AQE, NY Communities For Change Target Avella

AQE and NY Communities for Change are taking advantage in this (hopefully brief) break in the budget action to target the IDC’s newest member, Queens Democratic Sen. Tony Avella, accusing him of “selling out” on charter school co-locations.

Email blasts from the two liberal organizations note that Avella used to be an outspoken opponent of charters – and co-location in particular – and yet voted “yes” on the Senate one-house budget that education advocates say pushes more of the controversial co-locations and hikes state aid to charters at the expense of traditional public schools.

This is a disaster, but it would not be on the table if Senator Avella had not voted for it when the Republican led coalition included this plan in their budget bill,” AQE’s email, signed by its advocacy director Zakiyah Ansari. “Now, Avella has to step up and stop it from happening.”

“…Negotiations are intense, and the State Assembly leadership is fighting hard, but they need our help,” the email continues. “It is difficult when the charter school lobbyists have spent more than $5 million on a TV and radio advertising campaign. These same lobbyist are funneling campaign money into the Senate leadership coalition that Senator Avella has joined.”

Both emails encourage their recipients to email Avella and express their disappointment. New York Communities for Change is also robocalling in Avella’s district. According to AQE’s Billy Easton, some 500 emails have already been sent to Avella’s office since these blasts were sent less than an hour ago.

When the Senate one-house budget was passed, Avella said he had not changed his mind about either charter schools or co-locations, but wanted to vote “yes” because he believed the plan would result in more money for NYC schools overall.

“I am voting for this resolution because of the more than half a billion dollars in new funding it asks our state to deliver to non-charter New York City publics schools,” Avella said at the time. “Any legislator stubborn enough to turn down that type of windfall for New York City students and teachers is forgetting about the families who elected them here in the first place.”

‘Breaker of Dreams’

A reader forwarded this photo of a “diploma” found posted in the women’s room on the 6th floor of the LOB following the failure of the DREAM Act on the Senate floor.

After DREAM Act Fails, Senate Dems Divided On Klein (Updated)

The Senate Democrats aren’t all reading from the same playbook on the question of who’s to blame for the failure of the DREAM Act last night.

Some, like Deputy Minority Leader Mike Gianaris, are point fingers directly at IDC Leader Jeff Klein. Gianaris, who has long been at odds with Klein, said Klein had “failed miserably” because he was unable to get any of his power-sharing Republican colleagues to vote “yes” on the bill, and rejected the IDC’s argument that the Democrats aren’t united on this issue, either, saying: “If Senator Klein thinks things should pass when there’s only Democratic support, why did he leave?”

But others, including Sen. Jose Peralta, sponsor of the DREAM Act, declined to blame Klein, saying the Republicans should bear the brunt of the blame for refusing to produce even a single vote for the legislation.

UPDATE: After having some time to process the DREAM Act loss, Peralta changed his tune. At a press conference earlier today, the Queens senator said the DREAM Act supporters were “set up” by a surprise vote that was doomed to fail. He also said it’s time for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to step up and push for this issue to be part of the budget deal.

And Sen. Daniel Squadron, of Brooklyn, even gave Klein some half-hearted praise during a Capital Tonight interview, saying he IDC leader deserves credit for at managing to get the bill to the floor for a vote.

“Look, I am glad it was out there,” Squadron told me. “I don’t think you could call today a victory for anybody. The bill didn’t pass. The fact that we got 30 votes against 29 is a positive sign. The fact that there was the kind of passion that you saw was a positive sign.”

“But the victory here isn’t about some sort of parliamentary step. It’s about creating the DREAM Act in this state for the 4,000-plus students for whom it would make the difference in being able to get an education…I do think that having a vote is a positive step, and I think Senator Klein deserves credit for that. But today is not a positive day for the DREAM Act by any measure.”

Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who recently flirted with the idea of joining the IDC (which doesn’t appear to want him), was far more effusive in his praise, saying in one of his frequent “What You Should Know” missives that’s it’s time for his fellow regular Democrats to swallo their pride and work to get Klein and his fellow renegades back into the fold.

“We needed 32 votes in the Senate for the DREAM Act to pass, and sad to say, we lost by 2 votes,” Diaz Sr. wrote. “The vote tally was 29 Nays to 30 Ayes. Two Democratic senators voted against the DREAM Act. They were Simcha Felder from Brooklyn and Ted O’Brien from Monroe County in upstate New York.”

“All of the IDC Members, I repeat, were united with their leader, Senator Jeff Klein, voting yes for the DREAM Act … and we Democrats were left with egg on our faces.”

“You should know that there are reasons for many of my colleagues to be angry at Jeff Klein and the IDC Members. That is understandable! But we cannot continue to hold grudges. For the good of the Senate Democratic Conference, we should all put our pride aside.”

“By being able to convince the Republicans – even though they all voted against the DREAM Act – Senator Jeff Klein has proven to be a worthy leader. He is someone who keeps his word, and someone who could be of tremendous help for us Democrats to get back into the Majority.”

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Savino to Koppell: Takes One To Know One

The war of words between former Oliver Koppell and the IDC, whose leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, the former councilman is eyeing as a potential political target, escalated still further this morning, with Sen. Diane Savino jumping to Klein’s defense.

In a statememt, Koppell accused Klein of declaring “war on Democrats across the state” by endorsing a Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant’s second primary challenge to “regular” Democratic Sen. Tim Kennedy in Buffalo, and discussing a potential challenge to Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins by Westchester County Legislator Virginia Perez.

Koppell noted that Stewart-Cousins is the first woman to serve as a legislative leader in Albany, and laced into Klein for daring to consider backing someone against her.

“He is nothing but a lapdog for Senate Republicans,” Koppell said of the IDC leader. “In acting to weaken Democratic Senate leaders, he is empowering Dean Skelos and his Republican colleagues to block progressive legislation.”

Savino responded to Koppell during an interview on “The Capitol Pressroom” with Susan Arbetter, calling the former councilman’s attack “most ridiculous comments” he has made to date.

“When it comes to be declaring war on Democrats and democracy, Oliver Koppell is guilty of that in spades,” Savino said. “…I think he should be very careful about the allegations or the charges he throws around.”

Savino noted that in 2009, it was Koppell who introduced the bill that extended term limits in New York City, allowing then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg and all Council members who were about to be out of a job – including himself – to ask voters to let them stick around in office for another four years.

“That was not just a slap in the face of the Democratic Party,” said Savino, who pointed out that Bloomberg’s Democratic challenger, former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson, should have had a clear shot at the office and came close to unseating the billionaire mayor that year. “That was a skap in the face of democracy, directly overturning the will of the people.”

Klein: Not Enough Money In Budget For Pre-K

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein on Tuesday left the door open to adding more money to the Senate’s one-house budget bill when it comes to universal pre-Kindergarten spending.

At the same time, Klein indicated that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide proposal doesn’t fully fund the plan.

“Right now what the governor proposed is $100 million for pre-K,” Klein, the Senate co-president, told reporters after addressing labor members in Albany. “Mayor de Blasio wants $300 million. It’s not enough even for the first year.”

Cuomo’s proposal would fund universal pre-Kindergarten at $1.5 billion over five years. In the coming 2014-15 budget year, $100 million would spent, with $100 million added each year.

The governor’s budget would direct the money to the neediest districts first.

But lawmakers, as well as advocates for the pre-K plan, the spending proposal won’t cover the full state even when it is implemented in the fifth year.

State Education Commissioner John King has said spending for pre-K statewide would cost $1.6 billion annually.

Supporters of the de Blasio approach want a “dedicated funding stream” — which for now includes a tax on the wealthy in New York City.

As for adding more money to the proposal, Klein didn’t rule that out.

“That’s something we have to look at,” he said. “I’m still looking at making sure we have a dedicated funding stream, that the money is there. That’s why I support de Blasio’s tax.”


Two Can Play That Game (Updated)

This is an updated version of the second item in today’s Morning Memo:

The Journal News reports that Virginia Perez, a Westchester County legislator, is giving “serious consideration” to a primary challenge against Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and has had “several” conversations about her potential run with Klein.

While Perez is still weighing her options, she seems like a good fit for the IDC, which is co-controlling the Senate through a power-sharing agreement with the Republicans. Consider this:

Perez, who was first elected in 2011, is a supporter of bi-partisan coalitions. She joined with another county Democrat last December to form a partnership with Republicans in the county Legislature — similar to the structure in the state Senate.

“Being bi-partisan is the best way to serve the public,” she said. “We don’t need gridlock. Extreme partisanship doesn’t get us anywhere.”

This news comes on the heels of last week’s surprise announcement by Queens Sen. Tony Avella that he would be departing company with the regular Democrats to join forces with the IDC.

Almost immediately, there was talk of a potential primary challenge against Avella, who has less than $3,000 in his campaign account. Avella shrugged off such talk, saying he’s not worried about any political payback for his decision.

He also called a mini protest (four people holding signs) that materialized outside his appearance at a Queens public school last Friday “ridiculous.”

The possible Perez vs. Stewart-Cousins primary also comes after months of speculation that former NYC Councilman Oliver Koppell might challenge Klein himself this fall. Koppell has been ratcheting up his public criticism of Klein and has met with DSCC Chairman Mike Gianaris to discuss a possible primary. But he has not made any formal announcements – or formed a campaign committee, or started fund-raising – to date.

Klein praised Perez to the Journal News through a statement released by his spokeswoman, saying she “has a very bright future, and has the talent, experience and drive to make a great senator.” He also noted he has “deep ties throughout Yonkers,” which he has represented for many years.

A spokesman for Stewart-Cousins and the regular Democrats declined comment.

UPDATE: AS of mid-January, Stewart-Cousins had $250,621 on hand in her personal campaign account, but, of course, would have access to DSCC funds, should she need them. Perez had $2,817, but would probably be able to rely on some assistance from the IDC, should she decide to run.

Also, Perez has at least one black mark against her: She filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy back in 2012, citing unmanageable debt. She said at the time that her situation was “nothing to be ashamed of,” and one that many people in her district can related to, so perhaps it gives her a “real person” talking point, but it could also be used against her in a campaign.

Avella’s New Title

In a small conference like the Independent Democratic Conference, it’s perhaps not all that hard to get a leadership title.

Newly minted IDC Sen. Tony Avella has one: assistant conference leader for policy and administration.

The title does not come with a stipend or “lulu” in Albany’s unique parlance, which Avella has rejected in the past.

There is still no word on whether Avella will receive a committee chairmanship now that he is part of the IDC-GOP majority coalition in the Senate.

IDC Leader Jeff Klein has indicated a chairmanship post is in the mix.

Klein Says Diaz Not ‘On Our Radar Screen’

Don’t count that sixth member of the Independent Democratic Conference just yet.

As Queens Democrat Tony Avella joins the fold of breakaway Democrats, Senate IDC Leader Jeff Klein said a potential move by Sen. Ruben Diaz is not being discussed right now.

“That’s not something that’s presently on our radar screen,” he said.

Diaz, a social conservative, would be a potentially problematic addition to a conference that has prided itself on its uniform abortion-rights stance among its members.

Nevertheless, Diaz has said he will broach the subject of joining the conference with Klein at a long-scheduled dinner this evening.

As for what sort of impact Avella’s move will have on the mainline Democrats getting a clean majority in the chamber.

“We’re not here to talk about politics yet,” he said. “We have plenty time to enter the official political season.”

He added that Avella, known for being progressive maverick of sorts, lines up well with the IDC, which includes suburban and upstate lawmakers like David Carlucci and David Valesky.

“We agree on every issue and I agree with his dedication, it’s second to none,” he said. “He’s going to be a great edition to the Independent Democratic Conference.”

A Primary For Avella?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only time will tell.

Avella: Being In The Minority ‘Frustrating’

Sen. Tony Avella acknowledged on Wednesday that it is “frustrating” to be in the minority and expressed hope that with his new role in the Independent Democratic Conference he’d be able to have some of his legislation approved by the chamber.

“You know, in any legislative body when you’re in the minority it is frustrating,” Avella told reporters in his first public comments since joining the IDC and after meeting with Klein in his fourth-floor Capitol office. “So being as part of the majority without sacrificing one iota of my philosophical Democratic values, is important.”

Avella insisted the move to the IDC — which is in a governing coalition with Senate Republicans, was motivated by being able to be productive in the chamber.

“For me it’s always been about the work,” he said. “People in my district elected me to do a job. In the beginning I was a little bit skeptical as to whether this bipartisan coalition that the IDC had with Republican conference, but it has worked. It has proven results for Democratic values.”

He added, “It’s all about the work, so I thought it was appropriate to join and get some of the things that I’ve wanted to do as well as Democrats throughout the entire state, get done.”

Avella said he is running for re-election later this year and brushed off talk of a potential primary challenge.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “I honestly don’t believe it. I beat a 38-year Republican incumbent in my district. No one Democrat could beat that incumbent. They tried for 38 years. The last election I won by 73 percent in the general election.”

Avella is referring to longtime Sen. Frank Padavan of Queens who he unseated in 2010.

Klein indicated earlier in the day Avella would be considered for one of several vacant committee chairmanships. But Avella said he’d be happy with any post in the Senate. At the same time, he affirmed he would again not accept a stipend or “lulu” for the chairmanship.

“At this point not having a committee chairmanship, I’d be happy to get one,” he said. “Being chair of a committee will help get things done.”