State GOP Selects New National Committee Member

The New York Republican Committee on Thursday picked Charles Joyce, the president of a company that constructs oil and gas pipelines, for a spot on the Republican National Committee, state GOP officials announced.

Joyce, a Wellsville resident, replaces Bill Powers, a former state party chairman who recently moved to Florida.

“I’d like to thank Chairman Cox and the members of the New York Republican State Committee for their vote of confidence,” Joyce said in a statement. “Thanks to Chairman Cox and his team, New York Republicans are in the strongest position we’ve been in years. We’re poised to take back statewide offices, send more Republicans to Congress, pick up more seats in the Assembly and win an outright majority in the State Senate. I look forward to working with Chairman Cox and Committeewoman Rich to continue to build our Party at the state and national level.”

Joyce is also a frequent Republican donor in New York, and state Chairman Ed Cox said in a statement that he’s been “instrumental” in helping rebuilding the part in New York.

“I’m thrilled that Charlie has agreed to serve our Party in an increased capacity both here in New York and at the national level,” said NYGOP Chair Ed Cox. “Charlie’s support for the Party over the last several election cycles has been instrumental in rebuilding our Party – the RNC has a worthy successor to former State Party Chair Bill Powers.”

Ex-Councilman Halloran Guilty On All Five Counts

A jury today found ex-Queens Councilman Dan Halloran guilty on all five counts of the corruption charges he faced stemming in part from his role in a bribery scheme to sell the GOP line in the 2013 NYC mayoral primary.

US Attorney Preet Bharara issued the following statement:

“With today’s verdict of guilty reached by an impartial and independent jury, the clean-up of corruption in New York continues in courtrooms. As the jury unanimously found, Daniel Halloran played a key role in two distinct political corruption schemes: first, for $20,000, Halloran was willing and able to serve as a go-between to deliver bribes to political party officials, and second he also took nearly $25,000 in cash and illegal campaign contributions to steer $80,000 in City Council money to other bribe payers.”

“Dan Halloran was the lone defendant in the trial that just ended in his conviction, but he is unfortunately not alone in a crowded field of New York officials who are willing to sell out their offices for self-enrichment.”

“This Office will continue the vigorous prosecution of political corruption to secure for the people of New York – regardless of party affiliation – what they deserve: the honest labors of their elected representatives. And we will continue to partner with the FBI, whose outstanding investigative work in this case was instrumental to achieving a just result.”

Halloran, a Republican, was charged with taking more than $20,000 in payoffs from two undercover FBI operatives posing as corrupt developers in exchange for agreeing to funnel public cash to them and to help bribe Republican NYC county leaders to allow Democratic Sen. Malcolm Smith, also of Queens, to run Row B in the party’s mayoral primary.

(That race was eventually won by former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, who lost the general election in a landslide to the winner of the Democratic primary, current NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio).

Testifying in his own defense, Halloran admitted taking the cash, but said he considered the money payment for consulting services and never procured any public funds for the real estate developers/FBI agents.

Originally, Halloran and Smith were once co-defendants, along with former Queens GOP official Vince Tabone. But attorneys for Smith and Tabone opted to accept a mistrial due to a procedural error having to do with Yiddish phone recordings, while Halloran’s attorney decided to proceed as scheduled.

Smith and Tabone will be re-tried in January, and today’s verdict perhaps is not the best omen for them. In the meantime, Smith is seeking re-election, though he has been cast out from both the Democratic Senate conference (which he once led) and the IDC.

GOP Mayor Hoping to Replace Maziarz Gets Two More Endorsements

North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt picked up two more endorsements Wednesday night in his bid to replace retiring New York State Senator George Maziarz. Ortt was endorsed by the Conservative and the Independence Parties in the 62nd State Senate District.

“What Albany needs is someone who will bring the leadership of a veteran and experience of a chief executive to represent the people of Niagara, Orleans and Monroe Counties,” said Ortt.

Ortt has already received the backing of the Republican Party.  To appeal to conservatives Ortt has not only promoted his combat service in Afghanistan, he also pledged this week to repeal the New York SAFE Act.

Senator Maziarz, who voted against the SAFE Act, has been criticized by conservatives for not doing enough to repeal it.  Maziarz announced his retirement this month just days before it was revealed a federal investigation was launched into his campaign spending.

“As Senator, I will work toward a smaller, more common sense government that respects the rights of our citizens and the rights of my neighbors. That’s what we have done in North Tonawanda, together, and what we will work to do in Albany,” Ortt added.

Conservative Gia Arnold is challenging Ortt in a Republican Primary.  Niagara Falls resident Johnny Destino is running on the Democratic line.

New York’s 62nd Senate District includes all of Niagara and Orleans counties, as well as the towns of Sweden and Ogden.

Grisanti Doubles Down vs. Undocumented Immigrants

Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti, who is facing a GOP primary battle this fall and so far does not have the support of local Conservatives, is continuing to make political hay from various Democratic proposals to assist undocumented immigrants in New York.

His latest salvo is an on-line petition against a plan, introduced just as the 2014 session drew to a close by Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera, called the New York is Home Act, which would enable nearly 3 million noncitizens who meet specific criteria to apply for citizenship with New York’s Office for New Americans.

“This is the most outrageous proposal I have seen during my four years in the Senate,” Grisanti said in a statement released this morning. “It would not only allow illegal immigrants to vote and run for office in state and local elections, it would allow them to get driver’s licenses, serve on juries, and become eligible for Medicaid.”

“It would also allow them to receive in-state college tuition rates and financial aid. The New York City liberals never seem to learn that middle-class families are sick and tired of funding their politically motivated giveaway programs. I will oppose this legislation every step of the way.”

This is a continuing theme for the Democrat-turned-Republican Western New York senator, whose very first TV ad of this year’s campaign (released back in April) focused on his opposition to the DREAM Act, which would help the children of undocumented immigrants access state cash to attend college. Grisanti voted “no” on the DREAM Act when it was brought to the Senate floor in March and failed to pass.

Grisanti is typically considered one of the more moderate members of the Senate Republican conference - a reputation earned by ”yes” votes on two bills pushed by Cuomo: same-sex marriage and the gun control measure known as the SAFE Act.

He faced a Republican primary in 2012 that was backed by Carl Paladino, the Buffalo businessman who ran for governor on the GOP and Conservative lines in 2010. Grisanti won re-election that year in a crowded three-way race that included Democratic and Conservative Party candidates. (He had lost the Conservative Party’s support thanks to his support of gay marriage – ironically, the party backed a Democrat that year - but is the only one of the four GOP senators who voted “yes” on the measure still sitting in the Senate chamber).

This year, the Conservatives have again taken a pass on Grisanti, backing a palceholder candidate pending the outcome of a GOP primary, in which Grisanti faces a challenge from attorney Kevin Stocker. Sotcker failed in 2012 to knock the senator from his perch.  But Stocker is angering local GOP leaders by trying to wage a write-in campaign on the line belonging to the WFP, which is working hard to flip the Senate into Democratic hands.

If he succeeds, Stocker would challenge Democrat Marc Panepinto on the WFP line in September while also running against Grisanti on the GOP line.

Grisanti has the Independence Party line, which means he’s assured at least one line on the November general election ballot. (Rus Thompson, the Paladino-backed Independence Party member who had been threatening to run, won’t be appearing anywhere on the ballot either in September or November).

Paladino Calls Maziarz ‘Poster Child For Term Limits’

Several Western New York Republicans have come to the defense of retiring New York State Senator George Maziarz in recent days; former GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Carl Paladino is not one of them.

“I think George is probably a poster child for term limits,” Paladino said. 

Maziarz has served in the Niagara County based 62nd state senate seat for two decades.  It’s a tenure Paladino believes was too long.

“After a while they start to feel like a king, you know King George,” said Paladino. 

It’s a characterization the Buffalo businessman has repeated over the years, and one that now appears to be gaining traction.  At about the same time Maziarz announced his retirement, reports surfaced the U.S. Attorney’s Office was looking into his campaign spending.

What started as a Moreland Commission report that showed $140,000 in unspecified campaign expenditures continues to expand.  The Albany Times Union reported Friday Federal investigators are now examining unitemized checks that were made out to cash, but never reported to the state board of elections.

The latest questions center on funds from the Maziarz campaign account that were reportedly given to a youth softball team and thousands of dollars in purchases from a WNY business.  Maziarz Campaign Treasurer, Laureen Jacobs, has been asked to turn over documents but her attorney wouldn’t provide any further details.

And although charges have not been filed, Paladino isn’t giving Maziarz the benefit of the doubt. 

“In my book, he was the guy that held Niagara County down,” Paladino said. 

Paladino believes the investigation into Maziarz campaign spending is nothing compared to what he didn’t do.  That criticism has to do with what Paladino describes as more than $1 Billion from the New York State Power Authority’s budget. 

That money, according to Paladino, was generated through the sale of unused allocated power.  Money that Paladino insists should have been spent on development in Western New York.

“George turned the other way as Cuomo was sweeping the account for the last four years.  He never ensured that that money would stay here for Western New York’s benefit.  That’s the kind of stuff that bothered me about George.”

It may take some time before Maziarz’s legacy is clear.  While the jury is still out in the court of public opinion, Paladino made up his mind long ago.  

“George is going to walk away with a million, one hundred thousand dollars in his campaign account and Western New York is no further ahead today than it was when George originally took office,” Paladino added.


Gibson: ‘Common Sense, Not Common Core’

Rep. Chris Gibson may have taken a pass on running on the “Stop Common Core” ballot line being created by GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, but he’s doubling down on his opposition to the controversial curriculum with a new web video that touts a “common sense” approach to education reform.

The video, which the Republican congressman released earlier today, is light on details. It features Jennifer Pelesz, a parent from Valatie, who touts the fact that the congressman lives locally and understands her concerns about Common Core, and Gibson’s wife, Mary Jo, who says that testing kids as a means to evaluate teachers’ performance is “not an effective way to really evaluate.”

“As a parent of three children attending our local public school, I understand firsthand the necessity of ensuring local teachers and parents have input in our education system,” Congressman Gibson said in a statement. “Washington mandates, excessive standardized testing and New York State’s implementation of Common Core have significantly hurt the education of our students. I am proud to lead efforts in the United States Congress to reduce unnecessary standardized testing and will continue to fight to increase the influence local administrators, teachers, and parents have on their child’s education.”

Common Core has been largely a state-level issue, but Gibson has been voicing opposition to the standards – and to what he believes is over-testing of public school students – for some time.

Gibson is facing a challenge from Democratic political newcomer Sean Eldridge. In the most recent fundraising quarter, Gibson out-raised his opponent, who is relying heavily on his personal wealth to fuel his campaign.

Senate Dems All In With Party-Switching Marcellino Opponent

Emboldened by the recent setbacks experienced by the Senate Republicans, the Senate Democrats are expanding their reach to support challengers to veteran incumbents previously believed to be nearly impossible to dislodge – including Long Island Sen. Carl Marcellino.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and DSCC Chairman Mike Gianaris will be on hand tomorrow afternoon when Sea Cliff Mayor Bruce Kennedy – a Republican who only recently joined up with the Democrats – formally kicks off his campaign against the 71-year-old Marcellino, who has held his seat since 1995.

Kennedy had been slated to challenge Democratic Assemblyman Charles Lavine – as a life-long member of the Republican Party. He was officially nominated by the Nassau County GOP (run by former state GOP Chairman Joe Mondello), and everything.

But the local Republicans pulled their support of the mayor after the Conservative Party objected to the fact that Kennedy had, in his mayoral capacity, officiated over two same-sex marriages and refused to repudiate the 2011 Marriage Equality Act (passed with the assistance of four “yes” votes from Republican senators) that made gay marriage legal in New York.

Kennedy was upset that Marcellino failed to speak out on his behalf, or even attempt to intercede with party leaders after they yanked their support for the mayor’s Assembly campaign. “I was abandoned by the party,” Kennedy told the North Word News. “Why would I want to be a part of a party that deems me unfit for obeying the law?”

Kennedy also said that his values “as they relate to human rights do not reflect views of the Nassau County Republican leadership,” and he believes elected more Democrats to the Senate would be good for Long Island residents because they “tend to be more in touch with the middle class.”

Democrats have a slight enrollment edge in the 5th SD, with 78,515 enrolled members to the GOP’s 74,250 as of April 1, according to the state Board of Elections. There are also 3,133 enrolled Conservatives, 9,917 members of the Independence Party, 731 Working Families Party members and 58,088 “blanks” who are not affiliated with any political party.

Thanks, But No Thanks

Maybe there’s something in the water that Republicans have been drinking these days, but the party’s would-be Senate candidates are dropping like flies.

Sen. George Maziarz seems to have sparked a trend by filing petition signatures to run on the GOP line in the fall and then declining the nomination at the very last minute, sending party leaders scrambling to find a replacement. No fewer than four other Republicans have done the exact same thing this week. (Monday was the deadline for accepting or declining nominations).

In at least one case, the candidate’s decision to bow out appears to be a strategic move by the Senate Republicans in hopes of finding someone stronger to run for a seat they very much need to keep – especially now that they have four empty seats to defend.

Anthony Senft, a Conservative Islip town board member who was supposed to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Lee Zeldin as he seeks to oust Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop, announced suddenly that he has terminated his candidacy and officially declined the GOP, Conservative and Independence Party lines.

“While difficult, my family and I reached this decision over the weekend and I informed Senate Leader Dean Skelos and the local party chairmen of my decision,” Senft said in a statement released earlier today.

“…The recent criminal acts of dumping at a Town of Islip park require that I shift my focus from running a senate campaign and direct my leadership and energy into the complete remediation and redevelopment of our park. As a Councilman for the Town of Islip I, along with my fellow Town Board Members, will continue to work for the constituents including working to repair the damage caused by those who have committed environmental crimes in our community. I will help ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

The dumping scandal to which Senft refers was really starting to take a toll on his candidacy – especially since he’s the town board’s liaison to the parks department and his erstwhile Democratic opponent, Adrienne Esposito, is an environmental activist and has been using the issue as a rallying cry for her campaign.

According to Newsday, GOP leaders say Islip Supervisor Tom Croci, who is just back from a yearlong Navy Reserve stint in Afghanistan, is their first choice to replace Senft on the ballot.

Keep in mind: The Republicans also have to defend the seat vacated by former Sen. Chuck Fuschillo, who made a surprise announcement on New Year’s Eve that he would be departing the Senate – effective immediately – to take a lucrative post in the private sector.

Also on Long Island, another veteran member of the GOP conference, Sen. Carl Marcellino, is suddenly facing a challenge from Sea Cliff Mayor Bruce Kennedy, who has been a registered Republican for his entire adult life, but just recently received the Nassau County Democratic Committee’s nomination to run and will be switching parties.

Kennedy was supposed to be the GOP candidate for the seat held by Democratic Assemblyman Charles Lavine. But Republican leaders withdrew their support of him after Conservative Party leaders raised objections that the mayor had officiated two same sex marriages (in keeping with the law, by the way) and refusing to endorse repeal of the 2011 Marriage Equality Act. Kennedy told a local newspaper that he was upset Marcellino had not spoken up in his defense and he felt “abandoned” by the party.

In nearby Queens, two Republicans declined to challenge sitting Democrats. Former NYC Council Minority Leader Tom Ognibene, who was also briefly the 2010 running mate for gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino (until he lost the GOP primary to former Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards), circulated petitions to run against Democratic Sen. Joe Addabbo, but then declined the nomination.

During a brief telephone interview this afternoon, Ognibene insisted he wasn’t a mere placeholder candidate, saying he had been willing to run if the Senate GOP would have provided him with resources. But in the end, the leadership asked him to step aside in favor of an attorney named Ken Sullivan. Ognibene said he was happy to abdicate in favor of someone younger with more “energy,” saying it’s time for the “younger generation to step up.”

Also in Queens, Tim Furey, a Republican who had circulated petitions to challenge Sen. Tony Avella, declined the party’s nomination, a Queens source confirmed. Avella, of course, already has his hands full with a Democratic primary challenge from former NYC Comptroller John Liu, who has refused to drop his campaign even though the IDC – of which Avella is the newest member – has agreed to end its power-sharing deal with the GOP and re-join forces with the regular Democrats.

Further up the Hudson, the candidate Senate Republicans had hoped to run against Democratic Sen. George Latimer – PR executive Jean Maisano – filed petitions, but subsequently decided against taking the plunge. The GOP tried and failed to get some more familiar names to challenge Latimer, approaching former Yonkers Mayor and onetime US Senate candidate John Spencer and two-time, self-funding Senate candidate Bob Cohen, but neither was interested.

A Senate GOP source cautioned against reading too much into the phenomenon of candidates deciding not to take a shot at running this fall, insisting that it isn’t a chain reaction caused by the spate of bad news to hit the conference as of late – starting with the indictment of the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. Tom Libous, and gathering steam with the abrupt retirement announcement by Maziarz, whose campaign spending is under investigation by the US attorney’s office.

The Democrats, not surprisingly, say the GOP is in a tailspin, and things are only going to get worse from here. But the Republicans continue to insist this will be a strong year for them, and they are merely winnowing down their candidate list to a handful of strong contenders who can win if they have sufficient support and resources.

From Bad to Worse for Senate GOP

From today’s Morning Memo (item I):

Sen. George Maziarz’s abrupt announcement that he will not be seeking re-election this fall could not come at a worse time for the Senate GOP.

In order to re-take the majority, the Republicans must now do the following:

- Win battles for four open seats currently or previously held by Republicans – Maziarz, Greg Ball (Hudson Valley, retiring), Chuck Fuschillo (Long Island, retired) and Lee Zeldin (Long Island, running for Congress).

- Defeat at least two of the three Democratic marginals they are targeting – Sens. Cecilia Tkaczyk in the Capital Region, Terry Gipson in the Hudson Valley and Ted O’Brien in Rochester.

- Successfully defend two of their own marginals who are being targeted by the Democrats: Sens. Jack Martins (Long Island) and Mark Grisanti (Buffalo).

- Respond to any surprise dark horse races that pop up unexpectedly.

The GOP faced a difficult task before Maziarz dropped his political bomb Sunday night – especially given the IDC’s defection back to the arms of the so-called regular Democrats, and the newly-formed labor/NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio/Gov. Andrew Cuomo alliance that is all in on assisting the Democrats in their quest to take the majority.

It was bad enough that the Republicans’ second highest-ranked member – Sen. Tom Libous – was indicted on charges of lying to the FBI, making himself a target for the Democrats.

With Maziarz leaving under a cloud, the GOP’s task has become exponentially more difficult.

Speculation about the real motivation behind the Niagara County senator’s decision to decline the GOP nomination has kicked into high gear.

Regardless of Maziarz’s insistence that he is merely “just tired” and in need of a change after close to 20 years of driving back and forth to Albany, the news is being tied to the belief that the US attorney is looking into his campaign finances.

“My decision has nothing to do with any investigation,” the senator told The Buffalo News. “People always suggest things like that when someone is retiring. The U.S. attorney is looking into it. Let him look into it. I have nothing to hide.”

US Attorney Preet Bharara has taken over the unfinished investigations of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s now-defunct Moreland Commission.

According to a May City & State report, the commission had been looking into $140,000 worth of unspecified expenditures by Maziarz’s campaign between 2008 and 2013 that went to pay for everything from a clown to rental to wine, flowers and specialty chocolates.

The rumor mill – fueled by gleeful Western New York Democrats – kicked into high gear following the resignation last week of two high-level Maziarz staffers.

Talk of subpoenas and the senator’s imminent resignation was all over town, though Maziarz himself was denying to reporters as late as Saturday that anything was afoot.

It’s expected that North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt will be the preferred Republican candidate to replace Maziarz on the ballot.

We’ll surely hear more about this as the day wears on.

Maziaarz had faced a primary this September from Gia Arnold of Holley, whose campaign is largely focused on repeal of the SAFE Act. He also was facing a general election challenge from Niagara Falls attorney Johnny Destino, who lost to the senator in the 2012 GOP primary. Since then, Destino has switched his enrollment to the Democratic Party, and intended to challenge Maziarz in November on Row A.

Pataki And Former Aides Unite for Cahill

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Cahill Event at the Albany Barge by liz_benjamin6490