Eric Schneiderman

Cahill Stands With Donovan

ICYMI, this was the second item in today’s Morning Memo:

Republican state attorney general candidate John Cahill has issued a statement of support for Staten Island DA Dan Donovan, the GOP’s 2010 AG contender, as he continues his investigation into the death of Eric Garner.

“There is not a more conscientious, better prepared or more fair minded prosecutor than Dan Donovan,” Cahill said yesterday. “There is not a law enforcement official in America better suited to conduct this investigation…The death of Mr. Garner is tragic and his family deserves the facts, all the facts, not a political football.”

“Demagoguing New York’s law enforcement community and passing the buck yet again to a federal judge or US Attorney only deepens the divisions between those responsible for enforcing the law and the communities they are charged to protect,” Cahill concluded.

Republicans are rallying around Donovan in the face of claims – mostly from Democrats – that the DA is too close to the NYPD to conduct a fair and transparent probe into the circumstances of Garner’s death, which occurred after an officer put him in an apparent chokehold while trying to arrest him for allegedly selling untaxed, loose cigarettes.

Downstate Democratic members of New York’s congressional delegation want US AG Eric Holder to step in to investigate Garner’s death and also the NYPD’s so-called “broken windows” policy, which they believe unfairly targets blacks and Latinos.

Donovan was elected in 2003 and has twice easily won re-election on Staten Island. He’s next up in 2015, but says he hasn’t yet given any thought to whether he’ll be running – a decision that could no doubt be significantly impacted by his handling of this case.

Donovan lost the 2010 AG’s race to then-Democratic state Sen. Eric Schneiderman, who won a five-way Democratic primary in September prior to continuing on to the November general election.

In his uphill battle against Schneiderman this fall, Cahill, a former top Pataki administration aide, has been sticking largely to a law-and-order message, assailing the Democratic incumbent’s record on fighting crime. Cahill has also been hammering on Schneiderman for his role – or lack thereof – in the Moreland mess.

Despite Cahill’s repeated attacks, Schneiderman has consistently maintained a double-digit lead over his GOP opponent in public opinion polls, even widening his lead by five percentage points (from 22 to 27) in last week’s Siena poll.

Schneiderman: No Comment On Moreland

Citing the ongoing investigation of the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption by the U.S. attorney’s office, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman declined to comment repeatedly when asked by reporters about the matter.

Schneiderman, in Schenectady on Friday afternoon for an announcement on the state’s land bank program, had given the commission members the power of deputy attorneys general — a move meant to give the panel more enforcement power over the state Legislature it was investigating.

The comments were the first from Schneiderman since an extensive New York Times story last week reported on the involvement of the governor’s office in the Moreland Commission.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come under intense scrutiny for his office’s efforts to direct subpoenas from the commission away from politically sensitive areas for the governor.

The problem of the Moreland mess grew this week when U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office warned a lawyer for the Moreland commission that contacting commission members and having them alter their recollection of events could constitute witness tampering.

Asked if he had known anything about Cuomo’s office’s involvement in the panel, Schneiderman declined to comment, pointing to the investigation.

“I don’t comment on ongoing investigations,” Schneiderman said. “My office is cooperating with the U.S. attorney and we’ll leave it at that.”

Asked if he had been issued a subpoena in the case, Schneiderman provided a similar answer.

“I’m not going to comment on an ongoing investigation and we have offered our assistance and that’s all I’m going to say,” he said.

He did confirm that he had not hired his own independent counsel in the case and that it isn’t unusual to “cross-designate” different offices the power of deputy attorneys general.

Adding a dose of intrigue to the situation, State of Politics first reported this week that Schneiderman was spotted having lunch in a prominent New York City restaurant with Bharara.

Asked about the lunch, Schneiderman said, “It was delicious.”

 

Bharara and Schneiderman Do Lunch

At the height of Moreland madness, two of the most high profile players in this seemingly never-ending saga – US Attorney Preet Bharara and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – met for a very public lunch in lower Manhattan yesterday, multiple sources confirm.

The Democratic duo was spotted lunching at City Hall Restaurant – an eatery favored by members of the New York City political set due to its proximity to (you guessed it) City Hall. Schneiderman and Bharara have known each other in a professional capacity for the past several years, but aren’t personal friends, according to a source familiar with their relationship.

It’s worth noting that Bharara, who is investigating the demise of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s now-defunct corruption-busting Moreland Commission, would probably not be seen in such a public place with Schneiderman if the attorney general was a target of that probe.

Given the role that Schneiderman played, however, through his agreement to deputize its 25 members to broaden their purview beyond the executive branch and loaning of top aides to staff the commissinon, it’s possible that he is providing information to the US attorney as the investigation progresses.

Schneiderman has been under fire – especially from his Republican opponent, former Pataki administration official John Cahill – for refusing to comment on the Moreland Commission and explain why he did not speak up when the Cuomo administration was, as has been exhaustively documented by the New York Times (and refuted by Cuomo himself) interfering with its work.

It’s no secret that the relationship between Cuomo and Schneiderman has been rocky, dating at least as far back as the 2010 Democratic primary to replace Cuomo in the AG’s office.

At the time, Cuomo was widely believed to prefer Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice to Schneiderman in that race, due in part to her ticket-balancing capability (the Democratic slate that year was all white, almost all male – with the exception of US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – and all from downstate), but also because he felt Schneiderman was too liberal and, as a former senator, too tied to the scandal-scarred Legislature.

Now Rice is running for the seat of retiring Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, and is trying to keep a low profile given her role as one of the Moreland Commission’s three co-chairs. (Unlike Onondaga County DA Bill Fitzpatrick, whose public comments have provided considerable cover for Cuomo in the wake of the Times story, neither Rice nor the third co-chair, Milton L. Williams, Jr., have offered support of the governor’s position).

Rice may soon be forced to end her silence. Tomorrow, her Republican opponent in the NY-4 race, former Nassau County Legislator Bruce Blakeman, is holding a press conference tomorrow afternoon outside the Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola to “to discuss his opponent’s role in the Moreland Commission and answer questions from the media.”

Pataki And Former Aides Unite for Cahill

A veritable bevy of former Pataki administration members – from the former governor himself on down – will gather in Albany tomorrow night to host a fund-raiser for their onetime colleague, John Cahill, who is running for state attorney general against the Democratic incumbent, Eric Schneiderman.

The invite really does read like a “who’s who” of ex-Pataki aides, of which Cahill, of course, is one. He first served as DEC commissioner and chaired the Environmental Facilities Corp., and later moved to the second floor, where he eventually rose to the position of Pataki’s chief of staff.

Cahill and Pataki are still working together at the law firm of Chadbourne and Parke. They also co-founded the Pataki-Cahill Group, a strategic consulting firm that focuses on the economic and policy implications of domestic energy needs.

This event is taking place at The Barge down on the Corning Preserve. Tickets start at $200, with co-hosts paying $1,000. The fund-raiser is taking place just before the latest round of financial reports are due to the state Board of Elections (on July 15).

This will be the first time Cahill has filed a fundraising report, since he officially announced his candidacy in May, and whatever he has managed to raise – or failed to raise, as the case may be – will be viewed as a testament to the strength – or lack thereof – of his campaign.

As of mid-January, Schneiderman had $5.98 million on hand. Though public opinion polls have shown the majority of New Yorkers have no idea who Schneiderman is, despite the fact that he has held statewide office since 2010, he enjoys a strong double-digit lead over Cahill.

John Cahill Event at the Albany Barge by liz_benjamin6490

74 State Labor Dispute Forces AG To Relocate Fundraiser

You may have seen in this morning’s “Here and Now” that AG Eric Schneiderman was scheduled to hold a fund-raiser this evening at 74 State – the boutique hotel down the street from the state Capitol that has for several years been a popular watering hold for elected officials, legislative staffers, lobbyists and reporters.

But Schneiderman’s team informed us the event has been moved around the block to Taste (45 Beaver St.) due to an ongoing dispute between 74 State’s new owners and the Hotel & Motel Trades Council, a small but powerful labor union.

The nine-story, 74-room (hence, along with its address, the name) hotel sold last month for $3.8 million to Albany Lodging Group LLC, a company affiliated with Visions Hotels. According to HTC, the new owners failed to honor and executive a collective bargaining agreement with its employees, who are HTC members.

The Albany County Legislature weighed in last night in support of the union with a proclamation that appears below. The AG has close ties to organized labor, which he undoubtedly wants to maintain and strengthen as he gears up for his first re-election bid this fall.

This isn’t the first time a Capital Region hotel has seen a loss of business due to a contract dispute with HTC. In the summer of 2012, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, NYSUT, the New York State Trial Lawyers’ Association and other influential groups and elected officials joined in a boycott organized by the union of the Desmond Hotel in Colonie due to its contract standoff with management. Desmond employees worked without a contract for over a year, but eventually did settle their dispute.

Albany County Legislature proclamation in support of HTC in sale of 74 State, Albany. by liz_benjamin6490

Another Republican With Pataki Ties Eyes AG Race

Michael Battle, a former US attorney for the Western District of New York and one time director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, is considering a possible run for state attorney general on the GOP line, sources familiar with his thinking said.

Battle has expressed interest in challenging Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman this fall to state GOP Chairman Ed Cox, according to a Republican source. Battle, who is now in private practice at the firm of Schlam Stone & Dolan, has so far not returned a call seeking comment. A state party spokesman also declined to comment.

An Ithaca College and Buffalo Law School grad, Battle was appointed in 1995 by the last Republican AG, Dennis Vacco, as an assistant AG in charge of the Buffalo Regional Office. In 1996, he was appointed by then Gov. George Pataki (and was subsequently elected) to the Erie County Family Court bench.

Interestingly, Pataki’s former top aide and current law partner, John Cahill, is also interested in running for AG this year, and has been talking with leaders in both the Republican and Conservative parties about a potential campaign.

Both he and Battle are relative unknowns in New York and would have to work hard to raise their name recognition with voters. Than again, polls have consistently shown that a majority of New Yorkers don’t know who Schneiderman is, despite the fact that he has held statewide office since January 2011.

Another former US attorney, Michael Garcia, has also been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate to challenge Schneiderman. But he seems to have fallen off the radar screen. Plus, any political run by him would be complicated by the fact that he represented the Senate GOP in its legal battle with the Moreland Commission.

Schneiderman will no doubt be able to count on his friends on the left – especially in the labor community – to assist him no matter who challenges him this fall. And the Democrats will have ample opposition fodder to use against Battle if he’s chosen to be the GOP’s AG candidate.

After six years as a judge, Battle was appointed by President George W. Bush to the US attorney post, which he held from 2002 to 2005. In 2005, Bush promoted Battle to be director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, where he had administrative oversight of all 93 US attorneys and served as liaison between them and the Justice Department and other federal agencies.

Battle played a role in a December 2006 controversy in which seven US attorneys received midterm dismissals – an unprecedented move – and were replaced with interim appointees under provisions of the Patriot Act reauthorization. Battle was charged with informing the seven that their services were no longer needed.

Subsequent congressional investigations focused on whether the DOJ and the White House were using the US attorney positions for political advantage. Some of the attorneys who lost their jobs were allegedly fired to impede ongoing investigations of Republican politicians or due to their failure to launch probes that targeted Democrats. As Congress began issuing subpoenas in the matter, Battle resigned on March 5, 2007.

There was also some controversy during Battle’s term as US attorney for the Western District, where he was responsible for the case of Benamar Benatta, who was held without trial for five years following his forcible rendition from Canada one day after the Sept. 11 attacks. The FBI determined Benatta was innocent, but he remained behind bars. A federal magistrate judge concluded Battle had conspired with the FBI and immigration agents to make it seem as if Benatta was being held for immigration violations.

Battle dropped the charges against Benatta in October 2003, but he wasn’t released until 2005.

Schneiderman Tweet Weighs In On Eyelinergate

What do you do when the governor’s private chortling over your eye condition makes it on A1 of The New York Times? Laugh about it on Twitter, clearly.

Gun-Rights Groups File Notice Of Appeal In SAFE Act Suit (Updated)

A coalition of gun-rights groups have filed a notice of appeal of a federal judge’s ruling upholding certain aspects of the the 2013 gun control law known as the SAFE Act.

The filing, made Friday, came after U.S. District Court Judge William Skretny upheld most of the year-old law save for the seven-round limit for magazines. As of now, there’s been no indication of whether the state will appeal that decision.

UPDATE: AG Eric Schneiderman’s spokesman Matt Mittenthal emailed the following statement:

“We will vigorously defend New York’s SAFE Act in the Court of Appeals. This week’s decision upheld most of New York’s SAFE ACT, and we will forcefully defend that ruling and appeal those parts of the decision that struck down portions of the law.”

The move was expected by the groups, which includes the Albany-based Rifle and Pistol Association, following the Tuesday ruling.

Gun-rights groups filed a legal challenge in March to the gun control law, a measure that has been a centerpiece for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The law was approved less than a month after the shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut, marking the nation’s first gun control law to pass since the incident.

There’s also been some confusion as to whether the ruling from Skretny applies only to western New York.

GS #2550021 v1 Notice of Appeal Draft by Nick Reisman

Art Imitates Politics

A reader with some time on his hands over the extended Thanksgiving weekend went to see “That Hopey Changey Thing,” an off-Broadway play about Democratic politics that currently on stage at the Public Theater. And he was so struck by the experience, that he flagged the production in an email to SoP.

The main character in the play, Richard, works in the New York attorney general’s office, and apparently lived through both the Spitzer and Cuomo administrations there.

The story seems to take place right around the time when former AG Andrew Cuomo is ascending to the governor’s office and handing things over to his replacement, former Sen. Eric Schneiderman, about whom Richard says: “He’s an Albany politician….the politicians like him because he’s a politician.”

I haven’t been able to locate any personal link between Spitzer and the playwright, Richard Nelson. But Nelson has a definite soft spot for the former AG, and he doesn’t seem to think much of his successor or of Albany, writ large.

That much is clear from the brief clip of dialogue that appears on the New York Times website, in which the main character, Richard, says:

“When Eliot resigned – that was a God-awful week – I’d almost gone to the governor’s office with him. I went up two, three times in the transition. You can’t imagine the jokers who are up in Albany. You can’t believe the incompetence, greed, the stupidity.”

“Eliot maybe came on a little too strong, sure, true. But all of us, we’d have walked off a cliff for him. It was harder for those who went to Albany, of course, But it was bad for the rest of us, too. We were crushed. Betrayed? I don’t know.”

“And then Andrew. You see with Andrew, everything is about politics. Celebrity politics. What gets noticed, what makes the impression. And so, he couldn’t forgo the opportunity, and he denigrated Eliot. He just sat on his carcass and ate. And I will never forgive him for that.”

Writes the reader:

“Ironically, despite the professed hatred here, in a later play (it is a series of four) the character is eventually lured to work in the Cuomo administration. Clearly the playwright had a good source (or two or three).”

AG: Facts Speak For Themselves In Monroe County LDC Case

The case against the husband of Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks will move forward when a grand jury is convened to hear his testimony, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Wednesday.

Brooks’ husband, Robert Wiesner, is one of four men charged this month in an alleged bid-rigging scheme through projects connected with local development corporations in the county.

The attorney general’s office agree to drop the charges against Wienser last week after he wasn’t called to testify, but the charges will be formally presented again once the case is officially dismissed.

“We look forward to and expect to reconvening the grand jury to accept the testimony of the one defendant who has requested to testify,” Schneiderman said in Albany at a news conference. “Tt is unusual for people who are targeted for people to testify because it often works against their self-interest. We welcome that testimony.”

The AG’s office has come under criticism from some Republicans, in part because of the political ramifications of the arrests. Brooks ran unsuccessfully last year for the House seat held by Rep. Louise Slaughter.

Still, the problems at LDCs preceded the Brooks-Slaughter election and were even raised as issues during the campaign.

“It’s clear there is an ongoing, very substantial set of fraudulent schemes in Monroe County,” Schneiderman said. “The facts speak for themselves in the papers that we filed and the facts will speak for themselves at trial.”

As for a press aide being suspended after giving a heads up to the media that the arrests were eminent, Schneiderman said, “Obviously we felt the statement to the press was mishandled.”