Nov 20th - 3:55 pm
Citing structural imbalances and limited liquidity, Moody’s Investors Service on Wednesday downgraded Westchester County’s general obligation rating from AAA to AA1 with a stable outlook.
The downgrade comes preceding a bond issue in order to finance local capital projects.
The downgrade also comes as newly re-elected Republican County Executive Rob Astorino is considering a run for governor and will likely campaign on a theme of the state ignoring the plight of local governments as well as his own budgetary competence.
In announcing the downgrade, Moody’s pointed to reduced financial flexibility due to narrow reserves and a “trend of structurally imbalanced operations” and economically volatile sales tax revenues.
Still, the county has a lot of structurally inherent positives for investors considering its large tax base that benefits from its closeness to New York City along with its many wealthy residents.
Nov 8th - 12:48 pm
Credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded state Thruway Bonds from A1 to A2 on Friday, citing ongoing questions surrounding the financing of the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge.
The authority is expected to issue a “significant amount” of junio lien obligations recently adopted by the Thruway Authority’s board in order to help finance the bridge.
“The downgrade considers that future financial performance will rely to a much greater extent on as yet undetermined toll increases to support the bridge construction costs and that failure to adopt sufficient rate increases within the expected time horizon would pressure financial metrics,” Moody’s reported.
Among the challenges the Thruway bonds face:
-The Thruway Authority is yet to adopt a policy for toll increases in order to finance debt repayment on the new bridge. New tolls are expected over time to meet those goals.
-The authority’s debt load is expected to “increase significantly” to fund the project alongside the rest of the Thruway’s needs. It’s estimated by Moody’s the ratio of debt to operating revenues will grow substantially.
-The challenging logistics of the construction also present challenges. The rating agency cites the shipping of a giant crane to be used in building the new bridge from the west coast through the Panama Canal. Failure to receive the crane in working order could pose a delay and added costs.
There are bright spots, however.
Moody’s notes that most of the bridge construction cost is benig held down by the fixed-price design-build contract. At the same time, the toll rates in Thruway system overall remain “relatively low” leaving a margin for future increases.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo celebrated late last month when the federal government approved a massive $1.6 billion loan package to help finance the bridge construction.
Nov 7th - 12:17 pm
ICYMI: WNYC’s Brian Lehrer did a fantastic job of taking the advice of “The Colbert Show” producers to heart and talking to the host (when he was in character) “like he was some rich drunk idiot at a bar.”
Topics of discussion included: Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s win and how much that can be attributed to his unusually photogenic family, Joe Lhota’s loss and how much that can be atrributed to his willingess to let adorable kittens get run over by subway trains, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s big re-election win.
Nov 5th - 11:01 pm
New York Republicans really want to draw a parallel between Rob Astorino, the Republican county executive in Westchester, to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Both are Republicans with a conservative streak who easily won re-election this evening in Deep Democratic Blue areas. With those victories is the tacit idea that both are bankable rising stars who will reach higher office.
In the case of Astorino, the party hopes a run for governor in 2014 against the well-funded Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Astorino this evening is cruising to re-election. His opponent, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, conceded with about 25 percent of elections precincts reporting, a surprisingly early night following a particularly rough campaign.
If Astorino’s lead at this point in the evening holds, he’ll win by 10 percentage points. That is an impressive win in a Democratic heavy county with rapidly changing demographics.
Astorino did it through a mix of aggressive fundraising, spending on TV ads and through courting of inner city churches.
The Republican’s win tonight means a rare bright spot for the state GOP is preserved. For a party that is currently shut out of all statewide offices and is required to share power in one chamber of the Legislature, having a Republican control a crucial swing area and be popular among suburban voters is no small accomplishment.
Astorino’s victory comes after both former President Bill Clinton and Cuomo campaigned for Bramson.
Cuomo, in particular, rarely gets personally involved in a race unless it appears he’s backing a winner. Still, appearing on behalf of a Democratic candidate in his home county could ultimately help, especially if it means keeping the support of the party faithful come 2014.
Astorino running statewide may face hurdles. Bramson raised all the predictable issues like gun control, same-sex marriage and abortion rights — all potential weak spots for a socially conservative Republican.
Those may not resonate in an odd-numbered, off-cycle year in which turnout isn’t as high. But they likely will should Astorino attempt a gubernatorial run next year and have to contend with the $28 million Cuomo buzz saw.
Oct 30th - 12:50 pm
Oh, the suburbs.
As the Westchester County executive race finishes up its final and rather heated campaign days, Republican incumbent Rob Astorino’s campaign is charging supporters of his Democratic opponent are ripping down his lawn signs.
The campaign released a video this morning purporting to show two men taking down campaign signs for Astorino and installing Bramson signs, as well as a yard sign for a Democratic county Legislature candidate.
“Noam Bramson needs to explain to the people of Westchester why his workers are systematically destroying the campaign property of County Executive Rob Astorino,” said Astorino spokeswoman Jessica Proud.
Bramson spokesman Barry Caro said the men in the video aren’t their campaign workers.
“We’ve never seen these guys in our lives,” said Bramson spokesman Barry Caro. “They simply aren’t campaign employees.”
He added in an email that Bramson yard signs haven’t fared much better, either.
“I wish lawn signs stayed up for both sides, but I don’t think anyone in the world could say with a straight face that Rob Astorino’s campaign haven’t been ripping them down from the first day ours went up,” he said, pointing me to this tweet from two weeks ago (and this tweet from that other Reisman in journalism).
The Bramson campaign also plans to roll out a series of endorsements from the Empire State Pride Agenda and UFCW 1500, an LGBT advocacy group and grocey store workers union respectively.
“We’ll stay focused on the issues that actually matter – protecting our values and fighting for the middle class,” Caro said.
Oct 23rd - 12:36 pm
The former campaign treasurer to New York City Comptroller John Liu filed a notice of appeal today, bringing her public corruption case to the
state U.S. Court of Appeals in the hope of reversing her conviction.
Jia “Jenny” Hou was sentenced to less than a year in prison after she was convicted in May on a slew of corruption charges including attempted wire fraud, obstructing justice and making false statements.
Hou and another Liu aide, Oliver Wu Pan, were accused by prosecutors of plotting to get around the $4,950 contribution cap through straw donors and funneling contributions through other peoples’ names in order to bolster the campaign’s war chest.
“Jenny Hou is not guilty of any crime, not factually and not legally,” said her attorney, Gerald Lefcourt. “I believe she is a scapegoat, onto whom all of the limitations of the Campaign Finance Board, the ills of raising money for political campaigns, have unfairly been placed.”
In part Lefcourt argues there was a lack of evidence that led to her conviction in the straw donor case. At the same time, Lefcourt points to the warrant obtaining her emails was not legally sufficient.
Oct 21st - 2:05 pm
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino won the support of the Westchester and Putnam Building and Construction Trades Council today and was credited with pushing the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project forward.
“County Executive Astorino was instrumental in moving the new Tappan Zee Bridge project forward, including its mass transit element,” said Westchester and Putnam Building and Construction Trades Council President Ed Doyle, Sr in a statement. “This project alone will create hundreds of new jobs, spark growth in the Westchester economy, and provide a safe and environmentally responsible new span for Westchester families for decades to come. The Building and Construction Trades Council of Westchester and Putnam proudly endorses County Executive Astorino for a second term.”
Astorino, a Republican, faces Democratic New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson next month. Bramson was the beneficiary of an official Cuomo blanket endorsement last night, we reported in this space.
The contention that Astorino was a key to the bridge moving forward may be one that fellow Westchester County resident Cuomo might disagree with. Cuomo pushed hard to get a new bridge built even before he took office, taking an water-borne tour of the bridge after Election Day in 2010.
Cuomo and Astorino, along with Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef, eventually came to an agreement that would allow for a mass transit lane.
Constructing a Tappan Zee bridge replacement has been a hot-button topic in the downstate suburbs for more than a decade as safety reports find the bridge can’t continue to sustain the volume of traffic it endures.
“Twenty-seven thousand new jobs have been created in Westchester over the past four years, but perhaps none more important to the long term health of Westchester’s economy than those being created to build the new Tappan Zee Bridge,” County Executive Astorino said. “I was proud to work alongside Governor Cuomo in helping this project finally move forward after years of empty talk — especially in the mass transit component to the bridge — and I am prouder still today to be endorsed by the men and women who will actually build it. New York’s infrastructure must be better maintained, and the men and women of the Westchester and Putnam Building and Construction Trades Council have the know how and work ethic to get the job done.”
Oct 15th - 12:13 pm
Hours before the two candidates are scheduled to face off in the first of three televised general election debates, Democratic NYC mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio gave an indication of what will likely be his primary line of attack, releasing a web video that portrays Repubican Joe Lhota as a Tea Partier who’s “wrong for New Yorkers.”
“Joe Lhota is trying to downplay his ties to the right wing of the Republican Party, but the truth is he was pandering to the Tea Party throughout the Republican primary, and he continues to try and curry favor with them in the general election,” said de Blasio’s campaign manager Bill Hyers.
“If Joe Lhota can’t stand up to the Tea Party, how is he ever going to stand up for everyday working and middle class New Yorkers.”
Lhota has tried to cast himself as the true progressive in the race, especially when it comes to charter schools. He has Libertarian positions on everything from gay marriage to the legalization of marijuana. But his live-and-let-live approach also applies to the city’s gun permitting process, which he recently told a gathering of Staten Island Tea Party members is so “extreme” that it is “almost a level of harassment at a certain point.”
During that meeting, Lhota seemed to be in sync with some of the Tea Party’s key policy positions. He later called Tea Partiers “extremists” and said this particular gathering had included a “verbally violent” gun control debate, even though no voices were raised in a video provided by the organization.
Lhota has also condemned members of his party for shutting down the federal government, but said he supports a one-year delay in the implementation of the individual mandate in Obamacare, which was what the House GOP was demanding in return for passing a continuing resolution that would keep the government up and running.
Oct 14th - 8:07 am
GOP NYC mayoral candidate Joe Lhota is out with a new TV ad that highlights his backing of charter schools and participation in a recent rally that drew hundreds of parents who support the publicly funded, privately run facilities.
The spot, which started airing citywide today on broadcast stations, highlights a stark policy difference between Lhota and the Democratic mayoral frontrunner, Bill de Blasio, who has said he would start charging charter schools rent if they’re co-located in public school buildings.
“Joe was proud to stand with the 20,000 parents and children who marched in support of charter schools and the hope they are providing for students,” said Lhota’s spokeswoman Jessica Proud.
“Mr. de Blasio is more concerned with protecting the status quo of the special interests than giving parents the school choice they deserve.”
Mayor Bloomberg has given about 60 percent of the city charters free space in existing school buildings in an unusual strategy to boost their growth, but critics believe the arrangement gives charters an unfair advantage.
In a last-ditch effort to push this issue before de Blasio is likely elected, the NYC Department of Education is giving the green light to open or expand 23 charter schools before Bloomberg leaves office and provide them with free space in city buildings.
Oct 11th - 4:34 pm
I mean really who doesn’t?
The so-called “forgotten borough” has the last remaining indoor roller rink in New York City. Having been to the St. George Theater, I must say, the renovation was well done. And the ferry, last time I checked, has one of the cheapest beers in the city — about $3.50.
Joe Lhota, of course, loves to go on at length about his affinity for the borough.
“This is my eighth visit to Staten Island since the primary was over,” the Republican candidate for mayor said this morning.
He was at the site of the former Fresh Kills landfill — a landfill he was instrumental in closing.
“Bill has been out here once,” he said referring to his democratic rival, Bill de Blasio. “You can’t mistreat this borough. We got to make sure we get our issues out here. Staten Island is quite unique, and we have to talk to people about quality of life.”
Moments before, a SUV drove by. Out the window someone shouted: “Don’t vote for him. He is anti-union!”
Lhota pressed on.
The former landfill turned future site of Freshkills Park was a fitting backdrop. The former deputy mayor was there to urge the city to open up the roads inside. This particular entrance was overgrown by weeds. A cement barrier blocked any through traffic. A sign was posted warning, “No trespassing.”
Lhota said Staten Islanders needed the road access to unclog thoroughfares. Asked when they should open, he retorted: “Last year.”
“One important aspect of quality of life overall is making sure people are mobile in their cars, that they can avoid traffic,” Lhota explained. “We need to build the roads that were envisioned here when the plans were put together to close the landfill.”
(We have reached out to the Parks Department for the status of these roads, but have not yet heard back.)
Staten Island is long considered the last bastion of the GOP in the city. And it’s clear Lhota will need it if he plans to be competitive at all next month.
So he is playing to that constituency — talking about traffic, widening roads, taxes, etc.
But it’s unclear whether Lhota is making any headway there. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC4 New York/Marist College poll released last night, in Queens and Staten Island de Blasio bests Lhota 64 percent to 25. Of that group, 43 percent had an unfavorable view of Lhota, and 31 percent said he was too conservative. (Marist did not separate Staten Island voters out, because the sample size was too small).
Staten Island was crucial for Mayor Rudy Giuliani — whose campaign Lhota is emulating.
But perhaps they have grown tired of the Giuliani era. If this is any indication of where voters stand, yesterday’s poll showed 36 percent of likely voters in Staten Island and Queens would be more likely to vote for Lhota with a Giuliani endorsement — 42 percent said they would be less likely.