Downstate NY

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.

Moody’s Down On Speed Camera Implosion

The credit rating agency Moody’s gave a dim analysis of Nassau County’s rejection of a speed camera program after initially budgeting revenue from violations.

Albany lawmakers earlier this year approved a speed-camera program for Nassau County near schools, but officials there ultimately scrapped the program following public outcry.

Moody’s examined the speed-camera situation in Nassau County and a similar situation in New Jersey that also scaled back its implementation.

The agency concludes the problems with the programs constitute a “credit negative” due to the impact on local governments not being able to access new forms of revenue in the midst of tax caps, poor sales tax growth and opposition to tax hikes.

More from Moody’s:

“Net county collections from the cameras, after the vendor’s contracted share, were $21 million between September and November, indicating the county would have exceeded the $30 million (1% of total revenues) in speed camera revenue for which it had budgeted in 2015. Neighboring Suffolk County (A3/stable), which had projected only $2.5 million from speed cameras for 2015, chose to scrap its plan earlier this month before it had even begun, partially based on the Nassau experience.”

Siena Poll: New Yorkers Back AG As Special Prosector

A majority of New Yorkers support giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the power to investigate other instances of police brutality, a Siena College poll released on Friday found.

The poll found that by a 58 percent to 33 percent margin, New Yorkers would back giving Schneiderman the power of special prosecutor to probe other instances of police brutality after a grand jury chose to not indict a New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

“A majority of Democrats, independents, voters from every region and race agree that the Attorney General and not local district attorneys should have authority in cases where unarmed civilians are killed by police officers, although Democrats, New York City voters, blacks and Latinos feel most strongly about this,” Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg said. “Only majorities of Republicans and conservatives think people of color are treated fairly by our criminal justice system. Two-thirds of Democrats and a plurality of independents disagree, as do a majority of downstaters, particularly New York City, and people of color. Whites and upstaters are closely divided.”

Scheniderman this month requested Gov. Andrew Cuomo issue an executive order granting him the special prosecutors role.

So far, Cuomo has said he’s reviewing the request, but raised questions with how broad the scope of those investigative powers should be.

The poll found that 55 percent of New Yorkers believe the grand jury should have made an indictment in the case, which has set off a wave of protests across the country and sparked a discussion over criminal justice reform legislation at the state level.

Meanwhile, most New Yorkers 52 percent to 35 percent believe the state’s criminal justice system does not treat people of color fairly.

Broken down politically, Republican voters by a 2-to-1 margin believe the grand jury was correct in not indicting Garner.

“Similarly, large majorities of Democrats, New York City voters, blacks, Latinos and younger voters want the Feds to bring civil rights charges, while Republicans are opposed, and upstaters, suburbanites, white and older voters are closely divided,” Greenberg said.

Cuomo himself has suggested he will push for a variety of criminal justice reforms, including greater transparencies for grand juries as well as strengthening police training and requiring some officers to wear body cameras.

The governor’s administration this week moved to ban hydrofracking in the state, but the poll found New Yorkers remain divided on the natural gas drilling issue.

Thirty-eight percent of voters say they are opposed to fracking, while 35 percent of those polled back the drilling method.

“Fracking has closely divided New Yorkers for several years. And while it has the intuitive partisan divide with Democrats opposing and Republicans supporting, from a regional perspective the results might be a little counterintuitive as New York City and upstate voters narrowly oppose fracking and a plurality of downstate suburbanites support it,” Greenberg said.

Similarly, New Yorkers are split on the DREAM Act, which would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. Forty-four percent of New Yorkers back the measure, while 48 percent do not. Cuomo will likely once again be under pressure from liberals in the Legislature to include funding for the DREAM Act in his state budget proposal.

A broad majority of New Yorkers continue to support Cuomo’s two-year-old gun control law known as the SAFE Act, but they are split along partisan lines.

By a margin of 58 percent to 33 percent, New Yorkers back the law, which Cuomo has said remains a significant legislative achievement for him.

The measure has the support of 69 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents, 67 percent of voters from New York City and 61 percent from the downstate suburbs. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans oppose the law.

And not surprisingly, there is widespread opposition to a pay raise for state lawmakers: 63 percent of those polled do not believe the Senate and Assembly should receive their first salary increase since 1998.

That sentiment cuts across party, geographic, gender and ideological lines.

Cuomo has said he is sympathetic to lawmakers who are pushing for the pay hike from the current $79,500, but has sought to have them enact sweeping ethics and campaign finance legislation, including the creation of a system of public financed campaigns and curtailing outside income.

For now, there has been no significant move to have lawmakers return to Albany in a special session to take up that legislation and vote themselves a raise.

The Siena College of 639 voters was conducted from Dec. 11 through Dec. 16. It has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.

SNY1214 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman

RIP David Garth

David Garth, the political and media consultant who worked on some of the more unlikely, but successful campaigns of the last half century, died Monday following a long illness, spokesman George Arzt confirmed.

Garth was the pioneering political consultant and ad man behind the successful mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns, including those of John Lindsay, Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg and Hugh Carey.

Garth is often credited with revolutionizing and harnessing targeted advertising in political campaigns as well as messaging.

The political campaigns he chose to work for often seemed like lost causes: Lindsay’s re-election battle in 1969, elevating a little-known congressman named Hugh Carey to run for governor in 1974 following years of Republican domination at the Executive Mansion and helping Koch defeat Mario Cuomo in a heated 1977 Democratic primary for New York City mayor.

Garth is most often credited with crafting Lindsay’s appeal for votes in 1969 when, following a tumultuous term as mayor, admitted in a TV ad to making “mistakes” in the “second toughest job in America.”

Garth’s shine did not prove to be enough in 1994, when he was hired by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo to help him win a fourth term, which was ultimately not successful (Garth had just succeeded in helping Giuliani unseat Democrat David Dinkins, the city’s first African-American mayor).

Koch, who died in 2012, said of Garth in 2010: “Without him, I would never have been mayor.”

Current Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had been on the opposing side of Garth in the 1977 campaign, wrote glowingly of him in his memoir, “All Things Possible.”

In the book, Cuomo describes him as “an ornery, cigar-smoking New Yorker and friend of my father’s, pioneered political advertising in the early years of television. He had a genius for turning a candidate’s minuses into pluses… David was always kind to me and I learned much from him.”

Cuomo Plays Peacemaker For Lynch And de Blasio

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday adopted a peacekeeper role between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and police union head Pat Lynch amid the increasingly fraught dynamics in the wake of the Eric Garner case.

Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, has suggested that de Blasio and other elected officials stay away from police funderals.

But Cuomo today on The Capitol Pressroom downplayed the growing rift between de Blasio and the NYPD as protests continue following a Staten Island grand jury not indicting a police officer who held Garner in a chokehold that ultimately led to his death.

“I’m sure at the next funeral, God forbid that there is one, you’ll see the mayor of New York, you’ll see me and you’ll see Pat Lynch,” Cuomo said. “I know the mayor very well and I know Pat very well and I know we will be working together.”

Cuomo added that he understands why Lynch has in recent days has made critical statements in recent days, adding that police officers overall are doing an “extraordinary job.”

The comments from the governor come after a police lieutenant over the weekend was injured during one of the demonstrations.

“I also know that Pat has tremendous respect for the office of the mayor and understands the police need a good relationship with the mayor. And he also understands the mayor has a job to do,” Cuomo said.

He also disagreed with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said it was “racist” for de Blasio to have instructed his son Dante, who is black, how to handle interactions with the police.

“The mayor was speaking sincerely about concern for his son and his son’s safety,” Cuomo said. “I think Pat is defending the police point of view and the police perspective.”

Cuomo has spoken in recent days both to Lynch as well as activists including Russell Simmons and Jay Z regarding potential reforms to the state’s criminal justice system following the Garner case.

Cuomo has raised the possibility of forming a special prosecutor’s office to handle brutality cases as well as more transparency for grand juries in certain cases.

The governor reiterated that he’s planning to introduce a “comprehensive package” of criminal justice reforms that “will restore and improve confidence” in the criminal justice system.

Cuomo said he plans to unveil these proposals around the time of his State of the State address next month.