NY-19: Teachout Calls For Federal And State Reforms

From the Morning Memo:

Amid a seemingly endless parade of corruption convictions, convictions and revelations in ongoing investigations of public officials, congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout in a statement called for reforms both on the federal and state level.

“Recent scandals have highlighted the corrupting influence of money in politics and the need for comprehensive reform of our campaign finance laws,” Teachout said in a statement.

“Our existing laws are weak, and prone to repeated abuse. This is not just a case of a few bad apples: it’s the orchard. Sheldon Silver may have corrupted his office by personally enriching himself, but he was able to do so because of a corrupt system in which money buys influence.”

The statement comes days after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison for fraud and extortion.

Former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is due to be sentenced in the coming days for his role in a separate scandal, as will former Senate Minority Leader John Sampson.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is under investigation for the effort to aid Senate Democrats by funneling millions of dollars in campaign cash through country party committees, which wound up helping individual candidates.

And Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is dealing with the fallout of an investigation into the Buffalo Billion economic development, an inquiry into bid rigging at SUNY Polytechnic and an investigation of the governor’s former top aide and confidant, Joe Percoco.

In her statement, Teachout said “every level of government” needs to have strong ethics enforcement.

“We need wholesome reform in Washington and at the State level,” Teachout said. “We need to reverse Citizens United, and pass Congressman John Sarbanes’ Government By the People Act to create a public financing system for elections. In Albany, it’s time to close the LLC loophole, limit or ban outside income for lawmakers, impose term limits, and enact a system of publicly financed elections so that the voice of the people carries more weight than the powerful interests buying our democracy.”

Teachout, a 2014 primary opponent for Cuomo in the gubernatorial race that year, is running in the 19th congressional district. She faces Will Yandik in a Democratic primary next month.

As Kaminsky Is Sworn In, Senate Dems Call For Ethics Reforms

Todd Kaminsky is expected to be sworn in as a new senator on Tuesday at 2 p.m. after running a platform largely on ethics reform.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are seizing on a Siena College poll released Tuesday morning that found a broad majority of voters want ethics reform and anti-corruption measures approved this year.

A plurality of voters believe ethics legislation should be the top issue facing the Legislature in the remainder of the session.

“With the recent election of Todd Kaminsky replacing former Republican Leader Dean Skelos and today’s poll, it is clear that the people of New York are demanding real change,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “We must stop hiding behind the status quo and pass real ethics reforms. I hope the Senate Republicans will finally get this message and help clean up Albany.”

A host of ethics issues swirl in Albany and in New York as a whole.

Ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is being sentenced this afternoon for his corruption conviction, facing more than 14 years in federal prison.

A former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, is being investigated for his consulting work with companies that have business before the state.

And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is under investigation for his role in aiding Senate Democrats in 2014, when his political allies sought to funnel money through county party committees in an apparent effort to help individual candidates.

Republicans last month pointed to a donation from an untraceable LLC to the Nassau County Democratic Committee, which had aided Kaminsky’s special election bid to replace ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who is being sentenced later this month for his own corruption conviction in December.

Senate Dems Plan For Kaminsky To Be Seated

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Democrats expected Todd Kaminsky will be seated by Tuesday in the Senate, though Republicans aren’t ruling out a fight to his certification.

A spokesman for the Senate Democrats this weekend said Kaminsky’s victory over Republican Chris McGrath is expected to be certified on Monday.

Kaminsky was declared the apparent winner on Friday in last month’s special election to fill a vacant Senate seat in Nassau County — a hotly contested and costly race ahead of the general election contests.

The Nassau County Democrat, currently a member of the state Assembly first elected in 2014, is poised to replace scandal-scarred Republican former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in the upper house.

Skelos, who was forced from office in December, is due to be sentenced on corruption charges later this month.

But Republicans are hoping to link Kaminsky’s win to the investigation into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to help Democrats take control of the Senate in 2014, which has focused on the transfer of funds to county Democratic committees that ultimately aided individual candidates.

In the days before the special election, Nassau County Democrats received a $50,000 donation from a Delaware-based company. The county committee heavily supported Kaminsky’s bid for Senate.

“Given the seriousness of the campaign finance issues and the potential criminality that has arisen regarding Todd Kaminsky’s campaign, we are continuing to review all options,” said McGrath campaign spokesman E. O’Brien Murray.

Asked if that meant pushing for a potential recount of all votes in the district, Murray responded: “Means reviewing all options.”

5 Questions For The Rest Of Session

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers are returning to Albany with a drastically different political landscape than when they left three weeks ago.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and administration is under investigation for political fundraising activities stemming from his effort to help Democrats gain control of the state Senate.

A former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joe Percoco, is under federal investigation for reportedly failing to properly report income as broader scrutiny from the U.S. attorney’s office is placed on the governor’s signature economic development program for western New York, the Buffalo Billion.

In the Senate, Democrat Todd Kaminsky appears poised to replaced Republican former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, makign the GOP technically a minority party when it comes to enrollment.

And there’s still 21 legislative session days to go in the calendar — a virtual eternity in Albany time. Then, lawmakers return to their districts to run for re-election and, for a few, campaign in congressional primaries.

Here are five questions for the rest of the session. More >

NY-3: Bellone Endorses Stern

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Tuesday endorsed Democrat Steve Stern in the Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Steve Israel in Congress.

Stern, a county legislator in Suffolk, was also backed by Huntington town Supervisor Frank Petrone.

“Steve Stern is the right choice to succeed Steve Israel because Steve Stern shares our values and will always fight for Long Island’s middle class families,” Bellon said in a statement.

“In the Suffolk County Legislature, I’ve watched as Steve Stern represented his community with distinction – working to protect our precious environment, put an end to veterans homelessness, and always protect our taxpayers with no increases to general fund taxes. Stern is strongly pro-choice and will fight back against Tea Party extremists who tried to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood. North Shore Democrats can trust that Steve Stern will serve them proudly and work tirelessly for our local communities and our nation.”

The race for the 3rd congressional district on Long Island is a crowded one: Four Democrats have filed to run for the party’s nomination in the June primary, including former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, Sandy relief coordinator Jon Kaiman and North Hempstead town board member Anna Kaplan.

On the Republican side, five Republicans are running for the nomination, including Sen. Jack Martins and Assemblyman Chad Luppinacci.

“Congress needs to move past the Tea Party bickering and get to work for New York’s middle class families,” Stern said in a statement. “I’m honored to have the support of two great friends and Democratic leaders in our community, County Executive Steve Bellone and Supervisor Frank Petrone. The County Executive and the Supervisor know how urgent it is that Congress refocus its priorities. The days of shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood and blocking equal pay for women need to end. And that’s why I’m running for Congress. Because it’s time to stand up for women, for our precious local environment, for cutting taxes for middle class families, and to get things done.”

A Prevalent Campaign Tactic Comes Under Scrutiny

From the Morning Memo:

A common campaign tactic employed in 2014 by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to help Democrats take over the state Senate is coming under scrutiny.

Allies of the mayor are under investigation in part for channeling millions of dollars in campaign donations to county committees, which allowed them to seemingly avoid contribution limits when those dollars wound up in the coffers of individual candidates.

“All of these party committees do this,” said Blair Horner, the legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“The question really is the line where you walk over from being too explicit.”

The practice is not an unusual one and Republicans in previous years have been aided in the past by large contributions from single donors, such as when Michael Bloomberg donated to party committees and the Independence Party, which ultimately aided GOP candidates in the state Senate.

The problem arises when those contributions come with clear instructions of where to donate the money.

“There’s typically a truly small number of truly contested races in the Legislature, so the party committees are trying to raise money for those races,” Horner said. “Everyone knows it. You don’t have to be explicit, and the campaign contribution limits are sky high for the party committees.”

Legal or not, the system encourages large donations through county party committees. Horner says it’s a sign the contribution limits of more than $100,000 to county committees needs to be dramatically lowered.

“The incentive is there to raise big bucks, transfer an unlimited amount as you want to the candidate of your choice and you circumvent the contribution limits.”

Speaking with reporters on Monday in New York City, de Blasio insisted no laws were broken.

“The facts that he lays out about the consistency in our state law, and the fact that, you know, my predecessor and so many other people lived by those exact same standards, I think it speaks for itself,” de Blasio said.

The issue first came to light in a leaked memorandum from the independent enforcement counsel at the state Board of Elections, Risa Sugarman, a position formed in 2014 following an ethics agreement in the budget and the shuttering of the Moreland Commission, a panel formed to investigate corruption in the Legislature.

She’s an appointee of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (approved by the Assembly and Senate) and the leak has raised questions over whether the investigation is motivated by the governor’s rivarly with the mayor.

Sugarman declined to speak about the referral for prosecution, but did say she does not know who leaked the memorandum.

Cuomo’s office maintains there is a strict separation between theitr office and the work of the enforcement counsel.

SD-36: HTC Endorses Bailey For Senate

The Hotel Trades Council, a politically key labor group that has grown in influence over the years, has endorsed Jamaal Bailey for the Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson.

“Jamaal Bailey’s lifelong commitment to serve his community is without par, and on behalf of all of our members in this district and across the state, we are proud to endorse Jamaal Bailey for State Senate,” said Hotel Trades Council Political Director Jason Ortiz. “Our members have fought hard and secured significant victories statewide for the working men and women of New York, and we need leaders like Jamaal who will continue fighting with us in Albany. We proudly endorse him and will work hard to ensure he represents the 36th State Senate District.”

HTC is a comparatively small labor group, but has over the years burnished a reputation for nimble politics and voter mobilization.

Bailey, a Bronx district leader, has close ties to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who was chair of the Bronx committee until he was elected to the chamber’s top post last year.

Hassell-Thompson is leaving the Senate at the end of the legislative session in June to join Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration as a special advisor on housing issues.

Another Union Departs WFP

From the Morning Memo:

Yet another union is cutting ties with the Working Families Party, saying the organization has strayed from its founding mission to support “all New Yorkers,” and instead is routinely backing legislation and policies that could cost workers their jobs.

The Mason Tenders District Council Political Action Committee, a founding member of the WFP, will formally announce its decision today to break from the party.

“The WFP, in its current iteration, engages in selective application of it’s progressive principles,” said Mike McGuire, MTDCPAC political director and WFP board member.

“In many cases it has abandoned the working men and women of New York who have fought for decades to achieve middle-class status, especially those who build this city.”

Robert Bonanza, chairman of the MTDCPAC, criticized the WFP for focusing on campaign finance reform and climate change, while “ignoring overall job creation and economic development.”

He noted, for example, the party’s 2009 decision to oppose redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory – a project that has gone through many iterations and is still causing issues today.

The Mason Tenders’ move follows the decision by a number of other fellow unions – first reported by Ken Lovett of the NY Daily News – to either stop funding the WFP or cease participation altogether.

Lovett also reports this morning that the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union is not happy with the WFP, with union President Stuart Applebaum specifically citing the party’s decision to back Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the recent New York Democratic presidential primary.

WFP State Director Bill Lipton told Lovett that the party has “huge respect for all of our over 30 affiliates as well as our allies,” and he also insisted that the WFP has “never been in a stronger position than it is now” – organizationally, politically and financially – despite suffering a spate of union defections.

Clinton won New York handily, but that was due to her support from Democrat-dominated downstate. Sanders carried almost all of upstate, with the exception of several urban centers, though notably, not the City of Albany.

Hassell-Thompson To Leave Senate, Join Cuomo Administration

From the Morning Memo:

Democratic Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson is set to leave the Senate at the end of the legislative session to join Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

Hassell-Thompson, who was first elected to her seat in 2000, will become a special advisor for policy and community affairs of New York state homes and community renewal. She plans to join the administration in July.

“As a nurse, an advocate and a member of the New York State Legislature, Senator Hassell-Thompson has spent her entire career fighting to improve lives and build communities,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I am proud to have her continue this work as a member of my administration and look forward to working with her to build a stronger, fairer and more prosperous New Yok for all.”

Hassell-Thompson’s 36th Senate district, which includes the Bronx and Mount Vernon, is a safe one for Democrats to hold this fall.

The lawmaker, though, has been eyeing the exit from the chamber for the last several years, having run unsuccessfully last year in a Democratic primary for mayor of Mount Vernon. At the time of the campaign, Hassell-Thompson had indicated she would not be running for another term in the Senate.

Jamaal Bailey, an attorney and Bronx district leader who has close ties with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, is running for the seat, as is a well-known Bronx pastor, the Rev. Que English.

SD-9: Vote Count Should Not Take Months, Senate Dems Say

Senate Democrats aren’t happy with the idea floated by Republican Sen. Cathy Young that a recanvass and absentee ballot count in the 9th Senate district could “take weeks and sometimes even months” before completed.

Young, the chairwoman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, was speaking, seemingly in general, about voting machine audits in tight legislative races. Democrat Todd Kaminsky was the apparent winner over Republican Chris McGrath in 9th district by 780 votes. There are more than 2,000 absentee ballots, but GOP officials are increasingly skeptical they will hold onto the seat.

“These things can take weeks and sometimes even months,” Young told The Buffalo News. “It’s too early to predict, but we’ll be counting every vote.”

Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy disagreed, raising the specter of the Republicans seeking to stall the process to prevent Kaminsky from being seated in the closely divided Senate. With Kaminsky’s win, Republicans would once again be in a numeric minority in the chamber.

“For four months, the voters of the 9th Senate District have been without a representative following the conviction of Dean Skelos, and yet Senator Cathy Young now wants to drag out the certification process for even more months. Even Nassau Republican Party Chairman Joseph Mondello has recognized that Todd Kaminsky won Tuesday’s special election and that there is no path to victory for Chris McGrath. The Senate GOP must not attempt to disenfranchise any voters or stall the process so all Nassau County residents will again have representation in the State Senate.”