Eric Schneiderman

AG Backs Legislative Pay Raises

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has endorsed a pay raise for his former colleagues in the state Legislature, provided that they also approve reforms to the per diem system that has proved too easy for corrupt lawmakers to scam.

“I think the Legislature, after 15 years, hasn’t had a pay raise, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to do,” Schneiderman said during a Capital Tonight interview last night. “But I think it should be accompanied by reforms to the system.”

“If you think about the per diem system, this is in addition to travel expenses, this is not just travel expenses,” the AG continued. “This is something else that you get every day…There’s incentives to stay away from your district where your constituents are and stay in Albany.”

“It’s sort of a weird system. It struck me as strange when I first got up there, and it strikes me as a little bit strange today. So, I would like to see reforms of the system.”

Schneiderman, a resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was a state senator prior to his election to the AG’s office in 2010. He succeeded Andrew Cuomo, who ascended to the governor’s office that year.

Schneiderman was elected to the Senate in 1998, defeating Danny O’Donnell (then a civil rights attorney, now a state assemblyman) in a Democratic primary.

That was the same year legislators did a deal with then-GOP Gov. George Pataki that raised their base pay by 38 percent to its current level ($79,500) in exchange for agreeing to forgo their paychecks in the event of late budgets and the creation of charter schools in New York.

The pay raise took effect in January of 1999, since, technically speaking, sitting lawmakers cannot vote to increase their own pay.

They can, however, give raises to members of the incoming Legislature, which, thanks to Albany’s high re-election rate for incumbents, looks a lot like the Legislature that preceded it.

This year, both Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos have expressed a willingness to consider per diem system reforms along with legislative pay raises.

There’s talk lawmakers could return to Albany for a special session in December, though there have been no formal negotiations to speak of, and Cuomo hasn’t yet made clear what – if anything – he’s willing to trade legislative leaders in exchange for signing off on a pay raise.

Abuse of the per diem system has landed a number of state lawmakers in hot water over the years, the most recent of which is Assemblyman William Scarborough, a Queens Democrat who was arrested in October on charges he sought reimbursement for nonexistent travel expenses.

Schneiderman said last night that “it should be clear at this point that my office and other prosecutors are never going to turn a blind eye to these abuses any more.”

“I think you’re seeing more aggressive pursuit by the attorney generals office and other prosecutors of issues related to public corruption than you’ve ever seen before,” the AG said. “And that’s not going to stop until the culture changes.”

Wiesner, Again, Facing Bid Rigging Indictment from Grand Jury

Robert Wiesner, husband of Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, has once again been indicted on bid rigging charges relating to the county’s local development corporations.

Wiesner was one of four men indicted last fall on a 25 count indictment including charges for bid rigging and money laundering involving Upstate Telecommunications Corporation.

One charge was eventually dropped against Wiesner in August of this year, but the judge said at the time he would allow prosecutors to present evidence to a new grand jury on another charge.

Wiesner’s attorney, James Nobles, had argued to have both charges dropped because Wiesner did not have the chance to testify before the first grand jury.

But in a written decision, the judge said the charge relating to bid-rigging can go back to a grand jury.

That brings us to today.

Wiesner is again facing bid-rigging charges related to a multi-hundred million dollar county project to upgrade certain emergency communication systems.

According to the Attorney General’s office, the indictment reads:

The Grand Jury of the County of Monroe, by this Indictment, accuses the defendant of the crime of COMBINATION IN RESTRAINT OF TRADE AND COMPETITION, in violation of General Business Law Sections 340 and 341, committed as follows:

The defendant, from in or around March 2008 to in or around October 2013, in the County of Monroe, acting in concert with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, knowingly and intentionally entered into and engaged in and continued to engage in a contract, agreement, arrangement, and combination in unreasonable restraint of combination and the free exercise of activity in the conduct of business, trade, and commerce, specifically, to restrain competition in the bidding process of Monroe County for the Public Safety Contract, by means of bid rigging.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a statement today on the indictment, saying:

“I welcome the grand jury’s decision to re-indict Robert Wiesner on a felony charge stemming from the joint investigation my office conducted with Comptroller DiNapoli into allegations of bid rigging in Monroe County. We look forward to bringing this matter to trial.”

Debate Deconstruction

If you didn’t catch last night’s TWC News/NY1 debate in Hamburg between the two major party candidates for state attorney general – the only time they’ll face off before next Tuesday’s election – you missed quite the show.

It was a verbal slap-fest between Democratic incumbent Eric Schneiderman and his GOP opponent, former Pataki administration official John Cahill, with the two trading barbs over everything from ethics and campaign contributors to abortion rights and gun control.

As has been widely reported, I had a tough time controlling these two, who were more interested in talking over one another and getting their jabs in than answering questions posed by myself and the members of our panel.

We did, however, manage to learn some key information during our lightning round, such as the fact that Cahill doesn’t appear to know what BuzzFeed is, and has never taken one of the site’s infamous quizzes, whereas Schneiderman has (though he didn’t elaborate, so we’ll never know which Weasley he is).

For the record, Cahill is a quick study. He Tweeted a photo of himself “catching up on BuzzFeed quizzes” at a Buffalo-area bar after the debate.

We also know that when Schneiderman finishes up another stressful day at the AG’s office, he likes to kick his feet up and unwind with a nice historical drama film – preferably about WW II.

Schneiderman revealed the last movie he watched was “Diplomacy,” a Franco-German film that premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival last February. It was directed by Volker Schlöndorff and adapted from the play Diplomatie by Cyril Gely.

Cahill also has a taste for historical dramas. He said the last movie he saw was “Lincoln” – the 2012 film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the nation’s 16th president.

If you want to learn more about the candidates – their likes and dislikes, habits, and even a little on policy – you can catch the full debate here.

Thanks again to both candidates for participating, to our panel members for their insightful (if not always answered) questions, to Hilbert College for hosting and to our live audience members for (mostly) following my instructions to hold their applause until after the debate was over.

NOW-NYS Gives Late Nod To Schneiderman

The National Organization for Women New York State (NOW-NYS) is poised to announce its support today for Democratic state AG Eric Schneiderman, saying he has been an “incredibly strong defender of women’s rights.”

“From introducing the Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act, to expanding clinic buffer zones, to investigating so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers’, Eric has taken on tough fights for the women of New York State,” said NOW-NYS President Zenaida Mendez.

“Meanwhile his opponent has an extreme anti-choice record that’s simply wrong for New York. That is why NOW-NYS is proudly supporting Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s re-election.”

This is a continuation of a theme that Schneiderman and his allies have kept up throughout the campaign – that Republican AG candidate John Cahill, a practicing Catholic who personally opposes abortion, is too extreme to be the state’s top attorney.

Cahill has repeatedly said that despite his personal beliefs, he will uphold and defend all of New York’s laws if he’s elected on Nov. 4.

To bolster the NOW-NYS endorsement, Schneiderman’s campaign is releasing a new online video that features young women slamming Cahill for his opposition to abortion rights and what they deem his “anti-choice” record while serving as a top official in the administration of former GOP Gov. George Pataki.

Pataki, for the record, is a moderate Republican who at times got into hot water with conservative supporters by describing his own position on abortion as “pro-choice.”

However, he has said he opposes the abortion-rights plank in Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act, which Cahill also does not support.

Siena Poll: Hawkins Could Eat Into Cuomo’s Final Tally

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to hold a double-digit lead over his Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, with less than two weeks to go before Election Day, according to a Siena College poll released this morning.

The poll found Cuomo leading Astorino, 54-33, with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins receiving 9 percent of the vote.

The result is a slight dip for Cuomo from the previous month, when Siena College found the governor leading Astorino 56-27, with Hawkins at 7 percent.

With Hawkins gaining some ground in the polls, it’s possible the Green Party candidate can eat into a chunk of Cuomo’s overall total come Election Day.

“If Hawkins does that well on Election Day – something third party candidates often don’t do – then it will almost certainly make this year’s race closer than four years ago and keep Cuomo well below his total vote from 2010,” said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.

Cuomo received 63 percent of the vote against Republican Carl Paladino in 2010.

Hawkins is a proven vote getter for the Green Party. He received more than 50,000 votes in 2010 to give the party automatic ballot status this election.

Hawkins is hoping to tap into liberal dissatisfaction with Cuomo, and gain some of the supporters of Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, who ran a surprisingly strong primary challenge to the governor in September.

Still, the poll shows Cuomo blowing out Astorino in New York City, where he leads 72-16. He also has the support of 79 percent of self-identified liberal voters.

Upstate, Cuomo’s lead is smaller: He leads Astorino 47-38.

The race is closest in the suburban counties, where it is a virtual tie. Cuomo is actually trailing Astorino 44-46.

And the governor, who has pushed hard on his 10-point Women’s Equality Act, leads Astorino among female voters 65 percent to 25 percent, according to the poll’s crosstabs.

Cuomo has a favorability rating of 54 percent, compared to 43 percent of voters who do not have a favorable view of him – the highest unfavorable rating he’s garnered from Siena to date.

Astorino, a first-time statewide candidate, continues to show a high negative rating: 41 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of him, compared to 32 percent who view him favorably.

In the other statewide races, Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman holds a 20-point lead over his Republican challenger, John Cahill, 55-35. Schneiderman’s lead grew by 5 percentage points from last month – likely thanks to the fact that the AG is now running TV ads.

Meanwhile, in the race for state comptroller, incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli leads Republican Onondaga County Comptroller 58-31 – the largest gap of the three statewide races.

The poll of 748 likely voters was conducted from Oct. 16 through Oct. 20. It has a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

SNY1014 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman

Gillibrand Emails For Schneiderman

AG Eric Schneiderman is getting a boost in the final weeks of the general election campaign from New York’s junior US senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who says a win by the Republicans next month would be “simply unacceptable.”

An email blast going out later this morning focuses on abortion rights – a wedge issue the Democratic candidates from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on down are again using to blast their GOP opponents in this Democrat-dominated state.

Gillibrand calls Schneiderman a “lifelong pro-choice advocate” and “the ONLY (her emphasis) candidate for Attorney General who represents the values of New York women, especially when it comes to reproductive rights.”

“As a public interest lawyer, Eric defended reproductive health clinic workers,” the senator wrote. “As a state senator, he led efforts to pass the Clinic Anti-Violence Act and a law requiring emergency contraception to be made available to victims of sexual assault.”

“As attorney general, he successfully fought to protect and expand buffer zones around health clinics so that families would be safe from intimidation and harassment.”

“And in response to the Supreme Court’s troubling Hobby Lobby ruling this year, Eric proposed the Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act to force employers to disclose to women if they plan to change their contraception coverage.”

“We need an attorney general who unequivocally supports a woman’s right to choose, and Eric is the only candidate in this race who meets that basic standard.”

Schneiderman’s Republican challenger, former Pataki administration official John Cahill, is a practicing Catholic who is personally opposed to abortion and has expressed opposition to the abortion rights plank of Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act.

But Cahill has also pledged to uphold the law regarding abortion if he’s elected attorney general on Nov. 4, as well as any other potentially controversial laws – including same-sex marriage.

Gillibrand’s email does not specifically mention Cahill by name.

TV Ad #2 for Schneiderman: Pro-Cop, Anti-Crime

With just over two weeks remaining in the 2014 campaign, Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman is starting to ramp up his TV presence, cashing in on the air time he reserved months ago.

Schneiderman’s campaign today will release his second TV ad, which has a dual focus – his crime-fighting efforts, and his program to use cash from civil forfeiture funds to help purchase bulletproof vests for cops around the state.

Schneiderman started what he dubbed the “inVEST” program after the federal government cut funding over the past three years for bulletproof vest purchases by local police departments.

The AG pledged to dedicate some $3.5 million to the program, which reimburses local law enforcement agencies up to 50 percent of the cost of new vests. (The federal money also comes in the form of a matching funds).

The program has already helped purchase close to 8,000 vests, according to Schneiderman’s campaign.

The AG’s Republican opponent, former Pataki administration official John Cahill, has pledged to return a more law-and-order focus to the office if he’s elected on Nov. 4. Throughout the campaign, Cahill has accused Schneiderman of being insufficiently tough on crime – an accusation the AG’s campaign deemed “desperate.”

The Schneiderman campaign also likes to remind reporters that the AG has broad support from the law enforcement community, and has been endorsed by a variety of police unions across the state.

Cahill has the support of the State Troopers PBA, in part due to his opposition of the AG’s move to unseal documents about the 1971 Attica prison riot.

Recent public opinion polls have showed Cahill gaining on Schneiderman, though the AG continues to maintain a double-digit lead over his Republican rival. Schneiderman has a 25-to-1 cash advantage over Cahill.

That fact, coupled with the AG’s forward-thinking strategy of reserving $3 million worth of air time for the final weeks of the campaign, will enable him to blitz the airwaves and raise his name recognition just in time for Election Day in a way Cahill cannot.

Schneiderman’s new ad, which appears below, will run through Election Day. His first ad, called “One Set of Rules,” is still on the air, too.

Here’s the script of the new ad:

“Gridlock in Washington blocked funding for bulletproof vests for our police officers. As a New Yorker, I was outraged. As attorney general, I did something about it.

We’ve paid for bulletproof vests for close to 8,000 police officers across the state and funded it with money my office seized from drug gangs and criminals we’ve locked up.

Taking criminals off our streets and keeping our cops safe. There’s nothing more important.”

Schneiderman To Be Endorsed By Teamsters

From the Morning Memo:

The Teamsters Joint Council 16 will announce later this morning its endorsement of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for a second term.

It’s not wholly surprising the incumbent Democrat would receive the backing of the organization, given its ties to the Working Families Party.

But with the endorsement comes important field and advertising infrastructure in the final weeks of the general election.

Schneiderman, who faces Republican John Cahill, will benefit from a coordinated operation from the labor group, including phone banks, canvassing and direct mail in effort to drive union members to the polls next month.

“I’m proud to endorse Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for re-election,” Joint Council 16 President George L. Miranda said in a statement. “Since he took office, he’s proven himself to be a tireless champion for working men and women. He has gone after unscrupulous employers who cheated their employees out of hard-earned wages, and to date he’s recovered more than $18 million for 14,000 workers and their families. He’s helped thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosure, and forced bad landlords to make repairs for tenants living in deplorable conditions. Eric makes sure everyone plays by the same rules, and we need him as our Attorney General.”

With Month To Go, Schneiderman Camp Points To Fundraising Advantage

An “interested parties” memo from the re-election campaign of Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is bullish on his chances of re-election, pointing to its fundraising advantage and support from abortion-rights advocates as well as law enforcement groups.

At the same time, the campaign is dinging Republican rival John Cahill for accepting a $41,100 campaign contribution from industrialist David Koch who, it should be noted, has given to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the past.

And while the Schneiderman is happy to tout its support from women’s rights groups as well as various law enforcement labor organizations, fundraising is at the top of their list.

The campaign’s memo points to Schneiderman reserving millions of dollars in air time for the end of the campaign and its large advantage in money in the bank versus Cahill.

“Attorney General Schneiderman’s war chest is more than 25 times that of Cahill’s, according to new fundraising reports filed with the Board of Elections late Friday night,” the memo says. “Schneiderman’s campaign reported outraising Cahill and having $4.7 million in cash on hand – in addition to more than $3 million worth of advertising time the campaign reserved but has not yet aired.”

Cahill, meanwhile, reported $288,595 in cash on hand with 29 days to go before Election Day.

Cahill has spent heavily on TV ads, $1.4 million, while also raising $720,000 during the most recent reporting period.

29-Day State of Race Memo by Nick Reisman

Schneiderman’s 1st TV Ad: ‘One Set of Rules’

From the morning memo:

AG Eric Schneiderman, who reserved millions of dollars worth of air time in advance, but held off actually releasing any ads, is about to debut his first TV spot of his re-election campaign.

The ad, titled “One Set of Rules for Everyone,” starts airing statewide today (covering the five major media markets) and will run through Election Day.

This is part of a multi-million dollar buy, and that’s just a fraction of what’s to come as the Democratic incumbent battles his GOP opponent, former Pataki administration official John Cahill.

Back in June, Schneiderman reserved $1 million worth of air time for the final weeks of the campaign. He doubled down on that in July, adding another $1 million, and recently added several hundred thousand dollars more – just as he formally kicked off his re-election campaign.

This ad depicts Schneiderman as tough on crime no matter who the perpetrator might be – from big banks, to fellow elected officials, to drug kingpins.

Schneiderman’s campaign noted that since taking office in January 2011, the AG has prosecuted more than 50 corrupt officials, including former NYC Councilman Ruben Wills, ex-Sen. Shirley Huntley and former Met Council chief William Rapfogel.

The AG has also helped secure more than $60 billion in settlements from the big banks that caused the financial crisis, $4 billion of which has been allotted to New York families and communities hurt by the crash, his campaign said.

And Schneiderman has made hundreds of arrests for heroin, cocaine and crack related offenses, and his office has broken up 18 major drug rings in cities across New York.

Cahill has tried to paint Schneiderman as not tough enough to be the state’s top attorney – especially when it comes to cracking down on public corruption.

In fact, Cahill’s first ad, which came out in August, played up the private sector attorney’s toughness and sought to link Schneiderman to the Moreland Commission mess.

At Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request Schneiderman deputized the commission’s members to empower them to investigate the state Legislature.

The AG has been mum on what he knew and when regarding the governor’s meddling in Moreland, but he has said repeatedly that he is working with US Attorney Preet Bharara as he probes the commission’s demise and continues the cases it started but didn’t have a chance to finish.

The state GOP recently started running an anti-Schneiderman TV ad that also ties the AG to Moreland, but the spot doesn’t even mention Cahill.

As of mid-July, Cahill had just under $1 million on hand, and planned to spend $750,000 on his first ad. Schneiderman had $6.8 million on hand, and hadn’t yet begun to spend significantly on his campaign.

A late August Siena poll showed Schneiderman had extended his early lead over Cahill to 27 percentage points (54-27), though 59 percent of New Yorkers still have no idea who he is. A whopping 80 percent of poll respondents didn’t know anything about Cahill.

An internal poll Cahill recently shared with donors showed the AG race considerably tighter. The Republican’s campaign was forced to file portions of the poll with the state Board of Elections after it was made public.

Here’s the script for the AG’s ad:

Schneiderman: As attorney general, I put criminals behind bars.

TV news anchor: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced today the arrest of 25 people…

Schneiderman: I go after those who think they’re above the law.

TV news reporter: Breaking news on the JP Morgan settlement, $4 billion dollars for consumer relief, according to the New York attorney general.

Schneiderman: It doesn’t matter how rich or powerful you are.

TV news reporter: A walk of shame for a New York City councilman in a case that the attorney general says is about as low as you can go.

Schneiderman: I’ll never stop fighting for everyday New Yorkers, because there has to be one set of rules for everyone.