May 27th - 1:46 pm
The Monroe County Democratic Committee on Friday confirmed it had received a subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office in the investigation surrounding Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to boost Senate Democrats in 2014.
“The Monroe County Democratic Committee has received a subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seeking records related to certain campaign contributions,” said the committee’s counsel, Chris Thomas. “MCDC has already provided documents in response and will continue to fully cooperate with that inquiry.”
De Blasio is facing multiple investigations into his political fundraising, including an effort he backed on behalf of Democratic Senate candidates two years ago. Scrutiny is being placed on the method of fundraising used by de Blasio’s political allies in which county committees received large contributions, with money then being transferred to individual candidate campaigns.
Investigators are probing whether the effort was part of a deliberate attempt to circumvent campaign finance contribution limits.
The campaigns de Blasio’s team sought to help included those being run in Monroe County, as well as the Hudson Valley and Capital Region. Rochester-area Democratic incumbent Ted O’Brien in 2014 lost his re-election bid to Republican Rich Funke.
In the statement released Friday, Thomas pointed to the committee conducting an internal investigation into the contributions.
“That internal investigation is aimed at determining what occurred and whether what occurred was consistent with MCDC’s by-laws and best practices,” Thomas said.
“MCDC intends to make that investigation public after the District Attorney’s investigation has concluded, so as not to interfere with that investigation in any way. In the meantime, and as is utterly typical in all investigations, the District Attorney has directed that MCDC not discuss this matter further.”
May 26th - 6:45 am
From the Morning Memo:
The House Majority PAC, the leading super PAC that aims to assist the Democrats in retaking control of Congress, is feeling optimistic about its chances in New York this fall, suggesting in a new memo that at least six GOP-held seats could be flipped in the general election.
“Multiple Republican incumbents and challengers are finding their already-precarious political prospects diminishing even further as they struggle with a damaging party brand, a toxic presidential ticket-mate, and increasingly prove themselves out of touch with their own districts,” the PAC’s executive director, Alixandria Lapp, wrote in the memo being released today.
The districts in play, according to the PAC, are: NY-1, NY-19, NY-21, NY-22, NY-23, and NY-24. Two of those – NY-19 and NY-22 – are open seats, thanks to decisions by their current Republican occupants, Rep. Chris Gibson and Rep. Richard Hanna, respectively, not to seek re-election.
Lapp notes that despite the big win by presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump in New York’s April presidential primary, he’s still polling far behind his fellow New Yorker, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, in general election head-to-head match ups.
And, according to those same polls, Trump’s favorability ratings are in the dumps. (Then again, so are Clinton’s, so perhaps that’s not the best data point to be citing).
Not all GOP candidates have wholeheartedly embraced Trump. Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin – a top Democratic target – has endorsed him, but another Republican whose district is in play this fall, freshman Rep. John Katko, of Syracuse, has declined to do so, saying the billionaire developer has to “earn” his vote.
The House Majority PAC, which was founded in 2011, has already placed airtime reservations for this fall targeting NY-1 and NY-24, though a dollar amount wasn’t immediately available. The PAC is weighing its options for further investments, a spokesman said.
In the 2012 cycle, in which Democrats won three competitive House races – including two pick-ups – the House Majority PAC spent more than $2 million, all told.
According to Lapp, the PAC this year plans to “play a significant role in helping ensure victories in House races across the Empire State.”
May 26th - 6:30 am
From the Morning Memo:
The clock on the legislative session is winding down, and yet there’s been little to no public progress made on ethics or campaign finance reform in Albany. Lawmakers say it’s getting late in the year to reach a deal.
“I would say right now my optimism is low because we’ve had the entire session here to do something specific,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.
Time is running short in Albany, with 9 legislative session days to go before lawmakers leave the Capitol for the rest of the year and focus, in most cases, on running for re-election.
But signs of any agreement on ethics reform, at least for now, appear elusive.
In the state Senate, lawmakers are at odds over proposals to ban unlimited donations from limited liability companies. A bill that would have done so was bottled up in a committee earlier in May.
“I never say never, otherwise why would I get up in the morning and come back here so, there’s always room for hope and a chance,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan. “I’ve continuously said all year why are we wasting the crisis of corruption? Why aren’t we fixing ourselves?”
In the Assembly, meanwhile, a constitutional amendment to strip corrupt officials of their pensions was approved last year, but that version differs from what was passed by the Senate. Lawmakers there are growing frustrated the amendment will ever pass.
“There’s several version of pension forfeiture bills out there,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, a Republican from Queensbury. “I’m at the point now where any of them is better than doing none of them. It may be one that is yet to be even drafted.”
For his part, Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans a roll out of ethics reform bills over the next several days. He released eight different versions of a bill to close the LLC loophole on Tuesday.
“We’ll talk about income limits. We’ll talk independence,” Cuomo said. “Then we’ll talk about term limits, but we have a full agenda.”
May 24th - 1:28 pm
The top legislative leaders in the Democratic-led Assembly and GOP-controlled Senate on Tuesday indicated they support approving $485.5 million in spending for a subsidiary of the under-investigation SUNY Polytechnic, saying the money is vital for the continuation of the economic development program in western New York.
“There’s a general belief that it’s a worthwhile project,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “There are a series of questions that we put forward and we’re just waiting to get those answers back and then I think everything will be fine.”
Added Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan: “It’s critical to economic development in the state of New York, it’s critical to western New York.”
The vote for the Public Authorities Control Board is scheduled for Wednesday after it was delayed a week due to scheduling issues, according to the state Division of Budget.
The money is set to go toward an entity formed by SUNY Poly, which is being investigated for bid rigging by the state attorney general’s office. The money is part of a broader spending effort to the RiverBend project, the site of a SolarCity factory in western New York.
The project is a component of the Buffalo Billion program, an economic development effort that is being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.
Both the Assembly and Senate have votes to approve the spending, as does the Division of Budget, which is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
Still, lawmakers have questioned the spending, while Cuomo himself has said the funding is to be reviewed by the independent investigator his office hired, Bart Schwartz.
“There are a lot of vehicles for oversight which should take place,” Flanagan said. “But I don’t think that should be an excuse for not moving ahead and making sure we approve jobs for the economy.”
May 24th - 6:30 am
From the Morning Memo:
Lawmakers on the Senate Democratic Policy Group today will hold a forum on climate change in order to assess how the state can respond to the issue.
The panel is expected to include environmental advocates and academics, including Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz, Urban Program Legislative Director Richard Schraeder and SUNY Albany Professor David Carpenter, who leads the Institute for Health and the Environment.
The event itself is being led by a group of Democratic conference members who have released a series of policy-based reports — Sens. Daniel Squadron, George Latimer, Velmanette Montgomery, Jose Serrano and Brad Hoylman.
The panel is expected to discuss topics ranging from the impact of climate change on New Yorkers’ health, the increase in extreme weather such as heightened flood risk, and recent efforts by the state to respond.
“Climate change is a serious problem already impacting New Yorkers across the state, but far too often has been put on the back-burner or even denied by the Senate Majority,” said Squadron, who chairs the panel. “There’s more New York must do to fight climate change — this forum is an opportunity to highlight significant issues and work with experts on additional solutions.”
The forum will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., in Room 123 at the Capitol.
May 23rd - 4:51 pm
As new Democratic state party chair, one of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s main focuses in the next few months will be to change the balance of power in the state Senate. There are a few big-time contested races that could affect that balance including the 60th district in Western New York.
Asked by reporters Tuesday what his plans were for the races, Brown was quick to point out the Senate already has more Democrats than Republicans. He said he will be trying to help mend any fractures between the Democratic Conference and the Independent Democratic Conference.
“I certainly hope to help with that reconciliation. Obviously I served in the New York State Senate for three terms, know many members of the Senate,” he said.
Brown also said with the investigation into Democratic fundraising tactics, he understands there will be a major focus on campaign finance for the upcoming elections.
“I certainly believe in dotting every i, crossing every t, following every rule and regulation that is on the books,” he said.
The Buffalo mayor said he gave a lot of thought to whether he would be able to take on the extra workload of a state chairmanship, but ultimately decided the presidential election was too important to pass up the opportunity to contribute.
May 23rd - 7:15 am
From the Morning Memo:
As Hillary Clinton’s slog to the Democratic presidential nomination continues in a protracted primary battle with Bernie Sanders, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told New York Democrats on Sunday night to spread the “gospel” of New York’s liberal policy victories at this summer’s party convention in Philadelphia.
Cuomo, who was introduced by his sometimes-rival Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, stressed the need for party unity. And, without explicitly saying so, provided a blueprint for Clinton supporters who are trying to convince Sanders backers to support her nomination this fall.
“We’re not just giving speeches in New York,” Cuomo said. “We’re making government work. That’s what it’s all about and that’s the Democratic Party at its best. You preach that gospel at the convention and we’re going to bring this Democratic Party together. We’re going to win in November, Hillary’s going to be the next president.”
Cuomo, who has been a Clinton surrogate and endorsed her bid when she announced a second White House run last year, listed a series of his own accomplishments as governor, ranging from the passage of the SAFE Act, the legalization of same-sex marriage, and most recently the passage of a $15 minimum wage as well as a paid family leave program.
“Look at what we’ve done here in New York,” Cuomo said. “We’ve done more to advance justice in the last six years than has been done in the preceding 60.”
(And, as his administration is facing an investigation for the signature economic development program the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo touted his efforts to revive the regional economy, to loud applause. “We have invested more in the upstate economy than any administration of the history of this state,” he said.)
Cuomo derided presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and, as he has before, mocked the proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“They say they can do one thing, which is build a wall,” Cuomo said. “Who knew Trump was really a carpenter after all of this? That’s the only thing government can do. No immigration, no rights, no women’s equality, but we’re going to build a wall.”
But in many respects, Cuomo’s remarks were aimed at unifying his own party after a bruising Democratic nominating season.
In New York’s April contest, Clinton defeated Sanders. But the primary showed a split among Democratic voters: Sanders won most upstate counties, while Clinton was victorious in cities and downs tae.
Cuomo acknowledged in his remarks, too, how both major political parties are split. For the Democrats, Sanders has threatened to take his primary fight to the convention itself in order to gain concessions from the leadership such as reforms to the primary nominating system as well as to shift the platform to the left.
Mathematically Clinton is expected to clinch the needed delegates in order to win the nomination.
But there has been some concern from Democrats nationally the effort to unify and stop Trump is being hindered by the ongoing primary and Sanders’s attacks.
“It’s not just rhetoric,” Cuomo said. “We can actually help you in your life. We can get things done.”
May 23rd - 6:45 am
From the Morning Memo:
As Buffalo Mayor Brown is preparing to take the helm of the state Democratic Party, another Western New Yorker is set to leave his party post.
James J. Eagan, executive vice president of Midwood Financial Services, is announcing today his resignation as state party secretary.
In a statement provided to SofP, Eagan cited Brown’s selection as party chairman as the motivation behind his decision, saying it provided an “excellent opportunity” for him to step back and refocus his efforts on local elections.
Brown will be the first WNY chair of the state party since the 1970s, and Eagan said he feels like he’s leaving the operation in good hands, with the interests of his region well represented.
“I applaud Governor Cuomo’s decision to support Mayor Byron Brown as party chair, as it provides the state party with strong leadership that capably represents the Western New York interests that I have been representing in my role as secretary,” Eagan said.
“With Western New York sufficiently represented in the state party, the timing is right for me to shift my focus back home to Erie County,” he continued.
“It is imperative that Erie County Democratic Party leaders support candidates with core values that do not contradict those of the Democratic Party, along with having the capability of taking on the challenges of good governance, including restoring public faith in the ethical integrity of elected officials.”
State Democratic Party leaders are gathering today in Saratoga Springs to elect their new leaders.
May 20th - 7:00 am
EMILY’s List is endorsing Democrat Zephyr Teachout in the battleground 19th congressional district in the Hudson Valley.
The group, which backs Democratic candidates who support reproductive rights, called Teachout a “reform-minded champion.”
“Zephyr Teachout is a reform-minded champion who understands the challenges faced by New York women and families,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List.
“Zephyr has dedicated her career to ending government corruption and income inequality, protecting the environment and advocating for women’s access to health care. The EMILY’s List community, more than three million strong, is excited to endorse Zephyr in this battleground district.”
Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor, next month faces Democrat Will Yandik in a primary for the party’s nomination in the district, which is being vacated by Republican Rep. Chris Gibson.
On the Republican side, former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso and businessman Andrew Heaney are vying for the GOP nod.
May 19th - 5:44 pm
Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner didn’t waste much time ripping into political operative Kristy Mazurek, who, as we reported earlier, is laying the groundwork for a Democratic primary in New York’s 143rd Assembly District. Zellner released a long statement, Thursday evening, striking a contrast between Mazurek and the committee’s endorsed candidate Monica Wallace.
“Kristy Mazurek embodies everything that is wrong with politics, and the contrast could not be greater between her and Monica Wallace, a principled leader who brings a unique perspective to the seat and has spent her entire career fighting for justice and teaching ethics at UB Law School,” Zellner said.
Zellner went on to say the Mazurek candidacy is “nothing more than another sideshow orchestrated by (former Dem Chair) Steve Pigeon.” Zellner referenced reports of State Police and the FBI looking into her role as the treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus, a Pigeon-led pack that backed non-endorsed candidates in several 2013 primaries.
“In addition, she has multiple arrests, and if she were serving in Albany today, we would be calling for her resignation based on these facts,” he said.
I did find record of at least one Mazurek arrest, according to the Albany Times Union she was charged with DWI in June 2006.
“Monica Wallace is the right person at the right time to represent the people of Cheektowaga and Lancaster, and she will restore trust and integrity to the 143rd Assembly District,” Zellner said.
Wallace said she was already preparing for a challenge against Cheektowaga Councilman Jim Rogowski, who were told has dropped out of the race. She said a primary against Mazurek won’t change the way she campaigns.