Avella Receives 1199/SEIU Endorsement

The campaign of Independent Democratic Conference Sen. Tony Avella announced Friday the Queens lawmaker had received the nod from 1199/SEIU, a key labor group that was instrumental in helping Gov. Andrew Cuomo receive the endorsement of the Working Families Party.

Avella faces Democratic former city Comptroller John Liu in a primary.

“From safe staffing to quality standards for healthcare, 1199 SEIU has been at the forefront of protecting healthcare workers and their patients,” Avella said in a statement. “It is my honor to receive their endorsement today, and I look forward to working with them in the upcoming legislative session.”

Following an agreement brokered by Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the independent Democrats are expected to form a new majority coalition with mainline conference Democrats after Election Day.

But primaries launched against the IDC lawmakers remain, including a contest between the conference’s leader, Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein, and former city Councilman Oliver Koppell.

The WFP plans to officially stay neutral in these primaries, while 1199/SEIU previously indicated it would help IDC lawmakers in their re-election efforts.

32BJ SEIU Endorses 37 Senate Democrats

A key labor union on Wednesday endorsed 37 Democrats running for the state Senate, including several who are competing in battleground districts.

The endorsements from 32BJ SEIU for Senate Democrats were coupled with endorsements in 105 Assembly races.

In addition to endorsing IDC Leader Jeff Klein last week, the labor union backed incumbents in the mainline conference: Terry Gipson, Cecilia Tkaczyk and Ted O’Brien — a trio of Democrats who are top targets for Senate Republicans this year.

The union also endorsed Leroy Comrie, a challenger to Sen. Malcolm Smith who is under indictment for his alleged role in a bribery scheme as well as Dell Smitherman, who is trying to unseat Sen. John Sampson, who faces embezzlement charges.

Endorsements were also given to Democrats running in districts they hope to flip, including Justin Wagner, who is seeking to take outgoing Sen. Greg Ball’s seat, and Adam Haber, running against Republican Sen. Jack Martins.

“We will mobilize our members and focus our resources this primary season on taking back the Senate for the Democrats,” said Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU. “A solid Democratic majority in the Senate, combined with a Democratic-led Assembly, will mean that we can pass legislation like the DREAM ACT, campaign finance reform and a higher minimum wage, which will concretely improve the lives of working families.”

The union did not endorse in Sen. Tony Avella’s race, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference who faces former city Comptroller John Liu in a Democratic primary.

The labor-aligned Working Families Party is staying neutral in that contest.

Astorino to Cuomo: Be Like Truman, Avoid LIRR Strike

Westchester County Executive and GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino is slamming Gov. Andrew Cuomo for refusing to get involved in ongoing contract dispute between the MTA and the LIRR, which could lead to a crippling strike of the commuter railroad’s employees.

Cuomo said yesterday that the idea of a strike causes “so much anxiety I don’t even like to think about it,” adding: “There is no good alternative to the LIRR on Long Island. The commute would be horrendous, however we do it.”

But the governor also shrugged off calls from local elected officials for him to insert himself into the contract talks in an effort to resolve the impasse before the July 20 deadline, saying this is a mess that Congress needs to clean up. That’s not holding water with Astorino, who said in a video today:

“As the clock ticks down on a looming Long Island Railroad strike, Mr. Cuomo is washing his hands of the matter,” Astorino said. “He’s telling New Yorkers to call their member of congress, call their senators, email the White House – do anything, but for god’s sake don’t bother him. He’s not responsible. But when the very same negotiating team working on the Long Island Railroad issue successfully negotiated an MTA settlement, guess who took credit? You guessed it, Andrew Cuomo.”

Cuomo does have a track record of successful intervention in union contract disputes. In April, as Astorino noted, he got involved in a 2-year-old contract dispute between the MTA and New York City transit workers. The result was a five-year deal.

In September 2012, Cuomo jumped in to mediate between the Communications Workers of America and Verizon Communications after 13 months of stalled talks. And, in July of that year, the governor stepped in to end a nearly four-week lockout of 8,000 Utility Workers Union of America employees at ConEd.

Astorino opened his video monologue with a refernce to President Truman, who kept a sign on his White House desk that read: “The buck stops here.”

“There’s a major railroad strike coming that will affect hundreds of thousands of lives. You have to get involved. It’s gut check time, governor. Just ask yourself, ‘What would Harry Truman do?’”

Talks between the LIRR and the union broke down yesterday. MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast is meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill today to push for an intervention should a strike develop. Federal mediators have agreed to join the negotiations. The unionized worked are seeking a 17 percent raise over six years and no changes to either work rules or pension contributions.

So far, the MTA has not released a contingency plan for commuters who rely on the LIRR, constituting some 330,000 rides a day.

Today, the MTA started what it called a “communications blitz” aimed at alerting New Yorkers to the potential for a service disruption.

“We continue to hope that we can avoid a work stoppage at the bargaining table,” said Prendergast. “But nevertheless, we want LIRR customers and all Long Island residents to be aware that there is a potential for a disruption of service and what that might mean.”

Print ads are appearing in seven daily newspapers, and radio ads are airing on 11 stations. Updated information is also available on the MTA’s website.

What Would Truman Do? from Rob Astorino on Vimeo.

SEIU 1199 All In for Regular Dems

The first item from the morning memo:

The powerful health care workers union SEIU 1199 has “pretty much jumped in” to back all five IDC members as a reward for conference leader Jeff Klein’s agreement to abandon the GOP and cut a power-sharing deal with his fellow Democrats.

That’s according to 1199′s political director Kevin Finnegan, who said he and union President George Gresham will recommend that the IDC slate be formally endorsed by 1199′s council when it meets during the third week in July.

“Then we’ll be all in,” Finnegan said during a telephone interview last night. “I don’t know what that means at this point.”

“I don’t know if it’s in the form of an independent expenditure, or contributions to the DSCC or to some sort of coorindated campaign. That all needs to be worked out. That’s sort of the second-to-last step to this working out.”

This move is certainly not a surprise, since 1199 played a key role in brokering the WFP endorsement deal for Gov. Andrew Cuomo that started the ball rolling toward the IDC-regular Democrat reunification.

And Finnegan has been clear that his union is severing ties with the Senate GOP, declining to provide the conference with any campaign cash or endorsements for the first time in more than a decade.

But the loss of 1199′s support is still a blow to the two IDC primary challengers who have yet to end their campaigns since last week’s reunification announcement: Former NYC Councilman Oliver Koppell, who is challenging Klein; and former NYC Comptroller John Liu, who is running against the IDC’s newest member, Queens Sen. Tony Avella.

Koppell and Liu also have both been endorsed by the WFP, which so far hasn’t yanked its support, but has been instrumental in the push for a Democat-controlled Senate.

Finnegan said he expects there will be push back from the 1199 council over the union’s move to abandon Liu, who has considerable support among its members.

“My union has a long and great relationship with John Liu, and we wish him the best,” a clearly uncomfortable Finnegan said. “But we’ve made compacts with folks that prevent us from endorsing him.”

“…We’re committed, and when we’re committed, we’re going to do what we always do,” Finnegan continued. “We have thousands of members in that district, and we’re going to tell them to vote for our candidate – Tony Avella.”

Of course, this isn’t a 100 percent done deal yet. And Finnegan allowed that it’s possible the council will vote to remain neutral in the Liu-Avella race, though he believes there is strong support for the reunification movement.

And what if Liu manages to eke out a victory without 1199? After all, he does still have considerable labor support, including from HTC, which is another big backer of the IDC-Democrat deal.

“John would be a welcome member to the Senate,” Finnegan said. “He’ll join the Democratic conference; it doesn’t change the numbers, so it’s not consequential.”

“We’re going to do what we said we would do…but if John wins, we’ll embrace him as part of the family.”

The deal Klein struck reportedly also calls for IDC-supported primary challengers to regular Democrats to stand down.

For example, former NYC Councilman Fernando Cabrera (a former Republican) is campaigning to oust his fellow Democrat, Sen. Gustavo Rivera, in the Bronx; while in Buffalo, Sen. Tim Kennedy is fighting the second challenge in two years mounted by Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Betty Jean Grant, who is backed by the local Democratic Party.

As far as I can tell, those two challenges still stand, so it looks like there’s still some kinks to be worked out in the grand Democratic Senate takeover deal.

WFP Raises Off IDC-Dem Deal

Part II of today’s Morning Memo:

The WFP is wasting no time is trying to capitalize on the news that Klein and breakaway conference have agreed to strike a power-sharing deal with the regular Democrats.

In an email with the subject line “Guess Who’s Back?” WFP State Director Bill Lipton crowed over the news that Klein et al would be forming a “new progressive majority coalition” that (theoretically) will enable passage of a host of blocked bills – from the Women’s Equality Act to public campaign financing.

But Lipton also recognized that even with the IDC on their side, the Democrats would be holding an extremely slim, one-seat margin in the chamber – and that’s assuming they hold every seat they’ve got in the upcoming elections.

“There are three progressive Democrats in swing districts elected with the help of Obama’s 2012 wave,” Lipton wrote.

“Holding those seats will take real work. There are also three formerly Republican held open-seats that could be ripe pick-up opportunities to expand the majority.”

“We need to start raising the money to run competitive races in all six of those seats starting now. Can you contribute $3 to elect a progressive majority in the State Senate?”

“…it’ll take a lot more work to get to that progressive vision we’re dreaming about.”

“And there’s no doubt that the billionaires and bankers and the right wing forces will spend big to stop this from happening. They’ll pour untold millions into New York State Republicans to stop us from putting New York on a progressive path.”

I believe the three swing district Democrats Lipton is referring to are Sens. Terry Gipson, Cecilia Tkaczyk and Ted O’Brien.

The open seats include two on Long Island – one vacated by ex-Sen. Chuck Fuschillo, the other to be given up by Sen. Lee Zeldin as he challenges Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop in NY-1 – and one in the Hudson Valley that currently belongs to retiring Sen. Greg Ball.

Part of Cuomo’s WFP endorsement deal also reportedly included creation of a $10 million fund to help the Democrats take back the Senate, but it remains unclear exactly where all that cash will come from – and how much, if any, Cuomo himself will be contributing.

NYSUT Pledges to Defend Teacher Tenure Against ‘Celebrity Dilettantes’

NYSUT is pledging to defend New York’s teacher tenure system in the face of a legal challenge backed by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown’s education reform organization.

In a lengthy statement, NYSUT President Karen Magee said the more than 100-year-old teacher tenure system in New York is “wildly misunderstood,” insisting that it is neither negotiated by teachers as part of their contract nor a promise of a job for life – even with poor performance or a history of mistreatment of students.

“Earning tenure in New York simply means that, if a teacher is accused of incompetence or wrongdoing, she is entitled to a fair hearing before she can be fired,” Magee said. “In the United States, we call that due process of law.”

“Well-off schools with the highest student test scores come under the same tenure law as struggling schools in high-poverty areas. Tenure is not a cause of low student achievement.”

Brown’s organization, the Partnership for Educational Justice, is assisting the families of six students in their plan to challenge New York’s tenure and seniority laws, arguing that it is too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to get rid of bad teachers, which prevents kids from receiving their constitutionally mandated sound, basic education.

The move by Brown & Co. follows a ruling in California that struck down that state’s laws on tenure, dismissal and seniority on the basis that they disproportionately impact students in low-income and minority communities.

Magee said Brown “has got it all wrong” on teacher tenure, arguing that it protects students and teachers alike.

“While tenure is a necessary safeguard for a teacher wrongly accused of misconduct or incompetence, it also protects children’s right to a good education,” the NYSUT president said.

“Because tenure exists, teachers in New York state can — and do — challenge the state’s obsession with over-testing and how it hurts our students. Because tenure exists, teachers in New York state can — and do — stand up for decent class sizes, for art and music, and for the books and technology all students need.”

“Because of tenure, a teacher can stand up for his students in special education, for English language learners and for students who live in poverty. It means a teacher can’t be arbitrarily fired for challenging the status quo. While they may bill themselves as ‘reformers,’ the wealthy elite don’t want to address the real reason why some students in some of our schools are struggling — and that’s poverty.”

“If hedge fund millionaires and celebrity dilettantes were truly interested in guaranteeing students a quality education, they would join parents and unions in fighting for fair funding for all children, not just the affluent.”

The real problem, in Magee’s eyes, is that wealthy New Yorkers are trying to dismantle the publicly funded school system – complete with the powerful teachers unions – because they don’t want to pay their “fair share” in taxes to support the education of all children, not just the “elite.”

“NYSUT will mount an aggressive and vigorous challenge to any attempt to strip New York’s teachers of this essential and fundamental right,” Magee promised.

Miner Gives Early Nod to Valesky (Updated)

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner today issued the following statement announcing her support of IDC member Dave Valesky’s re-election bid.

“Senator Valesky makes the right decisions for this community every day and he has my unequivocal support. Dave knows what is important and he has worked hard demonstrate his commitment to the people of this City. Dave has been an extremely effective Senator and has regularly delivered for the people of Syracuse. As Mayor of the City of Syracuse, and as a constituent, I am proud to stand with him.”

This is interesting on a number of levels.

First off, Miner just recently relinquished her post as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s hand-picked state Democratic Party chair. (Her co-chair, Assemblyman Keith Wright, followed suit, and now former Gov. David Paterson is the sole chairman). The governor, as you’ll recall, pledged in return for the Working Families Party endorsement to support his fellow Democrats in taking back the state Senate majority, which requires the re-unification of the IDC and so-called “regular” Democrats.

Miner made no mention of the IDC or the effort to get its leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, to either go back to the Democratic fold or (more realistically) cut the same power-sharing deal that he currently has with the Senate Republicans with his erstwhile colleagues in the Democratic conference.

As a rationale for her support of Valesky, Miner’s release notes the two have collaborated on a wide range of important projects affecting the City of Syracuse – including the recent announcement of $350,000 in funds the senator secured to repair and reopen the Meachem Ice Rink in the Valley neighborhood.

Also, Miner’s announcement comes on the heels of our Morning Memo, which reported that the labor-progressive coalition formed following the WFP convention to help the DSCC take back the majority is actively seeking candidates willing to primary Valesky if Klein et al don’t agree to go home – and this is despite recent comments from the Onondaga County Democratic chairman rejecting reports that someone might challenge the Syracuse-area senator, and a failed effort by the left to seek a challenger earlier this year.

Among the potential candidates the coalition is vetting are Syracuse Common Councilor-at-Large Jean Kessner, and Colgate Prof. Joan Mandle.

Kessner, a former WSYR-TV reporter, is now PR director for AIDS Community Resources. She was first elected in 2009, and was the top vote-getter that year. Last year, she failed to receive re-election support from the Syracuse Democratic Party and Miner. She petitioned her way onto the ballot, and won anyway.

Mandle runs Democracy Matters, a national student group that works on issues related to money and politics. The organization was started by 13-year veteran NBA player and Colgate alum Adonal Foyle, who is Mandle’s adopted son. Mandle is also on the board of Public Campaign, a national group working on campaign finance reform.

Mandle confirmed her interest in running in an email Sunday night, saying: “I am seriously considering running a primary campaign against Senator Valesky. My doing so is a response to his membership in the IDC.”

Independely considering a primary challenge to Valesky is former Syracuse City Councilor Pat Hogan, served eight years on the Council until being term limited out of office. He ran an unsuccessful Democratic primary last year against Miner, winning 28 percent of the vote. Miner received about 54 percent and Alfonso Davis, 17 percent.

UPDATE: Hogan said earlier today that he will NOT run against Valesky.

Espaillat Gets NYSUT Endorsement

Democratic Congressional candidate Adriano Espaillat on Thursday received the backing of the statewide teachers union after the city-based United Federation of Teachers gave him their nod.

“Adriano Espaillat understands the needs of students, educators and his community. He will be a clear voice for sound education policies and for investing in vital public services so all members of the 13th District have quality schools, good health care and opportunities to lead better lives,” said New York State United Teachers President Karen E. Magee. “We worked closely with Adriano on many important issues in Albany, and look forward to continuing that productive collaboration during the campaign, and in Congress.”

Espaillat, along with the Rev. Michael Walrond, are facing Rep. Charlie Rangel in a June 22 primary.

Espaillat over the weekend was endorsed by the labor-backed Working Families Party and has previously received the support of the Communications Workers District 1.

But Rangel, a longtime incumbent who narrowly won his 2012 primary against Espaillat, was endorsed by 1199/SEIU, which runs a much-vaunted field operation in New York City.

DiNapoli Hires From NYSUT

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has hired a former top NYSUT aide for a $115,000-a-year job in his office.

Colleen Gardner, who served as assistant to former NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, was brought on board by DiNapoli on May 22, a spokeswoman in the comptroller’s office confirmed. Gardner is serving as special assistant to the executive Deputy Comptroller for the Retirement System, Kevin Murray. She’ll be primarily assisting with the comptroller’s retirement redesign project, including outreach to employers and labor about the effort.

Gardner served as state Labor commissioner from March 2010 to July 2012. Prior to that, she served four four years as deputy executive director of the New York State Insurance Fund. She worked at the New York State AFL-CIO from 1983 to 2007, as director of organizing and community services.

Gardner was hired by Iannuzzi in July 2013. Iannuzzi, as you’ll recall, lost a heated and unusual internal challenge to new NYSUT President Karen Magee in April.

DiNapoli has long had a close relationship with organized labor.

Several days ago, NYSUT announced early endorsements of both DiNapoli and AG Eric Schneiderman, who are seeking re-election this fall. The union also announced support for state Sens. Tim Kennedy and Toby Stavisky, along with Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, and Jason Zove, a 26-year-old Commack resident who is challenging six-term incumbent GOP Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick.

Recchia Lands 2nd Union Nod From RWDSU

Former NYC Councilman Domenic Recchia’s campaign is poised to announce that the Brooklyn Democrat has landed his second union endorsement from RWDSU for his bid to unseat Staten Island Republican Rep. Michael Grimm.

“Throughout his many years of public service, Domenic Recchia has stood with New York’s working families,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “As a New York City Council Member, Domenic not only fought for the people of his district, but also advocated on behalf of working families in every borough.”

“We need a congressman who will stand with low wage workers and all working people. Domenic Recchia will bring the voice of working families in Staten Island and South Brooklyn to our nation’s capital. We are proud to endorse him.”

John Durso, president of Local 338 RWDSU, added:

“We have seen first-hand Domenic’s commitment to all of New York City’s working families As a City Councilman he fought for legislation to protect workers’ rights while also working to create new jobs. We are confident that Domenic will continue to be a great champion as the next Congressman of the 11th District, and he will help change the Republican-caused gridlock in Washington, D.C.”

This isn’t terribly surprising. Two years ago, RWDSU endorsed Mark Murphy, the Democrat who unsuccessfully sought to oust Grimm in a high Democratic turnout, presidential election year.

The NY-11 race has heated up since Grimm was indicted on 20 counts of fraud and tax evasion. Grimm, who is out on $400,000 bond, made his first court appearance yesterday, and it appears this case is not going to be speedily resolved (as he had hoped) before the midterm elections, in which the scandal-scarred congressman continues to run.

The charges are in connection to an Upper East Side health food restaurant that the congressman owned and operated prior to his 2010 election to the House. The government has accused Grimm of filing false tax returns, committing mail fraud and withholding more than $1 million worth of taxes.

The case stems from an ongoing federal investigation into Grimm’s fundraising which has lasted about two years. Also, the House Ethics Committee announced in November that Grimm was under investigation for possible campaign finance violations.

Part of the problem in terms of timing is that it’s going to take a considerable amount of time for attorneys to review the 70,000 pages of documents and 8,000 emails that government prosecutors are using as evidence against Grimm.

The congressman has insisted he is innocent, and has called the charges against him a “political witch hunt” designed to “assassinate my character and remove me from office.” He did, however, resign from his seat on the House Financial Services Committee in late April at the urging of Speaker John Boehner.