Morelle, Upstate Lawmakers Oppose Lifting Of Perimeter Rule At LaGuardia

morelleMore than a dozen upstate Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly released a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday expressing “strong opposition” to lifting the so-called “perimeter rule” at LaGuardia Airport — a move they say could hurt the availability of regional at upstate airports.

The letter, sent by Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle and signed on to by 17 fellow Democratic conference members, was also sent to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has oversight of the airports that serve the New York City region.

“More than ever, access to reliable and affordable air service is an essential component to the continued growth of Upstate New York’s economy,” Morelle said in a statement. “However, lifting the perimeter rule is a step in the wrong direction that would come as a major setback to regions across Upstate as travelers will be forced to contend with fewer available flight options at a significantly higher cost. I call on the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners to act in the best interests of all who call New York home and oppose the lifting of the perimeter rule.”

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Kolb To Heastie: Drop By Any Time

carlheastieFrom the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is deep into his first upstate tour since he ascended to power this past February, pledging to eventually visit every single district of his Democratic members north of New York City to learn their issues and meet their constituents.

This is all part of the more inclusive and rank-and-file-driven approach the Bronx lawmaker promised when he succeeded former Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose top-down management style angered many Democrats – especially newcomers who wanted more of a say.

But so far, new leadership in the chamber hasn’t brought much change to one much-maligned group at the state Capitol: The Assembly Republicans, arguably the Legislature’s least powerful conference.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said during a Capital Tonight interview last night that he would like to see Heastie pay attention to all of upstate – not just the areas represented by Democrats. More >

Despite Reformers’ Calls, A Special Ethics Session Seems Unlikely

libous1From the Morning Memo:

Add Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to the list of state officials who do not think it is likely lawmakers will approve new ethics legislation in the wake of two convictions in the Legislature.

“I don’t think it’s tolerated right now,” Flanagan said while in Cooperstown on Wednesday. “You see people who are getting prosecuted, who are getting indicted, who are getting convicted. Frankly, it’s bad for everybody.”

Last week, both Republican Tom Libous and Democrat John Sampson were convicted in separate in corruption cases, forcing their ouster from the Senate.

Republicans are pushing to retain Libous’s seat in the Southern Tier, while Flanagan acknowledged that winning Sampson’s Brooklyn district would be a “very, very, very uphill climb.” More >

Assembly Dems Follow Senate On SAFE Act MOU

From the Morning Memo:

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins revealed on CapTon that her conference, though still upset over the Cuomo administration’s memorandum of understanding with the GOP that appears to roll back a key provision of the SAFE Act, does not plan to challenge the document in court.

Last night, during his first extended interview on CapTon since he became speaker back in February, Carl Heastie said his conference will be following the Senate Democrats’ lead, and won’t seek a legal remedy to the MOU that seems to indefinitely delay creation of a database to be used for ammunition sale background checks.

“We’re not looking to do any, to go to court or anything like that,” the speaker said. “i’ve spoken to the governor, we’ve spoken about this a number of times. He’s assured me that when the technology is ready, the database will happen.”

This is a much different tune than the one Democrats in both chambers were singing in the wake of the Senate Republicans’ surprise announcement that they had signed the MOU with a top Cuomo aide – state Operations Director Jim Malatras – that basically said their conference had to sign off on the spending of any state cash to be used for creation of the database. More >

Fiala Won’t Take Position On SAFE Act

Democratic Senate candidate Barbara Fiala in a radio interview on Tuesday declined to take a position on the 2013 gun control law known as the SAFE Act, saying she still has more research to do on the measure.

Fiala is expected to launch her bid for former Sen. Tom Libous’s seat on Thursday after he was ousted following a conviction on a charge of lying to the FBI.

Fiala, a former Broome County executive and was a member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration until last year, acknowledged the gun control law is a controversial one.

“Well, you know, the SAFE Act has to be looked at,” Fiala said on The Capitol Pressroom. “What parts of the SAFE Act are objectionable to many, is it background checks — this is something that I’ll have to take a strong look at. I know it’s controversial.”

She added: “That’s something I’m going to have to do more research on.”

It would not be unusual for a Democratic lawmaker to not support the law: Buffalo Sen. Marc Pannepinto — a SAFE Act opponent — last year defeated Republican incumbent Mark Grisanti, who voted for the measure.

Cuomo and Senate Republicans this month approved a memorandum of understanding that agreed to enact an ammunition sale database, provision of the law that the State Police had struggled to develop.

At the same time, Fiala would not take a position on using gelled propane in extracting natural gas from below ground — a move that energy producers believe could be an alternative to high-volume hydrofracking, which uses a mixture of sand and water to release gas from shale.

The Cuomo administration moved to ban the hydorfracking process late last year.

“Certainly I think you have to look at everything,” Fiala said. “Knowledge is power. It’s a new discussion and it’s something that has to be discussed and looked at.”

As for the DEC report itself on hydrofracking, Fiala said she was yet to read, but said she hadn’t changed her position on the process, insisting that she had always preferred to wait for what environmental regulators would do.

“DEC has come out with extensive report,” she said. “I have to tell you, it’s so large, I haven’t had a chance to read it.”

Senate Dems Won’t Sue Over SAFE Act MOU

From the Morning Memo:

When the Senate Republicans made a surprise announcement of the memorandum of understanding they had signed with a top Cuomo administration aide that appeared to indefinitely delay a key provision of the SAFE Act, the Senate Democrats immediately cried foul.

The minority conference questioned the legality of the MOU, signed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and state Operations Director Jim Malatras, which seemed to derail creation of a database for ammunition sale background checks.

Deputy Senate Minority Leader Mike Gianaris said the Senate and Assembly Democrats were in talks about a potential legal challenge to the MOU, which he saw as a slippery slope and something that established a dangerous precedent.

Even as the Senate GOP declared victory – a claim gun rights advocates said was overblown – the Cuomo administration immediately downplayed the significance of the MOU, insisting the database would still go ahead as planned, though failing to explain exactly how and when that would occur.

Apparently, the administration’s assurances were sufficient to quell the Senate Democrats’ concerns – at least in the short term. During a CapTon interview last night, Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins revealed the conference is no longer planning to pursue legal action.

“At this point…I take him at his word that this will not stop anything,” the Yonkers Democrat said. “It will not weaken anything. And what I’m looking for is a timeline as to when we will be getting this done. That’s where we are right now.”

“I think the governor understands that that’s where everybody who supported the SAFE Act is,” Stewart-Cousins continued. “And I expected that to happen.”

Stewart-Cousins reiterated that neither she nor any members of her conference support any weakening of the SAFE Act. But she did not provide a deadline as to when she expects the Cuomo administration to provide a timeline for achieving the ammunition database.

According to the MOU, the Senate GOP has to sign off on any expenditure of state money that would be used to create the database.

But Flanagan, who continues to be under fire from the right for voting “yes” on the controversial gun control law, is unlikely to approve funding any time soon – especially not with the special election for ex-Deputy Senate Majority Leader Tom Libous’ seat this fall and the 2016 rematch for control of the majority looming.

The SAFE Act is likely to be a factor in the special election for Libous’ Binghamton district – a GOP dominated area where opposition to the gun control law remains strong. The Democrats’ candidate – Cuomo’s ex-DMV Commissioner and former Broome County Executive Barbara Fiala – has yet to discuss her position on the issue publicly.

Cuomo last week surprised many by publicly declaring his support for Fiala, who is also the interim chair of his Women’s Equality Party, even before she declared her candidacy. (She’s scheduled to do so later this week).

The Senate Democrats and the governor have been at odds over the past year, following Cuomo’s failure to significantly follow through on his pledge to help the conference in its 2014 quest to win back the majority.

Cuomo promised to help the Senate Democrats as part of the deal he cut to receive the ballot line of the labor-backed Working Families Party. But aside from a few endorsements (mostly made via press release) and joint appearances, the governor didn’t exactly pull out all the stops to assist his fellow Democrats.

The GOP ended up taking the majority – albeit by a very slim margin that could be imperiled if the Democrats win the Libous seat. However, even Stewart-Cousins admits that’s a long shot. She says the minority conference is setting its sights on 2016 when presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton might top the ticket and pull more New York Democrats than usual to the polls.

Fiala Plans To Run On Her Resume

From the Morning Memo:

Soon-to-be Democratic Senate candidate Barbara Fiala plans to launch a bid for the chamber that will rely heavily on her resume as both an elected and appointed state official.

“I don’t know of another candidate that will have the broad range of experience that I have,” Fiala told TWC News in an interview. “Being a commissioner, being in the cabinet and traveling the state — listening to the people.”

Fiala is both a former Broome County executive and commissioner in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet, leading the Department of Motor Vehicles during his first term.

Fiala is expected to announce on Thursday her campaign for the seat formerly held by Sen. Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican who was ousted from the Senate after he was convicted on a charge of lying to the FBI.

Running on her experience with the Cuomo administration, of course, has its pitfalls: The district has a Republican enrollment advantage and Cuomo’s policies among upstate conservatives — including the gun-control law known as the SAFE Act — remain deeply unpopular.

Fiala in the interview said her experience is a net benefit to her campaign. Cuomo worked his cabinet during that first term, taking a somewhat unorthodox strategy by deploying them to spread the push for his agenda around the state.

“I listened to a lot of people in different parts of the state,” she said. “In this area in the Southern Tier it comes down to jobs and good paying jobs.”

At the same time, Fiala may be hoping voters want a lawmaker in Albany — regardless of party — who can bring the same level of contacts and influence in state government that Libous had amassed over decades in power.

As for whether she’s launching a campaign too soon after Libous, a former deputy majority leader first elected in 1988 and found guilty only last week, Fiala said the time to get the campaign underway is now.

“The election is in November and all the time the people are without a representative it really hurts the area,” she said. “I don’t know what ‘too early’ means.”

Stewart-Cousins: Libous’s Seat Is Tough, But Winnable

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Monday expressed confidence that a Democrat could win the heavily Republican 52nd Senate District, even as she acknowledged the special election would be a tough one to win.

“When you have great candidates you want to support them for all the right reasons and we should,” Stewart-Cousins said in an interview on The Capitol Pressroom. “There is nobody who is not thinking that for Democrats that particular seat is difficult. It’s the enrollment, it’s getting the right candidate.”

Libous was forced from office last week after he was convicted on a charge of lying to federal law enforcement in a case stemming from his son receiving a job at a politically connected law firm in Westchester County.

Democrats — along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo — are backing former Broome County Executive and Motor Vehicles Commissioner Barbara Fiala to run for the seat in a special election.

Flipping Libou’s seat would be a major victory for Democrats, who are also looking to 2016 as a year to make key gains in the chamber, which they held control of from 2008 through 2010.

“There are many glowing reviews about her as a person, her as a public servant,” Stewart-Cousins said of Fiala. “We’re excited, I’m excited, our conference is excited. I think this is a really great opportunity for us to not only expand the Democrats, our conference, but with another great woman added to the legislative count.”

The Libous district — which includes Binghamton and the Southern Tier region — has more active enrolled Republican voters than Democrats and has traditionally elected GOP officials.

But Stewart-Cousins said enrollment is secondary in a race when a candidate is strong enough.

“I always think it’s the candidate,” she said in the interview. “The candidate matters so much. People tend to vote for people in their party, but people listen, people can weight who should be representing them versus people who just have a party label.”

She added: “We know that’s going to be a tough seat and we’re willing to roll up our sleeves and do it right.”

Even with Hillary Clinton as the likely leader of the Democratic ticket next year, a Democratic takeover of the Senate isn’t a guarantee. Republicans have an alliance with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference and Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, sits in the GOP conference.

“We are looking at increasing our chances substantially,” Stewart-Cousins said. “The possibilities are really very, very exciting. We’re preparing — everything place that we’re supposed to do, everything that we need to do, we’re preparing to be in the majority.”

Stewart-Cousins Endorses Fiala For Senate

Democratic support for Barbara Fiala’s Senate campaign appears to be solidifying at the state level, with Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins this afternoon backing the former DMV commissioner’s campaign to replace Tom Libous in the chamber.

In the statement, the Yonkers Democrat indicated Fiala’s campaign has been in the works for a while.

“We are excited for such an accomplished and qualified candidate as Barbara Fiala to run in the 52nd Senate District,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “Our discussions with Barbara over the last several months make clear that she understands the needs of the Southern Tier. As a longtime leader in our state, Barbara has dedicated herself to serving the public and has proven that she knows what it takes to improve the local economy. I look forward to strongly supporting Barbara Fiala and having another strong, capable woman serving in the Democratic Conference.”

Libous, a longtime Binghamton Republican and the number two GOP lawmaker in the Senate, was forced out of office on Wednesday after he was found guilty of lying to the FBI in 2010 interview.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in something of a surprise development, backed Fiala’s candidacy in a radio interview earlier in the morning.

Unshackle Upstate Leans On Buffalo’s Brown

From the Morning Memo:

As a wage board considers a potential hike in the minimum wage to $15 for fast-food workers, the Rochester-based business group Unshackle Upstate is releasing a letter this morning sent to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown urging him to consider the impact on upstate businesses.

Brown is the sole upstate resident on the board, which was convened by the state Department of Labor at the behest of Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year to review and recommend any increases in the wage for the fast-food industry.

In the letter, Unshackle’s Executive Director Greg Biryla notes there is a difference in the cost of living between regions of upstate New York and the New York City area.

“As the lone Upstate member of the state’s Fast Food Wage Board, we know that you have an acute understanding of the differences between the economies and cost of living between Upstate and downstate New York. Cost drivers such as housing, utilities, transportation and health care are far less in Buffalo than in Brooklyn,” Biryla writes in the letter. “Prior to finalizing your report and recommendations to the Acting Commissioner of Labor, our organization strongly encourages you to consider the detrimental impacts that a $15 minimum wage will have on Upstate fast food businesses and many of their current employees.”

Brown is a stalwart ally for Cuomo both in western New York and politically: He was once considered a likely, if not conventional, choice for running mate in 2014 to replace Rochester’s Bob Duffy. The spot ultimately went to western New York native Kathy Hochul, a former congresswoman.

The expectation is that the board could make its ruling public by as early as Wednesday. The minimum wage for all sectors is due to increase by the end of the year to $9.

Some advocates on the pro-increase side on Monday suggested a possible split determination, in which the board would recommend a two-tiered increase for upstate and downstate.

Cuomo this year unsuccessfully pushed a minimum wage increase that would provide for geographical cost-of-living concerns: $11.50 for New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state.

But $15 for advocates has always been the goal, which has been part of vocal, national fair wage movement that has already had a successful impact in other cities.

Rather than a blanket wage increase, Unshackle Upstate urged Brown to push for tax and regulatory breaks as well as measures that would encourage workforce development and job training.

“Many businesses have middle-skills jobs available, but are not able to find capable workers,” Biryla wrote in the letter. “The state can help these employers while also helping low-skill employees improve their jobs skills. This approach will ultimately create more opportunities for workers in search of a better job and long-lasting prosperity.”

Uu Letter to Mayor Brown by Nick Reisman