NYLCV Backs 1st GOP Senator This Cycle (UPDATED)

The New York League of Conservation Voters has announced several legislative endorsements today, and on its list of preferred candidates is Long Island Sen. Jack Martins – the first Republican the organization has backed so far this election cycle.

The NYLCV said it based its decision in part on the fact that Martins was a supporter of all three of its top priorities in this past session: the Community Risk and Resiliency Act; the Child Safe Product Act; and reforms to the Brownfield Cleanup Program. He also co-sponsored the Long island Water Quality Control Act to establish a commission on clean water and aquifer protection.

In addition, the NYLCV said, Martins had pledged to renew and improve programs to clean up contaminated land and grow the Environmental Protection Fund, which protects open space, safeguards drinking water and creates jobs on Long Island and across the state.

“The environment has a true ally in Senator Jack Martins,” said NYLCV President Marcia Bystryn. “We are particularly encouraged by his passionate advocacy to improve the quality of drinking water and our local waterways. We are proud to endorse Jack Martins and we encourage Nassau County residents who care about clean water and environmental progress to vote for Jack Martins for State Senate.”

This endorsement is a blow to the Senate Democrats and retired Wall Street trader Adam Haber, who is challenging Martins after losing his largely self-financed primary battle against former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi last year. Suozzi went on to lose the general election to the Republican who had toppled him in 2009: Nassau County Exeutive Ed Mangano.

Martins, the former mayor of Mineola, was first elected in 2010 when he defeated Democratic Sen. Craig Johnson in a very tight race (a 451-vote margin), and then re-elected in 2012 by 4,452 votes . Democrats are eager to try to win back this seat. The district has a decisive Democratic enrollment edge – 86,965 to 67,470 with 53,342 so-called “blanks” or independents who are unaffiliated with any political party.

Dan Hendrick, spokesman for the NYLCV, confirmed that Martins is the first Republican to receive the organization’s nod so far this year, and said there’s usually a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans receiving the endorsement. He said the league is “proud” of its Republican endorsements, and more announcements will be coming soon.

Also today, the NYLCV announced its support of Michael Blake, a former Obama administration/campaign operative who is running in the 79th Assembly District in the Bronx. (The seat is currenly vacant, and two of the district’s last three assembly members have left office due to bribery charges, including, most recently, Eric Stevenson, who was convicted in January of accepting bribes).

The NYLCV is also backing Rodneyse Bichotte, a Democratic district leader who unsuccessfully challenged Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs in 2012, and is running for her seat again this year now that she has announced her retirement.

UPDATED: Apparently, this endorsement has caused a dust-up on Long Island, where a loal group – the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum – slammed the “Manhattan-based New York League of Conservation Voters” for its support of Martins.

The forum is not impressed with Martins’ record on the environment, calling it “unacceptable.” The group is upset that the Senate never voted on the Long Island Water Quality Control Act, which passed the Assembly in a vote of 112-24, and said it had warned Martins that he would not even be eligible for its support if he did not vote in favor of this measure.

Also, though Martins sponsored the Child Safe Products Act, that didn’t come to the floor for a vote, either, even though it apparently had enough votes (given the 24 sponsors) to pass.

“Thoughtless and unsupportable endorsements such as that for Senator Martins undermines Long Island’s environment, economy and quality-of- life,” Long Island Voters Forum President Richard Amper said in a statement. “Water contamination affects the water we drink, cook with and bathe in – and the dramatic increase in contamination of our bays, beaches, rivers and streams cannot be tolerated, let alone endorsed by a responsible environmental group.”

The Long Island Voters Forum is scheduled to meet next week to endorse Martins’ challenger, Haber.

GOP Senate Hopeful Admits Affair, Quits Race (Updated)

Gia Arnold, one of two Republicans vying to replace retiring Niagara Falls Sen. George Maziarz, has abruptly ended her campaign after admitting in an early-morning email to reporters to engaging in an extramarital affair.

Arnold, who had been courting conservative voters and is the co-state director of the Second Amendment-focused New York Revolution group, sent an email at 12:36 a.m. offering her “sincerest apologies” for stepping away from “actively campaigning this election cycle.”

“I have made personal decisions that have ultimately resulted in the necessity of my stepping down from the campaign,” Arnold wrote.

“I participated in an extramarital affair beginning in August of this year. It was an excuse for an escape from an already declining marriage. I cannot regret the decisions I have made, but I can admit to being happier presently than before.”

“It is for my ex-husband, my children, my family and friends that I must publicly admit to my actions, as I believe honesty and integrity are of utmost importance in life.”

“I hope that all I have disappointed will understand that I am only human and imperfect. I will be available for public comment and want to make available my cell phone number so that any constituent that may want to speak with me has that ability.”

Arnold said left in my campaign account (she had $3,186 on hand as of July 15) will be donated to a local charity “of majority vote on my Facebook page.”

Her departure from the race leaves just one Republican – North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt – in the running. Ortt was drafted – to his surprise – by Senate Republicans after Maziarz’s surprise announcement last month that he would not seek re-election.

Maziarz’s decision comes as US Attorney Preet Bharara’s office probes his campaign fundraising operation as part of a larger investigation into the now-defunct Moreland Commission’s work and premature demise at the hands of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Also in the running for Maziarz’s seat is Republican-turned-Democrat Johnny Destino, a Niagara Falls attorney and school board member who lost a 2012 primary challenge to the senator and subsequently changed his party affiliation.

Destino came close to ousting Democratic Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster in 2011 (while he was still a Republican), and it has been speculated that he is running for the Senate this fall merely to prepare for a re-match against the mayor.

But Destino rejected that speculation during a CapTon interview at the Erie County Fair Monday night, insisting he’s fully invested in his Senate run and has the support of the DSCC in his effort.

Updated: Ortt weighed in with a statement.

“Anyone who has ever been involved in politics knows the importance of putting family first,” he said. “I respect Ms. Arnold’s decision to focus on her family at this time and wish them all the best. I remain committed to the task of earning the support of the people of the 62nd Senate District in hopes of serving as their Representative in Albany.”

Stop Common Core Effort a Boon for GOP

Gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino and his fellow members of the GOP statewide slate will be announcing the results of their very successful petition drive to create the independent “Stop Common Core” ballot line for the November general election.

At 9 a.m., the Republicans plan to file more than 62,000 signatures at the state Board of Elections in Albany.

Astorino, his running mate, Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss; Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, the GOP state comptroller candidate; and state attorney general candidate John Cahill will then be making public appearances across the state to discuss the filing.

(Moss and Antonacci will be in Syracuse, while Astorino and Cahill will be on Long Island; details of these events appear below).

The Stop Common Core ballot operation was organized by veteran GOP political operative Vince Casale and Astorino’s campaign manager, Michael Lawler.

The Republicans believe this is the largest petition operation in New York history, surpassing the Working Families Party’s 1998 filing, which organizers said included some 60,000 signatures.

In 1994, then-state Sen. George Pataki’s campaign filed about 54,000 signatures to create the “Tax Cut Now” party.

The Stop Common Core operation will qualify in all 27 congressional districts, organizers said. State Election Law requires a minimum of 100 signatures from a majority of districts.

According to Casale, this effort brought together volunteers from across the state – Democrats, Republicans and independents; teachers, students and parents – all united in their opposition to the controversial new standards.

The issue certainly resonates with voters. Yesterday’s Siena poll found 49 percent of New York voters – including 53 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans – believe the Common Core standards should be stopped, which is something Astorino has pledged to do if he’s elected.

Cuomo has sought to distance himself somewhat from the Common Core, taking action this past legislative session to temporarily shield students’ test scores and teacher performance evaluations from being impacted by the state Education Department’s flawed rollout of the standards.

But the governor continues to support Common Core as a concept.

Today is the first day to file independent petitions; Tuesday, Aug. 19 is the deadline. Several thousand more Stop Common Core signatures are expected to be filed by that deadline by Senate and Assembly candidates who also want the additional line.

The GOP isn’t alone in its effort to create an independent line for its candidates to run on in November.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his fellow Democrats are doing with the same thing with the “Women’s Equality Party” – an effort to harness the power of the abortion-rights debate, which served President Obama so well in his 2012 re-election campaign.

It just so happens that Cuomo’s running mate, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, is holding the latest in a series of events on the Women’s Equality Party today. She’ll be appearing in Kingston with Democratic state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk.

CNN Picks Up Cuomo-Moreland Story

Media critics have noted the dearth of national TV attention to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland mess – especially compared to the wall-to-wall coverage of NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal.

To be fair, there have been several brief news stories on the now-defunct commission and the US attorney’s investigation. Amd the members of the “Morning Joe” roundtable discussed the subject several days in a row, with co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough lambasting Cuomo’s handling of the situation, and political reporter Mark Halperin suggesting this mess was even worse for Cuomo than Bridgegate has been (so far anyway) for Christie.

Brzezinski revealed on the air that Cuomo had called her for a mostly off-the-record chat in an attempt to push back “hard” against allegations that he had meddling with the commission.

CNN, however, has not given any coverage to Moreland, causing some raised eyebrows due to the fact that Cuomo’s brother, Chris, is an anchor on the network. But CNN has now decided the story is worthy of coverage, as the RNC gleefully pointed out in an “ICYMI” email sent this afternoon.

The email from the RNC’s Michael Short focused both on Cuomo and Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice, one of the three former commission co-chairs who resigned that position in January when she decided to run for the House seatg being vacated by retiring Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy.

Rice is under fire from her GOP opponent, former Nassau County Legislator Bruce Blakeman, who is slamming her for refusing to talk about the Moreland scandal – a decision her spokesman says is out of respect for the US attorney’s investigation.

“It’s clear Cuomo and Rice have something to hide, refusing to answer pressing questions as federal prosecutors probe whether the governor shut down his own anti-corruption unit to protect his friends and improperly interfered with its investigations when they hit too close to home,” Short wrote. “The governor campaigned on transparency and fighting corruption, but it’s looking more and more like Cuomo and Rice are just part of the problem.”

The RNC’s clip of the CNN report appears below. Oddly, it cuts off early – apparently just before the subject turned to Cuomo’s GOP challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, and the fact that he’s badly trailing the governor in the polls. The full CNN report can be viewed here. (Thanks, Jon Campbell).

Planned Parenthood Slams Amedore On WEA

Planned Parenthood Advocates of New York is taking former Assemblyman and second-time state Senate candidate George Amedore to task for his comments during a Capital Tonight interview last night, saying he misrepresented both his voting record on women’s rights and the abortion-rights portion of the governor’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act.

During our conversation, Amedore emphatically declared himself to be “pro-life,” and said he could not vote for the Women’s Equality Act if it contained the abortion-rights plank. Though supporters insist that plank merely codifies the existing rights laid out in the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, opponents say it would dramatically expand both access to and performance of abortions in New York.

Amedore said the measure “puts New York state women and their lives at risk,” which Planned Parenthood President Tracey Brooks deemed “just another recent example of ultra-conservative politics – extreme views which disingenuously claim to protect women’s health.”

“This is a part of troubling nationwide trend where politicians believe they are better positioned to make health care decisions than women and their physician,” Brooks continued in a statement released this afternoon. “Wildly inaccurate claims like Amedore’s play politics with women’s health decisions and are what truly put women’s lives at risk. It is clear that Amedore is out of touch with the women of New York State.”

Brooks also said that Amedore glossed over his own voting record during his three terms in the Assembly minority, where he voted against pay equity (another plank of the WEA) “every time he had the opportunity.”

“New York State women deserve better – they deserve representation that respects them and all of their constitutional rights,” Brooks concluded. “We stand against George Amedore this November.”

This shouldn’t come as any big surprise. Planned Parenthood is among the organizations that is committed to flipping the Senate into Democratic hands in hopes of seeing the WEA passed in that chamber.

In 2012, it supported the Democrat who defeated Amedore, now-Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, by 18 votes, winning despite the fact that the district was specifially drawn by the Senate GOP with Amedore in mind.

Amedore is now running against Tkaczyk a second time, and said last night that he feels confident in his chances – especially since this isn’t a presidential election year that will boost Democratic turnout. Also, the 2012 race was dominated by spending (some $500,000 ) by outside interests trying to make Tkaczyk into the poster child for public campaign financing. So far, no outside spending has materialized in this race, but Amedore said he fully expects it will as Election Day draws closer.

Amedore’s timing could have perhaps been better, given the fact that Democratic LG Kathy Hochul has two events today – both on Long Island – launching the Women’s Equality Party that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to create for the November elections. As Nick pointed out earlier, the Hochul events come as the governor’s legal challenge to the residency of his female Democratic challenger, Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout, is in court for the first time today.

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.