Downstate NY

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.

Lanza: Port Authority Bill ‘Insurance Policy’

From the Morning Memo:

A new version of a broad reform bill aimed at overhauling the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey continues to advance through the Legislature.

The measure, which was vetoed late last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his counterpart in New Jersey Chris Christie, would enact new accounting controls and oversight for the bi-state agency, which manages infrastructure shared by the two states.

Though the measure struck down by the governors, who would embrace a separate set of reforms, lawmakers re-introduced the legislation in January as they watch to see whether the New Jersey Senate and Assembly can mount of an override of Christie’s veto.

The Senate sponsor of the New York legislation, Staten Island’s Andrew Lanza, said the measure was akin to an “insurance policy” on achieving the reforms of the authority.

“I want to make sure that we have a signed law that does what I’ve tried to accomplish for the last six years which is to reform the Port Authority, to return them completely and wholly to their mission, which is transportation and not real-estate holdings, that we make sure there’s a board that we hold accountable and have the right accounting principles,” Lanza said in an interview.

Lanza added that he believes both Cuomo and Christie are willing to negotiate the new bill. A veto override by both state Legislatures would not only be embarrassing to the governors, but logistically tricky and extremely rare.

Rather, the bill could be a way of encouraging the governors to adopt the Legislature’s own Port Authority overhaul measures.

“I want to make sure that we have a bill that’s actually tracking through the legislation so that we have the time needed to do what we need to do in terms of reforming the Port Authority,” Lanza said, adding, “We’re going work with him to make sure that the bill that gets to his desk this time around is even more comprehensive.”

Christie and Cuomo announced the veto in December concurrently with the adoption of their own plan for changes to the Port Authority.

Under the proposal Cuomo and Christie embraced, the restructuring would create a single chief executive officer as well as modified role for the authority’s chairmanship.

At the same time, both governors backed a bill that would require the Freedom of Information Law be applied to the authority pending some changes.

But supporters of the legislation vetoed last month contend it goes further than what Cuomo and Christie support, including an overhaul of its operations, new financial and administrative regulations as well as requiring all meetings be open to the public.

Lawmakers on Monday approved a chapter amendment based on an agreement reached in June that would subject the Port Authority to the Freedom of Information Law.

The broader reform bill, meanwhile, advanced this week to the third reading on the Senate calendar.

Lanza said he’s hopeful the legislation could be taken up at some point this month by the chamber.

Changing the Guard

One of my classic, earliest interactions with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie came in 2012. I was relatively new on the Albany beat, and had stopped into the Center Square Pub on State Street to grab some you know, um, “food.” New to the city ( as well as the beat ) I was flying solo. Just for the record: I am completely fine with that. I don’t know what kind of judgments all of you are making in your heads right now, but like I said, I was totally comfortable going there by myself.

No, really…I mean it. I was.

Sitting at one of the tables near the bar were Carl Heastie, former Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson and a couple of other folks from the good Borough of the Bronx. I moseyed on over and saddled up across from Gibson, who now serves in the City Council. We chatted about the usual things that people who follow state government discuss. We talked some shop, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the look on Heastie’s face. It was absolutely classic. It basically said, “who is this guy?!? And what on earth makes him think he can come sit here with me and my fellow members?!”

I smiled and introduced myself, and he warmed up a bit. But it was a small window into Heastie’s milieu. He isn’t often gregarious, and he can be a tough nut to crack. He’s serious, but also fair. A guy who will likely stay in your corner – if only you can only win him over. In some respects he is similar to the man he succeeds. Shelly Silver could also be a man of few words. But he said what needed to be said when it came time to protect his interests or those of fellow Democrats he was elected to represent.

That might explain why sources are telling me that while NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio was an early supporter of Heastie for speaker, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was not. Chris Smith already detailed some of this in New York Magazine the other day. Officially, both the mayor and the governor claim to have remained neutral in the race. But I was told that at least some Assembly members received calls from unions and the Working Families Party on behalf of Heastie as early Friday, Jan. 23rd – the day after Silver was arrested.

Cuomo, I’m told, also reached out to unions and other power brokers but on behalf of Majority Leader Joe Morelle. When informed that a Morelle speakership wasn’t going to fly, the governor’s next choice was his former handpicked Democratic State Party co-chairman, Assemblyman Keith Wright. But at that point, it was too late. Heastie had more or less locked up the election.

So, why would De Blasio be happy about Heastie in the speaker’s office, but not Cuomo?

Easy, Heastie is an independent guy. He will advocate strongly for the issues and causes city Democrats care most about. That is good for the mayor. But who that is not necessarily good for is Cuomo. The governor prides himself on making sure no one is left out of his vision for the state. That includes the suburbs and upstate, whose residents have often felt their needs get overshadowed by the city’s. In short, Heastie is not someone Cuomo can roll.

Fast forward through those 13 crazy days in January and February that saw Silver get arrested, and the historic rise of a new speaker to fill his place. Heastie has emerged as the person to watch in 2015. In one of his lighter moments, he told us in an interview last week ( in response to the oh-so pertinent question, ‘what is your favorite 80s movie? ) that his favorite movie from that era is “Purple Rain.”

I am also a huge Prince fan, although I would probably consider myself more in the Michael Jackson camp if forced to choose between the two biggest pop stars of my youth. I’m reminded of a very funny Robert Townsend skit from that era starring the late great Robin Harris as a police captain with Prince serving as one of his detectives and he tells him: “Hey, Prince get yourself a man’s suit…and stop wearing your sister’s clothes!”

Yes, Prince and Michael Jackson were highly ridiculed even in that era. But there is no shame in loving Prince or “Purple Rain” for that matter. Although the new speaker might have to one day admit that “Under the Cherry Moon” kinda sucked.

De Blasio: ‘Crucially Important’ Assembly Leadership ‘Fair’ To NYC

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio refused today to pick a favorite in the ongoing speakership tussle taking place in the Assembly Democratic conference, though he stressed that whoever is ultimately selected to lead the chamber must be “fair” to the five boroughs and keep his city’s best interests in mind.

“It’s crucially important New York City have leadership in the Assembly that wants to be fair to New York City,” the mayor told reporters. “And let’s be clear, we often don’t get our fair share from state government.”

“Looking at the education funding dynamic. Look at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, and the court settlement there and the fact that to this day we still are owed billions and billions of dollars in education funding. That’s not the only area where there’s that kind of disparity. I think historically, the Assembly leadership has tried to defend the valid interests of New York City, and it’s very important that that continue.”

An upstate-downstate divide is just one of several rifts within the conference that have emerged since Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest on federal corruption charges last week touched off a furious round of discussions – both public and private – about whether the Manhattan Democrat is too damaged to continue in his leadership role.

Last night, after a marathon closed-door session, the Assembly Democrats emerged to announce that they agreed Silver must go – though whether he will voluntarily heed a growing call for himto resign or they will be forced to actively seek his removal remains an open question. They remain far from an agreement, however, on who should replace Silver once he’s out of the picture.

The possibility that Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester, might succeed Silver – even on a temporary basis – is believed to make the de Blasio administration nervous. Not only is Morelle an upstater, but he is a more moderate Democrat than the very liberal NYC mayor, who has become an outspoken champion of the left since his election in the fall of 2013.

Observers and insiders believe that the mayor’s preferred speaker candidate is Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie. But de Blasio insisted – just as Gov. Andrew Cuomo repeatedly has – that this decision rests with the Assembly Democrats, and them alone. He did not deny that members of his administrastion are making calls up to Albany about the speaker situation, but said those calls aren’t intended to try to influence the outcome.

“I’m not talking to Assembly members at all,” the mayor said. “We’re trying to keep abrest of what’s happening because we have a lot of things that matter to us…We’re trying to stay close to what’s happening so we are able to act on the substance of the situation. We’re just trying to gather information.”

The perception that de Blasio might be trying to ivolve himself in this battle is not sitting well with Assembly Republicans, who, no doubt, recall the Democratic mayor’s heavy – and ultimately unsuccessful – involvement in last year’s fight for control of the state Senate, in which he raised campaign cash for the Democrats to aid their effort to re-take full control of the upper house.

Yesterday, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., a former assemblyman himself, issued a statement demanding that the next speaker be from NYC, noting there will be no legislative leader from the five boroughs if that does not occur.

(Also note that a NYC speaker has long been the tradition. The last upstate speaker was Binghamton’s James Tallon, who only held the position for a few days after the conviction on federal fraud charges of former Speaker Mel Miller, who was later exonerated. Tallon, as majority leader, automatically rose to the position of interim speaker when Miller was convicted, but he was quickly deposed by Assemblyman Saul Weprin, of Queens).

De Blasio was taken some heat for defending Silver in the wake of the speaker’s arrest. The mayor reiterated today that his comments praising Silver were “about my own experience” and were made based on the “consistency” the speaker has displayed over the 20 years de Blasio has known him.

“He has done everything he said he was going to do,” explained de Blasio, who said he has not read the US attorney’s complaint outlining the charges against Silver. “Obviously, I’ve made very clear that we would not have achieved pre-K for all qwithout him. and that’s very important to me. So, I’m talking about my own experience and the consistency I’ve seen in him in that experience.”

Ms. Malliotakis Goes to Washington

From today’s Morning Memo:

GOP leaders in NY-11 may be coalescing behind Staten Island DA Dan Donovan to run in the yet-to-be-called special election to replace disgraced former Rep. Michael Grimm, but Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel.

Malliotakis, a Staten Island Republican, traveled to Washington yesterday to meet with NRCC leaders about her potential candidacy for the lone NYC seat in the GOP’s column.

Her effort could be assisted by the fact that national party leaders reportedly aren’t thrilled by the idea of having the guy best known as the DA in the Eric Garner case as their candidate – a move that would no doubt focus the election on the sticky issues of criminal justice reform and race relations.

NY1’s Michael Scotto caught up with NRCC Chairman Greg Walden after his meeting with Malliotakis yesterday, and the Oregon Republican tried hard to maintain an air of neutrality.

Walden insisted both Donovan and Malliotakis are “very fine candidates” with “different strengths” who would “represent that district very effectively here in Washington.”

“The long and short of it is that the people on Staten Island and Brooklyn will decide who the nominee is,” Walden said. “Our job is to move forward from there and hold that seat.”

“…I’m meeting with them as we do any candidates, but I know I don’t have a vote. The Republicans on Staten Island do. I am really excited about both these individuals. They both bring different talents; they both bring very strong electoral capabilities.”

Asked about the complication for Donovan’s candidacy of the Garner case, in which the grand jury’s decision not to bring charges against a white police officer for the chokehold-related death of an unarmed black man sparked protests and significant unrest in NYC, Walden said:

“I think if Republicans pick Dan Donovan then he will have an opportunity to go explain in further detail his side of the story there certainly that perhaps he hasn’t had a chance to do.”

“But the long and the short of it is we have a good opportunity to hold that seat, and I’m excited going forward.”

Malliotakis was also playing her cards close to the vest, telling Scotto that she had a “very good, pleasant, productive conversation” with Walden.

“We’ll go through the process and see where it ends up,” the assemblywoman said. “We’re not going to discuss any of the particulars of the meetings. We’re going to keep it private. We’re just talking about the landscape of the district.”

Malliotakis said she’s “encouraged” by the grassroots support she has been receiving.

Yesterday, Brooklyn GOP Chairman Craig Eaton released a statement announcing that the majority of his party’s leaders had signaled support for Malliotakis’ candidacy during a recent informal meeting.

Eaton said he will wait until Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls a special election in NY-11 (something the governor has shown no signs of doing any time soon), and then convene a convention of county committee members to which all potential candidates will be invited to make their respective cases.

“I will then bind myself to their vote and deliver same at my meeting with (Staten Island GOP Chair John) Antoniello at the lawfully appointed time,” Eaton said.

“In the very end, my committee and I will support the candidate selected through this process and work diligently to ensure that he or she is victorious in the election.”

But the reality is that Brooklyn will have a very small say in the candidate selection process, since only a sliver of the borough in included in the district, which contains all of Staten Island.

Antoniello has announced his support for Donovan. But Malliotakis said she’s hopeful Staten Island GOP officials will follow the lead of their counterparts in Brooklyn and hold a convention to select a candidate.

“All we’re asking for is an open and transparent process where the rank-and-file members can be heard, she said.

While the Republicans are holding a very public battle over who they’ll select to run in Grimm’s stead, the Democrats have been fairly quiet.

The potential candidates getting mentioned most on that side include former Rep. Michael McMahon, whom Grimm defeated in 2010, and Assemblyman Michael Cusick.