State Senate

Avella Knocks Gianaris For ‘Caucusing’ Comment

The simmering tensions over the last several weeks between the Independent Democratic Conference and Democrats in the mainline conference stretched all the way to California.

That’s according to a letter written by IDC Sen. Tony Avella to Sen. Mike Gianaris, the chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, who allegedly told an Avella constituent this summer “tell Tony to stop caucusing with the Republicans.”

The comment was made by Gianaris at a fundraiser in California for a Democratic House member.

“I am writing to express my disgust at what I believe are your continued efforts to spread disinformation regarding the Independent Democratic Conference and purposeful efforts to widen the divide between the Democratic conferences in the Senate for your own personal gain,” Avella wrote in the letter to Gianaris, which was obtained by Capital Tonight on Wednesday.

Avella also questioned whether Gianaris should be eligible to be in the chamber’s leadership due to “your conduct over the past several years.”

Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the mainline Democrats in the Senate said, “We believe the IDC should stop empowering and co-aligning with the Republicans and we look forward to unification.”

The IDC, a key bloc of Democrats in the Senate, are separate from the Republican conference. Though the IDC has in the past formed a majority coalition with the Senate Republicans, the GOP conference retains a working majority with the aid of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder.

IDC members chair committees in the Senate, while conference leader Jeff Klein is included in the closed-door budget negotiations with the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader.

Claims that the IDC actively caucuses or sits with Senate Republicans have been especially sensitive for the bloc’s members.

“I find your continued conduct both disingenuous and disgraceful when your clear intent is to mislead and misinform the public on this issue,” Avella wrote. “This leads me to wonder is your desire for a position of power so blinding that you are willing to purposefully mislead the public.”

The letter comes amid heightened tensions between Democrats in the state Senate as a unity effort is being pushed.

The eight-member Independent Democratic Conference is being pressured by liberal advocates and some party elected officials to form a new alliance with the mainline Democratic conference.

State Senate Democrats earlier on Wednesday met with Democratic members of the state’s House delegation to discuss support for the unity effort.

Avella Letter by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Senate Dem Leaders Meet With House Delegation On Senate Control

Democratic leaders in the state Senate on Wednesday huddled with House Democrats to discuss control of the chamber in Albany as the party seeks a new unity pact.

The meeting included Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Deputy Leader Mike Gianaris and Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter, the longest-serving Democratic member of the New York delegation.

“Democrats in the New York Congressional delegation are lockstep that we must have a unified, governing Democratic majority in the state senate,” Slaughter said in a statement.

“Today we expressed our solidarity with the Senate Democratic leaders who are pushing for that change and are taking a responsible approach to fixing the senate situation. The wishes of the voters are flouted when they elect Democrats to the state senate that caucus with and function as Republicans. When that happens it’s not democracy, it’s deception. It’s gone on long enough. We have to break the Republican and IDC political partnership that facilitates a Trump agenda in New York.”

Democrats are trying to forge a unity pact between the mainline conference and the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference in order to form a new majority coalition in the chamber.

Republicans control the chamber with 32 members, which includes Brookyln Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who sits with the GOP conference.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been pushed by liberals to broker a truce between the factions in the chamber and the he’s met several times with lawmakers from both sides to discuss unification.

Flanagan Recognizes Organ Donor Enrollment Day

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Wednesday recognized Enrollment Day for organ donations — an issue that has been a key one for the Republican Long Island lawmaker.

Flanagan is making a concerted push today for the issue, appearing WFAN sports radio in the New York City area while promoting the issue of having more people register to become donors.

“As a proudly registered organ donor, in honor of my late friend Assemblyman James Conte, I urge everyone to sign up to help make a difference in the lives of our fellow New Yorkers,” Flanagan said in a statement. “If you have not already registered, please consider signing up to be an organ and tissue donor today. Thank you to all who have registered to save lives and to all who will soon take this important step.”

Flanagan has made organ donation a centerpiece issue during his time as majority leader. He’s backed efforts that include $300,000 aimed at promoting organ transplanting, bringing it to $1.3 million in total for the state budget.

At the same time, Flanagan is also supported the passage of legislation designed to boost donor registration, including registering 16 and 17-year-olds as well as providing for the Donate Life Registry through the state health exchange.

“Each year the waiting list for organ transplants grows longer, with nearly 10,000 New Yorkers currently awaiting a transplant in this state alone,” said Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon. “As a longtime proponent of organ donation, and the sponsor of laws to allow donors to sign up through the State’s Health Benefit Exchange, I urge residents to strongly become a lifesaving organ and tissue donor.”

Analyzing Klein Primary, Senate Dems Eyed Vacca

As party unity talks swirl publicly and privately, Senate Democrats eyed Bronx Councilman Jimmy Vacca as an ideal candidate to challenge Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein in a primary, documents obtained by Capital Tonight show.

The analysis concluded Vacca “would clearly be the best candidate against Klein.”

A spokesman for Vacca on Tuesday said “he has no intention of running.”

More broadly, the analysis argued Klein is vulnerable in a Democratic primary next year and assessed his victory over former city Councilman Oliver Koppell.

“Klein is formidable, but vulnerable,” the report stated.

The report broke down the results of the 2014 Koppell challenge by council district and congressional district as well as by neighborhood. Klein handily defeated Koppell, also a former state attorney general, in the primary.

A spokesman for the Senate Democrats declined to comment.

IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove rebuffed the report.

“If Senator Gianaris and Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins spent as much time analyzing senate districts that we could win as they do on their unhealthy obsession with Senator Jeff Klein, they would be much better served,” she said.

The report was quoted in The Daily News on Monday, which reported Deputy Senate Minority Leader Mike Gianaris had held discussions with potential candidates to primary Klein. Elements from the report first appeared in The Daily News.

The eight-member IDC is being pressured by liberals to rejoin or form an alliance with the mainline Democratic conference in the state Senate, where Republicans have a narrow hold on power. The GOP conference retains a majority with the aid of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who is not an IDC member.

However, the IDC remains a key bloc of lawmakers in the chamber.

As the chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Gianaris is in charge of recruiting Democrats for the mainline conference.

The discussions and analysis of a Klein primary challenge come as Democrats have publicly and privately pushed for party unity in the Senate.

In July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo met with Democrats as part of a push to broker a peace in the chamber. In August, Cuomo met with both Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Klein to discuss reunification.

“We always have a good conversation,” Stewart-Cousins told reporters on Monday in Albany.

She said potential primary pushes were not discussed.

Stewart-Cousins said the unification talks are separate from the political work of holding discussions with potential candidates.

“There are multiple things that always happen and something that always happens as it relates to the campaign committee is there are people who say they’re interested in running against that person. Senator Gianaris always meets with people out of respect, quite frankly. These are very different things. The ideal is Democrats come back together. I think that would be a great solution.”

201710011312 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Bill Would Crack Down On On False Political Ads On Social Media

A bill introduced Tuesday by Democratic state senators seeks to crack down on fraudulent political attack ads posted on social media.

The bill comes amid a national debate over ads and social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter that had sought to sway the presidential election. Facebook in September revealed it had sold $100,000 in advertising to a purchaser with ties to the Russian government and has since vowed to institute reforms in how political ads are displayed.

This is a more state and local-level effort to combat misleading attacks and other information spread with intent on social media. In recent years, political ads have targeted key Senate districts from groups with benign sounding names.

Lawmakers also released a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with examples of how the platform spread misinformation in his legislative district.

“False, misleading, and anonymous advertisements mislead voters and harm our democracy–and it must end immediately,” Sen. Todd Kaminsky said. “Not another political ad should run on social media without voters knowing exactly who paid for it. It’s one thing to lie to a voter; it’s quite another to be able to do it anonymously, without any accountability. Political ads on television, in mail and new media platforms like Facebook should be transparent.”

The bill, introduced by Kaminsky, would require political ads that appear on social media to state who paid for them by expanding the definition of what constitutes a political advertisement. This would also cover advertisements sent by mail.

“Voter participation is at embarrassing lows because we make it too hard to participate in our democracy, and because dirty campaign tactics and fake news frustrate New Yorkers,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Journalist Launches Senate Run

New York City political journalist Ross Barkan announced Tuesday is running for the state Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Martin Golden.

“I’ve lived in the neighborhood of Bay Ridge just about my entire life, but that’s not the point,” Barkan wrote in a post on Medium. “This campaign won’t be about me reading my resume off a piece of paper. This campaign will be about telling the truth. I will say what others are afraid to say — or can’t. I will fight for the issues that matter. I will stand up to anyone who tries to screw the people of New York City.”

He’s written for The New York Observer, Village Voice and The Guardian.

In his Medium post, Barkan criticized Golden as “a Donald Trump-loving Republican, has stood idly by as Cuomo’s MTA fails everyone in southwest Brooklyn and across the city.”

Golden, a longtime Brooklyn GOP lawmaker, is one of three GOP conference members in the state Senate from New York City. He has been in the past an elusive target of Senate Democrats to flip the seat.

Barkan has been sharply critical in his reporting of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, which has been allied with Senate Republicans in the chamber.

He would not be the first media personality to enter the Senate. Republican Sen. Rich Funke, a former sports broadcaster in Rochester made the leap to politics. Before entering politics on the local level, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins worked as a reporter as well.

Resource-Sharing Resolution Tables Amid Senate Jockeying

A resolution calling on the state Democratic Committee to share a quarter of its funding with the political arm of the mainline Democrats was tabled on Tuesday at a meeting in Rye, according to a Democratic source.

It’s not clear why, exactly, the resolution was set aside, with some insisting the resolution was tabled over concerns from upstate committee members that the money would be spent on downstate legislative campaigns, others sympathetic to Senate Democrats pointing to those on the committee who are allies of the governor.

The resolution itself was set aside in the Progressive Caucus of the committee.

Either way, the fissures among New York Democrats, with the Senate as a focal point, opened anew on Monday.

Hours earlier, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins speaking at a union rally in Albany with reporters said she believes Cuomo is on her side when it comes to uniting the party in the chamber.

“I think the governor sees we’re in a critical position and I believe he believes Democrats uniting is the best way forward,” she said. “So yeah, I think so.”

Unity discussions have come in fits and starts in the Senate over the last several years, but the push has taken on a new urgency after Republicans gained control of all levers of power in Washington last year.

“I think it’s a different environment,” Stewart-Cousins said. “It’s a national conversation now.”

Still, distrust on all sides remains. Stewart-Cousins’s deputy leader, Queens Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris, has met with potential primary opponents to members of the Independent Democratic Conference.

“He is meeting with people all of the time,” she said. “It’s his job to meet with people. He has a job to do and he does it.”

As for sharing money for Democrats to take on Republicans next year — the GOP conference typically outraises the Democratic committee — Stewart-Cousins indicated that was vital.

“Quite honestly the state party standing up for the DSCC, for Senate Democrats, is really very, very important,” she said. “We’re at a critical time not only in our state, but in our nation. The idea that resources should be directed to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is really important for us to expand our map and really to be able to give the leadership that they deserve.”

Senate Unity Reso To Be Considered At Democratic Meeting

resoNew York Democrats at a meeting in Rye later today will once again consider the passage of a resolution calling for unifying the party in the fractious state Senate.

The resolution also calls for the state committee to bolster the prospects of the party by committing 25 percent of its funds to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

A similar message was approved in July by state Democrats. The committee is due to meet this afternoon at the Rye Hilton in Westchester County.

Liberals are placing an increasing amount of pressure on the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate, which is narrowly led by Senate Republicans.

The IDC was first formed in 2011 and has worked well with Senate Republicans, passing measures that include in recent years multiple increases in the minimum wage and a paid family leave program. But mainline Democrats argue more could be done if the party had full control of the chamber.

Republicans maintain majority control outright with the help of Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who conferences with the GOP. But the IDC has remained a key bloc of lawmakers and its leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, is included in closed-door budget negotiations with the legislative leaders from the Assembly and Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

On Sunday, state Democratic Committee Chairman Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo, released an open letter through the state committee calling for unity in the chamber, citing Washington dysfunction and the post-storm crisis in Puerto Rico.

Liberals are also pushing Cuomo once again to push both sides together in the chamber, though the governor has cited personality conflicts among Democrats that he believes makes such an effort difficult.

State Dem Chair Calls For IDC-Dem Unity In Senate

Byron Brown, the state Democratic Committee chairman and Buffalo mayor, in a lengthy letter released on Sunday morning called for party unity in the fractious and narrowly divided state Senate.

The letter comes a day before Democrats are due to meet in Rye for a state committee gathering.

Primary campaigns have not kicked into high gear for the state Senate, though Klein’s conference is expected to once again face challenges.

In the letter, Brown pointed to dysfunction in Washington, D.C. and the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico after a devastating hurricane.

“This division of almost a decade has been based on personal animus and infighting, and it has gone on for far too long. Governor Cuomo has repeatedly brought leaders to the table and worked to broker unity, to no avail,” wrote Brown, who is appointed to the chairman post by the governor. “All Democrats across our State must hold their Senators accountable.”

IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove said in a statement, “As we enter the campaign season the Independent Democratic Conference will continue to work to elect Democrats who will fight against the draconian policies coming out of Washington and have a laser beam focus on protecting labor and our middle class.”

It’s the latest push to reunify the Senate Democrats, or at least call an uneasy truce in the chamber. Brown has made the call several times before and a unity resolution passed earlier this year.

The Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate has come under increasing pressure since last year’s presidential election to form a new alliance with the mainline Democrats in the chamber.

Formed in 2011, the conference has grown to include eight members, with several defections to the IDC from the mainline conference in the last year.

Liberals are increasingly frustrated with the group’s alliance with Senate Republicans. Though the GOP maintains an outright majority with the aid of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who is not an IDC member, the IDC continues to be a key bloc for Republicans.

The IDC and GOP held a governing majority coalition for a two-year term.

IDC Leader Jeff Klein has defended the conference’s relationship with Republicans, noting key issues such as paid family leave and multiple increases in the state’s minimum wage have been approved during the last several years. At the same time, Klein has argued key issues such as strengthening abortion laws still would not be accomplished with a Democratic majority.

But liberal advocates and other Democrats say more could have been done had the party held an outright majority.

Brown, however, also seemed to call for a disarmament of sorts from mainline Democrats as well, while also criticizing Felder’s alliance with Republicans (Felder has suggested he would sit with whichever party is best for his constituents).

“There is no more time, or room, for this ongoing schism that is based on personal power and control for a select few,” Brown’s letter stated.

“The IDC refuses to rejoin the Democratic conference in order to retain their own independence and perks. The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee continues to attack the IDC either sabotaging reconciliation or at a minimum diminishing the chances for reconciliation. Meanwhile, one Senator exploits the situation and reaps benefits from sitting with the Republicans, although he has been repeatedly elected as a Democrat.”

At the same time, Cuomo is being pushed to call elections for Senate seats that could potentially open, including one expected to be vacated in the Bronx next month by Ruben Diaz, Sr., in order to keep the party’s numbers in the chamber.

In a TV interview on Sunday, Cuomo echoed Brown’s letter, pointing to potential budget cuts from the federal government impacting the state.

“I support what the chairman said, what’s happening in the state senate, and this started in 2009, the margin between democrats and republicans is so close that almost anyone can be a king maker,” Cuomo said in a NY1 interview.

“I believe Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is the democratic conference leader, wants unity but I think you have egos, and individual power plays at work. The chairman is saying, ‘Enough with your ego and your petty politics and I don’t care what you’re title is and what your position is. You’re a democrat, we need help, put your own ego aside, unify and let’s get to work.'”

Klein Says Bill Could Help Preserve State Property Tax Deduction

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein blasted on Thursday the proposed end to a deduction for state and local taxes.

But he also said an IDC-backed bill would help keep the state property tax deduction. The legislation is sponsored by IDC Sen. David Carlucci.

“In the worst case, Senator David Carlucci already introduced legislation which would preserve a state property tax deduction if the ill-conceived plan moves forward in Washington,” Klein.

Klein is the latest legislative leader to criticize President Donald Trump’s proposed tax reform plan. Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins earlier today was critical of the proposal to end deductions, while Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have also previously come out against the plan.

“The Independent Democratic Conference has long opposed this bad tax policy coming from Washington that will burden New Yorkers, especially our middle-class homeowners who would lose the ability to deduct their property taxes on a state level. To a middle-class family, a home is their greatest asset and we should not make homeownership a hinderance,” Klein said.

“In an analysis conducted in May, the IDC found that the President’s tax plan will collectively cost homeowners $21 billion more annually, and we call on Congress to combat it on a federal level. Our working- and middle-class residents cannot afford to lose these benefits come tax time.”