Downstate NY

Cuomo To Skip Nassau Dems’ Dinner Tonight

The legislative budget debate, which is expected to drag on into the night, is preventing Gov. Andrew Cuomo from attending a Democratic dinner in Nassau County where he was scheuled to co-headline a tribute to retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said he received a call from Cuomo aide Joe Percoco a little over an hour ago with the bad news. But Jacobs also received a heads up last night that the way things were shaping up at the Capitol, it was possible Cuomo would need to stay in Albany to make sure the budget vote went smoothly.

Jacobs and Cuomo have been at odds lately, thanks to the chairman’s call for the governor and his GOP opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, to reject the Independence Party’s endorsement in hopes of starving it out of existence.

Astorino, who was unlikely to receive the party’s nod anyway, quickly heeded Jacobs’ call. But Cuomo has hedged, preferring instead to let Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano blast Jacobs at an unrelated Red Room press conference.

During a brief telephone interview this afternoon, Jacobs, a former state Democratic Party chairman, insisted his difference of opinion with Cuomo on the Independence Party has nothing to do with the governor’s decision to skip tonight’s dinner.

“We knew going in when we picked this date that there was a distinct possibility that the governor would not be able to attend because budget wrangling would be going on in Albany,” Jacobs said. “And as I understand it, there is a lot of budget wrangling going on in Albany.”

Jacobs said Pelosi is still scheduled to attend the event, as are a number of McCarthy’s congressional colleagues, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Crowley for Rangel

Though a number of high-profile Democrats have defected from Rep. Charlie Rangel’s side to back Sen. Adriano Espaillat’s second primary challenge to the veteran Harlem lawmaker, at least one powerful party leader/elected official is refusing to turn his back on his long-time congressional colleague.

Rep. Joe Crowley, who is also chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, sent out a combination fundraising/endorsement email on Rangel’s behalf this morning entitled “Keep Him in Congress.” Crowley noted that he serves on the powerful Ways and Means Committee with Rangel (actually, Rangel chaired the committee, once upon a time).

“I’ve made it my mission to boost the Democratic Party, first in Queens, where I’m the Democratic county leader, and now across the country as the Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus in Congress,” Crowley wrote. “We need leaders like Charlie Rangel who know how important it is to create good, middle-class jobs, improve healthcare, and build a better America.”

“Instead, though, Republicans have spent their time, sitting on their hands, blocking Democrats from making progress. They’ve held dozens and dozens of votes to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. They’ve blocked votes on the minimum wage, on the DREAM Act and immigration reform, on investing in our infrastructure. On so many important issues, Republicans have opposed progress.”

Crowley also announced in the email that he’ll be headlining a fund-raiser for Rangel this Thursday at Antun’s in Queens Village (a popular political spot). Also expected to attend: Former Gov. David Paterson, Rep. Greg Meeks, and Assemblywoman Vivian Cook.

Oddly, Crowley concludes his email by saying that the Republicans are trying to defeat Rangel. But the Harlem congressman’s bigger problem is the June primary, in which he faces both Espaillat and the Rev. Michael Walrond.

AsCapital NY’s Azi Paybarah notes, Crowley’s decision to stick with Rangel is particularly interesting because of the growing Latino presence in Crowley’s district – something about which the Queens congressman has always been particularly sensitive, worried about a potential primary challenge of his own.

Crowley also backed Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick over Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito in the NYC Council speaker’s race, and ended up picking the wrong horse. Mark-Viverito won that battle, becoming the first Latina ever to hold the speaker’s office. She also recently endorsed Espaillat over Rangel in the NY-13 primary, after supporting Rangel against the senator in 2012.

Cuomo Provides Soft Landing For Ex-Bloomberg Aides, Queens Councilman

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is again providing a professional home for former Bloomberg administration aides and an ex-NYC Councilman who was term limited out of office last year and lost his bid for another elected post.

The governor announced four new hires this afternoon, one of which is his fellow Queens native Peter Vallone Jr., who served as on the NYC Council from 2002 to 2013 and chaired the Public Safety Committee. Vallone, a member of a dynastic political family, lost the Democratic primary for Queens borough president last fall to his one-time Council colleague, Melinda Katz.

In his new post with the Cuomo administration, Vallone will serve as a special assistant assigned to the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. It’s not clear how long this new gig will last for Vallone, who has made no secret of his desire to one day return to public office – preferably to the Queens DA’s job.

Cuomo also hired two former Bloombeg administration staffers: Kevin Kelly, who had served as deputy commissioner of NYC Business under the former mayor, will be COO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal; and Jamal Othman, who was chief of staff in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs will now be deputy director of the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs.

Also, Nora Yates, who was an Empire State Fellow in the executive chamber, has been hired as deputy director of the Community, Opportunity & Reinvestment (“CORe”) initiative, which Cuomo launched in his 2013 State of the State address.

Salaries for these new hires were not immediately available.

This is hardly the first time Cuomo has hired former NYC Council members or former Bloomberg staffers. The most recent addition came in January, when Cuomo named former Councilman Jim Gennaro, also of Queens, to a new position at the DEC.

Nassau Dem Chair To Gov Candidates: Reject Indy Party Line

Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs is calling on the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor to refuse to run on the state Independence Party line in hopes that it will lose the ballot position that provides its leaders with what Jacobs called “oversized and undue clout.”

“The fact that the Independence Party genuinely stands for nothing, supports virtually no political activity and appears to exist only for the financial benefit of its leadership, while distasteful, does not necessarily lead us to take action against it. It is the corrupt activities by its leadership that, I believe, have crossed that line,” Jacobs wrote in a letter to state Democratic Party co-chairs Keith Wright and Stephanie Miner.

“Dealing with this corrupt party requires no change in the law – only political courage. I urge the State Committee to work toward an agreement whereby the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor mutually and jointly agree that they will not accept the Independence Party’s nomination.”

If both the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor reject the the Independence Party line, it could end up all but starving the organization out of existence. If a party’s gubernatorial candidate does not receive at least 50,000 votes on its ballot line every four yers, it loses its official status – not to mention its relevance.

Jacobs, a former state Democratic chairman himself, said that while the state’s other minor parties with ballot lines – Working Families, Conservative and Green – represent “clear political viewpoints,” the Independence Party exists largely to improve the financial status of its leaders.

Jacobs noted that his local branch of the Independence Party is run by Rick Bellando, who was selected by the state Party Chairman Frank MacKay, also a Long Islander. Bellando is an employee of Gary Melius, the owner of Oheka Castle, a hotel and catering facility in Suffolk County. Melius has been in the news lately after surviving a gunshot wound to the head – the result of an apparent assassination attempt.

According to Jacobs, (and backed up by a review of financial filings with the state Board of Elections) more than 80 percent of the $183,577 spent by the Nassau County Independence Party since 2012 (the only records available on line) went directly to Oheka Castle, Bellando and MacKay. Of the total amount spent by the party, only 3.45 percent went to fund political activity.

Efforts to reach MacKay for comment have so far been unsuccessful.

The state Independence Party was founded by former Paychex CEO Tom Golisano, who solidified the party’s ballot status with his three self-funded – and unsuccessful – runs for governor. Since 2006, when Golisano declined to run against then Democratic Party favorite, AG Eliot Spitzer, the party has focused on cross endorsing major party candidates to maintain its line.

Spitzer ran on the Indy line that year after the state party leaders booted their most controversial member, NYC’s Lenora Fulani. Four years later, Spitzer’s successor in the AG’s office, Andrew Cuomo, accepted the party’s endorsement even though it was under investigation for its spending on behalf of Mayor Bloomberg in his third successful run in 2009. (GOP consultant John Haggerty ended up convicted of stealing about $1 million worth of Bloomberg’s money that was passed through the Independence Party).

Cuomo also ran in 2010 on the labor-backed Working Families Party line, but he made WFP party leaders sweat while he mulled whether to accept their endorsement. The WFP was under investigation at the time by the US Attorney’s office for the work done by its now defunct for profit arm, Data & Field Services, during the 2009 NYC elections. No charges were brought in that case.

Cuomo agreed to run on the WFP line after its leaders agreed to fully endorse his “New New York” agenda, even though it included a number of initiatives – pay freezes for public employees, the 2 percent property tax cap – that many unions opposed.

This year, it remains unclear if the WFP will even offer the governor its endorsement. Many rank-and-file members are unhappy with Cuomo on a host of issues, and some say the WFP should perhaps run its own candidate – maybe even its national director, Dan Cantor – unless the governor delivers on a big ticket item like campaign finance reform (specifically, creation of a publicly funded system) or local minimum wage.

Nassau County Dem Chairman Jay Jacobs letter on Indy Party. by liz_benjamin6490

DiNapoli: Pre-K Funding, Labor Contracts ‘Uncertainties’ In NYC Budget

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli gave NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s budget proposal a thumbs up for the short term, saying he made appropriate use of higher than expected tax revenues to reduce out-year budget gaps and to
replenish reserves.

But the comptroller also warned that the potential cost of labor negotiations on some 150 outstanding municipal contracts “casts a shadow of uncertainty on the city’s finances.

“While strong economic growth has boosted city revenues, Mayor de Blasio continues to grapple with ongoing structural deficits and labor contracts that have remained unsettled for far too long,” DiNapoli said.

“The final cost and structure of these agreements may not be known for some time. This plan is a strong starting point for the mayor and I urge him to remain cautious and look at the long-term picture.”

That concern echoes the assessment of DiNapoli’s New York City counterpart, Comptroller Scott Stringer, who recently called the contracts the “Achilles heel” of the de Blasio administration, and said budget chaos will ensue if the mayor doesn’t reach agreements with the city’s labor unions by the end of June.

DiNapoli’s analysis suggests that revenues could be higher than what the de Blasio administration has forecast, but found it still faces a number of large budget risks.

Besides the outcome of collective bargaining, other risks include the anticipated receipt of $1.2 billion from the planned sale of taxi medallions during fiscal years 2015 through 2017 and whether the Health and Hospitals Corporation will require additional financial assistance from the city. It is also unclear if federal aid for Sandy recovery will fall short of the city’s expectations.

DiNapoli left a blank when it comes to the question of funding for universal pre-K. De Blasio says his tax-the-rich plan would generate about $340 million to $350 million a year to enroll all the city’s four year olds, which is considerably more than the $100 million Cuomo has allocated in his 2014-15 budget proposal for pre-K statewide.

Another concern flagged by the state comptroller is the city’s projected growth in debt service and health insurance costs. Together they are expected to grow by $4.6 billion – or 47 percent – between FY 2013 through FY 2018, and to consume 24 percent of city fund revenue by FY 2018.

In recent years, DiNapoli notes the city has relied heavily on nonrecurring resources to balance the budget. The budgets for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 each count on about $2.5 billion in nonrecurring resources.

You can read DiNapoli’s entire report on the NYC budget here.

Charter War Comes To Albany

ICYMI, here’s the lead item today’s Morning Memo:

The New York City-based war over charter schools will reach a head in Albany tomorrow, as hundreds from either side descend on the state Capitol for dueling rallies.

On one side: Former NYC Councilwoman and charter school operator Eva Moskowitz, who is furious with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio for reversing co-location decisions by his predecessor, former Mayor Bloomberg, that would have allowed for the expansion of three schools operated by her Success Academy network.

Moskowitz has cancelled school tomorrow at all 22 of her charters, and plans to bus angry parents, students and teachers to Albany to protest de Blasio’s decision.

On the other side: De Blasio and his allies, who had already planned to be in Albany Tuesday to rally for his ever-more-out-of-reach plan to let the city tax wealthy residents to expand pre-K and after school programs in the five boroughs. De Blasio last week fanned the flames still further by calling Moskowitz’s rally a “sideshow,” insisting he would not be deterred by her plans.

There is a belief among de Blasio backers that that Moskowitz has launched her competing rally with the tacit approval – if not outright encouragement – of the pro-charter Cuomo administration, which is at odds with the mayor over pre-K funding.

Just last week, Cuomo was praising the charter school movement and its departed “champion” (Bloomberg), while refusing to weigh in directly on the co-location argument.

A Cuomo spokesman did not return an email seeking comment Sunday night.

Meanwhile, Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos told the NY Post he’s prepared to fight on behalf of charter schools during the ongoing budget negotiations with Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and IDC Leader Jeff Klein.

Skelos called de Blasio’s co-location decision “unconscionable.” He also expressed concern about the administration’s effort to redirect a $210 million construction fund used to build space for charter schools toward pre-K, and its plans to charge better-financed charter schools rent.

Not everyone in the charter community is at war with de Blasio. Twenty-three charter organizations have signed onto a Feb. 27 statement calling Moskowitz’s competing rally “not the right approach at this time,” and refusing to participate.

“Tuesday is not a day to be divided,” the letter reads. “Those rallying in Albany next week should stand together with the city and advocate – side by side – for our children, particularly the most underserved, and all of whom are public school students.”

Kerry Kennedy Acquitted Of Drugged Driving Charges

Kerry Kennedy was acquitted on Friday morning of drugged driving charges.

The daughter of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy and ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo had maintained during a trial that she had accidentally taken sleeping medication.

A Primary For Avella?

Sen. Tony Avella caught the “regular” Democrats by surprise with his decision to defect to the IDC. Apparently, there was no warning – not for his (now former) conference members or his longtime consultants at The Parkside Group - which has left some pretty bruised feelings on the part of the people he left behind.

It might not be so bad if the conference – and especially Avella’s fellow Queens Democrat, DSCC Chairman Mike Gianaris – hadn’t worked hard to get Avella elected in a tough race against former GOP Sen. Frank Padavan back in 2010. The fact that Avella has given a win to Gianaris’ political rival, IDC Leader Jeff Klein, has got to sting, too.

What’s particularly surprising about this move is that Avella has never been much of a joiner. He’s neither a party guy, nor an institutional guy. And while the political world has been willing to chalk up his behavior to “Tony being Tony,” his maverick streak has not served him well in terms of making friends – not during his days on the NYC Council, and not in Albany, either.

According to Queens and Albany sources, the Senate Democrats had been working on Avella’s behalf to smooth feathers he ruffled with local Democrats thanks to his handling last year of a local NYC Council race and his short-lived run for borough president.

Avella refused to endorse the party’s nominee for the Conucil seat he once held, Paul Vallone, even after Vallone eked out a victory in the Democratic primary. Avella and the Vallones (a NYC political dynasty family) have never gotten along terribly well. Avella tangeled with his former Council colleague, Peter Vallone Jr., during the borough president race before dropping out of the running entirely.

According to several sources, the unhappiness with Avella on the party of some local Democrats was so high that there had been talk of a primary challenge. Now that he has thrown in his lot with the IDC, he may very well have increased his chances of getting challenged by a member of his own party this fall. A number of names have already been floated, including (but not limited to) Assemblyman Ed Braunstein and WFP legislative director Austin Shafran, a former Cuomo administration aide and Senate Democratic spokesman who lost a close Council primary to Paul Vallone last fall.

There’s also always the threat of a primary challenge from Sen. Toby Stavisky, whose home was redrawn into Avella’s district during the last round of redistricting. She ultimately chose to run in the 16th SD instead of the 11th, but could always change her mind, especially if she faces a third primary challenge challenge from John Messer.

“Everyone is talking now about primarying the guy,” a Queens Democratic source told me this afternoon. “He has a lot of enemies…Everyone hates Tony Avella; he fights with everyone.”

Everyone hates him, that is, except the people who matter: The voters. Avella remains very popular with his constituents, and, as Jimmy Vielkind noted, has maintained a hyper-local focus during his time in Albany, which certainly has helped to maintain his close connection with his constituents.

Despite his local strengths, it’s worth noting that Avella defeated Padavan with a campaign that focused largely on two key issues: Immigrants rights (the district has a lot of first and second generation immigrants), and women’s rights – specifically, abortion. The fact that Avella has now joined up with the IDC, which women’s rights groups blame for the failure of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act to come to the floor, will no doubt come up if someone does opt to challenge the senator.

Avella has never been one for raising campaign cash. As of mid-January, he had just $2,775 in his campaign account. Of course, now that he’s joined forces with the IDC, Avella will come under Klein’s protection. IDC spokesman Eric Soufer told me the conference is “fully behind” its newest member, politically speaking.

Upon learning the news about Avella’s switch, several observers wondered how long this new relationship might last, given the senator’s independent streak and his propensity for pissing people off.

“He’s whole brand is that he’s not that guy,” my Queens source said. “He’s the guy who rips up his parking placard every year and tells everyone to drop dead. He’s not the political guy who’s in bed with the other side and doing deals. And all of a sudden, he’s with the Republicans? I don’t see this thing lasting.”

Only time will tell.

Koppell Pressures Klein On Pre-K (Updated)

Former Bronx Councilman Oliver Koppell, who is reportedly mulling a primary challenge to IDC Leader Jeff Klein this fall, issued a statement this morning blaming Klein for the refusal of his power-sharing partner, Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, to allow a bill establishing NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tax-the-rich-for-pre-K plan to the floor for a vote.

Koppell called Skelos’ decision to block the measure “outrageous,” said said the “only reason” the GOP leader is allowed to block this and other progressive legislation “is because of his backroom deal with Senator Jeff Klein.”

“As a former Councilmember who represented much of Senator Klein’s Senate District and a current resident of this district, I call upon Senator Klein to immediately renounce his self-serving agreement with Senator Skelos and rejoin the Democratic Conference.”

This is the first time I can recall that Koppell issued a formal statement on anything to do with the goings on in Albany.

The former councilman, who also served a brief stint in the state attorney general’s office, has not officially announced a challenge to Klein, but he has discussed a possible run with the IDC leader’s political nemesis, DSCC Chairman Mike Gianaris. If nothing else, this statement serves to put Klein on notice (assuming he wasn’t already) that Koppell is waiting in the wings.

But Klein has doubled down on his support for de Blasio’s plan to tax wealthy New York City residents to fund universal pre-K and after school programs.

Yesterday, the senator upped the ante – and further drove a wedge between himself and Skelos – by saying he would not support a budget plan that does not “realize the vision Mayor de Blasio and I share of providing high-quality, universal pre-k to the 50,000 four year olds who need it,” adding: “Mayor de Blasio’s plan is the only one that provides New York City with the funding it needs to achieve that goal.”

The left has been agitating for some time against Klein and his fellow IDC members for failing to live up to their promise that their power-sharing deal with the Republicans would result in the passage of more “progressive” legislation, though the IDC has pointed to things like the minimum wage hike as proof that the conference is indeed delivering.

The left has been making noises about supporting primary challengers to IDC members, though they so far have failed to locate any willing candidates. They appear to be keeping their powder dry until at least the end of the budget battle – and perhaps the entire legislative session – to see what kind of progress the conference is able to make.

UPDATE: The Daily News’ Glenn Blain reports that Klein today is walking back his Shermanesque no budget/no pre-K statement from yesterday, reiterating that he’s not in favor of “taxing for the sake of taxing,” and adding: “But again, if we move forward and we find that we can’t fund the universal  program in the city or the state, every alternative has to still be on the table.”

Klein said it’s “too early” to say for certain whether de Blasio’s pre-K plan is “right” compared to the one the governor is proposing, which calls for using $1.5 billion over five yreas to fund pre-K statewide ($100 million total in the first year, $25 million of which is renewing the existing competitive pre-K grants). That’s considerably less than $350 million a year de Blasio says it would cost just to cover re-K in the five boroughs.

Also, after tweaking the Senate Republicans yesterday for being “in the minority,” Klein today rejected the idea that there’s any rift between him and Skelos.

Moody’s: Sandy Aid For Nassau Sewage Plant A Credit Plus

The post-Sandy rebuilding of a Nassau County sewage plant with the help of $730 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is a credit positive for the county government and avoids a potentially expensive borrowing scheme, a Moody’s analysis found.

Debt-laden Nassau County had planned to pay for the rebuilding of the facility with a combination of state-backed loans and long-term financing.

Nassau’s debt service accounts for 13.5 percent of its expenses.

Up until recently, the federal government hadn’t committed to specifying a share of the constructions.

But the $730 million in aid is the largest award to date for repairs relating to the devastating storm to any local government with the exception of New York City.

The move is also a positive development for financially troubled municipalities like Long Beach, the report found.

More from Moody’s can be found on page four of the report:

Weekly Credit Outlook for Public Finance – January 16 2014 by Nick Reisman