Downstate NY

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.”

Ex-Councilman Halloran Guilty On All Five Counts

A jury today found ex-Queens Councilman Dan Halloran guilty on all five counts of the corruption charges he faced stemming in part from his role in a bribery scheme to sell the GOP line in the 2013 NYC mayoral primary.

US Attorney Preet Bharara issued the following statement:

“With today’s verdict of guilty reached by an impartial and independent jury, the clean-up of corruption in New York continues in courtrooms. As the jury unanimously found, Daniel Halloran played a key role in two distinct political corruption schemes: first, for $20,000, Halloran was willing and able to serve as a go-between to deliver bribes to political party officials, and second he also took nearly $25,000 in cash and illegal campaign contributions to steer $80,000 in City Council money to other bribe payers.”

“Dan Halloran was the lone defendant in the trial that just ended in his conviction, but he is unfortunately not alone in a crowded field of New York officials who are willing to sell out their offices for self-enrichment.”

“This Office will continue the vigorous prosecution of political corruption to secure for the people of New York – regardless of party affiliation – what they deserve: the honest labors of their elected representatives. And we will continue to partner with the FBI, whose outstanding investigative work in this case was instrumental to achieving a just result.”

Halloran, a Republican, was charged with taking more than $20,000 in payoffs from two undercover FBI operatives posing as corrupt developers in exchange for agreeing to funnel public cash to them and to help bribe Republican NYC county leaders to allow Democratic Sen. Malcolm Smith, also of Queens, to run Row B in the party’s mayoral primary.

(That race was eventually won by former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, who lost the general election in a landslide to the winner of the Democratic primary, current NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio).

Testifying in his own defense, Halloran admitted taking the cash, but said he considered the money payment for consulting services and never procured any public funds for the real estate developers/FBI agents.

Originally, Halloran and Smith were once co-defendants, along with former Queens GOP official Vince Tabone. But attorneys for Smith and Tabone opted to accept a mistrial due to a procedural error having to do with Yiddish phone recordings, while Halloran’s attorney decided to proceed as scheduled.

Smith and Tabone will be re-tried in January, and today’s verdict perhaps is not the best omen for them. In the meantime, Smith is seeking re-election, though he has been cast out from both the Democratic Senate conference (which he once led) and the IDC.

Who Stays on The Ballot, and Who Doesn’t

Last month at the Gay Pride parade, former NYC Public Advocate Mark Green bumped into Randy Credico and Zephyr Teachout while marching with the Jim Owls Club. Teachout and Credico, who have both submitted signatures to run as Democrats in the primary for Governor, had not previously met. Green had an idea. While emphasizing that he has no plans to endorse any candidate or get involved in the primary, but does appreciate healthy competition, he urged the two scrappy upstart candidates to form a non-aggression pact. An agreement not to challenge each other’s signatures in court. The deal was struck and the two candidates shook on it.

I wasn’t there, but I bet it was a proud moment for all involved including the larger left, democracy in general, and of course the good people of the great state of New York.

Teachout later invited Credico to drop out of the race and join her nascent campaign, but Credico declined opting to stay in the race.  Credico was coming off his showing last fall in the Democratic Mayoral Primary. The day after the vote was tallied it still was not clear Bill de Blasio had avoided a runoff but it appeared as though some districts in the Bronx who might ordinarily have gone for de Blasio had actually voted for Credico. This later proved to be false but that morning Credico proceeded to facebook message me multiple times to let me know that if de Blasio doesn’t avoid the runoff he, Randy, is solely responsible. Naturally, I told him he was the Ralph Nader of the 2013 election, and that he should be very proud.

Credico aside, the Teachout/Wu campaign could prove more of a thorn in the side for Camp Cuomo. First, there is this excellent story from Blake Zeff at Capital which explains the Kathy Hochul problem for the left as LG, and how Tim Wu could conceivably grab some votes. Then of course there is the issue of Teachout herself. While the leadership of the Working Families Party has joined forces with labor, Cuomo, de Blasio and the new progressive coalition in New York which is determined to elect Cuomo and a Democratic Senate, there are still those in the Working Families Party and elsewhere who are dissatisfied with Cuomo and may want to register a protest vote with Teachout. Just last week, the Village Independent Democrats rescinded their “no endorse” in the gubernatorial election and instead went with Teachout. While the VID doesn’t represent all that many votes, it’s a Barometer of the soul of the Democratic party. Ed Koch came out of there, after all.

When Teachout was first seeking the nomination, some questioned whether she meets the residency requirement. In order to run for Governor, one has to have lived in this state for five years as of election day. Teachout’s history could be subject to a court challenge, or at least a good lawyer could probably make an solid argument against her.

Teachout moved to New York in June 2009 from North Carolina. She began teaching at Fordham in the fall and moved in with a friend in the East Village. Her name will not pop up on the lease or on any utility bills from that period, all of which could be subpoenaed by a lawyer challenging residency. In early 2010 she taught at Harvard University in Boston for about 7 weeks. Later that same year she finally signed her own lease and moved into a place on West 82nd street where she lived for a year. Teachout then stayed with friends again until 2012 when she moved to Fort Green, Brooklyn where she lives now.

Teachout says she is prepared for a legal challenge. She has numerous affidavits lined up from students and others. But there are also questions about her voting absentee. The Board of Elections cannot rule on this issue, but the courts can if the Cuomo campaign files suit. That window is now open, but the earliest it would go before an Albany judge is two weeks from last Thursday’s filing deadline.

DEC Defends Bridge Loan To EPA

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens defended the legality of the $511 million loan to help pay for the construction of a replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The letter was first reported by Gannett.

The letter, addressed to EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, comes as the state seeks to use money from a fund that has been in the past used to pay for water and sewer improvement projects.

Martens writes in the letter that the loan remains both legal and not an “unconventional or new” approach to take to the fund the project.

He also uses the letter to address a series of questions from federal environmental officials who have raised concerns about the loan.

Enck on Capital Tonight Monday evening indicated her office would scrutinize the loan. The pool of money is largely federally funded.

“The EPA has a legal obligation to make sure that every single dollar is spent in accordance with federal laws and rules,” Enck said. “And so we indeed may do an analysis and find that some projects are appropriate for this funding and some are not.”

The loan must be approved by the Public Authorities Board, which includes Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget director Bob Megna, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco.

DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, has not ruled out voting down the loan.

Untitled by Nick Reisman

Espaillat Concedes to Rangel; Will Run for Re-election in Senate (Updated)

In a statement sent out this afternoon, Sen. Adriano Espaillat conceded the primary for the 13th congressional district to incumbent Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel. He also declared his candidacy for re-election to the state Senate.

Espaillat had held off on conceding to Rangel, saying he’d wait until “every single vote” was counted before admitting defeat. This comes after the senator’s last attempt to knock off Rangel in 2012 ended in an extremely tight race. As affadavit and absentee ballots continued to be counted in that election, the race grew tighter, eventually ending in a victory for Rangel of less than 1,000 votes.

But it seems Espaillat’s camp realized the vote deficit was too much to overcome this time around. Earlier today, the senator called Rangel to congratulate him on his victory and his long career in the House of Representatives.

Because of quirks in the scheduling of federal and statewide elections, this concession allows Espaillat to move on to a re-election bid. He has represented the 31st Senate District in Manhattan since 2011 after serving more than a decade in the state Assembly.

Espaillat’s concession statement:

“I want to express my deepest appreciation for all of the efforts of my supporters and volunteers on my campaign for Congress. My sincerest thanks goes out to the unwavering endorsements provided to me from all of the labor unions, newspapers, advocacy groups, elected officials, and community leaders.”

“Even though I will not be representing the 13th District in Congress, I will continue to fight for Opportunity for All. While much has been written about the politics of race and ethnicity within this District, there is no question that our campaign focused on bringing the community together around our shared needs and struggles.”

“Today, I am announcing my re-election campaign for the New York Senate from where I will continue to work to find new ways to bring jobs, affordable housing and immigration reform to our community, so that middle and working class families can thrive here.”

UPDATE: Espaillat’s decision to seek re-election comes on the same day former NYC Councilman Robert Jackson formally launched his campaign for the seat the senator would be vacating had he succeeded in his second attempt at ousting Rangel. So, it appears Espaillat has a primary battle on his hands this September.

Also, the DN notes that Espaillat told its editorial board back in June that he did not intend to try to hang on to his seat in the Senate chamber, saying: “This is not my plan right now, to go back to Albany I want to go to Washington, I want to make a difference, I want to bring about change to the district.”

Espaillat also switched gears and sought re-election back in 2012 after his first primary loss to Rangel. That was the first year that the state and federal primaries did not fall on the same day, thanks to the inability of legislative leaders to agree on a date.

House Ethics Committee Delays Probe Into Threat To TWC News Reporter

The House Ethics Committee has deferred its investigation into Rep. Michael Grimm’s post-State of the Union threat to a Time Warner Cable News reporter at the request of the US Justice Department.

The committee announced its decision today, saying that it had received a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics back in April that Grimm, a Staten Island Republican, may have violated House rules – or the law – when he threatened to throw TWC News Washington reporter Michael Scotto off the balcony during an interview after President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Scotto had been inquiring about the congressman’s fundraising, which has for several years been the subject of a federal probe. Grimm abruptly walked away from Scotto, but then returned and said: “Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this f—–g balcony…I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”

Grimm, a former FBI agent and ex-Marine, has since been accused by federal prosecutors of underreporting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of employee wages and some $1 million worth of revenue while running an Upper East Side restaurant, essentially keeping two sets of records and fraudulently lowering his federal and state taxes. He also allegedly lied while under oath while he was a member of Congress.

The congressman, who has consistently maintained his innocence, has been charged with, among other things, perjury, wire fraud, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, employment of illegal immigrants, obstructing and impeding tax laws, and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

The House Ethics Committee was asked by the Justice Department to defer consideration of Grimm’s threat to Scotto, and voted unanimously on June 18 to honor that request. At least annually, the committee will make a public statement if it continues to defer taking action on this matter.

Not long after the incident with Scotto, which made national headlines, Grimm apologized to the reporter and said he had “overreacted.” Grimm is seeking re-election despite his legal troubles. He is facing a challenge from former NYC Councilman Domenic Recchia.

House Ethics Committee statement on Rep. Michael Grimm by liz_benjamin6490

Silver Slaps Kellner Again

After informing reporters that a revised policy for handling sexual harassment cases has been completed, Assembly Speaker Silver announced this afternoon that he has again admonished and disciplined scandal-scarred Assemblyman Micah Kellner for failing to adhere to a no-intern rule instituted following an investigation that found he sexually harassed members of his staff.

Silver said he is fully implementing the recommendations of the Assembly Ethics and Guidance Committee, which called for further sanctions against Kellner after he was found to have violated the terms of a Dec. 30, 2013 Letter of Admonition that directed him not to have interns in his office.

The committee also found that Kellner, an Upper East Side Democrat who has been fighting the initial sanctions lodged against him, attempted to obstruct a climate survey mandated by the Dec. 30 letter and engaged in additional sexual harassment beyond the matters that were the subject of the 2013 investigation.

As a result, Silver will reduce Kellner’s staff allocation to 0 at the end of June, and also has directed that the assemblyman’s Albany and district offices be closed. In addition, Silver said he admonishes and severely reprimands Kellner on behalf of his Assembly colleagues and declared “that his conduct with respect to these matters violates the Assembly’s policies on sexual harassment and is inconsistent with the standards of conduct to which Members of the Assembly should be held.”

Silver’s actions are a bit moot, since Kellner will be leaving office at the end of the year. He lost a bid for the NYC Council last year, and then announced in February that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election to his Assembly seat, either. The NY Observer recently reported that Kellner may run for an obscure state committee post in an effort to re-start his stalled political career.

Speaker Silver admonishes Assemblyman Kellner – again. by liz_benjamin6490

Labor-Dem-WFP Coalition Targets Sen. Golden (Updated)

The coalition created out of the Working Families Party convention to flip the state Senate into Democratic hands is quickly putting together its list of seats to target and/or protect, and apparently one of just two remaining Republican senators representing New York City is in its crosshairs.

According to a source familiar with the coalition’s plans, Sen. Marty Golden, of Brooklyn, will be a top target this fall. Democratic NYC Councilman Vincent Gentile’s name is being floated as a potential challenger to Golden, who is himself a former councilman. Golden, who worked for the NYPD for 10 years before launching his politial career, was first elected to the Senate in 2002.

There’s a long and not terribly friendly history between Gentile and Golden.

Gentile once held Golden’s seat, which he won in 1996, capitalizing on internal divisions in the Republican party to win a three-way race in what was then SD-23. Golden defeated Gentile in 2002 with the help of nearly $4 million from the Senate GOP, and Gentile, who spent about half a million dollars on his Senate campaign, subsequently won a special election for the NYC Council seat Golden vacated to move up to the Senate.

Effectively, the two swapped jobs.

Today, Golden’s Brooklyn district (the 22nd SD) has an overwhelming Democratic enrollment edge – 78,165 to 33,343 Republicans, according to the state Board of Elections. Yet the Democrats have so far been unable to unseat the outspoken and often colorful senator from his seat.

Two years ago, Golden’s Democratic challenger, Andrew Gounardes, lost to Golden, 57 percent to 43 percent, but performed surprisingly well in Golden’s home turf of Bay Ridge. Since then, however, Gounardes has accepted a job with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (a former Senate Democrat), and he would have to give up the job if he wanted to pursue a re-match run against the GOP senator.

Also worth noting: Golden was a close ally of former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who used his considerable wealth to bolster the Senate GOP’s coffers while he was in office. Now that Bloomberg is gone, the Republicans have lost their most prominent individual contributor.

Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif emailed the following statement in response to the news that Golden is yet again a target for the Democrats:

“Another year, another boast from Senate Democrats about this being the year they’re going to take out Marty Golden. Excuse us if we’ve heard this one before. Regardless of who the Democrats decide to put up this time, Senator Golden is going to be reelected because he keeps delivering for the hardworking residents of Brooklyn.”

UPDATE: The coalition source called back in response to Reif’s comment, noting that there are thousands of union members living in Golden’s district whose organizations have never before been uited against him, and prepared to urge them all to work – and vote – against him. Also, according to this source, some $1 million has been earmarked by the coalition to assist Gentile (or whoever the Democratic opponent ends up being) in his quest to unseat Golden.

Felder Maintains ‘Go With Majority’ Stance

With all the talk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo potentially pushing to reunify the IDC and so-called “regular” Democrats as payback for the Republicans’ refusal to support a statewide public campaign finance system, I thought it would be worth checking it with the lone Democrat who is actually conferencing with the GOP: Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder.

“Nothing has changed,” the senator told me during a brief telephone interview this afternoon. “I’m interested in doing everything I can to make sure my constituents get all the services they need and deserve. That was my original position. It’s not about the governor. It’s not about the IDC. It’s not about anyone other than my constituents. I care only about them.”

So, does that mean that Felder would return to the Democratic fold if the Republican-IDC coalition fell apart? In a word: “Yes.”

As you’ll recall, Felder, a former NYC councilman, announced shortly after winning his seat in 2012 that he would be caucusing with the Republicans, despite the that he had run as a Democrat and had no intention of changing his party affiliation.

At the time, Felder made it clear that he would sit with whichever conference that would enable him to do more for his constituents – in other words, whoever could provide the most in terms of resources and service-delivery power would be getting his vote.

Just over one month later, the breakaway IDC announced its historic power-sharing deal with the GOP (plus Felder), which enabled the Republicans to retain a slim hold on the majority.

In return for his decision, Felder got to chair a brand new subcommittee on NYC education that was created by the Republicans just for him. And he generally has been a reliable vote for the GOP ever since.

This year, however, Felder experienced a significant policy loss when GOP Leader Dean Skelos failed to cut a deal on an education tax credit that would have given religious schools a much-needed boost. Felder took some heat for this, but he says he believes that of all the leaders involved in the budget negotiations this spring, the Senate Republicans “certainly made the best effort” to get the tax credit done.

Cuomo is now being criticized for failing to keep his word – according to Catholic leaders – on the tax credit. Supporters had hoped that it would end up part of a grand deal along with public campaign finance and changes to the teacher performanmce evaluation system, but so far, that hadn’t materialized.

I asked Felder if he felt the loss of the tax credit would encourage him to leave the GOP conference and return to the regular Democrats (who, by the way, once wanted him to be thrown out of the party, thanks to his willingness to sit with the Republicans), and he replied:

“There were a lot of people that – at best – did not do what they should have to make sure that that got passed, and in Albany, it takes three to tango. (Actually, these days, four).”

“…At the end of the day, I’m repeating myself, but party really makes no difference to me. If I was in a different district, I wouldn’t have the liberty to be such an independent person. I have, thank God, the benefit of being beholden only to my constituents and God, so I’m able to make decisions that relate to ensuring constituents get what they need without the impact of party politics.”

Recchia Lands 2nd Union Nod From RWDSU

Former NYC Councilman Domenic Recchia’s campaign is poised to announce that the Brooklyn Democrat has landed his second union endorsement from RWDSU for his bid to unseat Staten Island Republican Rep. Michael Grimm.

“Throughout his many years of public service, Domenic Recchia has stood with New York’s working families,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “As a New York City Council Member, Domenic not only fought for the people of his district, but also advocated on behalf of working families in every borough.”

“We need a congressman who will stand with low wage workers and all working people. Domenic Recchia will bring the voice of working families in Staten Island and South Brooklyn to our nation’s capital. We are proud to endorse him.”

John Durso, president of Local 338 RWDSU, added:

“We have seen first-hand Domenic’s commitment to all of New York City’s working families As a City Councilman he fought for legislation to protect workers’ rights while also working to create new jobs. We are confident that Domenic will continue to be a great champion as the next Congressman of the 11th District, and he will help change the Republican-caused gridlock in Washington, D.C.”

This isn’t terribly surprising. Two years ago, RWDSU endorsed Mark Murphy, the Democrat who unsuccessfully sought to oust Grimm in a high Democratic turnout, presidential election year.

The NY-11 race has heated up since Grimm was indicted on 20 counts of fraud and tax evasion. Grimm, who is out on $400,000 bond, made his first court appearance yesterday, and it appears this case is not going to be speedily resolved (as he had hoped) before the midterm elections, in which the scandal-scarred congressman continues to run.

The charges are in connection to an Upper East Side health food restaurant that the congressman owned and operated prior to his 2010 election to the House. The government has accused Grimm of filing false tax returns, committing mail fraud and withholding more than $1 million worth of taxes.

The case stems from an ongoing federal investigation into Grimm’s fundraising which has lasted about two years. Also, the House Ethics Committee announced in November that Grimm was under investigation for possible campaign finance violations.

Part of the problem in terms of timing is that it’s going to take a considerable amount of time for attorneys to review the 70,000 pages of documents and 8,000 emails that government prosecutors are using as evidence against Grimm.

The congressman has insisted he is innocent, and has called the charges against him a “political witch hunt” designed to “assassinate my character and remove me from office.” He did, however, resign from his seat on the House Financial Services Committee in late April at the urging of Speaker John Boehner.