State Senate

NY Dems Adopt Senate Unity Resolution

The state Democratic Committee on Tuesday adopted a resolution that backed the unification of the party in the state Senate — pushing the Independent Democratic Conference to form a new alliance with the mainline conference in the chamber.

The move is the latest pressure point on the IDC, which has grown by three members in less than a year, but has drawn increasing consternation from liberals who have criticized the conference’s working relationship with the Senate Republicans.

Much of the increased ire came after the Republican success on the federal level and the election of Donald Trump to the White House. Democrats have a numerical majority in the Senate, but Republicans retain power with the aid of Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who sits with the GOP conference.

Still, the IDC has remained a powerful and key bloc of votes in the closely divided Senate. IDC Leader Jeff Klein is included in the top-level legislative leaders’ meetings with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“I think after the election last year, it’s important for Democrats to reinforce what it means to be a Democrat,” said Basil Smikle, the committee’s executive director.

“When we have Democratic members of the state Senate who are working with Republican members who may undermine progressive legislation and values we’d like to get promoted here in New York — and with the leadership of the governor and the chairmen — this is where the rubber meets the road.”

But Smikle stopped short of what role the head of the party — Gov. Andrew Cuomo — should take on reuniting the party in the Senate. Cuomo this move declared he wouldn’t be able to force the lawmakers to work together, comparing it a shotgun marriage.

“This is an issue for the Senate chamber,” Smikle said. “It’s hard for anybody not in that chamber to not have an impact on how that chamber organizes itself.”

In a statement, IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove criticized the committee members who pushed for the resolution.

“The reason why the Democratic Party is losing across the nation and at home is that they are coopted by a small band of misfits who continue to talk to each other in echo chambers and refuse to acknowledge that the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy and Clinton no longer has the ability to communicate with working-class voters,” she said.

“The Independent Democratic Conference will continue to fight for the working class and espouse the hopes and aspirations of all New Yorkers. Big tent Democratic politics is good government and good politics. We will see you at the polls.”

Updated: Mainline Democratic conference spokesman Mike Murphy responded to Giove’s statement, noting the institutional support for a Senate unification agreement.

“It is disturbing that the IDC thinks the entire state party, the DNC, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the entire NY Democratic Congressional Delegation, Mayor de Blaiso, Public Advocate Tish James, Comptroller Scott Stringer and many more national and local leaders are just a ‘small band of misfits’. It shows how out of touch and corrupted by power they have become in this GOP coalition,” he said.

The grassroots of the party in New York and elsewhere have moved further to the left over the course of the last several years. A significant portion of the party’s delegation to the Democratic National Committee last year were supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the not nominee, adopted New York resident Hillary Clinton.

At the same time, Cuomo has come under criticism from the left for the Senate arrangement, saying he prefers the Senate to be led by Republicans to moderate the influence of the large Democratic majority in the Assembly.

Also Tuesday, Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Cuomo from the left in a 2014 primary, was elected to a committee post from Dutchess County.

Nevertheless, other resolutions to encourage Democratic unity in the Senate in previous years have fallen short.

“If you do not fall in line with this,” Smikle said, “there are going to be ramifications.”

Senate Dems Urge DEC To Ban Fracking Waste Disposal

From the Morning Memo:

Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate on Thursday sent a letter urging the Department of Environmental Conservation to end the disposal of tracking waste in New York.

The letter, sent by Sens. Brad Holyman and Liz Krueger and signed by 11 of their conference members, urged the DEC to take up the ban through regulations that would adopt the broad strokes of a bill sponsored by Hoylman.

The regulations, supporters say, are aimed at prohibiting the disposal of gas and oil drilling waste and the close what they say is a loophole in disposal requirements. The concern has been the waste ends up in wastewater treatment facilities, landfills and as part of a de-icing agent on roadways.

“We are concerned that, despite New York State’s ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, and the widespread evidence of the danger posed to public health by fracking, gas and oil drilling waste from fracking sites is ending up in our communities,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

The Cuomo administration in 2015 moved to administratively ban hydrofracking.

“We applaud Governor Cuomo for his promise to protect New Yorkers from the danger of tracking,” the letter states, “and urge you to fulfill that promise by ensuring protection from potentially hazardous fracking waste.”

Part 360 DEC Comments July 20 2017 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Avella Bill Would Curb ‘Ballot Switches’

Queens Sen. Tony Avella on Wednesday announced plans to introduce a bill that would seek to curb so-called “ballot switching” after an outgoing member of the city Council announced abruptly he would not seek re-election, only to have his political ally run for the post.

“This practice of ‘declining’ the ballot line and hand picking your replacement after it is already too late for anyone else to enter the race is nothing short of election fraud,” Avella said.

“It deprives voters of both running for office themselves and electing a candidate of their choosing. Rather, it says to the voter that their right to a fair and free election is not worth honoring. We need serious reform on this practice in New York and changing the ‘Committee on Vacancies’ process is the perfect starting point. I look forward to formally introducing this legislation and giving power back to the voter.”

The bill comes as Councilman David Greenfield this week announced he would not seek re-election, but came after petitions were submitted, effectively boxing out other potential successors. The candidate replacing Greenfield was selected by the Committee on Vacancies, which he controls.

The Senate Money Race

Donations to Senate Republicans continued to outpace the campaign committee supporting mainline Senate Democrats, campaign financed records show.

All told, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee reported $1.29 million in cash on hand after raising $1.2 million. The conference’s housekeeping account reported $84,663 in cash on hand, but had a high burn rate for campaign-related expenses totaling $707,901 over the last six months.

Mainline Democrats, meanwhile, reported $534,913 in the bank after raising $526,518 since the start of the year. In their housekeeping account, Senate Democrats retain $5,726 after spending $238,732.

The Senate Independence Committee, the campaign committee started by the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, has $981,628 in cash on hand; $383,235 in its soft money account.

The fundraising race is key for the Senate, where the chamber is narrowly divided. Republicans maintain a majority with help from Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, but the IDC plays a key role in legislative and budget negotiations.

Liberal advocacy groups have once again pointed to the alliance between Republicans and the IDC this year in urging Democratic control of the chamber.

The filings made public this week show Republicans continue to receive support from their traditional backers, including real estate interests and some labor unions.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, received a $30,000 infusion of cash from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a Washington-based group that has sought to elect more Democratic candidates to state office.

Judge Won’t Dismiss Maziarz Corruption Case

An Albany County judge on Friday denied a dismissal motion by former Sen. George Maziarz, setting up a trial on fraud charges in August.

“We look forward to proving our felony corruption charges against Mr. Maziarz in court next month,” said Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office is prosecuting the case.

Maziarz is accused of playing a role in a “multilayered pass through scheme” that had him using campaign funds and the Niagara County Republican Committee to funnel payments to a former Senate staffer who had been accused of sexual harassment.

Maziarz served as a top ranking Republican senator from western New York until 2012, when he abruptly announced he would not seek re-election.

A separate but related case brought against Sen. Robert Ortt was dismissed in June. Ortt had been accused of obtaining a no-show job for his wife in order to make up for a pay reduction he took to become the mayor of the City of North Tonawanda.

Maziarz%2c George – Decision MTD by Nick Reisman on Scribd

LIRR Upgrade Agreement Reached

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Republicans have agreed to back a $1.9 billion upgrade to the Long Island Rail Road as the “summer of hell” this week gets underway.

Support for the main line project came just as Majority Leader John Flanagan was being pushed by a campaign launched by the business-backed Long Island Association and labor groups criticizing the lack of an agreement on the project.

“We can and should have transformative investments that benefit Long Island – – that goes without saying. However, on a very basic level the MTA must get people safely from point A to point B,” Flanagan said in a statement. “That too is extraordinarily, and perhaps beyond, important.”

The proposal would add nearly 10 miles of new track on the LIRR’s Main Line and is backed by Long Island elected officials who had pushed Flanagan to back the upgrades in a series of statements last week.

But the project had stalled as an amendment to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Capital Plan was withdrawn at the Capital Program Review Board, potentially fearing a veto from Flanagan’s appointees on the board. The amendment was resubmitted by the MTA for consideration this month.

In his statement, Flanagan indicated he had sought a thorough review of the project, saying there had been “internal and external discussions.”

“There have always been short and long-term issues to consider, and it was wrong for some to pit the promise of something new against incredibly important repairs that exist every day in the lives of real people and real taxpayers,” he said.

Hours after the Long Island Association released an ad online knocking the lack of progress, the agreement was announced.

“Governor Cuomo and Majority Leader Flanagan should be commended for reaching an agreement to add a Third Track to the LIRR that was envisioned a half century ago,” said association president and CEO Kevin Law, “and will now result in a $2 billion investment to the region, economic growth and a better experience for commuters while addressing the legitimate concerns of surrounding communities.”

Leadership Scales Back Outside Income

From the Morning Memo:

During their time in power, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver made thousands of dollars in outside income as attorneys.

But their clients remained a mystery. Financial disclosure statements from their successors in the Assembly and Senate made public late last week tell a different story.

“It makes sense to us that the legislative leaders with their enormous power would step back from making money on the side and we think it’s an indication — at least for now — that it’s going to be the practice in Albany,” said NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner.

For the second straight year, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader John Flanagan reported almost no outside income. Heastie, an accountant by training, has not received outside income since becoming speaker; Flanagan resigned from his law firm when he took the leadership post.

IDC Leader Jeff Klein in 2015 also has stepped down from his law firm. Still, most lawmakers do not continue to hold dual roles as legislator and taking in outside income.

Not everyone is an attorney. One lawmaker is a funeral home director. Another is a farmer. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo says it’s problematic for legislators to have legal or business clients while also deciding public policy.

“Maybe they come to you because you’re a senator and they have a bill that’s going to come up. So, it’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo has tried and failed to limit outside income for lawmakers, who earn a base $79,500 as elected officials. Some lawmakers point to the governor’s own outside income for the money he earned for a low-selling memoir. Cuomo sought and received approval for the income from ethics regulators.

At least one lawmaker, however, has started releasing the names of his clients.

Republican Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer’s 2016 disclosure includes a list of his law clients and the work he did for them.

Senate GOP: $4M Available For Bulletproof Glass For NYPD

Command vehicles and patrol cars of the New York City Police Department will be receiving an upgrade of bulletproof glass under a $4 million retrofit announced Monday by Senate Republicans.

“Every day we cherish and thank the proud men and women of the NYPD for putting their lives on the line to protect New York’s largest city,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. It’s only appropriate that we do everything possible to help defend those who defend us.”

The money is coming to the NYPD after the assassination of NYPD Officer Miosotis Familia, who was sitting in a command unit when she was shot to death.

The grant allocation is coming from the State and Municipal Assistance capital program.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been at odds with Senate Republicans over the years, found common ground with Flanagan on the issue.

“The safety of our officers always comes first and any additional funding to aid us in their protection is greatly appreciated,” de Blasio said in a statement. “I thank the State Senate for identifying these funds and look forward to working with them to keep New York City’s finest safe.”

Long Island Association, Labor Plans Ad Buy Knocking Flanagan

The business-backed Long Island Association and labor unions are planning what sources described as a “sizeable” ad purchase to criticize Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan over the lack of an agreement for a $1.9 billion project to upgrade the Long Island Railroad.

The proposal would add nearly 10 miles of new track on the LIRR’s Main Line and is backed by Long Island elected officials who had pushed Flanagan to back the upgrades in a series of statements last week.

Republicans are viewing the two issues — the “summer of hell” for commuters and the track upgrade — as separate issues. Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif declined to comment on the ad campaign, but said of the proposal, “We’re comfortable that this will ultimately be decided on the merits.”

The ad purchase is expected to include TV and radio spots, starting just as commuters on Long Island grapple with the so-called “summer of hell” as Amtrak undertakes a project to upgrade tracks at Penn Station. At the same time, commuters and travelers in and around New York City are contending with delays and derailments of subways, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has felt political heat over in the last several weeks.

The ad buy comes after an amendment to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Capital Plan was withdrawn at the Capital Program Review Board, potentially fearing a veto from Flanagan’s appointees on the board. The amendment was resubmitted by the MTA for consideration this month.

Senate GOP Backs Full-Day Kindergarten Goal

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Republicans are publicly supporting the goal of funding full-day kindergarten after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced he had reached an agreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the effort in next year’s budget.

“We have always supported full day Kindergarten for every child because it improves student outcomes,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Working with Senator Larkin, Senator Funke and others, we look forward to its inclusion in next year’s budget.”

Heastie announced Wednesday the agreement for full-day kindergarten would cover school districts that continue to provide half-day kindergarten — an issue predominantly for Hudson Valley school districts.

It’s not clear how much expanding a full-day program in those districts would cost.

The agreement was announced a week after the conclusion of an extraordinary session in which mayoral control of New York City schools was extended for two years, along with re-approving sales tax measures and other local tax provisions for local government.