Downstate NY

House Ethics Defers On Grimm – Again

For the third time since 2012, the House Ethics Committee has deferred its investigation into Republican Rep. Michael Grimm’s fundraising at the request of the US Justice Department.

Grimm, a former FBI agent, continues to be under federal investigation despite the fact that he is facing a 20-count indictment that alleges he broke a bevvy of rules while running a Manhattan restaurant prior to his election to Congress in 2010.

The congressman won a third term this past fall despite his legal troubles, largely due to the incredibly flawed candidacy of his Democratic challenger, former NYC Councilman Domenic Recchia. Grimm, who beat Recchia by 13 percentage points, ran without any aid from his party, receiving support from his Republican base on Staten Island – Democrat-dominated NYC’s lone bastion of conservatism.

This past October, a judge delayed the start of Grimm’s trial on charges of wire and mail fraud until February. But prosecutors said that if Grimm’s attorneys seeks to dismiss three charges against him — two counts of perjury and one of obstruction — because they occurred outside the jurisdiction of the Brooklyn court, the U.S. government would reintroduce them in Manhattan.

House Ethics Committee again defers Rep. Grimm investigation. by liz_benjamin6490

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.”

Bill Clinton to Campaign for Rep. Bishop

The Democrats are bringing out the biggest gun they’ve got – former President Bill Clinton – to shore up veteran Long Island Rep. Tim Bishop as Election Day looms.

Clinton will headline a rally for Bishop at 5 p.m. tomorrow at The Staller Center at Stony Brook University along with DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, who has a lot riding on this race, since it’s taking place in his backyard.

The Republicans have been trying to dislodge Bishop for several cycles now, and haven’t yet managed to oust him, despite the fact that his fundraising remains under investigation by the House ethics committee. The congressman is again a top target this fall, and he’s facing a challenge from GOP state Sen. Lee Zeldin.

A Siena poll released early last month found Bishop leading Zeldin by 10 percentage points – a spread the senator’s campaign disputed. The race must be tightening according to the Democrats’ internal numbers, however, or they wouldn’t bother deploying Clinton this far out from the Nov. 4 election.

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg Center poll found that of all the big name Democrats, a nod from Bill Clinton moves voters like no one else – and even he can’t influence a race that much.

An endorsement from the former president makes 38 percent of voters think more favorably about a candidate, the poll found, and 24 percent of voters think less favorably. Former First Lady/Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential contender Hillary Clinton was right behind her husband, with 34 percent saying they would view a candidate more favorably if she bestowed her endorsement upon him or her.

A number of big names on both sides of the aisle have been making appearances on behalf of statewide and congressional candidates in recent weeks.

Just yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden headlined a rally at the airport in Syracuse in support of Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei, who faces a tough challenge from Republican John Katko in NY-24. Westchester County Executive and GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino has received in-person support from Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, along with statements and/or email appears from former Massachusetts Governor/presidential candidate Mitt Romney and US Senator/former presidential candidate John McCain.

Senate GOP Keeps the Heat on Denenberg

Technically speaking, Democrat Dave Denenberg isn’t running anymore for the Long Island state Senate seat once held by former GOP Sen. Chuck Fuschillo. The Nassau County legislator dropped out of the race in late September, after a lawsuit by his former law firm accused him of defrauding a client of more than $2 million by billing for “fictitious” services that he never performed.

But Denenberg’s name remains on the ballot after Nassau County Democrats decided against the only option available to them to remove him from their line – nominating him for a judgeship. Though Denenberg isn’t actively campaigning against his GOP opponent, Nassau County Legislator Michael Venditto, Senate Republicans aren’t taking any chances, launching another attack ad that highlights his legal troubles, both past and present.

The GOP needs to hold all its seats on Long Island, including the 8th SD, which was left vacant by Fuschillo’s abrupt retirement on New Year’s Eve 2013, as part of its strategy for winning back control of the chamber. The Democrats viewed Denenberg as their best chance for a pick-up on the side, but have since transferred their attention to Adrienne Esposito, who is battling Republican Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci for another open seat – the one being vacated by state Sen. Lee Zeldin, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop in NY-1.

Another active race on Long Island pits businessman Adam Haber, a Democrat, against Republican Sen. Jack Martins. Denebger’s implosion freed up time and resources for the Senate Republicans to spend on defending Martins.

A Long Island GOP source says there’s a “shadow campaign” pushing Denenberg, who continues to serve in his capacity as county legislator, despite calls – most notably, from former US Senator-turned-lobbyist Al D’Amato – for him to step down.

Here’s the script for the new anti-Denenberg ad, which hits the airwaves today and is similar to a past ad that said the Democratic attorney would “fit right in” with the string of Albany lawmakers busted on corruption charges:

Announcer: “There’s no other way to put it, Dave Denenberg is a criminal. First Denenberg is arrested and convicted for fraud and deceit. Then Denenberg is fired from his law firm for stealing $2 million from his clients, creating fake bills for work he never did. The kicker: Denenberg forges more than one judge’s signature to cover it all up. We already have too many criminals in Albany. Do we really need another one. No, Mr. Denenberg, we don’t.”

Watch Here >>

More Liberal Dem Support for Hawkins

After Zephyr Teachout’s loss in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for governor, made a public appeal for her disappointed supporters on the left to back his campaign.

It appears that call is being heeded. Hawkins yesterday picked up the support of a third New York City-based liberal Democratic Club – the Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform (based in Brooklyn).

“Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform is dedicated to endorsing candidates who support the average Brooklynite,” the club’s president, Raul Rothblatt, said in a statement released by the Hawkins campaign.

“We have straight-forward values: People should get paid fairly for their work. Right now, our state government seems more interested in enriching people who get overcompensated for their work.”

“The current governor’s policies are closer in line with the GOP than with our Democratic Party values.”

“We also feel the governor failed to live up to his campaign promises of fighting corruption. The failure of the Moreland Commission is just the most egregious example of why voters in Brooklyn are angry with Governor Cuomo.”

The PHDR endorsement comes on the heels of decisions earlier this week by the Village Independent Democrats and Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club – both Manhattan-based organizations – to support Hawkins.

Also last night, the Buffalo Teachers Federation voted unanimously to endorse Hawkins, according to his campaign, becoming the third teachers union to back his minor party gubernatorial bid.

The Buffalo teachers had been strong supporters of Teachout during the primary.

Hawkins will be in Buffalo today to discuss, among other things, public education and the Common Core.

As for Teachout herself, she is still on a statewide tour promoting her new book, “Corruption in America”, and simultaneously trying to help the Senate Democrats’ in their quest to re-take the majority.

Teachout has not yet issued an endorsement in the governor’s race.

Hawkins said earlier this month that he spoke to Teachout about backing him, and she’s “open” to the idea. It’s highly unlikely she’ll support her erstwhile primary opponent, Cuomo, before the Nov. 4 election.

Tim Wu, the Rocky Balboa of Primary Day

Democratic LG candidate Tim Wu this morning compared himself to the iconic boxer Rocky Balboa, saying he and his running mate, gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout, have fought the good fight and left it all out on the mat in their long-shot primary challenges to former Rep. Kathy Hochul and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“I woke up this morning and I just felt this incredible energy and calmness,” Wu said after casting his vote. “And I’m just really excited to see what happens. Nobody knows what’s happening in my race. There has been no polling whatsoever; it all depends on turnout.”

“You know, for me, I love the movie “Rocky,” it’s all about going the distance. And I felt we have fought this campaign strong. We have exploited everything. We’ve been outspent one hundred-to-one. But we have run this campaign with integrity, and I’m proud of it. I’m expecting in my race a big upset, and I’m very excited to see what happens.”

Watch Here >>

Credico Arrested, Again (Updatedx2)

Comedian-turned-activist Randy Credico, a long-shot Democratic gubernatorial candidate, was arrested yesterday while trying to videotape two white transit officers arresting a black man in the NYC subway system, according to an announcement released on behalf of his campaign.

Credico was en route to Westchester for an interview with Journal News columnist Phil Reisman when he saw the two plain clothes officers in action at the Dyckman Street subway stop, the release said. He did not know at the time that the men were transit officers.

“According to a friend whom he phoned, the police were brutal with his handcuffs, clamping them very tightly, so that Randy lost sensation and feeling in his hands,” the release states.

At the time the release arrived in my in-box (10:30 p.m.) Credico was reportedly being held in the Bronx at the Transit Police office at 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.

The officers decided to hold him rather than issue an appearance ticket, claiming he has an outstanding warrant stemming from a 2012 disorderly conduct arrest. (Credico claims this isn’t true). Credico was held overnight, and is scheduled to be arraigned today.

This is hardly Credico’s first arrest – or even his first arrest for trying to document the activities of law enforcement. He’s not exactly the meek and mild type, so it’s possible there’s more to yesterday’s incident than what has been released so far. We’ll get a better idea when more details are available.

UPDATE: Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins issued a statement calling for Credico’s “immediate release” and the dismissal of all charges against him.

“Americans have the constitutional right to videotape cops in public places,” Hawkins said. ”

Such taping is critical to help reduce the problem of police violence against citizens, particularly people of color and those who politically dissent. Such as the recent videotaping of the police killing Eric Garner.”

“In addition the New York Police Department Patrol Guide states that ‘taking photographs, videotapes or tape recordings’ is not cause for arrest or detention so long as the activity does not jeopardize the safety of officers or others.”

Again, despite Hawkins’ comments on behalf of Credico, (who is technically Hawkins’ opponent, although it’s nearly a sure thing that he won’t make it past the September primary and onto the November ballot), we don’t yet know the details of the incident, and they will surely paint a more robust picture of what took place.

UPDATE2: Credico spoke to the NY Post’s Fred Dicker this morning, calling into Dicker’s radio show from his holding cell and deeming this situation like “something out of a Dostoevsky book.”

Capital NY’s Jimmy Vielkind reports an NYPD spokesperson confirms Credico was arrested and was charged with menacing a police officer, obstructing government administration, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. She also said Credico was “yelling and cursing” at the two officers and “menacing” them with an umbrella after being told to back away from the situation.

Regarding the outstanding warrant, which the NYPD confirmed to Vielkind, Credico says it’s for someone named “Gredico.”

NYLCV Backs Jackson Over Espaillat (Updatedx2)

The New York League of Conservation Voters has announced its support of former NYC Councilman Robert Jackson over incumbent Sen. Adriano Espaillat in the upcoming Democratic primary in September.

In the press release announcing its decision, the NYLCV cited Jackson’s record of environmental justice during his tenure representing Northern Manhattan on the Council. As chair of the Education Committee, (he’s perhaps best known as his role as an education reformer, and lead paintiff in the CFE case), Jackson fought to get PCBs out of classrooms and to phase out dirty boilers that polluted the air. He was also a strong advocate for creating open space and waterfront access in his dsitrict.

The organization didn’t mention anything about Espaillat’s record on the environment, or even acknowledge in its release that he’s running. (Not surprising, given the focus is supposed to be on the guy they’re backing, not the guy they passed over).

“Robert Jackson is a remarkable candidate to create a greener New York,” said NYLCV President Marcia Bystryn. “We are proud to endorse Jackson for his dedication to our issues and look forward to working with him as a state senator in Albany.”

Espaillat is seeking re-election after failing for a second time to unseat Rep. Charlie Rangel in the June congressional primary. Beacuse the Legislature hasn’t been able to agree on a date on which both the federal and state primaries can be held, legislators who try and fail to run for Congress have, for the past several campaign cycles, had the option of running for their old seats as a Plan B.

Just yesterday, NYC Public Advocate Tish James, who was one of Rangel’s strongest supporters leading up to the June primary, announced her support for Espaillat. Assemblyman Herman “Denny” Farrell Jr., also a longtime Rangel supporter, is also backing the congressman’s former rival.

As of last month, Jackson had both out-raised and out-spent Espaillat, and the two Democrats were neck-and-neck when it came to cash on hand, with just under $20,000 each.

UPDATE: The Espaillat campaign sent the following statement, basically saying that the senator would have been a contender for this endorsement, but was too tied up with his unsuccessful primary challenge to Rangel to seek it:

“Senator Adriano Espaillat has been a passionate voice in the fight against hydrofracking and a leader on environmental justice issues. Because of the May deadline for LCV’s state-level endorsement, which fell in the midst of 13th district Congressional Primary, the Espaillat campaign did not have the opportunity to even seek LCV’s support. There is no doubt that Espaillat’s proven record on the environmental would have received an enthusiastic endorsement had this option been possible.”

UPDATE2: And now there’s this response from the Jackson campaign to the Espaillat campaign’s response: (I swear, this is the last one I’ll be entertaining on this post).

“Actually the interviews were in mid-July. But given that NYPIRG reported that Espaillat had the worst attendance record in the entire state Senate, missing 60 percent of the votes, failing to be there for the people he is paid to represent, I’m not surprised he ignored the leading voice for New York’s environment.”

Bharara and Schneiderman Do Lunch

At the height of Moreland madness, two of the most high profile players in this seemingly never-ending saga – US Attorney Preet Bharara and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – met for a very public lunch in lower Manhattan yesterday, multiple sources confirm.

The Democratic duo was spotted lunching at City Hall Restaurant – an eatery favored by members of the New York City political set due to its proximity to (you guessed it) City Hall. Schneiderman and Bharara have known each other in a professional capacity for the past several years, but aren’t personal friends, according to a source familiar with their relationship.

It’s worth noting that Bharara, who is investigating the demise of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s now-defunct corruption-busting Moreland Commission, would probably not be seen in such a public place with Schneiderman if the attorney general was a target of that probe.

Given the role that Schneiderman played, however, through his agreement to deputize its 25 members to broaden their purview beyond the executive branch and loaning of top aides to staff the commissinon, it’s possible that he is providing information to the US attorney as the investigation progresses.

Schneiderman has been under fire – especially from his Republican opponent, former Pataki administration official John Cahill – for refusing to comment on the Moreland Commission and explain why he did not speak up when the Cuomo administration was, as has been exhaustively documented by the New York Times (and refuted by Cuomo himself) interfering with its work.

It’s no secret that the relationship between Cuomo and Schneiderman has been rocky, dating at least as far back as the 2010 Democratic primary to replace Cuomo in the AG’s office.

At the time, Cuomo was widely believed to prefer Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice to Schneiderman in that race, due in part to her ticket-balancing capability (the Democratic slate that year was all white, almost all male – with the exception of US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – and all from downstate), but also because he felt Schneiderman was too liberal and, as a former senator, too tied to the scandal-scarred Legislature.

Now Rice is running for the seat of retiring Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, and is trying to keep a low profile given her role as one of the Moreland Commission’s three co-chairs. (Unlike Onondaga County DA Bill Fitzpatrick, whose public comments have provided considerable cover for Cuomo in the wake of the Times story, neither Rice nor the third co-chair, Milton L. Williams, Jr., have offered support of the governor’s position).

Rice may soon be forced to end her silence. Tomorrow, her Republican opponent in the NY-4 race, former Nassau County Legislator Bruce Blakeman, is holding a press conference tomorrow afternoon outside the Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola to “to discuss his opponent’s role in the Moreland Commission and answer questions from the media.”