Flanagan Starts Upstate Tour

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Majority Leader John Flanangan is in Sen. James Seward’s district today, part of an upstate swing that he pledged to do at the end of the legislative session.

Flanagan, a Long Islander, is potentially heading to friendly territory with a stop at the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown: Seward, after all, was one of several upstate Republicans to back his bid for majority leader over Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse lawmaker.

These upstate tours for legislative leaders aren’t uncommon this summer. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat who was elected speaker at the beginning of the year, is traveling to upstate districts of his members.

On their face, the tours serve to introduce the relatively little known leaders to voters, but also check in with members on their turf (a few fundraising stops probably don’t hurt, either, though Heastie does not have any planned on his trip).

But Flanagan has some skepticism to over come among upstate Republicans as well as gun-rights advocates, having voted in favor of the SAFE Act’s passage in 2013. More >

Crouch Not Running In SD-52

Republican Assemblyman Cliff Crouch on Monday said he was not running for 52nd Senate District, the seat vacated by GOP Sen. Tom Libous.

Crouch had expressed interest in the seat in the days after Libous was forced out of office following his conviction on a charge of lying to the FBI.

“In recent days, I have been approached by constituents, too many to count, who have been very positive, supportive and have encouraged me to run for State Senate,” Crouch said in a statement I have always been humbled and appreciative of all of their support since being elected to the State Assembly and they deserve the very best candidate to represent them in Albany. At this stage, however, I have declined to run for the 52nd Senate District.”

He added he will continue to spend time in the Assembly, adding he can’t commit to the time required to being a member of the Senate.

“It takes a lot of commitment and time to get to know constituents as a newly elected representative and there’s an expectation and obligation that their senator will be there for them for a while, and I regret that I cannot give them that commitment at this time,” Crouch said in a statement. “I would like to thank everyone in the Southern Tier for their gracious support and I look forward to continuing to work for them in Albany alongside the new senator of the 52nd Senate District.”

Republican Denver Jones over the weekend announced he would run for the Southern Tier Senate district. Meanwhile, a Libous ally and Broome County lawmaker, Jerry Marinich, is believed to be interested in the post as well.

Democrat Barbara Fiala, a former Cuomo cabinet member and Broome County executive, will launch her Senate campaign later this week.

Flanagan: Republicans Will Keep Libous Seat

The Republican conference will retain the seat held by Sen. Tom Libous, who was removed from the Senate on Wednesday following his conviction on a charge of lying to the FBI, Majority Leader John Flanagan said in a statement.

Libous was convicted earlier in the day on a charge of lying to federal agents in an interview stemming from his son obtaining a job at a politically connected Westchester County law firm.

The guilty verdict automatically means Libous is ejected from his seat in the chamber, which he has held since 1988, representing the Binghamton area.

“The Senate Republican Conference continues to hold the majority in the Senate and we are 100 percent confident that we will win the special election in the 52nd Senate district,” Flanagan said in the statement this evening.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo would not have to call a special election, given the vacancy occurred prior to Sept. 20, meaning it will be set automatically.

In the statement Flanagan alluded to Libous’s fight with cancer, which sidelined the deputy majority leader during the legislative session as he recovered from a round of surgeries.

Senator Libous and his entire family have been through a difficult ordeal and have faced numerous personal health challenges,” Flanagan said. “They will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers in the weeks and months ahead.”

It is not clear who Republicans will run to replace Libous. At the same time, Libous’s post as deputy majority leader will need to be filled.

Flanagan, who became majority leader in May following Dean Skelos’s arrest on corruption charges, had decided to keep Libous in the number two post.

A potential replacement includes Sen. Cathy Young, the chairwoman of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm.

Jury Finds Libous Lied To FBI


Tom Libous, one of the state’s most prominent and powerful Republican lawmakers in the Senate, has been found guilty by jury of lying to federal agents in a case stemming from his son receiving a job at a politically connected law firm in Westchester County.

The verdict on the felony conviction means the longtime Binghamton lawmaker, first elected in 1988, is automatically removed from the state Senate.

The removal of Libous gives Senate Republicans a bare minimum 32-seat majority in the chamber (Republicans have 31 members, Democrat Simcha Felder conferences with the GOP conference in the chamber).

The trial at the federal courthouse in White Plains hinged on a five-year-old interview Libous had conducted with the FBI over the circumstances that his son Matthew Libous had received a job at a law firm, which had deep political ties to the area’s GOP establishment.

The guilty verdict is another conviction for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York who has led a number of high-profile corruption cases of state lawmakers and public officials.

“Public corruption is a scourge. Every New Yorker wants us to work as hard as possible to end it,” Bharara said in a statement. “But lies to law enforcement make the job of fighting corruption doubly difficult. Today, a jury unanimously found that Tom Libous, the second highest ranking New York Senator, told lie after lie to hide the truth from federal agents investigating corruption in Albany. Libous’s lies have been exposed, his crime has been proven, and Albany will be the better for it.”

Matthew Libous was convicted earlier this year of tax evasion, but his sentencing was delayed so that he could attend his father’s trial.

Tom Libous was the deputy majority leader in the chamber, working as the Republican floor leader. He held on to the post despite the indictment on the charge and was kept on by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in May after he was elected to replace Dean Skelos, who faces separate corruption charges.

Libous had been absent from the Senate floor for a lengthy portion of the legislative session this year following a series of cancer-related surgeries. He spent several weeks recuperating in Florida before returning to the chamber for the end of the legislative session in June.

The conviction will send shock waves not just through the halls of the Capitol, but in the Southern Tier region, where Libous is a key political figure for the economically troubled area.

Astorino’s Future In Westchester

Republican Rob Astorino has made little secret of his desire to run for governor once again in 2018, but first he’ll have to consider running again for his current job as Westchester county executive.

He’s not up for re-election until 2017, where he would face voters for a third term in an increasing Democratic county (Winning in the deep blue suburban county is a selling point Astorino used for his statewide appeal: He defeated incumbent Andy Spano in 2009 and later beat New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson in 2013).

“He hasn’t ‎yet decided, but he’s definitely putting himself in a strong position to run again,” said Astorino advisor Bill O’Reilly.

The strong position includes a lot of fundraising. While he struggled to compete with the juggernaut that was Cuomo 2014, Astorino has been able to raise cash on the local level with ease.

Earlier this year, he transferred the remaining balance from his gubernatorial campaign to his county executive account. Over the last six months, records show he raised $565,597 in contributions, giving him $557,007 in cash on hand for 2017.

Astorino is raising cash on the local level as the statewide political picture is still unclear with three years to go before the next gubernatorial election.

On the Democratic side, Cuomo could still seek a third term himself in 2018. If the seat is open, the Democratic nominee could very well be Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a far more liberal alternative to Cuomo.

Meanwhile, Astorino could face a challenge for the Republican nomination from either Rep. Chris Gibson, a Hudson Valley Republican who retires at the end of his current term. Some political observers have even named Harry Wilson, the party’s 2010 candidate for comptroller and an independently wealthy businessman, as potentially interested in running.

Astorino has called for term limits for statewide offices of two, four-year terms. But locally he may not want to part with the county executive job just yet.

Wage War?

ICYMI from today’s Morning Memo:

The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the governor’s latest wage board is poised to recommend hiking the hourly pay of New York’s fast food workers all the way to $15, and the state’s Labor Commissioner is expected to sign off on that recommendation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo more or less confirmed as much yesterday during a question-and-answer session with reporters at his third annual summer Adirondack Challenge in Indian Lake.

“Whatever the wage board comes back with, it has to be – basically – accepted by the commissioner of the Department of Labor, period,” the governor said.

This has been expected since Cuomo created the board back in May after failing to get the GOP-controlled state Senate to accept his budget proposal to boost the state’s hourly wage – already set to rise to $9 from $8.75 on Dec. 31 – to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state. Though he was careful never to explicitly direct the three-member body on the $15-an-hour target, it was quite clear that’s what Cuomo was aiming for.

Cuomo made the case for a higher fast food worker wage in a New York Times OpEd. At a subsequent rally, he said the state is subsidizing big fast food restaurants like McDonald’s to the tune of $700 million a year – in part by providing health care coverage and other public assistance to its workers – and called for New York to get out of the “hamburger business.”

And, as if any additional proof was necessary, LG Kathy Hochul then made several additional appearances at “Fight for $15″ rallies held prior to wage board gatherings.

In June, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, the wage board’s chairman and a longtime Cuomo ally, said he and his fellow members clearly believed “a substantial” increase was needed to bring fast food workers up the economic ladder – despite persistent opposition from the business community, which often found itself drowned out at public hearings that served more or less as labor rallies.

Business Council President & CEO Heather Briccetti has questioned the legality of a unilateral raise for a single industry, and said legal challenges could be in the offing. The Cuomo administration, however, insists it is well within the governor’s power to make this move.

This is unchartered territory.

As the Syracuse Post-Standard reported over the weekend, New York will be serving as a sort of a test case here. It will be the first state to give a raise to just one segment of the hourly wage workforce. Other cities – like LA And Seattle – have boosted their minimum wage to $15 an hour, but those increases applied across the board.

Cornell University economic Richard Burkhauser, a minimum wage expert who does not support the $15 an hour increase, called the wage board’s impending decision “a wonderful social experiment.” He predicts the price of fast food will go up as a result, and some establishments will go out of business.

It would be a mistake to think that the minimum wage battle will end with the wage board’s decision. This is an issue that polls very high – a vast majority of New Yorkers are in favor of seeing a statewide hourly wage increase (though perhaps not to as high as $15) – and next year is a key election cycle for the Senate Republicans.

Cuomo pledged yesterday to “keep pushing” for a higher minimum wage for all industries.

“This is only the first step,” he said. “Because we need to raise the minimum wage. It is just not possible to live on the current minimum wage – especially not in high cost areas of the state. So I am going to keep pushing.”

The minimum wage issue, as you’ll recall, is a signature piece of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign to bridge the income inequality gap – a message he has preached not only here in the Empire State, but across the country.

De Blasio’s initial push for the power to raise the minimum wage inside city lines fell flat in Albany.

If Cuomo manages to convince the Senate Republicans to go along with yet another wage boost (and remember, the one they agreed to in 2013 has not yet been fully implemented), he’ll no doubt become a hero in the eyes of many on the left – a segment of the Democratic Party with which the governor has had significant differences.

Though the Senate GOP appears dug in on this issue at the moment, much to the relief of its business community allies, there is precedent for an election-year turnaround.

In December 2004, the Senate – then under the leadership of Majority Leader Joe Bruno – overrode a veto of a minimum wage hike by a fellow Republican, then-Gov. George Pataki, boosting the hourly rate to $7.15 by January 2007.

The legislation in question was being carried by then-Sen. Nick Spano, a Republican in a marginal lower Hudson Valley district whom Bruno very much wanted to protect.

Earlier in 2004, the labor-backed Working Families Party endorsed Spano over his Democratic challenger, then-Westchester County Legislator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, providing him with the razor-think 18-vote margin necessary to win re-election.

Two years later, the WFP sat out a re-match between Stewart-Cousins and Spano, which Stewart-Cousins subsequently won. (She’s now the minority leader of the Senate – the first woman to hold that post – who is often at odds with Cuomo. Spano did time on a federal tax evasion charge, and is now a lobbyist who supports Cuomo).

It’s unclear if new Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan could be convinced to give on the minimum wage in 2016.

That might help the Republicans in the general election – especially in a presidential year when more Democrats will be coming out to vote than usual – but would no doubt further inflame the conservative grassroots, which is already not a fan of Flanagan due to his “yes” vote on the SAFE Act.

Senate GOP Will Keep Pushing SAFE Act Changes

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Republicans will continue to push for changes to the gun control law known as the SAFE Act after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and Majority Leader John Flanagan reached an agreement to not enact a provision of the measure.

“We’ll continue our efforts for changes to the SAFE Act,” said Sen. Pat Gallivan, a Republican from western New York. “I have every reason to believe this is good for the membership of conference and that that’s something Senator Flanagan will advocating for as well.”

Cuomo and Flanagan in a two-way memorandum of understanding agreed to not fund an ammunition purchasing database that State Police had struggled to develop during the course of the year.

The agreement comes after Flanagan, a Long Island lawmaker, had pledged to upstate members and Republican county leaders, to enact SAFE Act in part to alleviate concerns he had supported the measure in 2013.

“While this is a small step, this is a step indeed on doing something about the SAFE Act,” Gallivan said.

Most upstate conference members had backed Syracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco in the May leadership vote to replace Dean Skelos as majority leader.

Flanagan, after he was elected by the conference, held a floor vote on a package of SAFE Act changes that were unlikely to be taken up in the Democratic-led Assembly.

The MOU with Cuomo’s office, however, has won kudos from upstate Republicans.

“I think it’s a credit to Senator Flanagan that he has listened to the membership, the Senate Republicans and those who are concerned about the SAFE Act,” Gallivan said in a Capital Tonight interview. “Senator Flanagan, he’s indicated to the membership, his role as majority leader is to represent the interests of all the members of the conference. He’s a good listener and he’s been listening to all of us.”

41st SD Battle Gets An Early Start

Possession of the Hudson Valley’s 41st Senatorial District has changed hands several times in recent years.

After more than three decades in Albany, former Republican Sen. Stephen Saland lost a tight race in 2012 to Democrat Terry Gipson, thanks in no small part to the presence of Conservative Neil DiCarlo, who opposed Saland’s “yes” vote on gay marriage, on the ballot.

Two years later, then-Sen. Gipson lost the 41st SD race to the district’s current representative, Republican Sen. Sue Serino.

The district is likely to be a battleground again next year as the Democrats and Republicans stage yet another re-match for control of the upper house. In fact, it looks like the fight is already well underway there, even though there are technically no announced 2016 candidates.

Gipson has been positioning himself to run again, putting out a lot of press releases lately and weighing in on local – and not so local – issues. His erstwhile Democratic colleague seem interested in seeing him take another shot at the chamber, too.

Gipson hasn’t denied his interest is running for public office again – perhaps even for his old Senate seat. But he hasn’t yet formally announced any plans.

Apparently, the Senate Republicans aren’t taking any chances.

A former Gipson staffer, Matthew Martini, last week announced on Facebook that he had just made a campaign contribution to his old boss, and urged others to do the same.

“I don’t believe nasty robo-calls or letters to the editors (sic) bashing Terry Gipson, because I was there and on his staff in the NYS Senate,” Martini wrote. “This is the typical nonsense that the NYS GOP pulls every political season. Contribute $20.16 today to show Terry you want him BACK in the NYS Senate!”

Several attempts to reach Martini since his post were unsuccessful.

Asked whether the Senate GOP is behind robocalls in the 41st SD, the conference’s spokesman Scot Reif, declined to discuss what he deemed “internal operations.”

He did, however, email the following statement:

“Terry Gipson was soundly rejected by the voters because they knew that he was just a proxy for the New York City radicals and Mayor de Blasio, who circumvented campaign finance laws and laundered a quarter of a million dollars to his failed re-election campaign.”

Terry Gipson may be the only person in the Hudson Valley who doesn’t realize his positions are out of touch with the values of the hardworking families who live there.”

Personally, I take that as a “yes,” but I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Senate Republicans, Cuomo Administration Agree To SAFE Act Changes (Updated)

Senate Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo administration’s agreed to key changes in the sweeping 2013 gun control law known as the SAFE Act, according to a memorandum of understanding released on Friday afternoon.

“This is a clear victory for Second Amendment rights in New York,” said Sen. James Seward, a Republican from Oneonta whose district includes the gun manufacturer Remington Arms. “While I will continue to work for full repeal of the poorly crafted, over-reaching NY-SAFE Act, this is a significant accomplishment – and constitutes the only modifications that have been made to this law since it was enacted two years ago over my objection.”

The document, signed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Director of Operations Jim Malatras includes an agreement to suspend portions of the SAFE Act that created a statewide database for ammunition purchasers to undergo a background check — a project that was hampered by technical glitches since state officials sought to implement it.

The MOU stipulates that no state money will be used to maintain the database, while noting the leadership of the State Police has acknowledged there is a “lack of technology” for maintaining the database.

State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico earlier in the year told state lawmakers the database essentially remained a work in progress even as a deadline to develop it had come and gone.

At the same time, Seward’s release said a ban on the Internet sale of ammunition has been lifted. Cuomo’s office said that is not the case, and a reading of the MOU does not show any changes to that provision.

The agreement itself is not a wholesale upending of the law, which has angered gun-rights advocates and owners across the state.

Flanagan in May had pledged to push for SAFE Act changes after he replaced fellow Long Island Republican Dean Skelos as the majority leader, who stepped down following a corruption arrest.

Flanagan immediately faced skepticism from upstate Republicans for his vote in favor of the SAFE Act, but legislative changes to the measure were always unlikely given Democratic majority in the Assembly.

Cuomo has long touted the passage of the SAFE Act as one of his most significant legislative achievements during his first term. Cuomo’s name does not appear on the memorandum.

The package, which included measures aimed at illegal weapons as well as expanding penalties for those who kill first responders, was approved in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that left 19 people dead.

Updated: Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy blasted the two-way agreement.

“I guess we don’t have the toughest gun laws in the nation anymore,” Murphy said. “This two way agreement is outrageous. I’m looking forward to the MOUs on the minimum wage, paid family leave, protecting a woman’s right to choose and the numerous other things the Senate Republicans are blocking.”

Republican Sen. Michael Nozzolio in a statement said Speaker Carl Heastie “refused” to participate in the negotiations over the SAFE Act changes.

Updated X2: Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi in a statement downplayed the changes in a statement.

“No provision of the SAFE Act — including the ban on Internet ammunition sales– has been rolled back or altered due to this memorandum,” he said. “This simply acknowledges what has been said previously — the ammunition sales database will not be prematurely introduced until the technology is ready and it does not create an undue burden for business owners.”

Second Amendment advocates like Republican Assemblyman Bill Nojay, meanwhile, reacted to the news by saying the MOU has little practical impact.

“The MOU therefore has all the significance of the Governor and Mr. Flanagan announcing that tomorrow the sun will rise in the East,” Nojay said. “We all knew that, it was going to happen anyhow and taking credit for it is political grandstanding.”

Mou – Ny Safe Act – 07-10-15 by Nick Reisman

Astorino: Give Flanagan A Chance

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Rob Astorino did not see eye to eye with Senate Republicans when he ran for governor last year.

His campaign was in open disagreement with the majority leader at the time, Nassau County’s Dean Skelos over working too closely with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

A top Astorino advisor even contemplated running for a suburban state Senate seat and published a blistering essay critical of the GOP conference.

But now, Skelos is out of the Senate’s leadership structure following his arrest in May on corruption charges, and was replaced by Suffolk County Sen. John Flanangan.

For Astorino, the new majority leader gets an “incomplete,” but in a Capital Tonight interview on Thursday, he spoke highly of Flanagan’s prospects as a leader in Albany.

“It’s an incomplete. He just started,” said Astorino, the Westchester County executive. “He took over in terrible circumstances, so give him time. I think John Flanagan can be and is a great senator for Long Island and he can be a great leader.”

Restive upstate advocates who supported Syracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco’s bid for majority leader where disappointed to see another downstate member ascend to the majority leader post in a chamber that is the last lever of power controlled statewide by Republicans.

At the same time, they point to Flanagan’s vote in favor of the 2013 gun control law known as the SAFE Act (Flanagan and the Senate passed a package of SAFE Act changes at the end of session, but those measures were unlikely to be taken up in the Democratic-led Assembly).

Astorino, who is contemplating a second run for governor in 2018, urged Republicans in the chamber to take a more assertive posture on policy with Cuomo and Democrats in Albany writ large.

“The Republican Senate has to stand for something,” he said.

For now, Astorino remains critical of Albany and the $142 billion budget approved in April.

“I’m still very passionate about most of the things that I talked about last year and most of the things that I talked about, I’ve been vindicated on,” Astorino said, pointing to the series of corruption arrests and the state’s low rankings in economic studies.

Astorino may have some competition for the Republican nomination in 2018: Rep. Chris Gibson, a Hudson Valley Republican, is also considering a bid for governor in 2018.