Downstate NY

Somos Dispatch

From the Morning Memo:

Much of New York’s political class – particularly the Democrats – has decamped, as they typically do after Election Day, for Puerto Rico, where the Somos el Futuro fall conference is taking place. Our NY1 colleague Zack Fink is there, and he sent this report:

Usually the Somos conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico is a moment to just take a breather. An election has just past. Presumably everyone worked hard to get out the vote. And with the largely Democratic attendees, there have usually been great successes at the ballot box to celebrate.

But this year is different. 

“Shock.” “Surprise.” “Profound disappointment.” These are some of the words used to describe President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise triumph over Hillary Clinton Tuesday night. 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie hosted a welcoming reception last night in Puerto Rico, as is custom for the speaker. But former Speaker Sheldon Silver used to hold a perfunctory event in a nondescript room off the lobby at the hotel Condado Plaza. 

Heastie went big. He held the event at Hacienda Campo Rico, a fancy country club on the outskirts of San Juan ( 45 minutes to reach by car in traffic ). 

The place was beautiful. A colonial building with a sitting area blending nicely into outdoor space. A man sold cigars on one end, and a band played at the other. Toward the corner, chefs took up clevers and chopped up two whole spit-roasted pigs, as a crowd of onlookers watched. 

The speaker himself was dressed in a suit, but most everyone else wore “island chic” clothing. Guayaberas for men, and elegant floral dresses for women. 

Heastie seemed relaxed as he rushed in slightly late to greet arrivals and graciously grant us an on-camera interview. Asked about Trump, Heastie said, 

“I for one am very shocked. But the people have spoken and I think here in New York we must do the best we can and hope that his administration is not going to be one that is harmful to the state of New York.”

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born Puerto Rico, was more blunt. Criticizing not only Trump, but also the electoral college process that got him elected over the popular vote, which went to Clinton.

“Due to the way the electoral system is set up, he is the president-elect,” Mark-Viverito said. “We do not know now what the implications will be for New York City, New York state. There is a lot of trepidation, considering what he has run his campaign on and what he has presented his platform to be.”

Just before the reception began news broke, courtesy of the rom the great Daily News Capitol Bureau Chief Ken Lovett, that there was a deal reached back home in New York to revive the 40-year old tax credit known as 421a, which quietly expired without much fanfare a year and a half ago.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo rejected a 421-a plan hatched by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015, and instead reached a deal to make any renewal contingent upon a prevailing wage agreement between the construction trades and REBNY.

Well, surprise surprise, they couldn’t reach a deal in six months. But now almost a year later, it appears as though they have; 421a is not only essential for developers, it’s the only way to ensure that affordable housing gets built.

Under the terms of the agreement, developers agree to pay a $60 wage to construction workers on projects in Manhattan below 96th street with 300 units or more, and $45 for workers in buildings expected to rise along New York’s emerging Gold Coast – the Waterfront that stretches from Queens to Brooklyn. In exchange developers get a 35-year property tax abatement. 

Privately, many Democrats said that 35 years is too long. Asked about the deal, Heastie said: “There are some details within that we have to get a chance to look at. So we need to go through that. Myself, the members. We need to talk about because there are some changes.”

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s chief of staff, said the governor is “open to a special session” to pass this agreement. But Heastie indicated he is in no hurry.

Assembly members are expected back in Albany the week of Dec. 4th for a retreat. One insider quipped that lawmakers don’t want to hold a special session that week because they are afraid of what else might come up. 

Finally, there is a buzz in Puerto Rico about the state Senate composition. Democrats swear it ain’t over yet, resting their hopes on uncounted absentees in two Long Island races, but others aren’t so sure. 

Head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Michael Gianaris, of Queens, acknowledged to me that his candidates performed “much worse” than he expected. But he also pointed out that Clinton barely broke 50 percent in Nassau County, which should be Hillary Country. 

Anyway, we will keep an eye out for all of this through the weekend. More on the Senate later and if there are any deals to be had. My money is on “no.”

Citing Gun Control, Cuomo Backs Throne-Holst in NY-1 (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued what I believe is his first endorsement of this general election campaign, announcing his support for Anna Throne-Holst, who is challenging Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin in the 1st Congressional District on Long Island.

In a press release sent by his campaign committee, (Cuomo 2018), the governor called Throne-Holst a “proven leader who will represent the interests of Suffolk County residents in Congress.”

“During her eight year tenure as Southampton Town Supervisor, Anna established herself as a no-nonsense executive who reached across the aisle to cut wasteful spending, audit the budget, and eliminate inefficiencies so taxpayer dollars could be focused where they were needed most,” Cuomo said.

“In fact, it was her initiative and leadership that helped make the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University a reality,” the governor continued.

“Not only does this state-of-the-art research center encourage innovation and job growth in the First District, but it also helps make our communities more resilient in the face of extreme weather like Superstorm Sandy and examines nitrogen loading that has adversely affected ground and surface water across Long Island.”

The governor also said Throne-Holst will work to address “common-sense gun control laws” – one of his pet issues since he pushed the controversial SAFE Act through the Legislature in early 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre.

Cuomo noted that Zeldin opposed the SAFE Act when he was a member of the Senate Republican conference, and has voted against gun control measures since arriving in Congress.

“Senseless acts of violence continue to claim the lives of too many citizens across our state and country, and this issue is critical to the people of Suffolk County,” the governor said. “Lee Zeldin has allowed the grip of the NRA to persuade his positions, forgoing the needs of his constituents for the deep pockets of the gun lobby.”

The NY-1 race is one of a handful of contested congressional contests occurring throughout the state this year. It’s a safe bet there will be more endorsement announcements where this one came from, but the main question is: How much will the governor do to assist the candidates he says he supports?

Will he record robocalls – a favored method of his, especially as Election Day nears? Make personal appearances? Contribute campaign cash?

Political observers are also waiting to see just how far the governor is willing to go to assist his fellow Democrats in their quest to re-take the state Senate majority this year. He has said that he supports their effort, but has yet to really make any significant moves to help them.

Cuomo has publicly stated his desire to see the Senate in Democratic hands in the past – most notably in 2014, when doing so was a condition of his endorsement by the Working Families Party over his primary challenger, Zephyr Teachout.

But he subsequently failed to deliver in a significant way, leading to widespread speculation that he actually prefers to see the GOP in control, since that offers him a handy foil if things go wrong, and also provides a check to the more liberal policies pushed by the downstate Democrats.

The governor recently said he believes the question of who will control the chamber will again come down to the IDC, which is poised to grow from five members to six, thanks to expected addition of Marisol Alcantara, who won the four-way primary for Sen. Adriano Espaillat’s Upper Manhattan seat.

UPDATE: Zeldin’s campaign sent the following statement from the congressman:

:”Being that I have long held deep concerns with the Governor’s obsessive push for Common Core in our schools, safe fracking bans, money grabbing red light cameras throughout Suffolk County, awfully written gun laws and drastic increases to the state’s Medicaid budget, which is now well over $1 billion per week and more than Texas, Illinois and Florida combined, I won’t lose any sleep over this one.”

“After his preferred candidate gets crushed in 7 seven weeks at the polls, hopefully the Governor will choose to be a little less partisan and political for the best interest of New Yorkers. We are at a cross roads in our state and country where elected leaders should be working together in an inspired pursuit of common ground. There is no better way to move New York forward than united.”

Clinton Ad: ‘Tough Enough to Stop Trump’

Though she has yet to clinch the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton is going after Donald Trump in their shared home state of New York in advance of the April 19 primary.

Clinton today is debuting a new TV ad that proclaims her the only one “tough enough to stop” the billionaire GOP frontrunner. The spot, titled “Stronger Together,” is airing in New York City, where the bulk of the primary vote is likely to be generated.

I believe this is the third Clinton ad in rotation in New York, and its release comes as her Democratic primary opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, hit the airwaves for the first time in the state over the weekend.

Here’s the full transcript of “Stronger Together”:

Narrator: He says we should punish women who have abortions.

Donald Trump: There has to be some form of punishment.

Narrator: That Mexicans who come to America are rapists.

Donald Trump: They’re rapists.

Narrator: And that we should ban Muslims from coming here at all.

Donald Trump: Total and complete shutdown.

Hillary Clinton: Donald Trump says we can solve America’s problems by turning against each other. It’s wrong, and it goes against everything New York and America stand for.

Narrator: With so much at stake, she’s the one tough enough to stop Trump.

Croci Seeks Cuomo Intervention in LI Power Plant Project

The drumbeat over the controversial Caithness II power plant, proposed for construction in Yaphank, continues, with Republican Sen. Tom Croci spearheading an effort to get Gov. Andrew Cuomo to intervene in favor of the project with PSEG Long Island, which has put it on ice – along with any other new plants – indefinitely.

The billion dollar project calls for constructing a combined-cycle, high-efficiency gas-burning plant that could produce 750 megawatts of power for the region, which has been embroiled in a battle over upgrading its energy production system – especially since the existing system’s poor performance in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

“Following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, your administration tasked PSEG with chartering a better course for Long Island’s energy future,” Croci wrote in a letter to Cuomo that was signed by more than two dozen elected, business and labor leaders, including the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties. ”

With 100-year storms now the norm, our on-Island power supply remains reliant on outdated, polluting plants that sit on the shoreline, vulnerable to storm surge. We need to support the construction of secure, clean, efficient, cost-effective power production located on Long island like Caithness II.”

“We cannot allow bureaucracy and narrow self-interest continue standing in the way of a project broadly supported by the local community, as evidenced by the diversity and number of signatures affixed to this letter. Long Island families deserve better. We respectfully ask for you to act in support of these good paying jobs and meaningful investment in our local economies by green-lighting Caithness II.”

Supporters maintain the new plant would make Long Island’s energy supply more reliable for ratepayers, while also creating hundreds of jobs, and generating significant tax revenue for local schools, police and fire districts, and other community services.

Croi’s letter comes on the heels of another letter from Cuomo, this time from Republican Assemblyman Dean Murray, also of Long Island, who accused PSEG Long Island for failing to move forward on Caithness II while it is engaged in building other plants outside New York in Connecticut and New Jersey.

Caithness II was commissioned by the Long Island Power Authority, but then put on hold by PSEG LI when it took over operations, reasoning that no new generation will be needed on the island until at least 2028. PSEG has said it is conducting a system-wide assessment to determine if new generation is actually necessary.

Sen. Croci letter on Long Island's Caithness II power plant project. by liz_benjamin6490

Rapfogel Approved For Work Release

Willie Rapfogel, the former head of a prominent Jewish charity and a friend of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, has been approved for work release, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision on Wednesday confirmed.

Rapfogel, the former executive director of Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, was convicted of siphoning millions of dollars from the charity over the years. His case was closely watched in state and city political circles, given his ties to key officials, including Silver, now on trial in an unrelated corruption case.

Rapfogel on Tuesday left the Sullivan County prison facility he was assigned to and transferred to Lincoln Correctional Facility in Harlem. He must stay at that facility for 10 days before he starts hi work release, said DOCCS spokesman Patrick Bailey.

Once he starts his job, Rapfogel is allowed to leave the facility for work and come back to sleep at the prison. He is allowed one weekend visit and may in the future apply for a furlough, which would allow him to spend part of the week at home before returning to prison.

Rapfogel is due to serve at least 3 years and four months in prison and is eligible for parole in November 2017.

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.”

Moody’s Finds MTA Deal A ‘Credit Positive’

The credit-rating agency Moody’s on Friday called the joint state and city agreement to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital plan a “credit positive,” though raises concerns about lingering uncertainties over the source of the funding.

In a weekly credit outlook report from the organization, Moody’s lauded the funding — which will include $9.1 billion of city and state contributions — for its broadening the MTA’s options beyond cutting capital projects or issuing new debt that would be supported by rider-induced fares.

“The revised $26.1 billion capital program is increasing 17% over the previous five-year plan and will fund new subway cars and buses, station improvements, enhanced signals and communications and substantial expansions such as the East Side Access project,” Moody’s found.

But there are concerns, including the specific sources of where the city and state will get its funding for the capital plan. Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t ruled out borrowing to cover some of the state’s commitment, calling that a “question for the accountants.”

“Given the state’s political complexities surrounding MTA funding, the timing of legislative approval and subsequent cash distributions to the MTA is uncertain,” Moody’s found. “Depending on the ultimate funding sources for the city and state, these commitments could be marginally credit negative for both.”

Borrowing to cover costs is a concern, too, for the GOP Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

“Borrowing is not a good idea. It should be pay as you go,” Flanagan said this week. “The more jobs that are created, that will create economic development. I don’t think borrowing is a good idea at all.”
Cuomo pushed for the city to increase its share in the MTA capital plan as the authority seeks to renovate stations as well purchase new subways and buses over the next several years.

Ultimately, Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to a larger funding share than he initially proposed, but less than what the Cuomo administration had sought from the city.

Astorino To Endorse In Yonkers Mayoral Race

astorinoRepublican Rob Astorino is set to endorse GOP mayoral hopeful Bill Nuckel in Yonkers on Wednesday, according to an advisory released this afternoon.

Astorino is backing Nuckel as Democrat Mike Spano seeks a second term as Yonkers mayor.

Spano, the brother of former state senator-turned lobbyist Nick Spano, is a former Republican who switched to the Democratic Party while in the state Assembly.

Republicans — including Nuckel himself — believe Mike Spano is interested in running for county executive in 2017, when Astorino is up for re-election.

Astorino remains interested in making another run for governor in 2018, but has also said he will likely run for a third term as Westchester County executive, a post he’s held since 2009, when he unseat Democratic incumbent Andy Spano. More >

Diaz: Make It Illegal For Everyone To Be Topless

diazSen. Ruben Diaz has a novel solution to the controversy over topless women performers in Times Square: Make everyone keep their shirt on.

Diaz, a Bronx Democratic lawmaker and a socially conservative Pentecostal minister, plans to introduce legislation that would make it illegal for anyone to be in topless in New York state “except for beaches.”

“In a city where millions of people are drawn to Times Square, we need to push against the immorality that has taken root there once again so families can enjoy New York,” Diaz said in one of his “What You Should Know” essay released this morning. “If equality laws are in the way, let’s push for equality so neither men nor women can go topless in our streets.”

The essays Diaz sends out in general can be bitingly funny — and it is at times difficult to determine whether his tongue is placed firmly in his cheek.

More >

Hakeem Jeffries for Mayor?

deBlasioFrom the Morning Memo:

Few would dispute that it’s been a tough summer for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

From the ill-advised fight with Uber, to accusations of mishandling the critical outreach portion of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx, to his high profile spat with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to his misadventures at the Park Slope YMCA while a deadly standoff unfolded on Staten Island.

The headlines have been brutal, and now some believe the political winds have begun to blow in a decidedly new direction.

Few potential challengers would ever openly commit to launching a primary challenge against a sitting mayor – especially this early in the game. But ‘lo and behold over the last few days, potential names have begun to surface as trial balloons. And many of those whose names have been floated are doing very little to tamp down the public chatter.

The bottom line is this: some potential challengers smell blood in the water.

There was Don Peebles in the Post the other day. Then ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern – also in Post, which has started a countdown clock for the end of de Blasio’s first term.

NYC Public Advocate Letitia James’ name popped up this week. And of course there are consistent rumors about Eva Moskowitz.

Then there are those whom the political consultants call “the real players” – Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. (Interestingly, all three are former state lawmakers).

But sources say the strongest potential candidate is the one guy who has ruled it out publicly, and that is Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a former assemblyman who told Errol Louis during an “Inside City Hall” interview on Aug. 5th: “I’ve got no interest in running for mayor or holding any other job other than the one I have now.” More >