State Senate

WNY Delegation Weighs In On Senate Majority

With no challenger of his own this past election, state Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, spent some of his time this fall, helping out with a handful of competitive races on Long Island. While Kennedy and Democrats weren’t as successful downstate as they may have hoped, they did get some news in New York’s 8th Senate district, this week.

John Brooks, a registered Republican who ran on the Democratic line, claimed victory over Michael Venditto, the incumbent Republican. Venditto was considered a heavy favorite until his father was arrested in connection with a bribery scheme just weeks before the election.

Kennedy said the scandal swung voters to Brooks. Despite all that, the lead is only 41 votes and will be contested in court.

“Given the dynamic that has played out and the votes that have been objected to, it’s very clear that John Brooks is going to be the winner in that election. That being said, the fact that we’ve gained another vote in the Democratic Conference is telling to the voice of the people in the state of New York, another voice in the Democratic Conference from Long Island. It’s very, very positive news,” Kennedy said.

Even if Brooks’ victory, as Kennedy expects, holds up in court and he conferences with Democrats, the party still won’t have enough votes for majority control. The soon-to-be seven-member Independent Democratic Conference has not yet said whether it will caucus with mainline Dems or continue its partnership with the Republican party.

Even if the IDC comes back, the party would still be one vote short of a majority. It’s Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder who holds that vote, has conferenced with Republicans since elected in 2012, and told Capital Tonight last month he plans to continue to work with the GOP.

In the aftermath of the Brooks victory, Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to unite the party. Kennedy’s not sure extra pressure from the governor will make much difference.

“I simply think that this comes down to one person and that’s Simcha Felder and what his decision is, he’s responsible for,” Kennedy said. “He has to answer to his electorate and ultimately on election day at that voting booth, that is how whatever he does is determined.”

State Senator Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, said state government has been more effective with the Senate under Republican control for the last six years. He said anybody pushing for Democratic control now should look to the past.

“If we go back to 2009-2010, if the Senate was to flip the other way and the entire state’s controlled by New York City interests, I think that’s problematic for Western New York and all of Upstate.”

Still, Kennedy said the month to go before the next legislative session feels like an eternity. He said things change every day.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of conversations, a lot of jockeying and negotiations that take place and that’s all yet to be determined, so let’s see what happens.”

Griffo, Kearns Cheer Term Limits Amendment

Republican Sen. Joe Griffo and Democratic Assemblyman Mickey Kearns on Friday cheered Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s backing a constitutional amendment that would set term limits for state elected officials.

Both lawmakers since 2009 have backed legislation that would create term limits for the Senate, Assembly, as well as the statewide elected officials — governor, comptroller and attorney general.

Under the legislative proposal, the terms would be limited to 12 years for state lawmakers; Cuomo’s parameters limit the Legislature to two, four-year terms.

“If you want to fundamentally and dramatically change the culture of Albany, then you need to limit the amount of time our elected officials are in office,” Griffo said in a statement.

“Imposing term limits will regularly shake up the makeup of state government, which will force change and reinvigorate the legislative process by bringing in new faces and fresh ideas. There are plenty of compelling concepts being proposed that are worth examining to restore trust in government, but real ethics reform must begin with term limits.”

Senate Republicans have been supportive of term limits in the past, with the chamber enacting caps on the amount of time leaders can serve in top posts and chairmanships.

Term limits face a more difficult path to passage in the Democratic-led Assembly, however, where majority lawmakers have been generally more skeptical of the idea.

“I want to thank Senator Griffo for his leadership and sponsorship of this bill,” said Kearns, a western New York lawmaker. “The Governor’s stance on term limits is a welcome one and long overdue. We have witnessed unprecedented convictions of the highest ranking legislators in this state and continue to be shocked by further indictments. It is time to integrate words with actions by giving the voters the opportunity to decide.”

Cuomo is backing the term limit amendment in addition to a constitutional change that would create a full-time Legislature, both of which he hopes will achieve first passage in a potential special session that could precede the first legislative pay hike since 1998.

32 Democrats In The Senate? Well… (Updated)

Updated: John Brooks registered to vote as a Democrat just before the election. His registration as it appears online doesn’t take effect until the next election. At any rate, it makes things a bit less complicated, maybe?

Like pre-Great War Europe, NCAA rankings, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the New York state Senate is absurdly complicated.

Consider the composition of the Senate should John Brooks successfully unseat Republican Michael Venditto.

Liberal groups aligned with the mainline conference in the chamber on Thursday urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to bridge the divide between Democrats in the chamber, citing a workable majority if Brooks wins the race, which he currently leads by 41 votes and is subject to a court challenge from the Republicans.

Repeatedly, the groups pointed to “32 Democrats” in the Senate — a formal majority of the 63 seats — that would include the mainline conference of Democrats, the Independent Democratic Conference and Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who sits with the GOP.

And it would presumably include Brooks in that 32-member numerical Democratic majority.

Brooks, however, as of today, is still a registered Republican who ran on the Democratic line in the 8th Senate district.

Brooks most likely will align himself with the Senate Democrats if he’s seated.

At the very least, it’s yet another example of how the Senate and its composition defies shorthand and that it’s hard for anyone to truly claim a majority of party members.

0013_001 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Lawmakers Split On Key Issues In Potential Special Session

From the Morning Memo:

As talk continues about a potential special December session of the New York State Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting a push to unify Democrats in the fractious state Senate before next year’s session.

“I feeling strongly that Governor Cuomo can’t let the Republican Party and Donald Trump steal the New York state Senate,” said state Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan.

The chamber is controlled by Republicans, but Democrats in the Senate were buoyed after a paper ballot count left their candidate in a Long Island Senate race with a 41 vote advantage, potentially giving them a 32-person majority. They would still need the seven-member Independent Democrats to come on board, as well as Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder.

Emotions on all sides continue to run high.

“It’s clear there are some personal differences and personal hostilities that are difficult for people, but I think it’s the moment in time people have to get past that,” said Karen Scharff, the executive director of Citizen Action.

For Cuomo, the push and pull in the Senate is a sideshow compared to his efforts to engineer a special session that could result in the passage of constitutional amendments creating a full-time Legislature, term limits for elected officials and a reconstituted pay commission for lawmakers, who insist none of these items should be linked.

“The speaker is right that we have to be careful about the horsetrading. The pay has to be taken on its own merits,” said Assemblymember Pat Fahy, an Albany Democrat.

Assembly Democrats remain skeptical of the term limit proposal, which could benefit Senate Republicans, but are receptive to a full-time Legislature.

“I think there’s some merit to making the Legislature a full-time body. I know it’s a seven day-a-week job for me,” Fahy said. “You can never be away from your emails. You can never be away from keeping up on your constituent matters.”

It’s the opposite in the Senate, where Republicans who control the chamber have been opposed to a “professional” body, but receptive to term limits.

Over the last two days, the Cuomo administration, Senate Democrats, the Independent Democratic Conference and Assembly Democrats have exchanged increasingly harsh statements over the state of negotiations surrounding a potential special session, as a potential pay raise hangs in the balance.

“You do see some of the bickering,” said Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan, “and I think it highlights the very reason why there shouldn’t be politics involved in discussion with legislators salaries.”

From The Dept. Of Early Victories

From the Morning Memo:

As Democrats in the state Senate declare victory in the 8th district on Long Island with candidate John Brooks over incumbent GOP Sen. Michael Venditto, one observer pointed this week to the dangers of prematurely celebrating a narrow win.

In 2012, Republican George Amedore ended the paper recount with a lead in what was then the newly created 46th district. At the time, his lead was 39 votes.

Republicans, elated and relieved Amedore won the seat that was essentially drawn for him, invited him to conference and did everything but let him vote on the floor.

Only it wasn’t to be: Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk ultimately won a prolonged recount in the district, giving her an upset, if narrow win. Amedore ultimately won the seat back in 2014, unseating Tkaczyk by a wider margin.

This year, Brooks leads Venditto by 41 votes in the 8th district as Republicans are heading to court to contest the results.

The race is key for Democrats, who on Thursday began a sustained push to have Gov. Andrew Cuomo unite the party in the chamber.

What Would Senate Republicans Get?

The prevailing wisdom at the Capitol is this: Both chambers of the Legislature want a pay increase, but Assembly Democrats, especially those from the New York City region, want it much more.

A vote to reauthorize the pay commission through the end of December may be enough to bring Democrats to the negotiating table for a special session, but the incentive for Senate Republicans isn’t as clear.

The majority of the conference’s members represent upstate New York, where the cost of living is generally lower and the $79,500 base pay goes a lot further.

So what what would induce the Senate Republicans to return to the Capitol?

The answer may lie in the constitutional amendment to create term limits. Under the proposal outlined by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, the terms would switch from two years to a four-year cycle, capped at eight years.

Under that system, it’s likely the Legislature would run for re-election in years that match the statewide elected officials. That happens to be even-numbered, non-presidential election years, when Republicans have typically made greater gains running down ballot than they do in presidential election years (the poor coattails of Hillary Clinton leading the ticket this year notwithstanding). Four-year terms running in non-presidential years could give Republicans in the narrowly divided Senate a boost in maintaining their thin majority.

Term limits still face an uphill argument in the Democratic-led Assembly, which has been opposed to any proposal.

At the same time, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has insisted such sweeping changes to state government should not be rushed through in a matter of weeks.

Confirming Amendments Push, Cuomo’s Office Says Ball In Legislature’s Court

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Wednesday night formally confirmed the push for a pair of constitutional amendments that would ban outside income and term limit the state Legislature as talk of a special session before the end of the year heats up.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, meanwhile, insisted in a statement — as he has done repeatedly — that no measures should be linked to a legislative pay raise.

Cuomo outlined earlier in the day what he would like from a special session of the Legislature: approval of $2 billion in affordable housing, procurement reform and the funding of a hate crimes task force.

At the same time, Cuomo said lawmakers could return to re-authorize the existence of a commission that could recommend a pay increase. Cuomo’s appointees back a “modest” pay increase for the Legislature or, baring action on ethics reform, a significant hike.

“The Governor is most interested in having the people’s business attended to and believes if there is to be a special session the legislators should do more than merely reauthorize a committee to consider their pay raise,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi in a statement.

The constitutional amendments, as laid out by Cuomo’s office in the evening statement, would create a four-year legislative term, essentially limit legislators to two terms. Statewide elected official would limited to eight years as would new members of the Legislature.

The amendment would also extend “the life of the Pay Commission until post Constitutional Amendments determinations.”

Meanwhile, there’s a new chair of the pay commission, Cuomo’s office announced, suggesting the panel isn’t quite dead yet.

“The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is appointing a new Chair of the Commission, former Judge Leo Milonas,” Azzopardi said. “It is now up to the legislature to decide what they want to do.”

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, meanwhile insisted no linkage should be made in any special session to what lawmakers view as disparate and distinct issues.

“As I have said many, many times, we are simply not going to trade a pay raise for any piece of legislation. That is wildly inappropriate and I cannot be any clearer on this subject. That said, we have had a number of conversations on issues important to the people of New York,” Heastie said.

The speaker at the same time said a number of a measures that Cuomo has raised haven’t been discussed.

“However, there are items that the Governor has spoken about that have never been brought to my attention,” he said. “These items include significant issues that go to the very heart of our system of government and they cannot be considered on a whim. I have no idea who the Governor is speaking to about these issues, but it certainly isn’t me. The Governor is entitled to his wish list about how he wants to see the world, but the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government and must be respected.”

SD-8: With Ballot Count Complete, Brooks Leads

With ballot counting completed in the 8th Senate district, Democratic candidate John Brooks leads Republican incumbent Michael Venditto by 41 votes, an outcome that is almost certainly headed to state Supreme Court in the undecided race for the state Senate seat on Long Island.

Republicans objected to 727 paper ballots, while Democrats have objected to 346 ballots.

Should Brooks prevail, he would be the 32nd Democratic member of the Senate, counting the seven-member Independent Democratic Conference and Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder.

Democrats, meanwhile, declared victory in the race even as the court battle over the final outcome looms.

“With counting of absentee ballots now nearly concluded, it is clear that John Brooks will be the next State Senator from New York’s 8th District,” said Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs.

“I urge the Board of Elections to move swiftly to certify the results so that the people of the South Shore in Eastern Nassau and Western Suffolk are properly represented in Albany. The time for campaigning and politics is over, and it is now time to govern. Along with Senator Kaminsky, Senator Brooks will be another important voice in Albany for Long Island. I look forward to working with Senator Brooks, who will always look to put Long Island families first.”

Brooks in a statement said he was “humbled” to become the district’s next senator.

Republicans, however, noted the race will now move to the courtroom.

“This is only one part of the process, and there are still more than a thousand ballots to be examined beginning next week under the supervision of a judge,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif. “Despite an effort by the Democrats to shut this down prematurely, this race is far from over.”

SD-8: Venditto Regains Lead

From the Morning Memo:

Incumbent Sen. Michael Venditto regained a narrow advantage in the 8th district ballot counting process on Tuesday as Democrats accused Republicans of “walking away” from counting the final 300 or so ballots in Democratic friendly election districts.

Democrats are hopeful they could regain the lead in the narrow contest when counting resumes later today.

Nearly a month after Election Day, Venditto leads Democrat John Brooks by 19 votes including the Election Day count.

Republicans have objected to more than 600 ballots, while Democrats have objected to more than 300.

The race on Long Island remains too close to call, but Republicans are likely to retain a working majority in the state Senate with a western New York seat flipping to the GOP column and Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder announcing his intention to once again align with their conference.

SD-8: Vote Count Narrows

From the Morning Memo:

Republican incumbent Michael Venditto’s lead in the 8th Senate district has narrowed to 9 votes over Democrat John Brooks after counting in the too-close-to-call Long Island race continued on Monday.

A Democratic Senate spokesman said on Monday evening about 900 ballots are left to be counted and nearly 600 ballots were objected to by Republican observers.

Still, Democrats are confident they will regain the lead after being down by more than 400 votes last week. They also insist a number of the votes objected to were from minority areas — typically were Democrats hold an advantage. A Senate GOP spokesman did not return a message seeking comment.

Venditto’s re-election was considered likely until his father, Oyster Bay town Supervisor John Venditto, was arrested on corruption charges. The lawmaker himself is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Should Brooks win, Republicans are likely to retain control of the narrowly divided state Senate after Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder announced his intentions to continue to side with the GOP conference.