State Senate

SD-37: In Ad, Killian Blasts Taxpayer-Backed Harassment Settlements

From the Morning Memo:

Republican state Senate hopeful Julie Killian on Monday is set to release her first TV ad that takes aim at taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlements.

In ad, Killian calls the settlements using public dollars “not just corrupt, it’s unconscionable.”

“They expect us to work hard, send them our tax dollars so they can use it to pay for their unlawful behavior,” she says in the ad. “That’s not going to happen when I’m in the Senate.”

Killian is facing Democratic Assemblywoman Shelly Mayer in a campaign for a Westchester County district that is considered pivotal for control of the chamber and a unity agreement between mainline Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference.

The special election to fill the seat vacated by Westchester County Executive George Latimer will be held April 24.

There are multiple proposals from Democratic and Republican lawmakers that would end taxpayer-funded settlements for sexual harassment cases. Over the years, the state has doled out millions of dollars in settlement money to settle harassment cases.

One of the largest in the last decade was a $545,000 settlement paid to the survivors of harassment and abuse by Assemblyman Vito Lopez (the Brooklyn lawmaker, who died in 2015, also paid out $32,000 from his own pocket).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has proposed package of sexual harassment reforms for state government, including an end to confidential settlements, as long as the identity of the victim is kept secure, as well as an end to taxpayer-funded settlements.

Legislature Approves Paying Remainder Of Nojay’s Salary To His Widow

From the Morning Memo:

The state Senate quietly approved legislation last week to a pay out the remainder of deceased Assemblyman Bill Nojay’s annual salary to his widow, Debra Gordon. Nojay took his own life on Sept. 9, 2016 – the same day he was due to appear in federal court to face fraud charges.

The bill authorizes the payment of $27,230.88 to Gordon, which is the amount of money Nojay would have earned between the time of his death and the end of the calendar year. According to the bill’s text, such a payment is in keeping with a long-standing tradition.

The state Senate also approved similar payments to the spouses of two other deceased legislators, former downstate Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark. In both cases, their ex-colleagues voted unanimously in favor of the appropriations.

But just a few weeks after the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle published an extensive report on how the federal public corruption investigation into Nojay’s dealings continues, and at least half a dozen legal actions are pending against his estate, four senators did vote “no” on the Nojay compensation bill.

State Sen. Pat Gallivan, a Republican whose district overlaps with the one the assemblyman used to represent, sponsored the legislation.

“It has been a long-standing, bipartisan practice of the Legislature to pay widows or widowers the unpaid salaries of spouses who die while they are members of the Legislature,” Gallivan said. “I support the extension of this to Ms. Gordon.”

The state Assembly meanwhile, unanimously approved the payments to Gordon, as well as the other two spouses, at the end of January. East Aurora Republican David DiPietro, Nojay’s former colleague in the GOP conference, sponsored the legislation.

“Bill was my friend in the Assembly,” DiPietro said. “He worked very hard for his constituents. This is standard Assembly and Senate procedure for deceased members from both sides of the aisle. My prayers go out to him and his family.”

All three bills have been delivered to the governor, who has yet to take action on them.

SD-37: NARAL Pro-Choice America Backs Mayer

Democratic Senate candidate Shelley Mayer on Wednesday was given the nod of NARAL Pro-Choice America in her bid to keep a Westchester County district under the control of her party.

“Electing pro-choice candidates like Shelley Mayer is vital for advancing policies that help women and families,” said Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “We are proud to endorse Shelley Mayer. We know she will be a champion for reproductive freedom in Albany.”

Mayer, a member of the Assembly, faces Republican Julie Killian in a special election scheduled for April 24. The race is expected to be a pivotal contest with potential control of the chamber up for grabs given the narrow divide in the Senate and a unity deal reached between the mainline Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference pending the outcome of the vote.

“I’m proud that my record of fighting for women’s reproductive health rights has earned me the support of NARAL,” said Mayer.

“This special election for the State Senate is crucial for the future of New York women, especially in the era of Trump. For too long Trump’s allies in the Senate Republican Majority have blocked efforts to protect Roe v. Wade in New York and pass the Reproductive Health Act, as well as legislation to ensure access to contraception. We must not allow New York to go backwards and I will continue to be a strong advocate for reproductive health rights in the State Senate.”

Senate Republicans Weigh Gun Control, School Safety Measures

State lawmakers returned Tuesday to Albany after a week-long break and a renewed national debate over gun control following a massacre at a Florida high school that killed 17 people.

GOP lawmakers emerged from a closed-door meeting Tuesday afternoon to not rule out taking up new gun control legislation.

“I think that everything has to be on the table,” said Sen. Fred Akshar, a Republican from the Southern Tier region. “Protecting our children should not be a partisan issue and we should be having reasonable and responsible conversations about all of these issues.”

That legislation includes further restricting access to guns to people convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse as proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, closing what supporters call loopholes in the federal law while also tightening other laws for gun ownership.

“As far as gun control, it depends on what you’re talking about,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco, the deputy majority leader and a GOP candidate for governor. “If you want to try to eliminate people who have documented and provable mental illensses who shouldn’t have guns, well, obviously that’s something we should look at very seriously.”

Gun control for Republicans in the Senate had morphed into a political third rail in recent years following the passage of the SAFE Act, a package of measures approved a month after a Connecticut shooting at an elementary school. Several Republicans run on and won office based on their opposition to the law and a vow to repeal it.

The law, on the books for five years, has been touted by Cuomo as an example of political courage. Cuomo’s popularity in upstate counties fell after the measure was approved.

But aspects of the law have been put to the test. An ammunition database has not been developed after Cuomo entered into an agreement with Senate Republicans to not move forward with it.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, however, has led to a sustained outcry for gun control, fueled in part by student survivors of the shooting.

Supporters of gun rights have argued the remedies proposed by gun control advocates won’t prevent another shooting, leaving them to push for school safety measures.

Republicans also want to see funding for school safety, which could include armed resource officers. One option lawmakers have raised would be to tap into the $2 billion bond act approved for school technology upgrades to help pay for bolstered security in schools.

“You can talk about hardening a building, or school resource officers or mental health services,” Akshar said. “All of that needs to be discussed. I’m proud to be part of this conference, because we had some pretty serious conversations about that.”

The normally fractious Democrats in the state Senate in a show of unity held a joint news conference to push for gun control bills, including a measure that would create a special court order barring people from buying guns if they are proved to be a harm to themselves or others.

“I think it’s notable that several of the ideas in this package have not gotten a no from the Republicans in the Senate,” said Sen. Brian Kavanagh, a Democrat from Brooklyn.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is against bringing in armed guards to schools, but did not rule out additional school security measures.

“I don’t know what the Republicans are willing to do,” Heastie said. “I’d say over the next couple of weeks we’ll be doing more pieces of legislation around gun control.”

Cuomo meanwhile has formed a multistate coalition to crack down on illegal weapons flowing into their states and on Tuesday urged .

Run For Something Backs Gounardes For Senate

The progressive group Run for Something on Tuesday endorsed Democratic state Senate candidate Andrew Gounardes.

Gounardes is making his second bid for a Brooklyn-based Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Marty Golden. Also seeking the Democratic nod is journalist Ross Barkan.

“The challenges facing my community require new ideas, new solutions, and most of all, new leadership,” Gounardes said. “I’m incredibly proud that my campaign for a better southern Brooklyn is endorsed by Run for Something and I’m excited to work with them to run the strongest, smartest campaign possible.”

Democrats have long sought to flip Golden’s district to their column, often in years that are seen as potential waves for the party.

“These candidates all have the heart and hustle that is so important to us at RFS, and we are proud to give them our endorsement,” said Ross Morales Rocketto, co-founder of Run for Something. “Put simply, they are the type of people we think the Party needs and the type of candidates who are going to work hard. They are knocking on doors and stepping up to run grassroots, community-led campaigns.”

SD-41: Smythe Launches Bid For State Senate

From the Morning Memo:

Democrat Karen Smythe on Monday will formally launch her campaign for a Hudson Valley Senate district held by Republican Sen. Sue Serino.

Smythe, a Red Hook resident and a Poughkeepsie native, is a former marketing executive who now runs her family’s construction business.

“Hudson Valley families and businesses, especially the small businesses that are the backbone of our community, are being underserved in Albany and I am running because we deserve better,” Smythe said. “We need economic development support, increased school aid, tax relief, and greater protections for our natural resources. We need new representation in Albany, someone who will work nonstop for legislation that will help everyone in our district.”

She’s running for a seat Serino won in 2014, unseating Democratic incumbent Terry Gipson, who had flipped the seat in 2012 in a three-way race that ousted longtime Republican Sen. Stephen Saland. Gipson unsuccessfully sought the seat again in 2016. He’s now a Democratic candidate for governor in a long-shot primary against Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Karen Smythe is exactly who we need in the State Senate,” said Dutchess County Democratic Chairwoman Elisa Summer.

“Her diverse experiences as a civic leader and business executive, along with her vast history of volunteerism and non-profit participation, gives her that unique interdisciplinary perspective sorely lacking in our career politicians and our government. She will be a champion for Dutchess and an asset in Albany.”

SD-37: Reform Party Backs Killian

The Reform Party ballot line on Wednesday endorsed Republican Julie Killian in the special election for the 37th Senate district.

“I am honored to have earned the nomination of the Reform Party of the State of New York and look forward to running a campaign focused on the important challenges facing our state and our county,” Killian said.

“Civic engagement is crucial for citizens to get the most out of their government, and I am proud of my record in Rye and throughout Westchester County working to educate families and protect local kids from substance abuse. We need term limits to ensure New York families have the benefit of representation with fresh eyes and fresh ideas, and we must come up with more ways to deter and punish corruption, and put more money back in taxpayers’ wallets.”

Killian, a former Rye councilwoman, is running for the open Westchester County seat that is seen as potentially pivotal for control of the state Senate. A Republican victory there would likely dash any springtime hopes of Democrats gaining a working majority in the chamber, let alone a numerical one.

The party was first founded by Republican former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in his unsuccessful bid for governor in 2014. Activist and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa now leads it.

“Julie’s understanding of the people in this district is unparalleled, having raised a family there and been deeply involved through the community coalition she cofounded and also by serving as a councilwoman and deputy mayor. She understands the critical importance of term limits and fiscal responsibility and will make a terrific Senator,” Sliwa said. “The Reform Party is proud to endorse her in this important Special Election.”

The party endorsed George Latimer, the Democrat who defeated Astorino last year in the race for county executive.

Gianaris: ‘Worst Time’ To Cut Background Checks Funding

Add Sen. Mike Gianaris to the Democratic outcries over the proposal in President Donald Trump’s budget that would cut funding used by states and local governments to maintain records on those who are ineligible to purchase firearms.

“This is the worst time in our history to further erode responsible measures that keep guns away from dangerous people,” said Gianaris, a Queens Democrat. “Improving background checks was necessary before the Trump funding cuts and is even more important now.”

The budget proposal was issued by Trump last week and before the shooting at a high school in Florida that killed 17 people.

Gianaris pointed to his bill that would extend the waiting period for background checks from three days to 10. The bill would require firearms sellers to report efforts to make illegal gun purchases to police. It would also require the employees of gun makers to undergo background checks.

Lawmakers Urge SUNY To Buy New York

Two state Senate lawmakers on Monday urged the leaders of State University of New York campuses to enter into contracts with New York-based manufacturers.

In a letter to SUNY presidents and campus chief business officers, Sens. Joe Griffo and Ken LaValle pointed to Liberty Tabletop, a flatware maker, as an example of a firm that could benefit from public college contracts.

“SUNY schools are funded with New York tax dollars and are primarily attended by state residents,” Sen. Joe Griffo said.

“As such, state schools should take pride in the products that are manufactured right here in New York. Our local manufacturers should be supported because the more that we can support these hard-working employees, the more we can strengthen our local economies and sustain jobs throughout the state.”

Griffo’s office said he’s previously raised the issue to SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Carl McCall as well as SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson.

“It would be an honor to supply the SUNY system with quality flatware made here in Central New York,” said Gregory Owens, co-founder and CEO of Sherrill Manufacturing Inc./Liberty Tabletop. “SUNY should support businesses that manufacture their products in New York because that keeps those dollars within our state economy.”

SD-37: Issues Take Shape In Closely Watched Senate Special

From the Morning Memo:

The candidates vying to fill the Westchester County state Senate district have in recent days began to coalesce around issues ahead of what’s expected to be a crucial special election scheduled for April 24.

Republican Julie Killian, who had sought the seat in 2016 when it was held by Democrat George Latimer, has pointed to combating opioid and heroin addiction. Democrat Shelley Mayer, a state Assembly lawmaker, after the shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people, spoke Sunday at a rally with left-leaning groups demanding action on gun control.

The race is one of 11 to be held in the April special election to fill vacancies in both the Senate and Assembly.

But Democrats late last year reached a unity pact for the Senate races, which include filling a district formerly represented by Ruben Diaz, now on the city Council, that is meant to bring together the Independent Democratic Conference and the mainline conference.

The Westchester County district, vacated by County Executive George Latimer, has been long sought by Republicans to flip, or at least remain competitive. It’s expected to be a costly race given the stakes and the interest in the seat.

Killian pointed to the heroin and opioid addiction issue as one of the reasons why she’s running for the seat.

“It is government’s role to help lift that burden. That is why I am running for the Senate: to fight for Westchester’s fair share of funding for prevention, treatment and recovery services so that other local families will not have to go through the heartbreak of losing loved ones to addiction,” she said.

Mayer, meanwhile, has been racking up a series of endorsements in the weeks after securing the nomination. Last week, she received the nod of the New York State Nurses Association.

“The New York State Nurses Association is excited to endorse Shelley Mayer for State Senate,” said Jayne Cammisa, a registered nurse at Westchester Medical Center and a board member for the group.

“Throughout her career, Shelley has been a fierce advocate for healthcare access and Westchester families can trust her to continue to do so in the State Senate. Now, more than ever before, we need leaders who will fight for us and listen to the needs of the community. Shelley has proven her ability to deliver and we look forward to working with her when she reaches the Senate.”