Downstate NY

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 >

Assembly Bill Would Spend $50M On Testing For Legionnaires

legionnairescoolingAs state and city officials continue to monitor and contain an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx, a measure being introduced in the Assembly would spend up to $50 million to testing cooling towers of the Legionella bacteria.

At the same time, the measure being introduced by Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner would continue to fund testing and policing of the bacteria by various city agencies with the goal of preventing future outbreaks of the disease.

The money would be allocated to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Environmental Protection in order to conduct the tests. More >

Real Estate Industry Joins 421a Air War

From today’s Morning Memo:

With the clock ticking in Albany and the rent laws set to expire next month, a new coalition led by downstate real estate interests is launching a multimillion dollar campaign in favor of a “revised” version of the controversial 421a tax abatement program it insists will result in more affordable housing in New York City.

The Affordable Hosing and Local Jobs Now Coalition’s campaign features a TV ad, which will start airing on broadcast and cable stations in NYC and Albany today, as well as radio and paid digital ads.

The ad, which was made by Global Strategy Group and can be viewed below, slams “special interests” pushing for a “deceptive wage proposal” to be included in 421a that would “stop builders from hiring local workers, severely restricting new affordable housing construction and denying thousands of families a place to call home.”

That’s a reference to the coalition group UP4NYC, formed by labor unions and contractors, which earlier this month launched its own multimillion dollar campaign calling for 421a to be modified to guarantee higher wages for construction workers.

The AFL-CIO recently signed on in support of the prevailing wage push, which is not part of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 421a/affordable housing plan – a fact that puts him at odds with some of his transitional allies in the organized labor movement.

In fact, the Real Estate Board of New York – or REBNY, which is the driving force behind the Affordable Housing and Local Jobs Now Coalition – supports de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, and is calling on Albany lawmakers to approve it before the session’s scheduled end next month.

Members of the new coalition also include the NYS Association for Affordable Housing, the Community Preservation Corporation and the NAACP.

The coalition maintains that the prevailing wage proposal being pushed by UP4NYC would force a 30 percent increase in construction costs, making housing projects in the city too expensive, and resulting in either a reduction of new affordable units by half or a monthly rent increase on units of $400.

“With sky-high land and construction costs, along with the disproportionate tax burden on rental properties, building multi-family rental housing in New York City has become very challenging,” said incoming REBNY President John Banks.

“A revised 421-a program will help address that challenge, leading to the creation of more multi-family affordable rental housing throughout New York City. A prevailing wage requirement for construction will send the City in the opposite direction – leading to less affordable housing and less local employment.”

UP4NYC spokesman Tom Meara responded:

“UP4NYC is committed to improving the lives of working class families. We will not retreat because wealthy special interests are going to advocate to protect their profit model. 421a must be fixed.”

“Public subsidies require public responsibilities. Increase the wage and increase the true number of affordable units anything less is Albany being run by wealthy special interests.”

The ad makes no mention of de Blasio or his plan to reform 421a.

That’s probably smart, given the fact that the mayor is no friend to the Senate GOP, which is closely allied with the real estate industry, thanks to the more than $1.3 million a REBNY-backed PAC spent to help the conference win back the majority last year.

Before leaving Albany for the Memorial Day weekend, the Assembly Democrats passed legislation to extend and strengthen the rent laws. But so far, neither house has taken up the 421a issue.

The program is a bit of a political hot potato these days, thanks to the role it played in the federal corruption scandals that cost both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos their respective leadership posts.

The Daily News’ Ken Lovett reported yesterday that some Senate Republicans are leery of the usual horse-trading required to create the end-of-session “Big Ugly” – the yard ball of unrelated deals that traditionally closes out the season in Albany.

According to Lovett, the lawmakers don’t want to do anything that further sparks the interest of corruption-busting US Attorney Preet Bharara – and that includes cutting deals on anything to do with rent control and 421a.

Calls to Reform 421-a Grow As Deadline Looms

With less than a month until New York City’s decades-old tax abatement program is set to expire, a coalition of groups looking to reform 421-a has grown 2.5 million people bigger.

Up4NYC, an group advocating for changes to the program, announced this morning that they now have the backing of the NYC Central Labor Council, the Building and Construction Trades Council, and the New York State AFL-CIO.

This comes as many groups push for either an extension of the current 421-a program, or a complete revamp to the tax relief program.

“It is simply unacceptable to continue putting the interests of wealthy developers ahead of working families,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, in a statement. “The economic impact of the public dollars used could be much more significant if we demand policy changes to the 421a program. The focus should be on requiring middle class wages for working families and expanding access to affordable housing.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan earlier this month to improve the program. Under his plan, 25-30 percent of a project’s units would be dedicated to lower-income residents in exchange for tax breaks. His plan also pushes a “mansion tax” on sales of homes costing more than $1.7 Million.

Up4NYC is calling for a similar plan with an added provision. For construction workers involved in 421-a projects, they’d like to see a prevailing wage. That’s a move that some say could limit new projects under the 421-a program due in part to larger expenses.

The coalition also wants more units dedicted to affordable housing, but does not place a specific number.

The group has released two ads in the last month, pushing for reform to the program rather than a complete revamp. Others want the program done away with, saying money saved from ending the tax breaks could go to help low-income residents.

Here’s their latest ad from last week:

NYC Public Advocate Backs ‘The Right Woman’ for the Presidency

NYC Public Advocate Tish James, who just yesterday seemed a little wishy-washy in her support for Hillary Clinton’s second White House run, this afternoon issued a full-throated endorsement of the former secretary of state, calling her the “right woman for the job.”

“I know that America’s tomorrow will be better with Hillary Clinton as our next President,” James wrote in an email sent to supporters this afternoon from her campaign committee, Letitia James 2017. “By electing Hillary as President, we will shatter the highest, hardest ceiling of them all.”

“Even more importantly, we will be electing a proven champion for working families and a leader with the experience and vision to move our country forward. I am proud to endorse Hillary for President and urge progressives everywhere to join us in supporting Hillary in 2016.”

Following NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s refusal to endorse Clinton right off the bat, and NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s reluctance to jump on the Clinton bandwagon, James seemed to back off her earlier pledge to endorse the former first lady in her 2016 quest for the presidency, telling the NY Observer:

“I think Hillary is absolutely fabulous and wonderful, and it would be really exciting, exciting to have a woman president, and I’m looking forward to that. And I have a number of questions for Hillary, and I’m looking forward to that conversation.”

James backed Clinton’s unsuccessful White House run in 2008, and had said – unlike some of her fellow New York Democrats contacted by Capital NY in January – that she would support the former US senator again.

In her email, James said she feels a “sense of urgency about the challenges we face as a nation” – especially income inequality, which is an issue about which the left is particularly concerned as Clinton mounts her second presidential bid.