Skelos On Taxing The Rich

Here’s a quick addendum to the budget debate this week at the Capitol and, by some extension, to the question of overhauling the state’s campaign-finance laws through a public matching system.

The $137.9 billion budget created a pilot public financing program for the state comptroller’s race, a move that good-government reformers and advocates who support a statewide system say is woefully too little.

Public financing advocates pointed out this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision provides even more evidence New York’s campaign finance laws need to be changed.

To hear Gov. Andrew Cuomo tell it, the agreement to include only the comptroller’s race was something of a breakthrough, considering deep-seated Republican opposition in the Senate.

Cuomo in multiple ways on Monday told reporters he can’t just conjure votes out of thin air on the issue.

Indeed, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos in a floor speech at the end of Monday night’s budget debate pushed back against what he called a “tax the rich mantra” coming from Democratic lawmakers. His concern is that high taxes are forcing the wealthy to take their money to other states (There’s some evidence that is contrary to this claim, others disagree).

In doing so, he singled out wealthy New Yorkers for their charitable contributions, who just so happened to be major campaign contributors as well (and not just for Republicans).

“But when somebody’s sick and they have to get world-class medical treatment, I’m glad Ken Langone was successful and we have the Langone Medical Center,” Skelos said. And I’m glad Sandy Weill was successful in his life so we have Cornell-Weill Medical Center. And if you want world-class cancer treatment… you go to Sloan-Kettering where the Koch Brothers have contributed $100 million to that hospital so there can be world-class treatment and world-class research not just there, but at all the institutions I mentioned.”

Sitting next to him, Deputy GOP Leader Tom Libous — who is receiving cancer treatments at Sloan — nodded in agreement.

Skelos’ remarks begin at the 9:45 mark in this video.

Langone has emerged as a prominent Republican backer for Cuomo who had apologized last month after comparing the income inequality movement to the rise of Nazism in Germany.

The Koch Brothers, of course, have become Exhibit A in advocates arguments that there is too much money in politics.

NRCC Slams Maffei For Second Home Purchase

Rather predictably, the NRCC is taking aim at Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei for buying a $699,000 second home in Virginia, saying the purchase shows he’s out of touch with his constituents back home in Central New York, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet.

The GOP’s statement notes that Maffei lost his seat in year – like this one – when there isn’t a presidential race to boost turnout in this Democrat-dominated state. The congressman is apparently back in the Republicans’ crosshairs now that local GOP and Conservative leaders have settled on a challenger, former federal prosecutor John Katko, to take on Maffei in the general election. (Katko does face a primary challenge from Syracuse businessman Ian Hunter).

“D.C. Dan Maffei apparently loves the Washington life so much that he decided to put down roots there,” said NRCC spokesman Ian Prior. “Maffei will certainly have lots of time to spend in his new $700,000 home after November 4th when Central New Yorkers tell him he can stay in Washington, just not as their representative.”

According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, Maffei and his wife, Abby Davidson Maffei, split their time between Washington, D.C. and Syracuse to accomodate both of their work schedules.

The couple had been renting an apartment near the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and also owns a home in Syracuse’s Valley neighborhood, which they purchased last year after selling a house in DeWitt to Joan O’Donnell Dadey, wife of Onondaga County Republican Chairman Tom Dadey.

Maffei told the Post-Standard that rents in the D.C. area are so high that it made more sense, financially speaking, for him to rent. He and his wife are expecting their first child in June.

Members of Congress receive a base salary of $175,000. As of last June, Maffei was one of the least wealthy members of Congress, thanks to his student loan debt.

Republicans Plan Presence At Somos

For a number of years Republicans at the state and national levels have been trying to figure out how they can improve their standing with Latino voters – one of the most rapidly minority growing constituencies that traditionally has supported Democrats.

Here in New York, the state GOP has been working on its Latino outreach, and the state Senate Republican conference has held an annual Hispanic conference since at least 2011. Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos has also traveled several times to Puerto Rico to attend the post-November elections Somos el Futuro conference, even though it’s widely viewed as a Democratic event.

There will also be a Republican presence at the spring Somos being held this weekend in Albany. The state GOP announced today that it is hosting a free reception tonight in celebration of Somos. It’s only the second time in the party’s history that it has hosted a Somos event. The first was at the Puerto Rico conference in November 2013.

Tonight’s reception will be held at 8:30 p.m. at the Albany Hilton, which is the unofficial home base of Somos. It will be attended by state GOP Chairman Ed Cox, Assembly Members Nicole Malliotakis and Peter Lopez and Westchester County Executive and gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino.

A source close to John Cahill, a former top aide to ex-Gov. George Pataki who has been mulling a run for state attorney general, is also expected to attend.

Astorino’s plan to be at Somos rankled some Democratic legislators, who accused him of pandering to the Latino community by endorsing only half of the DREAM Act – the piece that doesn’t use public funds to assist college bound New Yorkers who are not documented citizens.

Sen. Jose Peralta and Assemblyman Francisco Moya, who are sponsoring the DREAM Act, said Astorino should not be allowed to attend Somos. But Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, chair of the state Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force, said Somos is a nonpartisan event that is open to the public and all are welcome. He did say, however, that Astorino would not be given a prominent role – or even necessarily the ability to speak – at any official Somos events.

Tenney Circulating NY-22 Petitions

Though she hasn’t yet formally declared her candidacy, it appears Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney is moving forward with a primary challenge to Republican Rep. Richard Hanna.

A source forwarded one of Tenney’s petitions that he said is being circulated in NY-22 by a Tea Party group. The assemblywoman and her conservative allies are apparently seeking volunteers to carry petitions in the district, which partially overlaps with the serpentine assembly district she currently represents (and was drawn into during the last round of redistricting, compliments of the Assembly GOP leadership, with whom Tenney doesn’t always see eye-to-eye).

In a brief telephone interview, Tenney said she still hasn’t made up her mind about running, but recognized she needed to be out with petitions if she wanted the option of doing so. (Due to the court-ordered June 24 congressional primary date, petitioning started on March 4 and only runs through April 10). The assemblywoman said she has “a couple more people, things that are going to go one way or another” before she decides whether to pull the trigger on a campaign, adding: “We’re working on that today and tomorrow.”

Tenney has repeatedly confirmed she was giving serious consideration to challenging Hanna, despite being discouraged from doing so by party leaders. Hanna is one of the more moderate members of the GOP conference in the House, and Tenney has accused him of being out of step with his district, which she says is more conservative since redistricting, and also “taking populist positions as opposed to taking the positions he said he would.”

Tenney has also slammed Hanna for joining a congressional gay rights caucus and consistently supporting abortion rights during his two terms in office.

A poll conducted recently for Hanna by McLaughlin & Associates found he would defeat Tenney by a wide margain.

Hanna has survived a conservative primary challenge before. Two years ago, he easily defeated a Tea Party candidate, Michael Kicinski of Earlville, who is planning a re-match this summer. The congressman then went on to a general election victory against his Democratic challenger, Dan Lamb, a former aide to retired Rep. Maurice Hinchey.

Michael Vasquez, a former stockbroker living in Binghamton, has declared his intention to challenge Hanna, which means this will be a four-way race if Tenney gets in. Congressional petitioning started March 4 and ends April 10.

Hanna has been endorsed by seven of the eight GOP county committees in NY-22 – Tioga County so far hasn’t weighed in – and also landed the Independence Party’s nod.

Thanks to the Legislature’s refusal to move the state-level primaries to coincide with the June House primary, the assemblywoman would not necessarily have to forgo seeking re-election to her current seat if she challenges Hanna and loses. But she insisted that she hasn’t given any thought to that strategy, telling me: “ I’m not going this because I’m planning on losing, and honestly, I haven’t given (an Assembly run) a lot of thought. I haven’t even gotten on the ballot yet.”

NY-22 petition for Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney by liz_benjamin6490

Then There Were Three (In NY-21)

Item II from the Morning Memo:

A little news this morning out of the 21st Congressional District.

An email that arrived in my in-box at 5:15 a.m. revealed one of the four Republican candidates vying for their party’s nod to run for the seat of retiring Democratic Rep. Bill Owens has decided to drop out of the race.

GOP consultant and former US Marine Jamie Waller says “the time is not right” for him to run, and so he has decided to withdraw from the race and back businessman Matt Doheny instead.

This was a fairly abrupt decision. As recently as last week, Waller was preparing to circulate petitions for his congressional run.

“Matt has the strongest work ethic, the proven experience and the record to be a great representative for all of us,” Waller said.

“As a true fellow resident of the North Country, I know Matt shares my values and understands the truly dynamic needs of all communities within the 21st.”

Waller expressed disappointment with Doheny’s main opponent, former Bush administration aide Elise Stefanik, saying she “fails to be truthful” with radio ads that claim she’s the “only conservative” in the race.

Stefanik landed the endorsement of the majority of the NY-21 GOP county chairs before Doheny, who ran two unsuccessful campaigns against Owens, decided to throw his hat into the ring a third time.

Now the two Republicans are battling for support from both GOP and Conservative Party leaders. Joseph Gilbert, a retired U.S. Army major and Tea Party leader from St. Lawrence County, is the third GOP candidate.

The Democrats have selected Brooklyn documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf, who owns a house in Elizabethtown, to run in Owens’ stead.

But Woolf faces a primary from Macomb Town Councilman Stephen Burke, a former St. Lawrence County Democratic chairman.

Funke Seeks Senate Seat Against O’Brien (Updated)

Republican Rich Funke on Wednesday formally entered the race for state Senate against Democratic incumbent Sen. Ted O’Brien.

Funke, a former television reporter, released a YouTube video giving an outline of his biography.

The race could potentially be a tight one, given Funke’s name recognition in the Rochester-area Senate district.

Funke in a Facebook post said that as a reporter he had been “on the sidelines” but was prepared to “strap on my helmet and get in the huddle.”

A day before the announcement, O’Brien on Tuesday announced he was opposed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to allow prison inmates free access to higher education classes.

“In my first term in office, I’ve delivered tax relief to middle-class families and small businesses, secured investments to create jobs in our community, and fought to clean up Albany and give New Yorkers the government they deserve,” O’Brien said in a statement on Wednesday. “I’m proud of my record and am confident that the hardworking men and women of Monroe and Ontario Counties will re-elect me this fall.”

O’Brien in 2012 defeated Republican Assemblyman Sean Hanna in the general election to replace retired GOP Sen. Jim Alesi.

It looks like Hanna might be gearing up for a second attempt at the seat, which would mean a GOP primary is in the offing. He recently loaned his campaign committee $200,000 – a move widely seen as a sign he’s likely to run again this fall.

Democrats had long eyed the Alesi seat, but were unable to unseat the incumbent senator, despite a Democratic enrollment edge in his district. Alesi retired in 2012 rather than run for re-election after supporting the same-sex marriage legalization law. He also received considerable blowback in his district after taking steps to sue a couple on whose property he trespassed, falling and badly breaking his leg in the process. Alesi pulled the suit, but the damage to his reputation and popularity had already been done.

UPDATE: Carrie Andrews, minority leader of the Monroe County Legislature (where O’Brien once served) issued the following statement:

“Richard Funke is the handpicked candidate of New York’s right-wing establishment and would be another vote in the Senate against the Women’s Equality Act and protecting a woman’s right to choose. If women are to be treated as truly equal citizens under New York law, we must stand against those like Richard Funke who would enable the extremist, anti-woman policies of the Conservative Party and its allies in the Senate.”

Mahoney Avoids Astorino

When Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino brought his post-gubernatorial announcement statewide tour to Syracuse today, several high-profile local Republicans were quite obviously AWOL.

The first was Onondaga County GOP Chairman Tom Dadey, who is hosting Donald Trump at a fundraiser next week. He told the Post-Standard that Astorino “certainly would be a very strong candidate for the Republican Party,” but stopped short of issuing an endorsement.

The second was Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, who angered fellow local Republicans – including Dadey – by crossing party lines in 2010 to endorse then state AG Andrew Cuomo for governor. Mahoney has been a close Cuomo ally ever since he was elected that fall, and has even been floated as a potential replacement for LG Bob Duffy on the ticket this fall, though that would likely require her to switch her enrollment.

I spoke to Mahoney earlier today for an interview that will air on CapTon this evening. I noted her absence at Astorino’s Central New York event, and asked if she would even consider endorsing him against Cuomo.

“I fully anticipated your question, and what I want to do is as much as it’s under my power, I want to stretch the political season out as much as I can,” Mahoney replied. “…Everybody’s really working well together, and we’re geting a lot accomplished. I know when the political season gets here and everybody moves to their own corners and is afraid to make the other side look good…That’s going to come, inevitably, but I’m really trying to push that out as far as I can.”

Mahoney went on to note all the bipartisan effort that went into local projects like the ampitheater/Onondaga Lake waterfront redevelopment (coming instead of the new Syracuse sports arena) and the $15 million nano/film center announced by Cuomo this week at Mahoney’s State of the County address.

I asked when Mahoney thought she might be ready to talk politics, and she replied:

“It’s not entirely under my control, because at some point the whole world is only talking politics. I don’t think we’re there yet. There hasn’t been any buzz about politics, it has really been about these projects.”

“So, sometime between now and November it will be the political season, and we’ll have those conversations. But I really am just trying to put that off as long as I can to try to keep everybody – Republicans and Democrats – continue to try to do things that we have not seen happen in Onondaga County in the recent past. It’s been great what’s been going on, and I really wish we could just push the politics off the to the side.”

You can catch my full discussion with Mahoney at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. on Capital Tonight.

Watch Here >>

Giuliani Joins Pataki In Backing Demos Over Zeldin (Updated)

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has bucked the GOP establishment in his endorsement of George Demos over Sen. Lee Zeldin in the battle for the right to face Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop in NY-1 this fall.

In a statement released by the Demos campaign, Giuliani called the candidate “a fiscal conservative who says what he believes and believes what he says.”

“As a former prosecutor, he knows the good guys from the bad,” the former mayor continued. “He will rattle the cages of the establishment. He’ll make a difference. And George would never support Obamacare. His voice will be heard in the halls of Congress, and I predict, throughout America.”

“I am impressed with George, his passion, his intellect, and his integrity. I am proud to endorse his candidacy and prouder still to call him a friend. George Demos is one of us. And it’s time for George Demos for Congress.”

In backing Demos, Giuliani is not only at odds with the majority of Republican and Conservative leaders in NY-1, who have lined up behind Zeldin, but he’s also on the same side as former Gov. George Pataki – an early supporter of Demos, who worked for Pataki when he was in office.

Pataki and Giuliani have not always seen eye to eye over the years, either on politics or policy, though their relationship improved markedly after 9/11 and toward the end of the governor’s tenure in Albany.

The state GOP has been vehemently opposed to Demos’ candidacy (sometimes a little too vehemently). The party is very keen on putting forward a united front against Bishop, who came close to losing his seat in 2012 and continues to be the subject of an ethics investigation in connection with his campaign fundraising.

Division within the party – and between Republicans and Conservatives – has previously weakened candidates’ chances of unseating Bishop.

UPDATE: A knowledgable reader notes that Demos’ campaign is run by two consultants: Jake Menges and Rob Cole. Giuliani is longtime Menges client, Pataki a longtime Cole client. So, there’s a certain element of doing some political favors here that is worth noting.

Langworthy Still Not Ready To Endorse Astorino

Just hours after officially entering the Governor’s race, Rob Astorino announced Western New York would be one of his first stops.  Given the extra attention paid to the region by Governor Cuomo, local Republican leaders aren’t surprised.

“It’s important for any candidate for statewide office to travel the state as much as they possibly can.  They need to get in front of people.  He won’t just come here to do a press conference.  He’ll certainly meet with business leaders and people in the community,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy.

Gaining Langworthy’s support seems like a must for any candidate wanting to win the GOP nomination.  Langworthy helped engineer Carl Paladino’s unlikely primary upset out of Buffalo in 2010.

Both Astorino and potential Republican candidate Donald Trump have already appeared at fundraising events for the Erie County Republican Committee.  Langworthy told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen Wednesday he’s still not ready to make an endorsement.

“I’ve said I wouldn’t endorse candidates until they declared their formal candidacy.  Rob now has.  We’ll see if we have one candidate or two candidates,” Langworthy said.

Langworthy has been supportive of Astorino, but, like many Republican County Chairs, he’s waiting to see if Trump is still interested before giving out his coveted endorsement.

“Do we have one have candidate or two candidates that want the endorsement?  We will hear from Donald Trump on Tuesday in Syracuse as to what maybe his plans might be.  I haven’t talked to him in about a week but looking forward to hear what he has to say when he visits Syracuse,” said Langworthy.

Astorino will appear at the ZeptoMetrix Corporation headquarters on Main Street in Buffalo Thursday Afternoon with Republican Congressman, and former Erie County Executive, Chris Collins.  Collins a shareholder in the company, and was not available for comment on Wednesday.

“They have a longstanding relationship back to when they served together as county executives and they have a great appreciation of one another.  So he may very well endorse him.  I do not know if he will or not,” said Langworthy.

No matter who wins the GOP nomination to challenge Governor Cuomo, Langworthy believes the party’s running mate should come from Western New York.  State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin’s name was mentioned as a possible Lt. Governor candidate Wednesday and Langworthy loved the idea.

“I think they share a lot of common values.  I think she has fought for the same common sense business perspectives that we need in Albany, not just more of the same special interest nonsense.  She would be a great Lieutenant Governor for any Governor,” Langworthy added.

The Erie County Republican Committee has its regional screening meeting April 12.  It’s hoping to vet as many statewide candidates as possible, including gubernatorial candidates.

No matter what happens, Langworthy hopes the party will unite behind one candidate.

Savino to Koppell: Takes One To Know One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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