Stewart-Cousins Re-Elected Senate Minority Leader

From the Morning Memo:

Andrea Stewart-Cousins was re-elected on Tuesday the leader of the Senate Democrats following a vote in Albany by her conference.

The Yonkers Democrat, first elected to the Senate in 2006, was unanimously re-elected to lead the conference, save for Bronx Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who was neither present for the vote or cast a proxy vote, a Senate Democratic spokesman said.

The first woman to lead a legislative conference in Albany, Stewart-Cousins in a phone interview said she has no plans to shake up the Senate Democrats’ leadership team, meaning deputy leader Mike Gianaris remains her top lieutenant.

“If it’s not broken you don’t fix it,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We have been able to work well together. I think we’ve worked well together in terms of leadership. We have a cohesive leadership team that is very, very focused on why we’re here.”

Democrats came up short in last month’s elections, losing three key upstate races and failing to unseat incumbents who hold all of the Long Island Senate districts.

Still, Stewart-Cousins said she was happy the progress the conference has made under leadership.

After all, she took charge of the Democratic conference following several years of leadership turmoil. Democrats ousted Brooklyn Sen. John Sampson in favor of Stewart-Cousins, one of the first Democratic leaders in the Senate to not represent one of the five New York City boroughs.

Sampson now faces embezzlement charges, and his immediate predecessor as Democratic conference leader, Malcolm Smith, is under indictment for attempting to bribe his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot as a Republican.

Sampson won his primary challenge, Smith lost to Sen.-elect Leroy Comrie.

But Stewart-Cousins says her conference has stabilized over the last several years, which has also seen a group of breakaway Democrats form a coalition with Senate Republicans, essentially denying the party a governing majority in the chamber.

“I think we’ve moved through the storm and each of us individually and together are stronger,” she said. “This is a great group of committed people and I think we’ve gone a long way to prove that. We’ve grown as a conference, we’ve grown as individuals. We’re certainly ready to govern, we’re cognizant of the realitty that we have a lot of offer.”

She also reiterated her priorities for next year, including continuing to boost the women’s agenda — passage of which seems doubtful with Republicans fully in charge of the Senate — as well as infrastructure spending and reforming the state’s criminal justice system.

Stewart-Cousins and her Democratic colleagues were in Albany on Tuesday to push for the creation of a special investigator to probe deaths of unarmed civilians by the police.

But whether all state lawmakers return this month for a special session for a potential legislative pay raise remains to be seen.

Stewart-Cousins said time does appear to be running out to convene both houses by next week.

“I’ve not been privy to any conversations about a special session; of course if there is one we’ll be there,” she said. “As the clock ticks on with no definitive time, it seems like it’s more difficult to pull it off before the end of the year.”

Hamilton Sides With Mainline Dems

With little fanfare, Senate Democrats on Tuesday confirmed Brooklyn Sen.-elect Jesse Hamilton will join their conference, and not the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference.

Hamilton, who will fill the seat held by now-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, was in Albany today to participate in the news conference Senate Democrats held to promote criminal justice reform legislation (also in town today was Sen.-elect Leroy Comrie, who defeated Queens Democrat Malcolm Smith in a September primary. Smith, a former member of the IDC, was booted from the conference after his indictment on corruption charges).

Hamilton had initially kept his options open on which conference he would join after winning his September primary, with IDC Sen. Diane Savino going as far as to predict he would join the breakaway faction of Democrats.

Nevertheless, last month Hamilton more or less confirmed in Somos he was leaning toward sitting with Senate Democrats, who fell short of attaining an outright majority on Election Day following the losses of three upstate freshman lawmakers.

Hamilton last month reported a $3,000 contribution from Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and $5,000 from Sen. Mike Gianaris.

Abinanti Drafts AG-Only Police Misconduct Investigation Bill

Assemblyman Tom Abinanti is taking state AG Eric Schneiderman’s call for temporary power to investigate unarmed civilian deaths at the hands of police officers one step further.

The Westchester County Democrat said he’s drafting legislation that would give the AG’s office exclusive jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute all alleged crimes by police officers whether or not in connection with the performance of their regular duties.

“There is an appearance of a conflict of interest – if not an inherent actual conflict of interest – every time a local district attorney is called on to handle a matter against a local police officer with whom the DA must work in the normal course of their duties,” Abinanti said in a press release. “The present law giving the governor discretion to take matters from a local DA and give it to the attorney general is not enough.”

Abinanti’s announcement comes one day after Schneiderman sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeking an executive order that would give the automtically make the AG a special prosecutor in instances like the death of Eric Garner following a chokehold administered by an NYPD officer until such time that the governor and legislative leaders agree on permanent statutory reforms.

Assemblyman Keith Wright, a Harlem Democrat and former co-chair of the state Democratic Party, been pushing the Legislature to afford the AG jurisdiction over cases of police misconduct since 1999. The measure has been passed multiple times by the Assembly, but has never been taken up by the Senate.

Wright’s bill is sponsored in the Senate by Bronx Democratic Sen. Gustavo Rivera.

In his letter to the governor, Schneiderman references a similar measure, applicable only to offenses allegedly committed by New York City police officers, that was recently introduced by Brooklyn Sen. Kevin Parker. And there’s also another bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Nick Perry, also of Brooklyn, which would allow a judge to appoint another DA or AG to act as a “special district attorney” in criminal matters where the judge finds that the county prosecutor is “disqualified.”

Cuomo’s press office said yesterday that Schneiderman’s request is under review.

RIP Herman Badillo (Updatedx3)

Herman Badillo, a former congressman and Bronx borough president and the first Puerto Rican to have been elected to those posts, has died, according to the office of the current Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr.

Badillo, 85, was also the first Puerto Rican candidate for mayor of New York City – a position he was unsuccessful in seeking. He was an often controversial figure, but also a long-standing fixture in New York City politics.

UPDATE1: According to George Arzt, Badillo died this morning of congestive heart failure at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. His funeral will be private, and will be held this Sunday at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral home on Sunday. Former NYC Mayor Giuliani and former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly are scheduled to speak.

Badillo, who lived on the Upper East Side, is survived by his wife, Gail, and a son, David, from his first marriage. Badillo’s first wife, Irma, died in 1996.

Diaz confirmed Badillo’s death in a statement in which he said he is “deeply saddenedby the passing of a man whom I looked up to as a role model and who represented Latinos, Bronxites and all New Yorkers as an exemplary public servant.”

“Herman Badillo was one of my inspirations as a young man of Puerto Rican descent who was born and raised in the Bronx and pursuing a career in politics,” Diaz continued. “He was a true Bronxite and the epitome of a passionate leader who truly cared for his community. Herman Badillo worked assiduously throughout his career to make a difference in the lives of countless individuals across our Borough and City.”

“Most importantly, Herman Badillo was both a mentor and a friend to me personally. Herman was always there to listen to questions and offer advice. He was a guiding voice early in my career, and he remained a rock throughout my time in elected office.”

“I, along with all 1.4 million residents of The Bronx as well as all the people whom he touched during his long work in public service, offer my thoughts and prayers to Mr. Badillo’s family.”

In 1970 Badillo was elected to the House from what was then the 21st congressional district in the South Bronx, becoming the first Puerto Rican to serve. He was re-elected for three subsequent consecutive terms. In 1986, he ran for state comptroller on the Democratic ticket led by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo. Badillo lost that race to the GOP incumbent, Edward “Ned” Regan, who died this past October.

He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York in 1969, 1973, 1977, 1981 and 1985, coming closest on his second attempt when he was defeated by then-New York City Comptroller Abe Beame in a runoff.

In 2001, Badillo unsuccessfully sought the Republican mayoral nomination, losing by a landslide to billionaire businessman and first time candidate Michael Bloomberg, who later won the general election, defeating Democratic NYC Public Advocate Mark Green.

In 1993, Badillo – still a Democrat at the time – ran a failed campaign for NYC comptroller on a “fusion” ticket with GOP mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani. He also sought the Democratic nomination, but finished third in that race behind the incumbent, Liz Holtzman, and Alan Hevesi. Running in the general election on the GOP and Liberal Party lines, Badillo lost to Hevesi.

Badillo had a series of jobs with the Giuliani administration, serving as the mayor’s special counsel on education policy and as chair of the CUNY Board of Trustees.

UPDATE2: A reader reminds me that Badillo re-joined the Democratic Party in 2011 at the age of 82.

UPDATE3: Gov. Andrew Cuomo released the following statement in response to Badillo’s death:

“Today, New York lost one of its most cherished and revered citizens. Herman Badillo was a longtime public servant who dedicated himself to improving the lives of others. From his tenure as Bronx Borough President to his work leading the CUNY Board of Trustees, Herman was a shining example of how a dedication to civil service can make a difference in the world around us.”

“As the Bronx’s first Puerto Rican Borough President, Herman also embodied the spirit of diversity that defines New York today, and his legacy will live on for years to come. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I offer my condolences to his friends and family. He will be greatly missed.”

Slaughter 2016?

Despite surviving the toughest re-election battle of her career this fall – a surprisingly close fight with little known and under-funded Republican Gates Town Supervisor Mark Assini – Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter is not ruling out seeking a 16th term in 2016.

Slaughter, 85, said last night during a CapTon interview that her near loss to Assini did not cause her to reassess her future.

“Not a whit; not a bit,” the veteran NY-25 representative said.

Slaughter admitted she “could have done a better job” during this election cycle, though she suggested her weak spot was “messaging” and not necessarily a failure to perform on behalf of her district.

Asked if she’ll run again in two years, the congresswoman, who recently lost her husband and has been reluctant to discuss when – and if – she might retire from public life, responded:

“Look, I plan on doing the very best job I can.”

“The way I see this, Liz, is I work as hard as I can for two years, doing everything I can for my constituents and my district, and then put myself up for them to judge whether they think that’s good or not.”

“You know, when people talk about term limits, that’s the ultimate term limit. It’s up to the constituents.”

Slaughter was widely expected to face her toughest challenge two years ago after redistricting placed almost all of Monroe County into NY-25 and spurred the local county executive and GOP rising star, Maggie Brooks, to throw her hat into the ring.

After a multimillion dollar campaign, Slaughter emerged victorious.

She was not viewed as vulnerable this year. But a combination of lingering anger upstate over the SAFE Act and low turnout proved toxic for Slaughter, providing an in for Assini.

The 2016 race will have a very different dynamic, thanks to a wide open presidential race that will boost turnout in this Democrat-dominated state – especially Westchester County resident Hillary Clinton is the party’s nominee.

Assini has managed to raise his profile considerably, however. If he decides to run again in two years, he will no doubt receive at least some support from the state and national Republican parties – a far cry from the under-the-radar campaign he ran this past year.

Senate-IDC Deal Floated With An Eye To 2016

A new power-sharing arrangement in the state Senate is being discussed that would last through the 2016 election cycle, giving Republicans a cushion against potential Democratic gains in a presidential election year.

The agreement, according to a source familiar with the discussions, would allow Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein to remain co-president of the chamber and include a handshake agreement that the coalition lasts through the 2016 elections.

The deal would allow Klein to retain the power to decide which bills come to the floor for a vote in the Senate and maintain his role in the state budget negotiations.

It has been widely speculated – and even publicly discussed by some current and former Senate GOP members – that Klein would have to give up some power now that the Republicans have won a clear 32-seat majority (plus the addition of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder).

But under this deal being floated, in exchange for allowing Klein to retain most or all of the power he currently enjoys, the Senate Republicans would gain the insurance of having the five-member IDC to fall back on two years from now, when a presidential election is expected to cause an uptick in Democratic turnout and potentially put the GOP back into a numerical minority.

A source stressed the talks remain fluid and that the final details of a new coalition agreement are yet to be hammered down.

A spokeswoman for Klein declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos.

Earlier this week, Skelos said after a closed-door meeting with the Republican conference at the Capitol there is a willingness among his members to continue the coalition with the IDC in some form.

“There was a consensus that we would like to keep the coalition going and I will be having discussions with Senator Klein on how we move forward,” he said.

The proposal has its pitfalls for both sides.

Liberals would no doubt once again seek to oust Klein and his members in party primaries – especially given the stakes of the coalition potentially continuing through the next election cycle – even as Democrats eye Hillary Clinton’s likely run for president delivering down-ballot gains for them.

The Republicans would have to trust Klein to keep his end of the bargain should they suffer losses in the next election that puts them in the minority.

Klein in June agreed to form a new power-sharing coalition with mainline Democrats, but that deal was contingent on the party gaining enough seats to form a majority in the Senate.

Klein has insisted that agreement only went into effect when and if the regular Democrats managed to win enough seats to control the chamber, which they failed to do on Election Day.

Under this new arrangement, mainline Democrats would have to either use their resources to primary the IDC (primary challenges to Klein and IDC Sen. Tony Avella of Queens both failed this year) or win enough seats to make the the breakaway conference irrelevant.

Klein’s chance of retaining power would allow him to once again be a Democratic voice in policy making, meaning he would have to deliver some tangible results in order to stave off opposition on the left.

After being elevated to the Senate co-presidency in the last two-year cycle, Klein was able to have the state’s minimum wage increased over a phased-in period.

Nevertheless, Klein has come under criticism from liberals and other advocacy organizations for the Senate’s failure to pass measures aimed at strengthening abortion rights, the DREAM Act and the full public financing of political campaigns.

Klein has countered that the votes aren’t there in the chamber for either bills to pass, even with the IDC’s support.

Republicans would have to convince their reluctant supporters on the right that they are playing a long game by again empowering a group of Democrats in chamber in what amounts to an insurance policy against falling back into the minority.

Senate Democrats Ding Republicans On ‘Affirmative Consent’

The election is over, but the Senate Democrats have not given up on accusing their Republican counterparts of being out of touch with the needs of New York women.

At issue this time is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to redefine “consent” for adjudicating sexual assault allegations on college campuses. The use of an “affirmative consent” standard, which requires passivity or the absence of the word “no” to be interpreted as a lack of consent to sexual activity, has been questioned by conservatives and libertarians both in New York and nationally.

At Cuomo’s urging, SUNY recently adopted a new sexual assault policy that includes affirmative consent, and the governor is expected to push for legislation in the 2015 session that would extend that to all campuses across the state.

Sen. Ken LaValle, a Long Island Republican who chairs the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, raised questions about affirmative consent during an interview with Capital’s Jessica Bakeman.

“(S)o, two people have sexual intercourse, and consent has been given,” the senator said. “Does that consent have to be given again? Is it a lifelong consent? Or is it consent on Friday? On Saturday, it has to be renewed? So there are a lot of questions here. And to those people who say it has to be ongoing, it’s not a practical matter to say in a half-an-hour event, that you have to give it five or six times along the way. It’s just not practical.”

Bakeman’s story sparked a quick response from Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, a Queens Democrat and the ranking minority member of the Higher Ed Committee.

“The Senate Republicans have once again proven that they are completely out of touch with the needs of New York’s women,” Stewart-Cousins said. It is offensive that they are questioning these common sense protections​. ​There has been an epidemic of sexual violence in this country that is truly disturbing and it is plaguing​ ​college campuses​.”

“​New York​ ​must lead the way on this important issue and ensure the safety and safeguard the rights of ​all​ our students.​”

Stavisky said the Legislature has a responsibility to address the issue of sexual assault on campus and protect female students in New York. She accused the Senate Republicans of “again putting their extremist views ahead of serving the public,” adding:

“The Senate Republicans should stop opposing common sense initiatives to combat sexual abuse and work with the Governor, State Assembly and the Senate Democratic Conference to ensure all New York students are safe and secure on college campuses.”

Women’s issues – particularly abortion rights – were a main focus of contested races that determined control of the Senate this past election cycle. Democrats – including Cuomo – hammered Republicans for refusing to pass the governor’s full 10-point Women’s Equality Act due to the presence of a controversial abortion rights plank, and Cuomo even created a new party (the Women’s Equality Party) to woo this key voting bloc.

Cuomo’s WEA does not specifically address sexual assault on college campuses, though it does have two provisions designed to crack down on domestic violence and one to combat human trafficking.

Fighting Words

Two nights ago on Capital Tonight – and subsequently highlighted on SoP – two progressive leaders warned of a significant backlash if state lawmakers dare to raise their own pay without also giving another boost to New York’s hourly minimum wage.

Strong Economy for All’s Mike Kink said there would be “widespread civil disobedience” if the Legislature doesn’t link these two issues together. He appeared on the show with Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York and co-chair of the labor-backed Working Families Party.

Kink’s words did not sit well with one New York City assemblyman, who, unlike many of his colleagues, was willing to speak publicly – and strongly – in favor of raising the $79,500 base pay for state lawmakers, who haven’t seen an increase since early 1999.

“I would have NO problem voting for an increase in the base pay for NYS legislators,” Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, a Queens Democrat wrote in an email.

“In fact, if legislators’ base pay was indexed to the increases to the minimum wage, (from 4.25 an hour to 8.00 an hour), the current salary would be $149,647.05.”

“As someone who is a staunch advocate for labor, there is absolutely no job title that has never received a cost of living increase for 16 years,” the assemblyman continued.

“I am completely supportive of increasing the minimum wage, as well as fair cost of living increases for NYS legislators.”

DenDekker is a relatively new member of the Assembly, first elected in 2008. He hails from a city with a high cost of living, where the base pay for a NYC Council member is $112,500 – thanks to the 25 percent increase the body approved in 2006.

The Assembly is a seniority-driven chamber, and there are far more members in the Democrats’ majority conference than there are committee chairmanships and leadership posts to go around.

That means most Assembly members have to wait years before they get a title that affords them a stipend – known in Albany as a lulu – on top of their base pay.

Of course, there’s always per diems that help offset the costs of travel, lodging and meals when lawmakers are in Albany. But the per diem system is under fire, with widespread calls for reform, thanks to abuse by several members that lead to criminal charges.

DenDekker said he was offended that any advocate could “even suggest” a worker should go 16 years without a pay raise – especially one who has, as he put it, “rallied for workers pay, walked picket lines and voted to increase the min wage in my current position.”

“I would also ask all the advocates: What was your pay 16 years ago?” the assemblyman concluded.

Kink and Scharff added their voices to a call for legislators to return to Albany before the start of the January 2015 session – when the Senate will officially be under GOP control – to take action on a measure that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, index future increases to the rate of inflation and also give municipalities the power to hike their own hourly wages as much as 30 percent higher than the state set “floor.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who did not endear himself to the Senate Republicans by helping the Democrats in their failed attempt to re-take the majority, yesterday called for the Legislature to approve an increase in the state minimum wage “whenever it first can be done.”

“I certainly look forward to talking to the governor about whether there will or will not be” a special session,” the mayor said.

But in a radio interview last week, the governor said he didn’t believe a special session was needed – not even to confirm his latest Court of Appeals nominee, Judge Leslie Stein.

A Cuomo aide told the Wall Street Journal: “We have not heard from any legislative leader that they have the votes or desire to pass anything.”

Schumer’s Dinner Diplomacy

New York’s senior senator isn’t psyched about the idea of being back in the minority after serving as one of the most powerful men in the Democrat-controlled upper house.

But Sen. Chuck Schumer is going to make the best of it.

He says he plans to reach across the aisle to forge relationships with some of the new members of the state’s GOP congressional delegation.

He’ll start with Congresswoman-elect Elise Stefanik, who won the NY-21 seat currently held by retiring Democratic Rep. Bill Owens in a landslide last Tuesday, making her – at just 30 years old – the youngest woman ever to sit in the House.

“She was in college with my daughter and they were friends,” Schumer said of Stefanik during a stop in Albany yesterday. “So, we start on a good note there.”

“My daughter spoke very highly of her. In fact, not only is she going to come to the office, but her and my daughter are going to have dinner in the next few weeks in Washington.”

“I haven’t asked Ms. Stefanik yet,” the senator said. “We’ve agreed to get together, but we’re going to make it a dinner and invite my daughter. I’m sure they’ll have no objection because they’re friends.”

No word on where this bipartisan dining experience might take place, though the senator’s past fondness for D.C.’s Hunan Dynasty has been widely documented.

Also, for the record: Jessica Schumer and Stefanik attended Harvard, which is also the senator’s alma mater.

Schumer said he has also spoken to Congressman-elect John Katko, who ousted Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei in NY-24, and found the former federal prosecutor to be a “very fine individual.”

The senator said he had a “great relationship” with former Rep. Jim Walsh, the moderate Republican who held the Central NY seat before Maffei.

“Jim Walsh and I were able to do a whole lot for Syracuse,” Schumer recalled. “He’s a Republican, I’m a Democrat. I think the same will be with Mr. Katko. He seems like a fine man.”

“We’re going to meet in my office in the next week in Washington and start going over how we can go over to help Central New York and his congressional district. I look forward to working with him, I think he’s a good guy.”

Panepinto Almost Ready To Put ‘Nasty’ Senate Campaign Behind Him

The race for a Buffalo-area state senate seat was one of the most costly and contentious races in Western New York history. Just 48 hours after the polls closed the apparent winner isn’t over it just yet.

“It’s tough not to take things personally. I know Senator Grisanti wasn’t driving the train on the personal attacks. We had a very collegial relationship on the campaign trail. I will say Kevin Stocker made it personal. So I do have some personal animus towards Kevin Stocker,” said Democrat Marc Panepinto.

Republican Mark Grisanti made a run on the Independence line after losing the GOP primary to Kevin Stocker. With speculation the outcome could decide the majority in the state senate, outside groups spent millions on negative ads.

For Panepinto, the ill will is connected to a negative ad highlighting his misdemeanor election fraud conviction 13 years ago. An “unaffiliated voter” also filed a complaint because Panepinto used his wife’s image, State Supreme Court Judge Catherine Nugent-Panepinto, in campaign flyers.

“I don’t have any animus towards Mark Grisanti. He was the incumbent senator; I think he did an admirable job. And the nastiness that came against me was from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee,” Panepinto said.

Neither Stocker nor Grisanti have officially conceded.  Panepinto held a lead of a little more than 2,000 votes over Stocker and a 26-hundred vote lead over Grisanti.

The Conservative Candidate, Timothy Gallagher, captured eight percent of the vote.

“Once you’ve got a certain percentage of numbers, with dispersion over the district, they don’t deviate much from that. There are 2,900 absentees out there and they’ll break the way the normal votes broke,” Panepinto said.

Panepinto said he’s already working with Grisanti to ensure a smooth transition. When asked what he thought the key to his somewhat surprising win was, Panepinto said he worked harder in the weekend of the campaign than one of his opponents did.

“I saw a voter that day on a street in Kenmore, and then he said to me, ‘I just saw Kevin Stocker at L.A. Fitness. He was working out at the gym. Why are you going door to door?’ I said I’m not leaving anything to chance. We’re working right up until 8:55 pm on Tuesday. So I knew that the different way that we ran our campaigns would become apparent. We worked to the end and Kevin was at the gym,” Panepinto added

We reached out to Stocker for comment. So far we haven’t heard back.