State Senate

Klein, Alcantara Push For Approval Of Diversity Tax Credit

Independent Democratic Conference Sens. Jeff Klein and Marisol Alcantara on Tuesday pushed for the final approval of a bill that would create a tax credit aimed at hiring diverse writers for TV and film.

IDC lawmakers said the bill would provide up to $5 million in tax credits starting in January, if approved.

At the same time, the conference released a report highlighting women and minorities in the entertainment industry, finding they are underrepresented amongst directors and producers.

“I initially became interested in this bill because as an Afro-Latina immigrant, I knew what it felt like to grow up feeling invisible in American culture,” Alcantara said.

“It was so rare to see a character of color on television, and when you did see one, it felt like they were tokenized, stereotyped, or killed off quickly. And while the industry has made some strides on representation in front of the camera, diversity behind the camera is still sorely lacking.”

Tax credits for the entertainment industry have not been without controversy. Fiscal watchdogs question the expense and cost of subsidizing the film industry, especially in New York City, where a number of movies and TV shows have already been made due to the iconic locations.

And opponents question whether the cost of the tax credit has truly led to economic development.

Still, the legislation backed Tuesday is also supported by the Writers Guild and was pushed for by Bronx Democratic Assemblyman Marcos Crespo.

“In this city of eight million stories, not enough are being told,” Klein said. “This important tax credit will help women and minority writers and directors break into the film industry here in New York City, one of the most diverse places in the world.”

Stewart-Cousins: ‘We Can’t Do Anything’ With GOP Controlling Senate

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a radio interview on Monday knocked continued Republican control of the state Senate, saying the legislation that has been approved in recent years has been “watered-down” by the GOP.

Chief among the bills that she says have been altered in negotiations includes increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 in the New York City area in the coming years and in upstate New York in an undefined time period.

“We would have been able to do it faster and we wouldn’t have had these watered down situations,” she said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “They water down legislation that unfortunately doesn’t serve as well.”

At the same time, Stewart-Cousins said the Senate hasn’t been able to take up issues like campaign finance reform, voting rights and women’s rights.

“We can’t do anything with Republicans in control. We don’t know what’s going to come from Washington,” she said. “It’s scary for New York, quite frankly, since we’re used to these progressive laws.”

Mainline Democrats in the Senate have spent the last several months applying pressure with the help from liberal advocacy groups to bring the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference into an alliance with them.

The IDC has provided a key bloc of votes for the Senate Republicans, who maintain a majority with the help of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who conferences with the GOP.

The fight over control of the Senate came into relief this month when a prominent political donor and charter school benefactor, Dan Loeb, wrote on Facebook that Stewart-Cousins has been worse for people of color than the Ku Klux Klan.

Several days later, violent clashes over the removal of a Confederate statue occurred in Virginia.

“For all of these things to collide within several weeks is quite frankly extraordinary,” Stewart-Cousins said in the interview. “The reality is if anyone had a question about what the KKK represented they were answered quite fully with Charlottesville.”

Cox Says The IDC Is Focused On Policy

State Republican Chairman Ed Cox on Wednesday said the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate is focused on policy, saying that makes it easier for them to work on legislation with Republicans in the chamber.

“The IDC knows the Senate Democrats themselves are so really committed to policies that are economically bad for New York state,” Cox said in an interview with WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “They would rather work with Republicans in the Senate than the Democrats.”

Cox also praised IDC Leader Jeff Klein, who has come under pressure from liberals and mainline Democrats to rejoin the mainline conference or form a new alliance with his party.

“The leader of the independent Democrats, Jeff Klein, is really policy oriented,” Cox said.

IDC lawmakers are actually closer to mainline Democrats on policy issues, especially when it comes to immigration, abortion, the minimum wage and paid family leave.

Allies of the mainline Democrats have accused the IDC of working as a key bloc with Senate Republicans in order to benefit from the trappings of power, such as leadership posts.

Stewart-Cousins Won’t Call for Loeb Cash Returns

From the Morning Memo:

State Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins declined to call for recipients of campaign cash from Dan Loeb – including Gov. Andrew Cuomo – to return the money, even after the hedge fund manager has been roundly criticized for making a racist statement about her on Facebook. 

In her first TV interview since the incident last week, in which Loeb made a KKK reference in connection with the African American senator, Stewart-Cousins said all elected officials need to be circumspect about the origins of the political contributions they receive. 

“I think that people have to be extremely concerned, we all as public officials have to be extremely concerned, about who is giving us money and what their expectations are,” the senator said.

“And certainly once one reveals who they are, then I think it’s incumbent on anyone to take a look at whether or not this money should be kept. And again, these are individual decisions.”

Stewart-Cousins did specifically note that Loeb has given money to the IDC, (basically echoing my comments on the matter), and then got in a dig about the Senate Republicans’ blocking campaign finance reform, saying: 

“Tthe reality is that we are all here for public service; we are here because there’s a bigger agenda. We should be here because we care about what happens to New York and what happens to New Yorkers, and we should be prepared to work together as public servants to do that, despite the outsized influence of money, which, because our Republicans continue to stop any notion of campaign finance reform, we continue to deal with.”

Loeb’s financial support of the Senate Republicans has been widely reported, as has his contribution to the IDC and his donations to a pro-charter school independent expenditure that spent heavily on behalf of members of both conferences in the last election cycle and helped keep them in power. 

Loeb has also contributed a heft chunk of change over the years to Gov. Andrew Cuomo – more than $170,000 when money given by the hedge fund manager’s wife is also tallied. Though he has rebuked Loeb for his racist statements, the governor has so far not said anything about returning these contributions. 

(FWIW, Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco said yesterday he doesn’t see any reason why the governor needs to give back Loeb’s money, though he deemed the racist remarks made against Stewart-Cousins “outrageous”). 

Stewart-Cousins joined us just hours after attending a Harlem rally at which fellow Democrats expressed their support for her and for her ascension to majority leader of the Senate. The event was not attended by the governor, though he did send his top counsel, Alphonso David. 

Also attending the rally was Deputy Senate Minority Leader Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, whom an anonymous top Cuomo aide bashed to Ken Lovett of the NY Daily News, essentially blaming Gianaris for the failure of the so-called regular Democrats and the IDC to come to a peace agreement due to his ongoing rocky relationship with IDC Leader Jeff Klein, of the Bronx. 

Stewart-Cousins rejected the notion that Gianaris is to blame, and reiterated (multiple times) the importance of having Democrats come together to claim what she sees as their rightful place in the majority, though a current vacancy – via the seat given up last week by former Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Daniel Squadron – temporarily complicates matters. 

For the record, Stewart-Cousins says she doesn’t have a favorite in the battle to replace Squadron, and feels comfortable with the process of having the party leaders of Manhattan and Brooklyn select a candidate to run in a yet-to-be-called special election. 

Flanagan: Democratic Infighting Will Help Senate GOP

From the Morning Memo:

The idea of Democrats gain a governing majority in the state Senate is a “moot point” considering Republicans have a working majority in the chamber already, Republican leader John Flanagan wrote in an op/ed to State of Politics.

At the same time, Flanagan wrote the internecine fighting among Democrats will help Republicans retain and grow their power in the Senate.

“Democrat infighting, and the machinations being made by Senator Stewart-Cousins and Senator Gianaris about who would be in charge of a hypothetical Democrat Senate, are academic,” he said. “Republicans have the majority now and will have an even more robust one come 2019.”

The op/ed is Flanagan’s most extensive remarks since the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference this summer has been pressured by activists groups and the mainline conference to align themselves with the rest of their party in the Senate.

“No matter how many times the mainline Democrats or their radical allies on the left say Republicans don’t have a numerical majority, it’s just not true,” Flanagan wrote. “We have 32 members in our conference who caucus together and work together to improve the lives of the citizens of this state.”

Flanagan is referring to Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who conferences with the Senate GOP in the chamber. Felder has indicated he would side with Democrats, but only unless the IDC bolted from their alignment with the Senate Republicans.

The IDC, led by Bronx Democrat Jeff Klein, had worked in a coalition-stlye arrangement in the Senate for a two-year term. But the IDC has remained a key bloc of votes in the Senate, growing by several members in the last year and angering liberals anew after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency.

A new pressure point appeared last week, when billionaire political donor and charter school benefactor Dan Loeb criticized Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for harming people of color more than Ku Klux Klan. Loeb apologized and elected officials from both parities criticized the remarks.

Flanagan, meanwhile, expects to be able to grow his conference — and its narrow margin in the chamber — in next year’s elections.

It’s unclear, for now, where Republicans plan to play offense next year. But both parties will likely stake their battleground races in suburban districts once again, with the Hudson Valley and Long Island seats playing vital roles in determining who controls the Senate after next year.

DeFran Doesn’t Think Cuomo Should Return Loeb’s Money

Liberal activist groups last week called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to return thousands of dollars he has received in campaign contributions from Daniel Loeb, a billionaire who has come under criticism for racially charged remarks directed at Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

But one of the Republicans who is considering a run against the Democratic incumbent next year thinks Cuomo should not have to return the money: Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco.

“I don’t think that’s something that has to be done,” he said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom, adding, “It just keeps the story going and it keeps the story going. That’s just basic politics 101. I don’t think it matters a darn bit to the size of the war chest whether he gives that money back.”

Loeb in a since-deleted Facebook post wrote Stewart-Cousins has been worse for people of color than the Ku Klux Klan due to her stance on charter schools. Loeb’s comments drew rebukes from Republicans and Democrats as well as the governor.

DeFrancisco called them “outrageous.”

“Andrea Stewart-Cousins is a fine woman,” he said. “I don’t look at her that way, I don’t know if the governor would look at her that way.”

Over the last three years, Cuomo has received $85,000 in contributions from Loeb. Senate Republicans have benefited from $4 million in contributions directly or in dirtectl, including millions donated to New Yorkers For Balanced Albany, an independent expenditure committee that has supported Republican candidates.

Loeb has also given $50,000 to the Senate Independence Campaign Committee, which supports the Independent Democratic Conference in the chamber.

DeFran Backs Trump’s ‘Many Sides’ Comment (Updated)

Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco in a radio interview on Monday said he agreed with President Donald Trump’s initial statement in the wake of the unrest in Charlottesville, suggesting there is violence on “many sides” that needs to stop.

Trump drew fire for the comment from Democrats and Republicans alike in part for its failure to condemn the white supremacists who marched on the city in protest of the removal of a statute of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. The president on Monday in a set of public remarks condemned hate groups.

But DeFrancisco on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom said the criticism of Trump is unfair.

“Every single event that happens seems to be categorized by a negative for Donald Trump,” the Syracuse Republican said. “What he said was that all sides of every issue got to stop the violence. I don’t see anything that’s wrong with that. If anybody believes there was only violence on one side ought to look at Berkeley and see what was going on with trying to stop speakers.”

The interpretation of Trump’s comments can be based “depending upon your point of view and political persuasion.”

“The statement in and of itself is something I definitely agree with and that is we can’t have violence on either side whether it’s trying to stop speakers or white supremacists, whether individuals who are just trying to stop a program the federal government is trying to put in place,” he said.

He also bristled when it was pointed out Trump has taken on targets like Sen. John McCain and others with more ferocity than far-right extremists groups.

“I can’t change that being a state senator in the state of New York,” he said. “I can just interpret what I think he meant.”

He added: “I just believe violence on all ends — Charlottesville, Berkeley, Ferguson — we’ve got to stop it.”

DeFrancisco is considering a run for governor in 2018 and, like many Republicans next year, will have to contend with Democrats trying to tie him to Trump and his unpredictable comments.

Updated: Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, criticized the remarks.

“Time and time again New Yorkers reject hate and if Senator DeFrancisco thinks Neo Nazis are one of ‘many sides’ to blame for the death and destruction in Charlottesville, he’s more out of touch and dangerous than anyone thought,” he said.

Senate GOP: Loeb Comments Cross The Line

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan through a spokesman on Friday called the racially tinged comments by billionaire donor Daniel Loeb aimed at Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins “clearly inappropriate.”

“These comments crossed the line and were clearly inappropriate,” said the spokesman, Scott Reif. “He was right to apologize.”

Loeb has deleted a Facebook post in which he suggested Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has done more to harm people of color than a person in a hood, a reference to the Ku Klux Klan.

Loeb has been a prolific donor to Senate Republicans and their candidates, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein as well as Cuomo have condemned the remarks.

Loeb’s Contributions Show Focus On State Senate

Daniel Loeb has been a prolific donor not just to Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the years, but has backed a variety of Republican candidates running in battleground state Senate races as well as a GOP-aligned super PAC.

Loeb’s donations in since 2014 have totaled well over $4 million, including millions donated to New Yorkers For Balanced Albany, an independent expenditure committee that has supported Republican candidates.

Loeb has also given $50,000 to the Senate Independence Campaign Committee, which supports the Independent Democratic Conference in the chamber.

His donations are under scrutiny now as he faces criticism for writing in a since-deleted Facebook post that Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has done more to harm people of color than anyone who has worn a hood — an allusion to the Ku Klux Klan. Loeb in a statement apologized.

The comments have been repudiated by a Cuomo spokesman as well as IDC Leader Jeff Klein.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heasite on Twitter called Loeb’s comments “offensive and wrong.”

“This is backward thinking which has no place in today’s world,” he said.

Loeb has been a prominent benefactor of charter schools, a politically contentious issue for Albany and state lawmakers. His donations have shown a keen interest in who controls the state Senate, backing the eight-member IDC, a key bloc of lawmakers who have been allied with Republicans.

Loeb, too, has sought to aid GOP candidates running in hotly contested Senate races. Over the last three years, he’s given $226,600 to the Senate Repulican Campaign Committee. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan received $11,000 from Loeb in 2015 as have fellow Long Island Republican Sens. Kemp Hannon and Elaine Phillips.

Since 2014, Cuomo’s campaign has received $85,000 in donations from Loeb.

Senate Republicans have generally been supportive of expanding and strengthening charter schools in New York state with measures opposed by the state’s teachers unions.

Cuomo, too, has embraced charter schools over the years, though after several contentious fights with the Assembly he has de-emphasized so far this year.

Klein: Loeb’s Remarks ‘Have To Be Repudiated’

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein on Friday issued a terse statement in response to the since-deleted Facebook post from Daniel Loeb, a wealthy political donor and backer of charter schools.

“The statements are wrong and have to be repudiated,” Klein said. “I dissociate myself from such statements.”

Klein is the latest elected officials to criticize the racially charged remarks by Loeb, a wealthy hedge fund manager who wrote on Facebook that Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has done more to hurt people of color than a person in a hood — a seeming allusion to the Ku Klux Klan.

The Loeb remarks, which he apologized for, add a new element to an already inflamed situation within the state Senate, where liberal activists are trying to push Klein’s eight-member bloc back to the mainline Democratic fold in the chamber.