Independence Party Backs Donovan in NY-11

The state Independence Party has announced its support of Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan’s run to fil the House seat vacated by former GOP Rep. Michael Grimm, giving the Republican candidate three ballot lines in the May 5 special election.

The Independence Party’s decision comes on the heels of an announcement yesterday from the state Conservative Party that it, too, had voted to back Donovan, who will face off against Democratic Brooklyn Councilman Vincent Gentile in two months.

In a statement announcing the endorsement, state Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay said Donovan “has proven time and again that he puts people before politics,” adding:

“His integrity and commitment to public service is unparalleled. With all of the important issues facing our city and nation right now, I know Dan is the right man for the job. We are proud to endorse him as the next congressman for the people of Staten Island and South Brooklyn.”

When he ran for state attorney general in 2010, Donovan removed his name from consideration for endorsement by the Independence Party after his office received “several allegations of misconduct” by MacKay. The DA said he was withdrawing his name “to preserve the integrity of my office and the integrity of any possible investigation undertaken.”

Donovan later cleared MacKay in a probe that involved a candidate seeking the Independence Party endorsement in a NYC Council special election whose company had loaned $10,000 to a software company run by MacKay’s wife, Kristin.

The Independence Party ended up backing a placeholder candidate, Long Isdland attorney Steve Lynch, and then replacing Lynch with then-state Sen. Eric Schneiderman after his won the five-way Democratic state AG primary. Schneiderman went on to defeat Donovan in the November general election. (In order to get Lynch off the ballot, the Monroe County Democrats agreed to nominate him for a state Supreme Court judgeship, which he did not win).

‘Scheduling Confilct’ Keeps Perry From NY

An unspecified “scheduling conflict” prevented former Texas Governor and potential 2016 presidential contender Rick Perry from appearing in New York today as the headliner at a luncheon hosted by the Monroe County GOP.

Assemblyman and party Chairman Bill Reilich said he was not provided any details by Perry’s team about exactly what had come up that prevented the Texas Republican from making the trip to Rochester. But Reilich didn’t seem terribly surprised or upset about the cancellation.

“When you’re dealing with someone who’s as busy as he is, these things happen,” the chairman told me during a brief telephone interview this afternoon.

Reilich said he has been assured that Perry will appear in upstate New York at a later date, though he could provide no specifics.

Perry was supposed to be the guest speaker at a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, with a private VIP reception held prior to the lunch. The former governor has said he plans a May/June timetable for deciding whether he will throw his hat into the ring again to compete for the GOP nomination for the 2016 presidential race.

During his time in office, Perry was a frequent critic of New York, which is known for its high taxes and difficult business climate – both issues Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tried to tackle over the past four years and continued to address in his 2015-16 executive budget. The former governor has traveled to the Empire State several times in hopes of convincing businesses to relocate to the Lone Star State, and he has even run ads here – and in other states, too – urging companies and residents to move.

Special Elections Set For May 5

As expected, Gov. Andrew Cuomo this morning set May 5 as the date to hold special elections in both the 11th congressional district and a newly vacant Assembly seat in Brooklyn.

Cuomo had been under a court order to set the date for the special election by noon today, or a federal judge would have automatically scheduled one himself.

The 11th congressional district, which covers Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, is an open seat following the resignation of Republican Michael Grimm, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion.

Brooklyn’s 43rd Assembly district became open last night following the resignation of Democrat Karim Camara, who is joining the governor’s administration in order to lead faith-based outreach programs.

The proclamation from Cuomo’s office can be viewed here.

Gibson Won’t Engage In GOP Primary

From the Morning Memo:

Rep. Chris Gibson, who recently announced he’ll be leaving his House seat at the end of his current term to explore a potential statewide run in 2018, said during a CapTon interview last night that he will not participate in a primary should one materialize.

The congressman has stressed that his main focus in the coming years will be helping the state GOP get into a stronger position – especially where fundraising is concerned.

An intraparty battle over who should be the Republican standard bearer in the next statewide battle would undercut any party-building efforts undertaken between now and then, Gibson said.

“I don’t think we should have a primary; I really don’t,” the congressman explained. “I mean, I think if we have a candidate – even the last one we had, Rob Astorino, was a strong candidate. I think we should have a process that provides for endorsement, but I think we should focus on winning.”

“At the end of the day, we should focus on winning. So, no I wouldn’t plan on running in a primary because I don’t want us to discourage or lose any opportunity to win.”

“Why win? Because I think we’ve got the solutions that the people in our state are looking for for a healthy economy, for changing direction in so many policies that are hurting us, including education…and on reform. We want to have a government that people can believe in. People believe Republicans can’t win in a state like this. I don’t believe that.”

Gibson noted several examples of other Democrat-dominated states – including neighboring Massachusetts – where Republicans have managed to win the governor’s office.

Of course, the last time that happened here in New York was 2002. That year, then-GOP Gov. George Pataki won a third term, defeating then-Democratic state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who has faced a quixotic challenge from a guy named Andrew Cuomo, who ended up dropping out of the primary one week before voters went to the polls.

Astorino, the Westchester County executive who lost to Cuomo in last November’s election, has already expressed interest in running again in 2018, though he has yet to decide whether he’ll seek re-election to his local post in 2017.

Astorino spokesman Bill O’Reilly told The National Journal recently that Gibson should “look at” the seat held by New York’s junior US senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who will be up for re-election in 2018.

But Republicans have been trying to take Gillibrand out for years, failing miserably – event when she was a newbie who had been appointed to the seat by then-Gov. David Paterson to serve out the remainder of Hillary Clinton’s term when she departed to be Obama’s secretary of state.

Now Gillibrand is a prodigious fundraiser with a national reputation, and taking her one seems like an even surer shot at career suicide for a little-known GOP congressman (who will by that point have been out of office for two years) than running for governor (possibly an open seat, depending on what Gov. Andrew Cuomo decides to do) in a true blue state.

Gibson last night even admitted as much when I asked him about challenging Gillibrand, saying: “I think our party needs to compete to win.”

The congressman did not hold back when it came to criticizing Cuomo, though, accusing the governor of failing to uphold his 2010 campaign pledge to clean up Albany, and failing to lead on ethics reform.

Rick Perry Coming to Rochester

Former Texas Governor and potential 2016 GOP presidential contender Rick Perry will headline an event for the Monroe County GOP in March.

Monroe County GOP Chairman Bill Reilich announced earlier today that Perry, who was a presidential contender in 2012, will be the guest speaker at a luncheon to be held on March 2 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. There will be a private VIP reception prior to the lunch. Ticket prices were not immediately available.

According to Reilich, Perry will be sharing some of his “success stories and challenges” as former governor of the Lone Star State.

“The State of Texas is experiencing an economic boom,” the chairman said. “Governor Perry promised residents he’d work to transform Texas into a haven of opportunity, prosperity and progress and he delivered. I invite everyone to experience his enthusiasm and proven methods of success.”

Just today, Perry said he still plans a “May/June” timetable to make an announcement about a possible 2016 presidential run, despite a judge’s refusal to dismiss an indictment against him on abuse of power charges. He has been making the rounds of early primary states, and says he’s getting a warm reception on the hustings.

Perry was indicted in August. The accusation stemmed from his 2013 veto of state funding for a Texas district attorney’s office after she was convicted of drunk driving but refused to resign. The former governor’s team is appealing the decision.

During his time in office, Perry was a frequent critic of New York, which is known for its high taxes and difficult business climate – both issues Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tried to tackle over the past four years and continued to address in his 2015-16 executive budget.

Perry made trips to New York in hopes of luring frustrated business owners to his state, and even went so far as to run ads here (and in other states), urging Empire State residents to “get out while there’s still time.” Last April, Perry challenged Cuomo to a debate on economic policy – an invitation Cuomo turned down. And in his final speech as governor, Perry took a swipe at Cuomo for banning fracking, accusing the Democratic governor of appeasing his political base at the expense of people who need jobs.

Monroe County GOP to host Rick Perry by liz_benjamin6490

Republicans Pile On Silver (Updated)

As expected, Republicans are – rather gleefully, it must be said – piling on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in the wake of his arrest on corruption charges this morning, saying he must relinquish his leadership post for the good of the chamber, his constituents and the entire state of New York.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who remained fairly quiet when other Republicans were calling for Silver’s head during the sexual harassment scandal involving former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, now says it’s “imperative” that the speaker step down “immediately,” adding:

“His resignation as Speaker is in the best interest of the Assembly, of the State, and the best way for us to conduct the business that we are elected to do. We cannot afford this distraction with the important business before the Assembly and the people of New York State.”

It’s not clear to me why Kolb has experienced this change of heart. His previous position was that it wasn’t his place to meddle in the business of the Democratic conference, since Silver didn’t tell him how to run his conference (and he has had his share of detractors).

“The ultimate goal is saying ‘whose scandal is this?’ it’s not ours,” Kolb said back in 2013. “So let’s look and hold the people accountable for whose scandal it is.

Than again, the sexual harassment mess – and secret payouts to keep Lopez’s accusers and former aides quiet – was an internal problem with the Democratic conference, where this is a much bigger issue – corruption, which has claimed victims on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of the Legislature.

And, of course, Silver has been arrested and formally charged by the feds, which elevates this situation to a whole new level.

UPDATE: Speaking to reporters earlier today, Kolb said he is “not a person in this business that does personal attacks – never have, never will.”

“Having said that, when it comes to public policy, I think at this point in time when there’s actually an arrest, there’s a clear serious matter to take up,” the assemblyman continued. “And, you know, also the justice system is working on the other things the speaker was dealing with the Vito Lopez case. But I think this certainly raised to the level that he would be servely harmed, I think, by continuing on. I think he should resign as speaker. He does not have to resign as a member unless he’s convicted of a felony.”

One of Kolb’s critics, Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, also called for Silver to resign (not the first time she has done so). She called the speaker “a disgrace to the people of New York and a blemish on all those who serve the public in this state. It is time to put the Silver era behind us once and for all.” Tenney also said the governor should get involved here and pressure Silver, a fellow Democrat, to depart.

“The politics of New York have for too long been three men in a room. The culture of corruption is pervasive as pay-offs, backroom deals, and cronyism are business as usual in Albany. This is unacceptable. Silver’s arrest is simply the latest indicator we need substantial reform in Albany,” the assemblywoman said.

“We should immediately move to clean up Albany. Career politician syndrome enabled this ignominious day in the history of New York. We need to institute real term limits, cut legislative pay and benefits, slash the length of the session, and restore the faith of the people in their public officials.”

Another female member of the Assembly GOP conference, Staten Island’s Nicole Malliotakis, who briefly eyed a potential run for the seat of disgraced former Rep. Michael Grimm, but stepped aside for the party favorite, DA Dan Donovan, also is calling for Silver to resign – and it’s not the first time for her, either.

“It is beyond time for Sheldon Silver to step down as Speaker of the Assembly,” the assemblywoman said. “The demands of running the chamber and serving the taxpayers cannot be compromised by charges of corruption and a judicial proceeding of this magnitude. There is no doubt that New Yorkers desperately need and deserve new leadership of ‘the People’s House’.”

State GOP spokesman David Laska issued a statement calling for Silver’s immediate resignation, calling this another “sad day for New York,” and insisting that it should not serve as a distraction from “the important business of growing our economy and creating jobs.”

Onondaga County GOP Chairman Tom Dadey also got in on the fun, calling the situation with Silver “deeply troubling” and saying the Democratic Assembly members from Central New York should join him in demanding that the speaker step down.

“On their own, these allegations will only grow the distrust New Yorkers now feel towards Albany,” Dadey said. “We need more transparency and disclosure, stronger ethics laws, term limits and we need to eliminate the bad apples. I am hopeful that our local Assembly delegation, including Assembly members (Bill) Magnarelli, (Sam) Roberts and (Al) Stirpe will show true leadership and call for the Speaker’s ouster.”

So far, the Democrats haven’t said very much. Still no statement from the governor, for example. Members of Silver’s conference are discussing this matter behind closed doors and will be issuing a joint statement soon, I’m told.

A source who has spoken to some of the members mentioned as potential Silver successors, should it come to that, said everyone is keeping their powder dry for now. Timing is everything here. A wannabe speaker who pulls the trigger on his or her effort to oust the wounded leader too soon, only to see him survive this scandal as he has survived other (albeit smaller) scandals before, would no doubt be wandering the wilderness for many years.

That said, a wannabe Silver successor who doesn’t start lining up his or her supporters and make a move in a timely fashion could risk missing the opportunity to become one of the most powerful people in the state.

Dinolfo To Announce Run For Monroe County Executive Thursday

It’s been called the worst kept secret in Monroe County politics.  On Thursday it’s expected Cheryl Dinolfo will finally make it official and announce she’s running for County Executive.

The Monroe County Clerk has long been a rumored candidate for the office.  With most of her GOP rivals dropping out in recent weeks, Dinolfo’s candidacy has been considered a foregone conclusion.

Dinolfo is looking to follow in the current County Executive’s footsteps.  Maggie Brooks, who faces term limits, used her time in the Monroe County Clerk’s office as springboard to run for County Executive in 2003.

The path to success through the clerk’s office is not limed to Brooks or the Republican Party.  Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul spent nearly eight years in the Erie County Clerk’s Office, four running it, before winning a special Congressional Election in 2011.

Both Brooks and Hochul have learned the post not only provides valuable experience in dealing with state and federal regulations, it can also offer a political soap box.  Dinolfo pushed back against former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants in 2007.  Six years later she spoke out against attempts to make gun permit records public.

Monroe County Republican Party Chairman Bill Reilich has called a press conference for Thursday at noon.  The timing of the announcement would allow Dinolfo to attend a major GOP fundraising event on Saturday Night as the “heir apparent” to Brooks.

While the GOP hopes declaring its candidate early will help them retain control of a seat they’ve held since 1992, the list of potential Democrats candidates is still pretty long.  New Monroe County Democratic Party Chairman Dave Garretson is reportedly considering County Legislature Minority Leader Carrie Andrews, Irondequoit Town Supervisor Adam Bello, former County Legislator Vincent Esposito, former Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel, and former Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green.

Former State Senator Ted O’Brien said Wednesday night he is not a candidate but has urged Garretson to take his time.

“There’s no rush and there’s a long list of qualified candidates. We have plenty of time between now and our nominating convention in May,” O’Brien said.

Funke: All Regions Of the State Must Benefit From Budget

Delivering the response for the Senate Republicans, freshman Sen. Rich Funke, of Rochester, took swipes at two of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top policy initiatives – the $1.5 billion upstate economic development competition and the $1.66 billion property tax relief plan – saying his conference wants to make sure all regions of the state benefit equally from the 2-15-16 budget.

Property taxes should be cut “for every middle-income taxpayer in every region of the state, Funke said, adding: “And let’s do it this year.” (He did not mention the 2 percent property tax cap, which sunsets in 2016 and is expected to be tied to the NYC housing laws, which expire at the end of this coming June).

Cuomo has proposed an income-based circuit breaker tax relief plan that is tied to the property tax cap and would provide relief to only some New Yorkers. Singles and seniors are expected to fare the best under his plan, while double-income families might earn just a bit too much to qualify. Only those whose property tax bill is higher than their annual federally adjusted income and make less than $250,000 – about half the state’s homeowners – would be eligible.

Funke also made it clear that the Legislature “should and will” have a role in determining how to spent the $5 billion windfall realized by the state through financial industry settlements over the past year. Cuomo has already suggested using $1.5 billion of that money for an upstate economic development fund in which seven regions would compete, but only three would win up to $500 million.

“It’s essential that every region in this state benefit from this budget so there aren’t any winners and losers from one region to the next,” Funke said. “Five billion presents us with a unique opportunity to boost the entire state. Let’s do it right.”

Cuomo also wants to use $1.3 billion of the settlement funds to prevent any toll hikes on the Thruway. Funke didn’t address that specific proposal, but he did say the Senate Republicans want the settlement cash to be invested in “modernizing” the state’s infrastructure – “roads and bridges, sewer and water systems, projects that are geared toward real economic development.”

Funke expressed the Senate Republicans’ desire to continue working in a bipartisan fashion to deliver the fifth on-time state budget in a row. He noted that despite winning an “outright majority,” the Senate GOP is continuing its “historic coalition” with the IDC, though he did not mention that the terms of that relationship have been modified to provide the breakaway Democrats with less power than they used to have.

Also in his response, Funke noted that the Senate GOP has passed the bulk of the Women’s Equality Agenda. He urged the Assembly Democrats to follow suit because “the women of this state have already waited too long,” adding:

“Let’s show the nation that in New York real progress on women’s health and women’s equality always trumps partisan politics and not the other way around.”

On education, Funke reiterated the Senate Republicans’ main goal of fully eliminating the gap elimination “adjustment scheme” that was implemented during a fiscal crisis by former Gov. David Paterson. He also said that every child in New York should be provided with a “first-class education and the opportunity that goes with it.”

On public safety, Funke said the GOP conference will soon be holding hearings and want to “do everything possible to protect police officers that protect us.” He didn’t address the various criminal justice reform proposals that have been floated since a Staten Island grand jury declined to bring charges against an NYPD officer in connection with the chokelhold death of Eric Garner.

Funke, a former TV broadcaster, turned in a polished performance during the seven-minute response, which was recorded prior to the governor’s combined State of the State and budget address (AKA: the 2015 Opportunity Agenda). He was clearly tapped by the GOP in part due to his experience in front of the camera, as well as to highlight one of the new faces in the majority conference. (He ousted former Democratic Sen. Ted O’Brien in the November elections).

The Republican Prebuttal Focuses On Cuomo’s Promises

From the Morning Memo:

A day before Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his combined State of the State and budget presentation, the state Republican Committee is releasing a “prebuttal” of the governor’s past speeches that they say haven’t lived up to original promises.

In a six-page report set to be released this morning by the New York Republicans, Cuomo is taken to task for promising efforts to lower the state’s tax burden and Medicaid spending, while also reforming pension costs and pursuing relief from mandated state spending.

For the GOP, the results have been underwhelming.

“The resulting rhetoric has been a mile high, but an inch deep. On many issues, the Governor made promises in his past State of the State addresses that have gone unfulfilled or barely addressed, with just enough substance to support a good press release,” the report states.

Cuomo over the last four years has pushed for lower taxes and engineered a change in the state’s tax code in 2011 that reduced rates from some middle-income earners.

At the same time, Cuomo has also pushed to lower property taxes in the state through a long-sought cap.

Cuomo also pushed to overhaul how Medicaid is paid through a redesign team, with the goal of flattening costs and the state assuming some of the burden.

But the Republicans are also knocking Cuomo for failing to produce on concrete pledges, such as a full-blown casino and convention center at Aqueduct in Queens, while also not developing a publicly available financial plan for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.

And the GOP is faulting Cuomo for falling short on an area he prides himself most on: Ethics. The governor’s folded Moreland Commission is now the subject of a federal inquiry as is the work the panel generated.

Cuomo has spent the last several days unveiling his 2015 legislative proposals ranging from a new hike in the minimum wage to a small-business tax cut along with a “circuit-breaker” solution on property taxes.

The full GOP pre-buttal can be read here.

Lentol’s Wish List for Criminal Justice Reform

In today’s Morning Memo, Nick Reisman reports:

State lawmakers have adopted a wait-and-see approach for what criminal justice reforms Gov. Andrew Cuomo may propose when he delivers his combined State of the State and budget address one week from today.

Senate Republicans starting this month will hold a series of hearings on the issue, with Majority Leader Dean Skelos pledging to review whether elected officials helped create a negative atmosphere that ultimately played a role in the recent shooting deaths of two New York City police officers.

Assembly Democrats, however, are looking in a different direction.

Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joe Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat, is pushing some long-sought reform measures favored by defense attorneys and Democratic lawmakers in both houses.

Republicans and Democrats both expect a deliberative approach to the issue, raised after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold-related death of Eric Garner.

“It will be kind of like a work in progress,” Lentol said. “We’ve been trying to pass a number of reforms that could help make the criminal justice system operate better. And by operate better, I mean ease certain tensions in the minority community.”

In an interview, Lentol said he would like to see changes to laws governing witness identification such as double-blind lineups and the videotaping of interrogations, in addition to reforming the discovery process in criminal cases.

“We’ve tried to get them done in the Assembly, but they’ve never seen the light of day in the Senate,” Lentol said, adding: “Those are three big reforms that need to be done before we even start talking about grand juries and special prosecutors.”

Senate Republicans plan to hold a series of hearings on criminal justice issues starting this month, but have shown little willingness to take up previously proposed measures in the Democratic-led Assembly.

Skelos, who has been critical of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s public statements supportive of protests and demonstrations following the Garner decision, said the hearings will examine the atmosphere in which the two officers were killed.

“We have to remember there have been 50 assassinations of police officers in this country in the past year,” Skelos said. “Is it the mood that’s being projected elected officials? What can we do to protect our police officers?”

“Because people disagree on the outcome of the grand jury does not mean you trash the whole thing,” the senator added.

Added protections for law enforcement could be an area of bipartisan agreement. For example, Lentol said he backed a proposal from GOP lawmakers to install bulletproof glass in squad cars.

“It’s a top priority,” Lentol said. “It’s very simple to start out with bulletproof glass. How expensive could that be? There are a lot of other safety measures that we can take. We can do that together.”