State Senate

Gounardes Raises $114K For Senate Bid

Senate candidate Andrew Gounardes will report more than $100,000 in cash on hand in his bid to take on Republican Sen. Marty Golden this fall.

Gounardes, a Democrat who is undertaking his second campaign for the state Senate, has raised $114,349 from 636 individual donors and has $104,273 in the bank. He announced his campaign in November.

Gounardes and journalist Ross Barkan are vying for the Democratic nod to take on Golden.

Goundardes’s campaign touted the small-dollar donations, with 56 percent of the contributions received totaling $50 or less. The average donation was $166, with nearly 40 percent of the donations coming from within the Brooklyn Senate district.

“With more than half of our donations coming from small-dollar donors, this is truly a people-powered campaign to fight for fully funded schools, safe streets, and to fix our broken transit system,” said Gounardes. “Our supporters are real people, not special interests, because New Yorkers of all stripes are fed up with a state government that doesn’t represent them and they demand open, honest, and accountable leadership from Albany.”

Bill Would Provide For Safe Disposal Of Prescription Drugs

A bill sponsored by Sens. Kemp Hannon and Tom O’Mara would create a system of safely disposing of unused prescription drugs through a buyback program, the lawmakers on Monday announced.

The bill would create a unified statewide program that would have pharmaceutical manufacturers responsible for the costs of the program, including public education and transportation, collection and destruction.

At the same time, the bill would require chain pharmacies and mail-order pharmacies to provide customers with on-site collection and pre-paid envelopes that can be mailed back with unused medications.

The bill is part of an effort to combat prescription drug and opioid abuse.

“New York, like the rest of the nation, continues to struggle with the opioid addiction crisis,” said Hannon, who is chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “Despite our best efforts to stem the tide of opioid related deaths, the number of deaths continue to rise. Due to the fact that some drug addictions are first supplied by leftover medication a family member or friend did not use, cutting off that supply is essential.”

In addition, the measure could have the impact of safeguarding drinking water by the prevention of drugs being improperly disposed.

“It’s incredibly important to do anything and everything we can to complement and support the efforts of local law enforcement and other community leaders to combat prescription drug abuse,” O’Mara said.

“These efforts include National Prescription Drug Take Back Days and other initiatives like this one to facilitate the collection, and safe and responsible disposal of unused medications. This proposal to greatly expand the number of permanent, locally based drop-off locations would be a very positive, cost-effective addition to the state’s ongoing, overall strategy to protect our communities and local environments.”

Updated: PhRMA has responded to the bill in a statement.

“Implementing new and costly mandated take-back programs are not the solution to proper medicine disposal and will not address prescription drug abuse. In fact, take-back kiosks are a very visible collection point for medicines, which could make them a target for abuse and diversion and put pharmacies and other locations that host these kiosks at risk. And given the Department of Environmental Conversation (DEC) is currently rolling out a two-year pilot take-back program, this legislation is also premature and duplicative because it creates a conceptually similar program through an entirely different agency.

“Instead of implementing a flawed program, we urge New York to consider meaningful, measurable and comprehensive mechanisms to educate consumers on how to safeguard medicines in the home, how to ensure patients are taking their medicines as prescribed – thereby significantly mitigating unused medicines in the first place – and how to safely and securely dispose of their unused medicines in the household trash, which is widely accepted by national government agencies as a safe and secure method for consumers to dispose of their unused medicines.”

Former Staffers Call Klein ‘A Man Of Strong Integrity’

A second letter signed by women in support of Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein was released Friday, this time signed by former staffers in his office.

“The national reckoning over sexual harassment in the workplace was long overdue and we admire the bravery of every woman who has come forward to share intimate details about painful personal experiences. While we cannot comment on the specifics of the allegation, we can attest that the behavior alleged is completely out of step with the man we have worked closely with, and some of us have known personally and professionally for years,” the letter states. “In our interactions with him, we have never witnessed or experienced anything that would make us question Senator Klein’s honor or integrity.”

Klein has been accused of forcibly kissing a then-aide in March 2015, a claim he’s denied.

The letter, signed by eight former staffers in Klein’s office, calls him a “man of strong integrity” who has been a “tireless advocate for women.”

It also touts the legislative issues Klein has supported while in office.

“Throughout his time in office, he has sponsored and supported legislation to strengthen and protect women’s rights, including ending the statute of limitations for rape victims, enacting gender pay equity, protecting domestic violence victims, and combating workplace sexual harassment,” the letter states.

“He was also the key force behind the Paid Family Leave program, often considered one of the best programs in the nation. Additionally, he spearheaded the effort to protect vital women’s health services from potential federal budget cuts, including insurance coverage for contraception, funding for Planned Parenthood, and a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions.”

The letter comes hours after another email was sent with a letter signed by community leaders in support of Klein. In both instances, the letters were sent through a public relations firm Klein has retained.

Klein on Thursday asked the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to investigate the allegation.

The letters also come as liberal advocacy groups that have been critical of the IDC over the years have mobilized to push Klein to step down as IDC leader. TrueBlueNY, a progressive group, held a rally in New York City today, while the Working Families Party in a statement called on him to resign his leadership post in the midst of the investigation.

Sen. Diane Savino, who has been romantically involved with Klein, in a statement said the rally was politically motivated.

“The organizer of the rally, True Blue NY, was literally founded to end the IDC so it’s pretty clear that calls for resignation have more to do with politics than anything else,” she said.

Stewart-Cousins Blasts Trump’s Immigration Comments

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement Friday criticized President Donald Trump’s comments in the Oval Office in which he decried immigrants from “shithole” countries coming to the United States.

“As President Trump continues to make outrageous and outright racist statements, all those who disagree have a responsibility to speak out,” she said. “Referring to African nations and Haiti in derogatory, demeaning, and vulgar terms is absolutely unacceptable. The President’s remarks are disgraceful and in no way reflect our American values of inclusion and acceptance.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also responded on Twitter, posting the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty.

Trump has offered a vague denial of the exchange, but it was confirmed by Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin.

WFP Calls For Klein To Step Aside As Leader

The labor-aligned Working Families Party in a statement Friday called on Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein to step aside from his leadership post as an investigation is conducted into an allegation that he forcibly kissed a former legislative staffer.

“Elected officials must be held to the highest standards of behavior,” the WFP stated. “The allegations made against Senator Klein are serious and credible, and we therefore strongly agree with those who have called for an independent investigation. In addition, we believe Senator Klein’s response attempting to discredit the former employee who accused him was unacceptable. Based on that conduct and the seriousness of the charges, the WFP calls on both the IDC and the Senate to remove him from his leadership posts until the investigation is completed.”

The party has been at odds with Klein and his eight-member conference and critical of the IDC for working with Republicans in narrowly divided Senate. The IDC has been a key bloc of votes in the chamber and formed a coalition government with the GOP for two years that gave Klein the title of Senate co-president.

Klein on Thursday sent a letter to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics asking they conduct an investigation into the allegation by Erica Vladimer, the then-aide who accused him of the sexual misconduct.

Klein on Wednesday in a conference call with reporters said he would not resign as the leader of the IDC, which was founded in 2011.

In Letter, Women For Vouch For Klein As A ‘Gentleman’

A group of women have signed onto a letter vouching for Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein as a “gentleman and a decent human being” as he faces an allegation of forcibly kissing a then legislative staffer in 2015.

The letter was released Friday morning, two days after The Huffington Post reported the on-the-record allegation by the former aide, Erica Vladimer.

The letter was released by a representative of Global Strategy Group, which is handling public relations work for Klein after the story first broke this week.

In the letter, the women state the allegation is “at odds” with their experience in working with him and his support for women’s rights.

“We fully support the brave women that have come forward in this historic moment to bring sexual misconduct to the forefront of our national conversation,” the letter states.

“Although we cannot comment on the specific facts of the allegation, we believe the conduct ascribed to Senator Klein is thoroughly at odds with our experience as women working with him as well as his strong support for women’s rights across New York and particularly in the 34th Senate District. For more than 30 years we have only known Jeff Klein to be a kind, passionate dedicated public servant, a true gentleman and a decent human being.”

The development is a similar one for powerful men accused of sexual misconduct. Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers both had women publicly coming forward to vouch for them after they were accused of harassment. Both Conyers and Franken later resigned.

Marcy Letter for Jeff Klein by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Klein Calls For JCOPE Investigation Of Allegation Against Him

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein on Thursday called for an investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics into the allegation of sexual misconduct made against him by a former legislative aide.

In the letter, Klein points to the attorney he hired after he was initially contacted last week by The Huffington Post about the allegation by Erica Vladimer.

“My attorney conducted a series of interviews with current and former staffers present at the time of the alleged incident, none of whom observed the complained of conduct,” Klein wrote. “These interviews and others showed that I have never engaged in such conduct and have been a proponent and advocate of fair and equal treatment for women, in and outside of the workplace.”

The letter comes after elected officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, called for an independent investigation into the claim, alleged to have occurred in March 2015.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan earlier in the day said in a statement the Senate Ethics Committee did not have the jurisdiction to the review the case.

JCOPE is composed of appointees by the legislative leaders of the Assembly and Senate as well as the governor. Klein himself does not have an appointee on the commission.

The entity, which regulates lobbying and ethics in state government, has come under criticism over the years for the opacity of its rules and processes as well as transparency. The panel previously investigated cases of harassment involving Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak.

Request for Independent Investigation by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Former Klein Staffer: ‘Today, I Use My Voice.’

The former Senate staffer who accused Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein of forcibly kissing her in 2015 in a Facebook post called for people in power to be held accountable and fix a “broken system” that allows sexual harassment and misconduct to occur.

“This is only the first step,” she wrote in her first public comments since The Huffington Post reported on the allegation.

“Legislation geared towards supporting and protecting victims is needed; laws protecting staff from becoming victims are necessary. But legislation and rules can only go so far. It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable. I am willing to risk everything to help that happen. I am pleased to see calls for an independent investigation, and I am hopeful that it will not stop at this one incident, but attempt to overhaul a broken system where such a culture has been allowed to fester for decades.”

And Vladimer expressed solidarity with other people who have faced similar “Me Too” moments of harassment.

“If, after reading my story, you find yourself saying, “Me too,” please know that I am here for you. You do not have to go through this alone. Publicly or privately, together, we can move forward,” she wrote. “Together, we can point at those in power and remind them: Not me. Not anyone. Not anymore.”

Klein has denied the allegation.

The full post from Vladimer can be found after the jump. More >

DeFran Sees Politics In Klein Allegation

Sen. John DeFrancisco in a radio interview Thursday morning said there are political considerations tied up in the allegation facing Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.

Klein, who was accused on Wednesday of forcibly kissing a former staffer in 2015, is the leader of a key bloc of votes in the Senate and agreed to a unity deal that would unite the factions of Democrats in the chamber by the spring, potentially handing control of the Senate to the party.

“We’re right in the midst of a strong movement to undo the Independent Democrats and make them come back to the mainline Democrats,” DeFrancisco told WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “If people don’t think that’s part of what’s going on here they’re not looking at the whole picture.”

He added, “I don’t think there’s a conspiracy, but nowadays, people in politics can change things a lot more than at the ballot box.”

DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican and the deputy majority leader, is considering a run for governor.

Klein insisted Wednesday in an impromptu conference call with reporters he would remain the leader of the IDC. At least one group, the New York City-based liberal organization TrueBlue that has been critical of the IDC, has called for Klein to step down.

“They obviously have their political futures involved as well,” DeFrancisco said . “They’ve got to vote or act in a way that’s consistent to what their constituents want. If people think she’s not doing that, well that’s something that the voters will ultimately determine with respect to how she acts in this whole thing.”

DeFrancisco backed a call for an investigation into the on-the-record claim by the former staffer, Erica Vladimer, but cautioned not to jump to conclusions.

“I agree it should be investigated, but as far as any conclusions being made right now, I can’t see anyone who would reasonably make a conclusion,” he said.

Flanagan Says Klein Probe Not Within Senate’s Purview

An investigation into the allegation facing Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein does not fall within the jurisdiction of the state Senate, Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan said in a statement Thursday.

“At this point, this is an allegation in which no formal complaint was ever made. While it may be within the scope of other entities, an investigation into this matter is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate,” Flanagan said in a statement.

Klein, who has been a coalition with Senate Republicans, is accused of forcibly kissing a then-staffer outside of a bar in Albany in 2015. Klein has denied the incident took place, telling reporters on Wednesday he would welcome an investigation into the matter.

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have both called for independent investigations into the allegation.

The Senate Ethics Committee includes several members of Klein’s IDC bloc, including Sens. David Valesky, Diane Savino and David Carlucci. All IDC members have publicly backed Klein after the on-the-record allegation by the former staffer, Erica Vladimer, was reported.

The allegation also comes as Klein and mainline Senate Democrats have agreed to a unity deal meant to give the party a working majority in the state Senate after two vacancies in the chamber are filled by special election this spring.

Flanagan in his statement complimented Klein and said harassment claims need to be taken seriously.

“I know Senator Klein to be a good and decent person who treats others with respect,” Flangan said. “We take every allegation of sexual harassment seriously and will continue to encourage everyone to come forward. In the meantime, we will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the policies and procedures in place are best serving our members and our staff, and fostering a safe workplace.”