State Senate

Martins Slams Curran for Heastie Fundraiser, Lands Flanagan Backing (Updated)

Republican Nassau County executive Jack Martins’ campaign issued a statement today slamming his Democratic opponent, Nassau County Legislator Laura Curran, for her fundraiser last night that was headlined by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Martins campaign spokeswoman Mollie Fullington, (a Pataki administration veteran), accused Curran of being “bought and paid for by the New York City politicians who have continually abused Long Island taxpayers and don’t share our values.”

“Heastie led the effort in the state Assembly to make New York a Sanctuary State for violent felon illegal immigrants, and has been anything but a friend to Long Island as speaker of the state Assembly,” Fullington said.

“…Nassau County cannot afford to have a County Executive who is indebted to New York City politicians like Speaker Heastie,” she continued. “Nassau County needs an independent, experienced leader who will protect county taxpayers and stop the New York City special interests that want to impose their radical agenda on Long Island taxpayers and families.”

Martins is himself a product of Albany, having served in the state Senate for six years, and declining to seek re-election in 2016 when he opted to run for the House seat vacated by former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel. Martins lost that race to Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi, who, in an ironic twist, used to hold the county executive post that Martins is now seeking.

It’s interesting that Martins’ campaign is using that “violent felon illegal immigrants” line, which is a page straight out of the Senate GOP playbook. The Senate Republicans, who have steadfastly refused to approve the DREAM Act in their chamber, employed that same approach in the last election cycle with considerable success – especially in upstate and Long Island districts.

As for Martins’ Senate tenure, Fullington said he “successfully fought against Assemblyman Heastie and the New York politicians who redirected Long Island’s state school aid to New York City<" adding:

“Jack Martins rolled back the unfair MTA payroll tax Heastie supported to require Long Islanders to subsidize New York City’s subway system and he restored the state property tax rebate program that Heastie and the New York City politicians eliminated when they had total control over state government.”

And since we’re on the subject of the Senate GOP, it’s worth noting that Martins landed the endorsement today of his former colleague, and fellow Long Islander, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who called Martins “right leader at the right time.”

Expect another round of attacks along these same lines from the Martins campaign when Gov. Andrew Cuomo headlines a fundraiser for Curran on Oct. 5. Cuomo has long been an ally of the departing Republican Nassau County executive, Ed Mangano, who declined to seek re-election after being hit with federal corruption charges.

UPDATE: Philip Shulman, Curran’s campaign spokesman, emailed the following response:

“Let’s cut the hypocrisy. Laura is indebted to no one. And Jack Martins would know about indebtedness. Martins took more than $275,000 from Dean Skelos’ corrupt political machine to fund his campaigns for state Senate. So it’s no wonder he blocked efforts to remove Skelos from power after his indictment on federal corruption charges.”

NYPIRG Reviews 2017 Session

NYPIRG has released its annual review of the state legislative session in Albany, finding this year was among the sessions that saw the least number of legislative agreements as evidenced by identical bills passing on the floor of both houses, otherwise known as “same-as” measures.

Between January and July of this year, 998 bills were passed in the Democrat-controlled state Assembly, while the GOP-led Senate approved 1,896. Only 606 same-as bills were passed in both houses, while 15,406 bills were introduced overall so far in this two-year session.

That’s compared to 1,041 Assembly bills, 1,752 Senate bills, and 618 same-as bills passed in 2016, while the number of overall bills introduced was 16,649.

The decline in the number of bills that passed in the 2017 session tracks the overall historical trend, NYPIRG said. Since 1995, the five years that saw the fewest bills pass both houses are 2009, 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017.

When the average passage of two-house bills during the tenures of various governors is compared, Cuomo has so far seen the lowest number – 643 – while the highest – 1,356 – was during the time former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller spent in office.

Although Cuomo has been criticized for relying on messages of necessity to push controversial measures through the Legislature, most notably the gun control bill known as the SAFE Act, his use of his power to expedite the legislative process by circumventing the three-day bill “aging” period has actually declined compared to his predecessors.

There has been little change since last year in the number of bills approved by Cuomo, though his use of his veto pen has increased.

NYPIRG’s full assessment of the most recent session as compared to other sessions appears below. The organization has also updated its legislative profiles for 2017, which can be found here.

NYPIRG's 2017 session review. by liz_benjamin6490 on Scribd

Kavanagh Wins Manhattan Dems, Cuomo Support

The following is from NY1’s Zack Fink. For a more detailed look at the ins and outs of the vote, click here to see his tweets from yesterday.

Democratic Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh is expected to fill the Lower Manhattan state Senate seat vacated by ex-Sen. Daniel Squadron in a yet-to-be-called special election, though he did not secure the lion’s share of the vote when members of the Manhattan Democratic Committee gathered to select a candidate.

District Leader Paul Newell, who ran an unsuccessful primary challenge to then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in 2008 and also lost a bid for Silver’s old Assembly seat in 2016, received more votes.

But Kavanagh is expected to have the support of Brooklyn Democratic Party leaders, and that should be enough to secure him the nomination.

The 26h Senate District seat straddles both New York and Kings’ counties. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC Comptroller Scott stringer and NYC Public Advocate Letitia James have endorsed Kavanagh for the seat, which is safely Democratic, and won’t be a factor in the upcoming rematch over control of the Senate chamber.

There were other contenders for Squadron’s seat, but they bowed out, creating a two-man contest between Newell and Kavanagh. Over the weekend, the assemblyman received the support from the Brooklyn Democratic Party, though the reform New Kings Democrats members are supporting Newell.

Squadron’s abrupt retirement last month took Democrats by surprise, though he had made no secret of his desire to depart Albany, and ran unsuccessfully for NYC public advocate in 2013.

His departure left a vacancy that likely will be filled by a special election called by the governor, who has not yet selected a date, but is expected to announce the contest will run concurrent with the upcoming general election in November.

After yesterday’s vote, Kavanagh’s campaign released a statement announcing that the assemblyman had secured the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his Senate bid.

“We need leaders in the state Senate who will fight for a more progressive future for New York, and I’m proud to endorse Brian Kavanagh for the 26th state Senate district,” Cuomo wrote.

“In the Assembly, Brian has been a relentless advocate for all New Yorkers, working diligently to get illegal guns off our streets, protect our environment, and preserve affordable housing.”

“Now, as the next state Senator for Manhattan and Brooklyn, I know Brian will work with me to continue New York’s proud tradition as the progressive capital of our country. Brian has my full support.”

Cuomo has come under fire from the left wing of the Democratic Party and its allies in the Working Families Party who do not believe he has done enough to assist the so-called regular Democrats in reuniting with the breakaway, eight-member IDC faction to help them re-take the majority in the Senate.

Pressure on Cuomo to help assure a Democratic majority in the Senate has grown as speculation mounts that the is considering a potential White House run in 2020.

There is likely to be a sizable Democratic field interested in taking on President Donald Trump, and if Cuomo gets into a Democratic primary situation, he’ll face the sort of true believing voters who are informed about things like Senate control and the governor’s history of endorsing – or failing to endorse – fellow Democrats in his home state.

Yuh-Line Niou, Brooklyn Dems Back Kavanagh for Senate

Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who was mentioned as a potential candidate to fill former Sen. Daniel Squadron’s seat, today announced she is throwing her support to her Assembly colleague, Brian Kavanagh, though she pledged to work to reform the special election process to give voters more of a choice in candidate selection.

“I plan to work on legislation in the Assembly to bring real democracy to the forefront of special elections and fix this broken system,” the assemblywoman wrote in a statement released this afternoon.

“…while the current rules are far from ideal, lower Manhattan needs experienced, honest, and thoughtful leaders to represent us at all levels. That’s why it is critical that we elect my friend and Assembly colleague, Brian Kavanagh, to the State Senate.”

Niou cited Kavanagh’s “vast amount of state government experience,” including his efforts as part of a group spearheaded by former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg to push for gun control.

She also said she believes Kavanagh will be a “bulwark against Trump’s extremist agenda, standing with me on the frontlines to protect our progressive values and combat Trump’s divisive policies.”

It appears that Democratic Party leaders are coalescing behind Kavanagh in advance of today’s vote by party leaders to select a candidate to run in the yet to be called special election.

He has landed the support of Brooklyn Democratic Chairman Frank Seddio, though the reformist New Kings Democrats are backing Paul Newell, a district leader who unsuccessfully challenged then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in a 2007 primary. Newell also has the support of the Downtown Independent Democrats, of which he is a member.

Kavanagh is one of five Democrats who have announced their intention to seek the seat Squadron abruptly gave up early last month.

Also running are: former NYC Council member Alan Gerson; Diego Segalini, a Lower East Side resident who’s executive vice president of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; and former Brooklyn prosecutor Eileen Naples.

Niou won a six-way race in September 2016 for the Democratic nomination for the seat Silver was forced to relinquish in 2015 due to his federal corruption conviction.

Among those she defeated were Newell and former Assemblywoman Alice Cancel, whom the disgraced speaker helped install to represent his district via an April special election in which Niou ran unsuccessfully on the Working Families Party line.

Flanagan Promotes from Within

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who has been retooling his staff headed into a make-or-break election year and in the wake of a spate of departures/firings, announced a new lineup of top staffers late this afternoon.

In a press release that arrived in my inbox shortly after 4 p.m. – (on a Friday, does this qualify as a news dump?) – Flanagan said he has appointed David Previte to serve as counsel to the majority.

Previte is moving up having previously served as senior counsel, focused on Health, Medicaid, Racing and Wagering, and Elections. He will be replacing Beth Garvey, who, Flanagan announced back in August, had informed him of her “desire to step away from the position.”

“David Previte is a skilled legal and policy professional who has what it takes to lead our Majority forward,” Flanagan said. “His intimate knowledge of the Senate and his experience navigating difficult issues both as a senior leader in our Counsel and Program office and as the State Party’s top lawyer will serve him extraordinarily well. I am confident that David will help us achieve a smooth and seamless transition.”

Flanagan also said that as part of the “overall transition, he has elevated James Curran, who recently serviced a special counsel to the majority leader and advised the conference on education issues, to the position of first Deputy within the office.

In addition, three other staffers – Lisa Harris, Jonathan Federman and Nicola Coleman – will each take on increased leadership roles within the office.

“I am thrilled to now have this outstanding team in place, and with their guidance and assistance we are going to hit the ground running next session and build on our many accomplishments as a Senate Majority,” Flanagan said.

This is the first major overhauling of staff Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, has undertaken since he took over the majority leader post from Dean Skelos back in May 2015 after Skelos was forced out of office due to a federal corruption scandal. The staff shuffle is taking place as the Republicans gear up for yet another uphill battle to retain the majority next year – and effort that will largely turn on what Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the now-eight member IDC decide to do.

Flanagan’s retooling has not entirely smooth. Garvey’s rather abrupt departure took the Capitol by surprise.

Though Flanagan formally announced her decision, he did not do the same with several other stop attorneys who dated back to the days when Dean Skelos was majority leader and had also decided to part ways with the Senate GOP, including, as the DN’s Ken Lovett reported, first assistant counsel Rebecca Lovullo, program senior counsel Tim Atkins, and Frank Alleva, a program assistant counsel.

Earlier this month, Lovett (again) reported that three more aides were leaving, but this time it was Flanagan’s decision that they should go. He reportedly dismissed Kathy Pendergast, director of majority appointments, and John Conway, the Republican commissioner at the legislative bill drafting commission. A third unnamed staffer was also on the chopping block, according to Lovett.

Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif did not provide Lovett with any comment, but an anonymous source close to the majority leader called the revolving door of the central staff a “little bit of a re-set.”

State Senate Aide Faces Domestic Violence Charges

CORRECTION: Albany Police said there was a typo in the official report and the incident actually occurred Friday morning, not Sunday as originally reported.

A staffer for state Senator William Larkin, R-Orange County, is facing charges related to a domestic dispute early Friday morning. Robert Nickol is accused of striking a woman, who sources said is his girlfriend, with a television cord, causing bruising and pain on her upper left thigh.

The incident allegedly happened on Friday around 3:15 a.m. Albany Police responded Sunday morning after being notified and arrested Nickol, who’s official title is counsel to the senator.

A judge in Albany City Court arraigned Nickol and released him Monday under supervision of probation. He is scheduled to return to the same court on September 14.

The charges are Second Degree Assault and Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon. According to Nickol’s LinkedIn profile, he has worked for the state Senate since May 2008.

We’ve reached out to Larkin’s office for comment.

Felder, Stewart-Cousins Huddle Amid Senate Fight

image1From the Morning Memo:

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins met privately in New York City on Wednesday with Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a lawmaker who is a key linchpin for control of the narrowly divided chamber.

A source described the meeting as “friendly and productive” and has been part of regular conversations between the two lawmakers.

Felder, a registered Democrat, is said to enjoy a good relationship with Stewart-Cousins, who has spoken to him on several occasions about joining the mainline conference in the Senate.

The meeting comes amid a summertime swirl over the control of the state Senate, led by Republicans with the help of Felder’s membership in the GOP conference.

The focus from liberal advocates has been on the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, which remains a key bloc of votes in the Senate chamber and has in the past worked in a majority coalition with Senate Republicans.

Felder and IDC Leader Jeff Klein for several weeks engaged in a “you first” back and forth over aligning with mainline Democrats in the chamber. Felder, Senate Democrats have pointed out, has not ruled out joining the Senate Democratic conference.

The IDC, in turn, has questioned Felder’s support for key liberal issues the left would like to see accomplished with a working Democratic majority in the state Senate.

Democrats are set to once again have 32 enrolled party members in the state Senate after November. The seat vacated by Sen. Daniel Squadron this summer is considered a safe district for the party.

Ranzenhofer: Cashless Tolling, Congestion Pricing In Separate Lanes

From the Morning Memo:

The effort to institute cashless tolling along the state Thruway system should be separate from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to institute congestion pricing at key points in New York City, Republican Sen. Michael Razenhofer said in a Wednesday Capital Tonight interview.

“I think they’re totally separate issues,” Ranzenhofer said. “First of all, the governor hasn’t issued any plan with regard to congestion pricing.”

“We’re not talking amount of tolls, we’re talking about a method of raising money and in my view they are two totally separate issues,” Ranzenhoffer added.

Ranzenhofer and fellow western New York lawmakers are pushing for the creation of a cashless tolling system throughout New York. Those without E-Z Pass accounts would have their car’s license plate photographed and a bill sent in the mail.

The move would require legislative action as would Cuomo’s congestion pricing plan, which is aimed at alleviating traffic during peak times in New York City and boost revenue for the ailing subway system.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed a new tax on the rich to bolster revenue. While Ranzenhofer did not rule out the governor’s proposal, he did dismiss the mayor’s plan as unlikely to be approved in the Republican-led Senate.

“I don’t believe that would have much chance of success in the Senate,” he said of the tax.

At the same time, the lawmaker shrugged off a New York Times story on Wednesday that scrutinized upstate legislators who are empowered to decide the fate and upkeep of the MTA, but often have little familiarity with its services, such as the subway.

Ranzenhofer said he was quite familiar with the subway: His kids live in New York City and “take the subway everyday,” he said.

“That would be like me blaming the New York City mayor for potholes on the Thruway. The city does have some control over its own destiny. This has been a situation that has deteriorated over many years and many mayors,” he said.

“When you’re mayor of a big city, you have to make sure the trains run on time.”

Former Brooklyn Prosecutor Joins Senate Race

From the Morning Memo:

A former Brooklyn assistant district attorney is joining the race to replace Democrat Daniel Squadron in the 26th Senate district.

Eileen Naples is launching her bid for the Senate, pointing to the lack of women in elected office in the Legislature: Women comprise only 22 percent of the 63-member Senate and only five women serve in the Senate Democratic conference.

“I’m running for the State Senate because the 26th District deserves someone who knows how to get things done, and because I’m appalled by how few women currently serve in the New York State Senate,” Naples said in a statement.

“I’m also a mom, a former prosecutor, and a hardworking consensus builder, and I care deeply about the 26th Senate District.”

Naples worked in the Brooklyn DA’s domestic violence bureau from 2009 to 2015 and worked as a volunteer lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“I never thought I would run for public office, but Hillary Clinton’s defeat angered and inspired me to get even more involved and find new ways enact positive change,” Naples said. “That’s why I’m running to represent the 26th District.”

Naples joins Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh and District Leader Paul Newell among those vying for the seat.

Senate Summer Fight Preludes 2018

From the Morning Memo:

A sleepy summer at the state Capitol in Albany belies the undercurrent of tension in the narrowly divided state Senate ahead of what could be a bruising and expensive 2018 election.

“The state Senate is kind of the fulcrum of policy and politics in New York. If you want low taxes on billionaires, you have to influence the Senate,” said Michael kink, the executive director of Strong Economy For All, a liberal advocacy group.

The Senate this summer is marked by a host of dramas big and small, petty and personal.

Advocacy groups jockeying to push the Independent Democratic Conference back to the mainline fold — spurred by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency and the potential White House ambitions of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The mainline Democratic conference’s hostilities with a governor of their own party — who they view as a fair weather friend at best — spilled into the pages of The New York Times that highlighted the gender and racial fault lines at play in the leadership battle.

And Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan stunned Albany by acknowledging he sought help for the personal problem of alcohol abuse.

The Senate has for the last decade been an unpredictable force in state politics and the source of heavy spending by deep-pocketed benefactors and labor groups interested in seeing which party controls the chamber — underscoring the chamber’s role in determining the outcome of everything from charter schools, to tax policy and the agenda of the mayor of the city of New York.

That’s led to a swell of money infusing local races in Republican-drawn districts, some of which are too-close-to call on Election Day, leading to prolonged legal battles.

Left leaning activists aren’t dropping the controversy surrounding Dan Loeb, a businessman and supporter of charter schools who criticized Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in racially charged remarks. Loeb has apologized, but advocates are pointing to the millions in political donations he’s made over the years, which has included supporting Senate Republicans.

“He’s pushing for tax policies, education policies, I would argue jobs and wage policies that hurt regular people and help billionaires like him,” Kink said.

A major piece of the Senate puzzle remains the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference. Pressure is being placed on the IDC by a constellation of liberal advocacy groups to form an alliance with the mainline Democrats in the Senate in hopes of reaching a governing majority.

“When you send a majority of one party to the table to start creating policy then that party should be able to do that,” Stewart-Cousins said in a Capital Tonight interview this month.

Then there are the Senate Republicans, who maintain a razor thin majority in the Senate with the aid of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder. Some Republicans have stepped up their criticism of Cuomo, including Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, considering a run for governor himself next year.

“The governor is taking another step in furthering his agenda to becoming a candidate for president in 2020,” DeFrancisco said in an interview with WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

Democrats, for now, expect to once again play offense in battleground suburban districts in the 2018 elections, eyeing the Hudson Valley and Long Island, the latter of which had been an all-GOP stronghold for several cycles.

Hillary Clinton last year did not prove to have the coattails of Barack Obama for down-ballot races. Democrats lost seats in 2010 and 2014, the two years Cuomo was on the top of the ballot.