Kolb To Heastie: Drop By Any Time

carlheastieFrom the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is deep into his first upstate tour since he ascended to power this past February, pledging to eventually visit every single district of his Democratic members north of New York City to learn their issues and meet their constituents.

This is all part of the more inclusive and rank-and-file-driven approach the Bronx lawmaker promised when he succeeded former Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose top-down management style angered many Democrats – especially newcomers who wanted more of a say.

But so far, new leadership in the chamber hasn’t brought much change to one much-maligned group at the state Capitol: The Assembly Republicans, arguably the Legislature’s least powerful conference.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said during a Capital Tonight interview last night that he would like to see Heastie pay attention to all of upstate – not just the areas represented by Democrats. More >

Republicans To Roll Out SD-52 Candidate On Monday

sd52The Republican candidate in the special election replace former Sen. Tom Libous will be announced on Monday, Broome County GOP Chairman Bijoy Datta said Thursday afternoon in a statement.

The news comes as Democrat Barbara Fiala, a former Broome County, launches her bid today for the 52nd Senate district, which encompasses four counties in the Southern Tier.

In his statement, Datta took a swipe at Fiala’s early support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who endorsed less than 24 hours after Libous was found guilty of lying to the FBI and automatically removed from his seat. More >

DeFrancisco Appointed Deputy Majority Leader

DeFranFlanSyracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco has been named the deputy majority leader of the state Senate, the GOP conference on Thursday announced.

The appointment of DeFrancisco to the number two post in the Senate brings regional balance to the Republican leadership, but it also extends an olive branch to the faction of GOP lawmakers who supported the Syracuse lawmaker over Majority Leader John Flanagan of Suffolk County on Long Island.

“John DeFrancisco is a key part of our leadership team and a staunch advocate for the needs of every region of the state, including Upstate New York,” Flanagan said in a statement. “As a colleague and a friend, I am confident he will be a strong Deputy Majority Leader whose knowledge and experience will help move our pro-growth, pro-taxpayer agenda forward in the coming months and years. We have made real progress in moving this state in a new and better direction, but we have a lot of important work left to do. I am pleased to name Senator DeFrancisco to this position and look forward to continuing to work with him in this new capacity.”

More >

Despite Reformers’ Calls, A Special Ethics Session Seems Unlikely

libous1From the Morning Memo:

Add Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to the list of state officials who do not think it is likely lawmakers will approve new ethics legislation in the wake of two convictions in the Legislature.

“I don’t think it’s tolerated right now,” Flanagan said while in Cooperstown on Wednesday. “You see people who are getting prosecuted, who are getting indicted, who are getting convicted. Frankly, it’s bad for everybody.”

Last week, both Republican Tom Libous and Democrat John Sampson were convicted in separate in corruption cases, forcing their ouster from the Senate.

Republicans are pushing to retain Libous’s seat in the Southern Tier, while Flanagan acknowledged that winning Sampson’s Brooklyn district would be a “very, very, very uphill climb.” More >

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.