomorrow at all 22 of her charters, and plans to bus angry parents, students and teachers to Albany to protest de Blasio’s decision.
On the other side: De Blasio and his allies, who had already planned to be in Albany Tuesday to rally for his ever-more-out-of-reach plan to let the city tax wealthy residents to expand pre-K and after school programs in the five boroughs. De Blasio last week fanned the flames still further by calling Moskowitz’s rally a “sideshow,” insisting he would not be deterred by her plans.
There is a belief among de Blasio backers that that Moskowitz has launched her competing rally with the tacit approval – if not outright encouragement – of the pro-charter Cuomo administration, which is at odds with the mayor over pre-K funding.
Just last week, Cuomo was praising the charter school movement and its departed “champion” (Bloomberg), while refusing to weigh in directly on the co-location argument.
A Cuomo spokesman did not return an email seeking comment Sunday night.
Meanwhile, Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos told the NY Post he’s prepared to fight on behalf of charter schools during the ongoing budget negotiations with Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and IDC Leader Jeff Klein.
Skelos called de Blasio’s co-location decision “unconscionable.” He also expressed concern about the administration’s effort to redirect a $210 million construction fund used to build space for charter schools toward pre-K, and its plans to charge better-financed charter schools rent.
Not everyone in the charter community is at war with de Blasio. Twenty-three charter organizations have signed onto a Feb. 27 statement calling Moskowitz’s competing rally “not the right approach at this time,” and refusing to participate.
“Tuesday is not a day to be divided,” the letter reads. “Those rallying in Albany next week should stand together with the city and advocate – side by side – for our children, particularly the most underserved, and all of whom are public school students.”
Feb 26th - 3:26 pm
Sen. Tony Avella caught the “regular” Democrats by surprise with his decision to defect to the IDC. Apparently, there was no warning – not for his (now former) conference members or his longtime consultants at The Parkside Group - which has left some pretty bruised feelings on the part of the people he left behind.
It might not be so bad if the conference – and especially Avella’s fellow Queens Democrat, DSCC Chairman Mike Gianaris – hadn’t worked hard to get Avella elected in a tough race against former GOP Sen. Frank Padavan back in 2010. The fact that Avella has given a win to Gianaris’ political rival, IDC Leader Jeff Klein, has got to sting, too.
What’s particularly surprising about this move is that Avella has never been much of a joiner. He’s neither a party guy, nor an institutional guy. And while the political world has been willing to chalk up his behavior to “Tony being Tony,” his maverick streak has not served him well in terms of making friends – not during his days on the NYC Council, and not in Albany, either.
According to Queens and Albany sources, the Senate Democrats had been working on Avella’s behalf to smooth feathers he ruffled with local Democrats thanks to his handling last year of a local NYC Council race and his short-lived run for borough president.
Avella refused to endorse the party’s nominee for the Conucil seat he once held, Paul Vallone, even after Vallone eked out a victory in the Democratic primary. Avella and the Vallones (a NYC political dynasty family) have never gotten along terribly well. Avella tangeled with his former Council colleague, Peter Vallone Jr., during the borough president race before dropping out of the running entirely.
According to several sources, the unhappiness with Avella on the party of some local Democrats was so high that there had been talk of a primary challenge. Now that he has thrown in his lot with the IDC, he may very well have increased his chances of getting challenged by a member of his own party this fall. A number of names have already been floated, including (but not limited to) Assemblyman Ed Braunstein and WFP legislative director Austin Shafran, a former Cuomo administration aide and Senate Democratic spokesman who lost a close Council primary to Paul Vallone last fall.
There’s also always the threat of a primary challenge from Sen. Toby Stavisky, whose home was redrawn into Avella’s district during the last round of redistricting. She ultimately chose to run in the 16th SD instead of the 11th, but could always change her mind, especially if she faces a third primary challenge challenge from John Messer.
“Everyone is talking now about primarying the guy,” a Queens Democratic source told me this afternoon. “He has a lot of enemies…Everyone hates Tony Avella; he fights with everyone.”
Everyone hates him, that is, except the people who matter: The voters. Avella remains very popular with his constituents, and, as Jimmy Vielkind noted, has maintained a hyper-local focus during his time in Albany, which certainly has helped to maintain his close connection with his constituents.
Despite his local strengths, it’s worth noting that Avella defeated Padavan with a campaign that focused largely on two key issues: Immigrants rights (the district has a lot of first and second generation immigrants), and women’s rights – specifically, abortion. The fact that Avella has now joined up with the IDC, which women’s rights groups blame for the failure of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act to come to the floor, will no doubt come up if someone does opt to challenge the senator.
Avella has never been one for raising campaign cash. As of mid-January, he had just $2,775 in his campaign account. Of course, now that he’s joined forces with the IDC, Avella will come under Klein’s protection. IDC spokesman Eric Soufer told me the conference is “fully behind” its newest member, politically speaking.
Upon learning the news about Avella’s switch, several observers wondered how long this new relationship might last, given the senator’s independent streak and his propensity for pissing people off.
“He’s whole brand is that he’s not that guy,” my Queens source said. “He’s the guy who rips up his parking placard every year and tells everyone to drop dead. He’s not the political guy who’s in bed with the other side and doing deals. And all of a sudden, he’s with the Republicans? I don’t see this thing lasting.”
Only time will tell.
Feb 26th - 12:00 pm
Sen. Ruben Diaz predicted on Thursday Sen. Tony Avella would receive the Aging Committee chairmanship with his move to the Independent Democratic Conference.
At the same time, Diaz, a Bronx Democrat and social conservative who is vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion, said in an email titled “Told You So” that the party can no “really kiss the majority goodbye.”
For a long time I have been calling for their return and asking my colleagues to talk to Jeff Klein and the member of the IDC and to “make them an offer that they cannot refuse,” and bring them back so that we Democrats could be in the Majority again. The response from my Democratic colleagues, lamentably, has been that “we would rather always be in the minority.” To them I now say be careful what you wish for, you might get it.
The full statement is after the jump. More >
Feb 26th - 8:07 am
In a semi-surprise move that could dramatically change the chamber’s calculus, Queens Sen. Tony Avella has decided to abandon his fellow so-called “regular” Democrats and join forces with Sen. Jeff Klein’s IDC.
Avella hasn’t yet formally announced his switch, and apparently hadn’t yet informed Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins et al when he confirmed his plan to the Daily News, saying the IDC “has developed a clear, progressive agenda for New York’s working families.”
Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy issued the following statement this morning: “It’s unfortunate that progressive policies continue to be stymied because of divisions created by Senators who choose to empower Republicans.”
There were no obvious signs of Avella’s plans to defect. In fact, as recently as last summer, he had been critical of the IDC, saying (in his usual blunt way) the conference should “put up or shut up” when it came to a fracking moratorium – one of his top agenda items.
But Avella has always had an independent streak, and been something of a maverick. In 2009, he ran a long-shot primary challenge against the Democratic NYC mayoral favorite, Bill Thompson, losing in a landslide.
Last year, he ran a short-lived campaign for Queens borough president, and ended up pulling out of the race (eventually won by his former NYC Council colleague, Melinda Katz), saying he could “best serve the people of Queens” by remaining a senator.
Certainly – at least for the short term – being an IDC member will help Avella get his bills to the floor, thanks to the conference’s power-sharing agreement with the Senate Republicans.
But in the long run, the Democrats seem to have momentum on their side when it comes to taking back the majority, if not this year (probably not), then perhaps in 2016 when the next presidential election boosts turnout in this blue state.
For now, however, Avella’s decision to jump ship is a blow to the Senate Democrats, and in particular to his fellow Queens lawmaker, Mike Gianaris, who heads the DSCC and worked hard in 2010 to assist Avella in his successful challenge to former GOP Sen. Frank Padavan.
As the DN’s Ken Lovett points out, without Avella, the regular Democrats have just 24 members. Two Democrats indicted on corruption charges – Sen. Malcolm Smith (also of Queens, and a former IDCer) and Sen. John Sampson, of Brooklyn – are men without caucuses. Sen. Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn, sits with the 29 Republicans.
There are also two vacancies in the Senate – one on the Republican side, thanks to the New Year’s Eve departure of Chuck Fuschillo for the private sector, and the other on the Democratic side, following Eric Adams’ election to the Brooklyn borough president’s office.