Raising For Kaminsky

From the Morning Memo:

As the federal corruption trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his adult son, Adam, continues in Manhattan today, two top Democrats will be hosting a fund-raiser for a freshman assemblyman mentioned as a potential contender for Skelos’ Long Island seat.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs are headlining the event for Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, at the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse tonight, according to an invitation provided to CapTon.

Thanks to his record of prosecuting public corruption cases, Kaminsky, who was elected in 2014 to fill the seat of retired former Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, is viewed by Democratic leaders as an attractive candidate for the Senate next fall regardless of whether Skelos is found guilty and forced to resign, or weathers the legaI storm and seeks re-election.

Kaminsky, who also happens to be the great-nephew of comedian Mel Brooks, hasn’t said one way or another whether he’s interested in running for the Senate, though he did tell liberal Democratic activist and radio host Bill Samuels this weekend that he would be “a fool not to want to at least think about it.”

“I don’t think it’s ripe for discussion yet,” Kaminsky said yesterday on AM 970’s “Effective Radio with Bill Samuels”, adding: “As long as Senator Skelos is the senator…it’s a long time until next November. If he’s not the senator, then obviously that will certainly prompt some discussion.”

“…But I just have a lot to do on Long Island to fight for people in my district, to fight for the middle class,” the assemblyman continued. More >

Stewart-Cousins Calls For Greater Say In Budget Process

ascFrom the Morning Memo:

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins was honored on Wednesday night by the Brennan Center at an event that focused on women in politics and, specifically, made the case that women should have greater influence in crafting the state budget.

At the event, Stewart-Cousins touched on key issues the mainline Democratic conference is expected to push in the coming legislative session, including ethics legislation, paid family leave and increasing the minimum wage — efforts she said are being blocked by a Legislature that under represents women.

At the same time, all of those measures are ones that are backed by voters and overwhelmingly supported by women in New York, she said.

Meanwhile, Stewart-Cousins pointed to an outdated budget-making process that remains known as “three men in a room” — the Assembly speaker, the Senate majority leader and governor, all of whom have been men. More >

Gottfried: Expedited Program Gives DOH ‘Flexibility’

Medical MarijuanaFrom the Morning Memo:

The measure approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to hasten access to medical marijuana will provide “flexibility” to the state Department of Health should the program not be ready by January, Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried said in an interview.

At the same time, Gottfried said there are real concerns about the possibility of the main program not being ready for its January start date.

“I think the department is doing everything within their existing power, but some of the registered organizations are having difficulty getting their dispensaries located with local zoning and the like,” Gottfried said. “I hear there are other registered organizations that have had some rough spots in getting their organization going.”

Still, state officials insisted on Wednesday the program remains on scheduled, despite grumblings from advocates who have closely watched the roll out.

“I can tell you all the registered organizations are growing plants and the medical Marijuana program is still on track to begin as planned (in) January,” said Department of Health spokesman Jim Plastiras

Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and primary sponsor of the expedited medical marijuana bills that Cuomo approved, said the measure could ultimately aid state officials should the main program not be in place. More >

DiNapoli ‘Looking At’ DFS, Health Republic Probe

From the Morning Memo:

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says he’s considering a potential investigation into the demise of the nation’s largest health insurance co-op, Health Republic, but wants to be careful his office doesn’t interfere with or delay probes that are already underway.

DiNapoli said he heard the call from Republican Rep. Chris Gibson for an outside audit of the Health Republic mess, which is already being investigated by the state Department of Financial Services.

The congressman – whom the comptroller said he thinks is “terrific” – (a sentiment that will no doubt sit fabulously with DiNapoli’s fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo) – said on Capital Tonight this week that a DFS probe is insufficient because the department itself was involved in regulating Health Republic, and therefore should be part of any investigation into what caused the co-op’s demise.

During his own CapTon appearance last night, DiNapoli acknowledged that his office would primarily focus on DFS’ role in the Health Republic problem if it were to tackle the issue. But right now, he’s in wait-and-see mode as both the Cuomo administration and Congress consider the co-op problem, which is bigger than just Health Republic.

“Whenever there’s an issue, everybody says, ‘Well, therefore there must be an audit on top of everything else that’s going on,” DiNapoli said.

“…We’re looking at it; we’ve been in touch with the feds,” the comptroller continued. “There’s been an outreach. One of the challenges for us is when there are other entities doing investigations to not heavy foot and have us get in and complicate thing.” More >

Seddio Remembers Lopez’s ‘Legacy’ (Updated)

Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez is being remembered today as a man who died under a cloud, a once powerful lawmaker who ruled the Brooklyn Democratic Party with an iron fist and chaired the influential Assembly Housing Committee, only to see his career come crashing down amid a sexual harassment scandal.

So firm was Lopez’s hold on his Democrat-dominated borough that elected officials and would-be elected officials alike would routinely make the pilgrimage to the taxpayer-funded Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Center picnic he threw every year, and those with the power to do so approved hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of NYC and state member items that the assemblyman used to build his senior services empire.

Usually, the death of a political figure of the stature Lopez once enjoyed sparks an avalanche of statements from fellow pols, all expressing condolences to the family and singing the praises of the deceased. In this case, however, only former Assemblyman Frank Seddio, who took the reins of Brooklyn’s Democratic operation after Lopez fell from grace, has chosen to formally state his feelings regarding the disgraced late assemblyman.

Seddio said he had been friends with Lopez for over 30 years and was “saddened” by his death.

“His legacy is the work he did for the poorest residents of Bushwick and Ridgewood, where thousands of people live in affordable housing on lots that were once burned out and garbage-filled,” the chairman continued. “He was the foremost champion of affordable housing before it became the cause that it is today.”

“As he faces the judgment on the value of his life, my hope is that all the good work that he did will outweigh the unfortunate way in which his career ended.”

UPDATE: Statement No. 2 just landed in my inbox, it’s from Sen. Martin Malave Dilan, another Brooklyn Democrat:

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Vito Lopez after a long, brave battle with cancer. What he accomplished for communities long underserved and overlooked should not be soon forgotten. He forever changed the face of the neighborhoods he represented and I am proud to have partnered with him on his vision. I will truly miss his friendship and my thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones today.”

RIP Marilyn Klein, Mother Of Jeff Klein

Marilyn Klein, the mother of Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, has died, a spokeswoman for the IDC said.

Klein, 77, was a former female Democratic district leader for the 80th Assembly district. She died on Saturday, said IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove.

Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, was first elected to the Senate in 2005 and formed the breakaway IDC faction in 2011 which has been an independent voting bloc in the chamber and was aligned with the Republican conference in a majority coalition.

Miner Doesn’t Rule Out Run For Governor

minerFrom the Morning Memo:

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner in a radio interview this weekend did not rule out running for governor one day, broadly saying she hasn’t made any decisions about her political future.

“Well, you know, it’s very, very flattering. And I enjoy government,” Miner told Bill Samuels on his AM970 radio show. “I enjoy politics and I enjoy being an advocate for people and making an impactful and positive change. So, I haven’t made any decisions about my future except for the fact that I have a to-do list that is probably longer than the Island of Manhattan and I have two years left as the mayor of the city of Syracuse that I want to get done.”

Miner is a former state Democratic Committee co-chair who had challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo on a variety of issues facing local governments and the impact state government has on them, including pension smoothing policy as well as infrastructure.

Miner has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Congress as well as state Senate.

In the interview with Samuels, she continued to beat the drum over infrastructure spending for upstate cities. At the same time, Miner reiterated her criticism of using property taxes to finance local governments and schools, saying the model is essence broken.

Miner penned a 2013 New York Times op/ed on the issue, and said what she wrote remains true today.

“It wasn’t an attack on the governor. It was a statement about policies and moving the city forward, my city in particular, the city of Syracuse,” she said. “But most of the upstate cities have the same issues.”

Gianaris: Senate Dems WIill Be Competitive On Long Island (Updated)

Queens Democratic Sen. Mike Gianaris on Friday said the mainline conference will be competitive next year in elections be waged on Long Island, where Republicans control all nine seats in Suffolk and Nassau counties.

The so-called “Long Island” are a key bloc of votes for Senate Republicans, as well as the conference’s leadership, including Majority Leader John Flanagan.

In an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom, Gianaris said the competitive districts include the ones represented by GOP Sens. Kemp Hannon, Jack Martins, Carl Marcellino and former Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who retains his seat in the chamber after stepping down from his leadership job after his arrest on corruption charges.

“There are plenty of opportunities down there,” he said.

Senate Democrats have won a seat on Long Island since 2008, the last time the party won a majority, which held for two, tumultuous years.

But Senate Democratic tend to do better in presidential election years, when the top of a ticket drives turnout and benefits down-ballot races.

Gianaris, as he has in previous interviews, pointed to the Democratic wins for Nassau County district attorney, as well as Oyster Bay town supervisor’s race, where Sen. Michael Venditto’s father is fighting to keep his job in a close vote.

Republicans contend the local races will have little, if any, impact, on state Senate races.

To the north, meanwhile, Democrats are also looking to the Hudson Valley seat represented by Republican Bill Larkin as well as the one held by freshman Sue Serino.

“That’s a great district for us, it’s a Democratic one,” Gianaris said. “We have a lot of good potential candidates that we’re talking to.”

Updated: Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif responds.

“After losing 8 out of the last 9 contested State Senate elections, including this week’s Republican blowout in the Southern Tier, we think Senator Gianaris would be well served to spend some time fixing his political operation before he tries to convince anyone that the Democrats can compete on Long Island or anywhere else in 2016.”

Hochul: Fiala Ran Her Own Campaign

FialaFrom the Morning Memo:

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was disappointed to see fellow Democrat Barbara Fiala lose her race in the special election for a Binghamton-area state Senate seat.

But at the same time, Hochul said Fiala — who was quickly endorsed in July by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — ran her own campaign for the Senate against Fred Akshar, the Republican victor, indicating that she kept the governor on the sidelines for the race.

“The governor came out very early on in support of Barbara Fiala,” Hochul said. “We all thought she was an outstanding candidate and she wanted to run and we wanted to support that. We’ve been with her every inch of the way. It’s up to the individual candidate how much support they want, whether they want surrogates to come in.”

Cuomo had backed Fiala a day after Sen. Tom Libous was forced from office in July when he was found guilty of a felony charge of lying to the FBI.

At the time, Cuomo vowed to do what he could to help Fiala win the race in a district that has a Republican enrollment edge.

With Fiala trailing in the polls, Cuomo’s re-election campaign did write her a check for $11,000, but she struggled to race money otherwise, especially with Akshar receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Senate Republicans.

Polls also showed Cuomo to be unpopular in the Southern Tier district.

“Barbara is a very independent individual and I respect that about her, that’s what I love about her,” Hochul said. “It was up to her how she manages her campaign, we weren’t going to pretend to tell her what to do.”

The Senate Chessboard, Moving Forward

senate1From the Morning Memo:

Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief now that the numeric balance of power in the state Senate, for the time being, has returned to normal with a victory by Fred Akshar in the GOP-led chamber.

The win by Akshar, plus a Democratic victory for former Sen. John Sampson’s Senate seat in Brooklyn, restores a semblance of the status quo for a chamber that has been rocked and upended by corruption scandals, arrests and convictions.

The arrests and trials are not unique to Senate lawmakers, of course, but all the more destabilizing given the razor-thin majority Republicans have at the moment.

But while Akshar’s victory over Democrat Barbara Fiala in yesterday’s election results is being hailed by Republicans as a positive development and a sign of things to come next year, Democrats believe the victory was a pyrrhic one.

Republicans maintain Fiala should have been more competitive in the race. After all, here was a former two-term Broome County executive and two-term county clerk who served in a high-profile role in the Cuomo administration.

She began the race with a strong name identification — which is nearly half the ballgame in these races — along with a $144,733 transfer from an old campaign account. At the same time, she had fully stated support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

But Cuomo did not provide much support to Fiala beyond a $11,000 contribution from his campaign as she struggled to raise money and compete on equal footing with Akshar.

Cuomo, who remains deeply unpopular in the district, had quickly endorsed Fiala in July amid a feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who criticized the governor for siding with Senate Republicans during the legislative session. More >