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The Weekend That Was

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is heading to Cuba tomorrow. He’ll be the first American governor to visit Cuba since the recent thaw in relations with the communist nation. Whether his trade mission generates anything more than headlines, however, remains to be seen.

While in Cuba, Cuomo will find himself in far more delicate diplomatic territory than he has ever encountered.

Hillary Clinton won’t be in New Hampshire for two more days, but she was the star of the show on Saturday as Republican presidential aspirants capped the state GOP’s two-day summit that attracted nearly the entire field to Nashua.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said his “executive experience” would make him a better president than Clinton.

Clinton is maintaining her years of silence on the Keystone XL pipeline — and environmental groups are increasingly divided on how hard they should push her to take a stand.

Clinton’s campaign has staffed up in South Carolina.

The former secretary of state’s recruitment of Gary Gensler, a former top federal Wall Street regulator, as her campaign’s chief financial officer was meant to show donors she is serious about avoiding the overspending that plagued her 2008 presidential campaign

Former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, who formed an exploratory committee in November, jabbed at Clinton’s fundraising power, carefully constructed image, and lengthy public career during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He said the country is suffering from “incumbent fatigue.”

Long Island Rep. Pete King, who is mulling a potential bid for the 2016 GOP nod, made yet another appearance in New Hampshire.

John Podhoretz thinks NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s refusal to endorse his former boss, Clinton, and his early criticism of her will backfire in the long run.

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer says his “intention is to run for re-election” in 2017, and not to challenge de Blasio is a primary.

US Sen. Chuck Schumer is continuing to “withhold judgement” on the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran until he learns both sides “carefully.”

The state test controversy has turned into the latest and bloodiest scrum between Cuomo and the state’s teachers’ unions. This time, experts say it could cost the governor some political clout in the Lower Hudson Valley and Long Island – the suburban birthplaces of a rapidly expanding movement that has mobilized thousands of parents and teachers.

The city of Yonkers and Cuomo are heading for a higher-stakes confrontation more than state-aid and the future of the Yonkers public schools.

NYC-funded animal shelters are overcrowded and administering medicine that’s more than a decade old to suffering creatures, according to a scathing new report unveiled by Stringer.

Charles Wait of Saratoga Springs has resigned from the New York Racing Association board effective immediately. No reason was given for his departure.

Building maintenance by the Hrynenko family, which owns several properties in the East Village, is at the center of the investigation into the gas explosion at 121 Second Avenue that killed two men and leveled three buildings.

An advocacy group released their assessment of de Blasio’s performance on education issues, giving him a “mixed” report card with letter grades ranging from A to F reflecting, how it views his effort on make good on campaign promises.

Nearly half the students in some Onondaga County public school districts are too fat, according to the state Health Department.

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is making a strong push for a bill that would designate 25 schools as “manufacturing universities” and provide them with incentives to align their curriculum with the needs of modern manufacturers.

Only 17.7 percent of New York cabbies bothered to get an influenza vaccination, endangering themselves and their passengers, according to a new study.

An increase in the use of synthetic marijuana has sent more than 160 people to the hospital in New York since early April, Cuomo announced.

Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter will challenge Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz this fall.

The state Department of Labor has notified more than 40 full-time and 2,500 part-time employees of Nassau Coliseum that they will be laid off this summer when the arena closes for renovations led by Brooklyn developer Bruce Ratner.

The number of breakfasts served in the nation’s schools has doubled in the last two decades, a surge driven largely by a change in how districts deliver the food.

The hotel-workers union is trying to steer a bill through the NYC Council to force hotels to get city permission before converting rooms into apartments. Critics have called it a misguided bid to protect union jobs at the expense of the rights of property owners.

Extras

AbTech Industries, the company at the center of the reported federal investigation of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, has strong connections to an environmental group headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the governor’s former brother-in-law.


AbTech says
it’s not a target in the Skelos probe, and is cooperating with federal investigators.

Former Gov. David Paterson criticized U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for publicly promoting his case against former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, saying: “(T)he line of respect, I think he went over that line.”

State GOP Chairman Ed Cox slammed NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio for his “magical mystery tour” to the Midwest.

Bloomberg LP terminals, widely used by traders to access real-time financial data, went down globally for a few hours this morning, disrupting a bond sale in the UK.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a $565 million five-year contract to Xerox to redesign and operate the information system for the state’s vast $50 billion-plus Medicaid program.

Former Florida Governor and potential 2016 contender Jeb Bush called on his fellow Republicans to stop stalling and confirm New York US Attorney Loretta Lynch, the president’s pick to be the next US AG.

Less than a week into her presidential campaign, Clinton has the largest New Hampshire operation of any candidate – 19 staffers.

Romulus town board members have backed Citiva Medical’s proposal to install a medical marijuana growing facility at the former Seneca Army Depot, which was a U.S. Army installation from 1941 to 2000.

The requirements to become a NYS teacher vs. the requirements to become a NYS governor – in song.

Staten Island DA Daniel Donovan, the Republican NY-11 candidate, may be breaking Federal Election Commission law with his campaign signs, which lack a required disclaimer.

Assemblyman Sheldon Silver did not want his photo taken today.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney raised $609,942 in the first quarter of 2015 – the most of any incumbent Democratic representative in the country.

US Sen. Charles Schumer accused House Republicans of passing an estate tax loophole that would benefit only a few thousand of America’s wealthiest families.

Cuomo today proclaimed April 19-25 Earth Week, emphasizing the administration’s environmental commitments to New York’s natural resources, as well as promoting cleaner and healthier communities that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

State Police are targeting speeding and aggressive driving in a campaign that runs through Wednesday.

Cuomo’s office declined comment on the WikiLeaks emails’ revelations that the governor’s close friend and former boss, Andrew Farkas, tried to arrange private jet travel for Cuomo after movie industry moguls threw him a $25,000-per-person fundraiser last year in Hollywood.

The South Street Seaport Museum has picked a captain – literally – to lead it through some very challenging waters.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is leaving Des Moines, Iowa to return to NYC. He has no public schedule.

At 8:30 a.m., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, NYC EDC head Kyle Kimball, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Carlo Scissura and other business, community and government officials discuss efforts to support businesses and employment in Brooklyn, during the business organization’s “Economic Development Exchange Forum”; courtroom, Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon St., Brooklyn.

At 8:45 a.m., the NYC Bar Association holds its 25th annual program on “Current Issues in Insurance Regulation,” New York City Bar Association, 42 W. 44th St., Manhattan.

At 9 a.m., the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation holds its monthly meeting, 10th-floor conference room, Edward A. Rath county office building, 95 Franklin St., Buffalo.

Also at 9 a.m., Rep. Chris Gibson speaks at the Institute for Disaster Mental Health Conference: “Preparing for the Health and Mental Health Consequences of Climate Change”, SUNY New Paltz.

At 9:30 a.m., the mother of Eric Garner, who lost consciousness and died during an attempted arrest on Thursday, July 17, Gwen Carr, and a co-director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch, Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, discuss human rights in the U.S. during a forum presented by the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at CUNY’s Hunter College and the US Human Rights Network in anticipation of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s in-person “Universal Periodic Review” of U.S. human rights scheduled in Geneva on Monday, May 11; 47-49 E. 65th St., Manhattan.

Also at 9:30 a.m., Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras delivers an opening keynote speech during CUNY’s 27th annual “Big Apple Job & Internship Fair”; Galleria and River Pavilion, The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center of New York, 655 W. 34th St., Manhattan.

At 10:10 a.m., Sen. David Carlucci hosts LG Kathy Hochul on his monthly edition of the “Albany Report,” WRCR1300 AM.

At 1 p.m., former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean delivers keynote address during a “Tackling Economic Inequality” symposium presented by NY Law School’s Center for New York City Law and the law school’s Impact Center for Public Interest Law, featuring panel discussions with city officials, family, housing and legal advocates, legal professionals and scholars; auditorium and event center, second floor, 185 W. Broadway.

At 2 p.m., AG Eric Schneiderman makes remarks in Syracuse, 707 First North St. (Rain location: Syracuse City Hall, 233 East Washington St.)

Also at 2 p.m., Assemblyman David Weprin, NYC Councilman Rory Lancman and city transportation officials and community leaders unveil the fully converted 168th Street, which now only runs one-way, Jamaica Muslim Center, 8537 168th St., Queens.

At 2:45 p.m., Hochul tours NYSERNET construction and expansion of the data center, 300 South Salina St., Syracuse.

At 8:30 p.m., Schneiderman attends the Democratic Rural Caucus dinner, Holiday Inn, 441 Electronics Parkway, Liverpool.

Headlines…

A corruption unit of the Nassau County district attorney’s office will open a review of county contracting practices, in response to revelations that a federal investigation into Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, is focused in part on a county storm water contract.

Nassau County legislators who approved the contract in question with an Arizona company that employed Adam Skelos, AbTech Industries, said that they did not know the senator’s son worked there.

Skelos confirmed the existence of the federal inquiry and said he is cooperating – a switch from months ago, when he attacked a report about the existence of the probe as “a thinly sourced” story that did “not meet the standards of journalism.”

A source who recently met with investigators for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara indicated that about half the questions focused on the lobbying arm of the law firm where Skelos is of counsel, Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, and if there was any direct or indirect interaction with the senator.

County Executive Ed Mangano and nearly all of Long Island’s senators have been subpoenaed in connection with the Skelos federal grand jury probe.

Adam Skelos, the 32-year-old son of Sen. Skelos, appears to have benefited from his dad’s position with a series of jobs at GOP-wired entities, according to campaign finance and payroll documents and public information provided by firms that employed him.

Should Skelos be indicted and forced to step down, as happened to Silver, no seamless replacement strategy is in place. That is because his second-in-command, Sen. Tom Libous, of Binghamton, faces a federal trial this summer on charges of lying to FBI agents who were investigating the financial activities of him and his son.

Barbara Bartoletti, of the NY League of Women Voters, sees no reason for Skelos to give up his leadership post right now. “There is a presumption of innocence, and we should at least wait until federal authorities have finished with their investigation,” she said. “We should all just be aware that the culture of corruption in Albany has very long tentacles.”

Bharara, one of the most acclaimed prosecutors of his generation, is locked in what seems to be an escalating war of words with the federal judiciary — one that some judges fear could influence important rulings.

The state Board of Elections declined to change a longstanding ruling that critics say has allowed millions of dollars to flow, virtually unchecked, into campaign coffers across New York. The board’s four commissioners deadlocked 2-to-2 on the issue of whether to rescind its own 1996 opinion that found limited-liability companies should be treated like individuals when it comes to contributions.

Emails between Sony executives and Cuomo’s campaign staff leaked as part of the Sony Pictures hack and published in full by WikiLeaks Thursday appear to show Sony executives believed donating to the governor was a good idea because he is a “strong protector” of New York’s film tax credit.

Though his focus was national during his brief Midwest trip, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio could not entirely escape local issues, as a Nebraska rancher and radio host showed up to question the mayor’s proposal to take horse carriages out of Central Park. Also, de Blasio brushed off questions about whether he wants to run for president.

More >

Extras

Writing for TIME’s 100 Most Influential People list, Hillary Clinton called US Sen. Elizabeth Warren “a special kind of leader” and said the Massachusetts Democrat is holding her feet to the fire.

Clinton will make her first trip as a presidential candidate to the early voting state of New Hampshire next week, participating in small events Monday and Tuesday with students and small business employees.

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a big fan of actress/advocate Julianna Margulies, whom she calls a “kindred spirit” in TIME.

Republican state senators are saying nothing – for now – about a NYT report that federal prosecutors have Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, in their crosshairs.

The acting Nassau County district attorney said she will review county contracting procedures after reports of Skelos’ influence on a $12 million local stormwater systems contract the Arizona-based company that employed his son, AbTech Industries.

“If Skelos were to step aside, either temporarily to fight any changes or permanently if the charges turn out to be severe, the top contenders to replace him could be Syracuse’s John DeFrancisco and Suffolk County’s John Flanagan.”

On the heels of snubbing Clinton, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared in Iowa (right as she was leaving the early presidential voting state) to preach his tax-the-rich message.

“After 25 years in the public eye, Mrs. Clinton has suddenly developed the capacity to surprise.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo departs for Cuba on Monday, April 20. He’s due to speak at a Food Bank for NYC gala Tuesday night (April 21) where the company of his longtime girlfriend, Sandra Lee-Simply Living Publishing, will be honored.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s top executive will join Cuomo on his trip to Cuba, home to a state-sponsored biopharmaceutical industry.

Sen. Diane Savino, never one to be shy about sharing her opinion, bashed de Blasio on Facebook for traveling to Iowa and Nebraska, saying: “Dude, you do have a city to run.”

According to former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, Clinton still “loves” de Blasio, even though he hasn’t endorsed her.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Long Island GOP freshman, released a video to mark his first 100 days in office.

Another GOP freshman from New York, Rep. Elise Stefanik, marked her first 100 days with an OpEd in the Denton Republican.

Meet the “everyday people” who work at the Ohio Chipotle where Clinton ordered a chicken burrito bowl and went unnoticed.

Following Clinton’s lead, former Gov. George Pataki, a potential 2016 GOP contender, ate lunch at a Chipotle with is wife, Libby. (Neither wore sunglasses).

The state Senate Democrats believe having a “rock star” like Clinton atop the 2016 ticket will help them retake the majority.

Cuomo announced the craft beer industry in New York State grew 59 percent from 2013 to 2014, with a total economic impact estimated at $3.5 billion.

After Cuomo’s budget proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage failed earlier this year, AG Eric Schneiderman has taken up the cause – and then some. He wants the hourly wage to increase to $15 an hour.

There may be more than 155,000 students opting out of state exams this week, but the state Education Department says they’ll still have enough results to evaluate the performance of students and teachers.

It wasn’t your imagination: A plane marked like Air Force One was doing touch-and-go landings at Albany International Airport today.

Buffalo school leaders must figure out how to cut roughly $10 million from their budget for the next school year, something that could lead to contractual changes or staff reductions.

The University at Buffalo has turned to a nationally known branding company for help, hiring Ologie of Columbus, Ohio, to work on its new “brand identity.”

Tisch to Feds: Don’t Penalize NY

From the Morning Memo:

As federal education officials make vague noises about financial sanctions as as result of the unprecedentedly high opt-out rates New York is seeing during this week’s standardized English tests, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch delivered this message: Don’t even think about it.

“I would urge the federal government not to come and threaten the students in New York state for a variety of reasons,” Tisch said during a CapTon interview last night.

“Number one: I don’t believe that taking money away from our most vulnerable schools, which is where Title I is targeted, would be very helpful to getting the kinds of outcomes we want for those targeted populations.”

“I don’t believe in threatening people and I don’t think that’s very effective.”

“On a much more basic note,” the chancellor continued, “over the last several days, the federal government has started to signal that as part of reauthorizing the Elementary, Middle and Secondary Act, they are going to move away from using test scores as part of their evaluation system.”

“It would be really disingenuous for the federal government to come into New York state, which has met its obligations under Race to the Top, and had testing as part of evaluation, and then threaten to remove money that this state uses for its most vulnerable populations because we couldn’t get to yes while they are moving away from that obligation altogether.”

A US Department of Education spokeswoman told The Buffalo News that the department has not had to withhold money “yet” over the requirement that schools and districts have 95 percent test compliance or lose federal Title I funding because that threshold has not yet been reached.

However, there were reports that some districts across New York had as many as 70 percent of students opt out for Day One of the ELA exams this week. And the federal government says it has “made clear” that states are expected to “consider” sanctions when the threshold is not met.

Federal aid is a small fraction of the public funding school districts receive, most of which comes from the state. But many of New York’s high-needs districts are already stretched thin, and cannot afford to lose even a small amount of money.

The opt-out movement was started by parents concerned about over-testing of their kids, and the viability of the tests themselves.

But the cause was kicked up a notch this year when it was embraced by the statewide teachers union, NYSUT, in an effort to undermine the teacher evaluation system after a bitter budget battle in which the governor pushed – and the Legislature approved – changes the union opposed.

An estimated 100,000 students have opted out of this year’s tests so far, compared to some 60,000 in 2014. Despite this dramatic increase, the state Education Department still plans on using this year’s tests as a basis for school and teacher evaluations, Gannett reports.

Tisch said the Board of Regents will “absolutely” take into account the opt out movement while trying to come up changes to the teacher evaluation system within the parameters of the legislation agreed to by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders.

“At the end of the day, no one is going to be 100 percent satisfied with where this lands,” Tisch warned.

“…The Constitution of New York state gave us this authority, and not to use it to help students and parents and teachers would be walking away from what I think is our constitutional obligation to give our best judgement in crafting regulations around complicated policy.”

“…Absolutely we will not ignore the voices of parent across this state; that is an absolute,” Tisch continued. “Absolutely, we will not ignore what is already in statute through the budget process in the state of New York.”

“How we get there, and how we managed to bring these disparate voices together during a very complicated public debate I think is going to be challenging, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”

Tisch said she doesn’t believe – either as a parent or a chancellor – in “punitive measures,” but rather in setting standards and expectations.

She did express concern, however, about the timeline set out for coming up with a new evaluation system. (It’s due by June 30). And she also said she’s “openly worried” about the ability of close to 700 districts to put together plans under the new rules and submit them to SED for approval by November.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule.

At 9:30 a.m., presidents of NYC public libraries speak to about 200 librarians from across the city as they mark the start of “Lobby Day” meetings with Council members to discuss city funding for libraries; The New York Public Library’s New Amsterdam Library branch, 9 Murray St., Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and officials attend a grand opening of a rehabbed apartment building and highlight revitalization efforts in Newburgh, 197 Lander St., Newburgh.

At 10:30 a.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers remarks at Drake University, Cowles Library Reading Room, 2725 University Ave., Des Moines, IA.

At 11 a.m., Staten Island DA and NY-11 GOP candidate Dan Donovan will attend the Empire Outlets groundbreaking ceremony, Richmond County Bank Ballpark, 75 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island.

Also at 11 a.m., the chairman of the state Senate Task Force on the Delivery of Social Services in New York City, state Sen. Tony Avella, hosts the opening event of the task force’s planned series of public forums; Senate Hearing Room, 19th floor, 250 Broadway, Manhattan.

Also at 11 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul, EDC President Kyle Kimball, Staten Island BP James Oddo, city officials and executives from Brooklyn-based real estate development firm BFC Partners LP, investment firm Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and tourism marketing agency NYC & Company mark the start of construction of a 340,000-square-foot mall; Richmond County Bank Ballpark, 75 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island.

Also at 11 a.m., Poughkeepsie Mayor John Tkazyik, Assemblyman Kieran Lalor and Councilman Lee Klein will host a press conference discussing the proposed “Safe Storage” ordinance in the City of Poughkeepsie, 62 Civic Center Plaza, across from The Poughkeepsie Journal building.

At noon, the state Board of Elections meets to consider whether to close to the so-called LLC loophole in campaign finance law, 40 N. Pearl St., Suite 5, Albany.

At 1 p.m., Donovan will host a press conference to receive the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, St. George Pharmacy, 99 Stuyvesant Pl., Staten Island.

At 5:45 p.m., de Blasio speaks at the Progress Iowa Gathering, Iowa State Education Association Headquarters, Second Floor, 77 3rd St., Des Moines, IA.

At 6 p.m., Cardinal Timothy Dolan receives a proclamation from Oddo and an Archdiocese of New York auxiliary bishop, the Most Rev. John O’Hara, serves as guest speaker during a Catholic School Region of Staten Island’s gala; Nicotra’s Ballroom, Hilton Garden Inn New York/Staten Island, 1100 South Ave., Staten Island.

Also at 6 p.m., Discovery for Justice, an advocacy group made up of community activist, clergy, seniors, elected officials, labor, and retired law enforcement officials will be sponsoring a community forum on criminal justice reform, 1199 SEIU penthouse, 330 West 42nd St., Manhattan. (Panelists include: Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Assemblyman Joe Lentol).

At 6:45 p.m., NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray delivers remarks at at a Vaisakhi Celebration, 31 Chambers St., Manhattan.

Headlines…

The NYT reports federal prosecutors have begun presenting evidence to a grand jury considering a case against Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam. The focus of the federal investigation has been on Adam Skelos’ business dealings, and whether the senator used any of his influence to assist the companies for which his son works.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano was one of several Long Island politicians subpoenaed to testify last week before a federal grand jury looking into the Skeloses.

Yesterday’s “Fight for $15″ protest by tens of thousands of low-wage workers, students and activists in more than 200 American cities is the most striking effort to date in a two-and-a-half-year-old labor-backed movement that is testing the ability of unions to succeed in an economy populated by easily replaceable service sector workers.

Hillary Clinton tweeted her support of the “Fight for $15″ campaign, saying “every American deserves a fair shot at success.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who is mulling a 2016 White House run, said Clinton isn’t ready to confront the nation’s billionaires to address the rising income inequality issue. “Based on her record, I don’t think so,” Sanders said.

So far, Clinton’s Wall Street backers don’t seem terribly worried about her populist sentiments on the campaign trail.

Peter Kosinski, the Senate GOP’s counsel, has replaced James Walsh as the Republican co-chair of the state Board of Elections. The move comes the day before the board is scheduled to vote on whether to change its 1996 interpretation of LLCs as individuals for the purposes of calculating contribution limits.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s memoir has not burned up the best-seller list, but it earned him $376,667 in income last year. The governor’s tax returns, which his office made available to reporters, show that he made a total of $553,371, the largest chunk being book income, plus money he made on a blind trust, minus expenses.

So far, Cuomo has received $565,000 over the last two years for his book, which, has not sold as well as some other political memoirs. According to Nielsen, which tracks 85 percent of print sales, the memoir — released in October had sold 3,000 hardcover copies as of Sunday.

Tens of thousands of New York students refusing to take required English exams have not dissuaded the state Education Department from using those tests as the basis for school and teacher evaluations.

Federal education officials are hinting that New York public schools with high opt-out rates during this week’s standardized tests could face financial sanctions. But Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch warned Washington not to penalize students for a fight the grownups are having.

More >

Extras

Statewide, the anti-testing advocates said at least 100,000 students opted out of yesterday’s ELA tests – a number expected to grow significantly.

The tombstone of Hillary Clinton’s father, Hugh Rodham, was upturned in what Pennsylvania police say may have been an act of political vandalism.

The U.S. Capitol Police have arrested a single occupant of a gyro-copter that landed on the west lawn of t‎he U.S. Capitol. According to the Tampa Bay Times, a Florida mailman was trying to deliver a message on campaign reform to Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on his early life as a boxer: “I’m not too sure all those blows I took to the head did me much good.”

Reid said the GOP presidential field is made up of “losers,” and also revealed that US Sen. John McCain once threatened to kick the “sh*#t” out of him.

US Attorney Loretta Lynch is still waiting to be confirmed as attorney general, and her allies – led by the Rev. Al Sharpton – are hoping a hunger strike will do the trick.

Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be the commencement speaker at St. John Fisher College on May 9. The college will give him an honorary degree of doctor of laws.

Trustees of Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish organization, told Brooklyn Democratic Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz he would be the target of a 2016 primary if the education investment tax credit doesn’t pass this session.

NJ Gov. Chris Christie covered a lot of ground – literally and figuratively – during his trip to the early presidential voting state of New Hampshire this week.

The Child Safe Products Act has two more sponsors in the state Senate – Republican Joe Robach of Rochester and Democrat (IDC member) David Valesky of Syracuse.

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg shared the early-morning-coffee/get-ahead strategy from the early days of his career.

Freshman Long Island Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin reported that he raised $457,204 from January through March of this year, and that he now has $426,782 in the bank.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is proposing legislation that would require the entities administering tax check off funds to improve efforts to spend dedicated contributions within the year they were made and report how the money was spent to the public and state officials.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner says the state and feds should bear the brunt of the cost for fixing local infrastructure – such as the city’s water system – which is why she’s not proposing a hike in local water rates.

Former Gov. David Paterson will be the keynote speaker at the Glens Falls NAACP branch scholarship fund gala at 6 p.m. April 25 at Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls.

REBNY members and their firms gave $21.7 million in campaign contributions to state-level elections in the last cycle, accounting for more than 10 percent of the money that entered the campaign finance system.

Did NYC Public Advocate Tish James take a veiled dig at NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will her email endorsement of Clinton?

As usual, there are a number of New Yorkers on Out magazine’s 9th annual Power 50 list.

DiNapoli announced his office stopped $25.3 million in questionable or fraudulent personal income tax refunds from being paid so far in 2015. The comptroller’s office has audited and approved 5.1 million state refunds totaling $4.7 billion. More than 368,000 refunds totaling $386.9 million are expected to be paid in the coming days.

Capital NY will be rebranded and relaunched as POLITICO New York as part of an expansion at its Beltway-based parent company, which is gearing up to roll out new satellite publications across the U.S. and Europe.

Real estate developer Sonny Bonacio withdrew his application seeking tax breaks to finance a proposed $30 million renovation of the historic, empty Kenwood Convent in Albany into 125 luxury apartments.

DiNapoli Expands Budget Criticism

From the Morning Memo:

Following the passage of the 2015-16 state budget, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was fairly reserved in his initial response.

He issued a terse statement that praised the governor and lawmakers for adopting a timely spending package, but also criticized the lack of transparency in the process.

During a CapTon interview last night, DiNapoli said his office is still reviewing the new budget and will have a detailed analysis of it soon, but he expanded his comments somewhat, expressing concern about the lack of detail regarding economic development spending.

“A big concern I would point out is you’ve still got some big appropriations where it’s not really defined how it’s going to be spent – even on some of the programs that probably have some level of popularity, (like) economic development, upstate revitalization,” DiNapoli said.

“Some of the settlement money went to upstate, some to Long island. But which projects is it going to fund, and can we be sure the money will go there?”

“…We’re at a point now where, again, we have seen improvement in the economy,” the comptroller continued. “We have seen improvement, certainly, in the state budget process. It’s an appropriate time to start asking the question: What is the return on some of those investments in economic development?

“Whether it’s some of these kinds of initiatives that are in the budget, or, in a broader context, what’s happening with IDAs and the benefits they give out, or LDCs, and we’ve had concerns about transparency and accountability there as well.”

Everybody’s concerned about creating jobs, and rightfully so – especially in many of our upstate communities. But the money we’re putting out there, what are we getting for it? I think that’s a fair question for us to start asking.”

I asked DiNapoli if that means we can expect to see more audits from his office of the state’s economic development process, and he replied: “We’ve started, and I expected that we’ll do some more. ”

This isn’t the first time the comptroller has noted the broad latitude given to the executive branch when it comes to economic development spending, which this year included the roughly $6 billion windfall from financial sector settlements.

The comptroller again questioned the budget process, saying, as a former member of the Assembly, that it seemed his erstwhile colleagues got “jammed” more than usual at the end of the negotiations, being asked to vote on complex bills they hadn’t yet had time to read.

DiNapoli was critical at points throughout this budget battle, questioning, for example, the governor’s use of 30-day budget amendments to tie appropriations to policy.

He also wasn’t thrilled that in so doing, the Cuomo administration had yoked spending for the comptroller’s office to per diem reforms without bothering to give DiNapoli a heads up first.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule. It’s Tax Day, which means there might be long lines at post offices around the state as New Yorkers scramble to file their returns before the midnight deadline, (though many people e-file these days).

Also today, rallies are being held around the state and the country in the “Fight for $15″ movement to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15 an hour.

At 6:30 a.m., Brooklyn BP Eric Adams will take place in one of the many “Fight for $15″ rallies taking place across NY and the country today, McDonald’s, 395 Flatbush Ave. Extension, Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

At 10 a.m., NY-11 GOP candidate and Staten Island DA Dan Donovan will visit seniors at the Great Kills Friendship Club, 11 Sampson Ave., Staten Island.

At 11 a.m., during a groundbreaking ceremony, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, Community Board 10 District Manager Kenneth Kearns, IDC Leader Jeff Klein, NYC DOT Bronx Commissioner Constance Moran, and others mark the start of a $420,000 renovation project to add benches, a bicycle rack, decorative pavement, landscaping, a sea railing and trees to a Bronx waterfront site, as part of the citywide “Greenstreets” program; Belden Point, Belden Street and City Island Avenue, the Bronx.

At 11:30 a.m., AG Eric Schneiderman will do an interview on MSNBC’s NewsNation with Tamron Hall about the Low Wage Workers Day of Action. He’ll also attend multiple rallies throughout the day.

At 12:30 p.m., Donovan will host a press conference on “Tax Day” to highlight the need for tax reform as millions of Americans rush to file before the deadline, Donovan for Congress Headquarters, 2300 Richmond Rd., Staten Island.

Also at 12:30 p.m., BP Adams will provide the keynote address at a panel discussion hosted by St. Joseph’s College entitled, “Whose Lives Matter? A Conversation about Race and Law Enforcement in NYC”, held in partnership with the SJC Law and Justice Society, 245 Clinton Ave., Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

At 5:30 p.m., demonstrators gather before a 6 p.m. “For for $15″ march; Columbus Circle, near Broadway and 60th Street, Manhattan. (Schneiderman will attend at 6:15 p.m.)

At 6:15 p.m., Manhattan BP Gale Brewer and NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray speak during a reception as part of events organized by the NYC Landmarks50 Alliance to mark this week’s 50th anniversary of Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr.’s signing of the “Landmarks Law of New York City” that established the city Landmarks Preservation Commission; The Four Seasons Restaurant, 99 E. 52nd St., Manhattan.

At 7:15 p.m., Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Alliance for Tenant Power’s campaign manager, Delsenia Glover, and the attorney-in-charge of The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Law Reform Unit, Judith Goldiner, discuss state rent control laws scheduled to expire Monday, June 15, during a “town hall” meeting; The New York Public Library’s Kingsbridge Library branch, 291 W. 231st St., the Bronx.

At 7:30 p.m., the retiring director of the Brooklyn Museum, Arnold L. Lehman, will be honored by McCray and others during the museum’s “Brooklyn Artists Ball”; Beaux-Arts Court, third floor, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn.

Headlines…

Though final opt-out numbers aren’t yet available, a growing number of students declined to take the tests on the first day they were offered yesterday. One school in Brooklyn reported 95 percent of eligible kids didn’t sit for the ELA exam.

It appears a record 16,000 students opted out on Long Island.

“I think the numbers exceeded expectations in many districts,” said Bob Lowry, director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. State education officials would not comment directly on the testing boycott but continued to warn school districts, teachers and parents about possible consequences.

High Achievement New York, a pro-Common Core coalition that includes business groups, will launch a six-figure radio and digital advertising campaign today encouraging parents to “opt in” their children to state exams.

Strikes, marches and rallies are going to be held around the country today as activist groups press for a higher minimum wage. The Fight for $15 will kick off early in the Big Apple and include a wide range of working-class New Yorkers.

During her first campaign stop in Iowa, Hillary Clinton outlined her four main goals of running for president his time around.

The former secretary of state’s “small” campaign events are drawing big crowds and generating a frenzy of media attention.

Clinton, a prodigious campaign fundraiser, described the U.S. political system as “dysfunctional” in her first appearance as a 2016 candidate and said she would favor a constitutional amendment to purge campaigns of what she called “unaccountable money.”

Clinton was directly asked by congressional investigators in a December 2012 letter whether she had used a private email account while serving as secretary of state, according to letters obtained by The New York Times. She did not reply to the letter.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio stood by his wait-and-see approach to endorsing Clinton, and said he had informed her team of his decision before he went public with it on “Meet the Press” last Sunday.

“This is a different country we’re living in right now,” de Blasio said yesterday. “And I think we need to hear a vision that relates to this time, not eight years ago.”

Under pressure from the Democratic Party’s left wing to address income inequality, Clinton struck a populist note and voice concern in an email to supporters about the hefty paychecks received by some CEOs.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie moved to depict himself as the fiscal truth-teller of the Republican presidential field by calling for scaled back Social Security benefits for some Americans – a proposal that ranks as among the most provocative, and risky, of the incipient campaign.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had nothing on his public schedule yesterday, attended the Vanity Fair cocktail party kicking off the 14th annual Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan last night.

More >

Extras

Former Gov. David Paterson was hired at $125 an hour to be the “rainmaker in China” for a tech start-up, iFunding. But he and the company had a falling out, accounts of which differ.

President Barack Obama will remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism – a key step in his bid to normalize relations between the two countries.

Three months after he was nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to serve on the Public Service Commission, Rev. Floyd Flake has dropped out. (There’s some disagreement over the specifics of how his nomination fizzled).

Today is Equal Pay Day, and also Lilly Ledbetter’s bitrhday.

Big opt out numbers were reported in WNY today -the first day of English Language Arts tests given to third through eighth graders across New York State this week.

Errol Louis: “I think the idea of keeping one’s kids from taking the test is reckless and unrealistic for lots of reasons.”

The state’s largest gunshow, returns to the New York State Fairgrounds this weekend, offering a variety of firearms and accessories for hunters, competitive shooters and collectors.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio “should have his head examined” for his reluctance to back Hillary Clinton’s second presidential bid.

De Blasio is standing by his wait-and-see approach with Clinton, saying he needs to wait and see what her “vision” is.

Talks between FEMA and hundreds of Hurricane Sandy victims cheated out of insurance money have hit a major setback, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

The UFC launched a website where MMA fans can voice their support for bring the sport to New York – the last state to ban it.

Binghamton Mets owner Michael Urda had “no problem” with relocating the franchise from the city it has called home for more than 20 years, but wanted to keep the team’s potential sale secret due in part to the re-election bid of Senate Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Chuck Schumer — the second- and third-ranking Senate Democrats — both declined to weigh in today on whether the two men agreed Durbin should remain as the No. 2 Senate Democrat in the next Congress.

A bipartisan group from Congress, led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Schumer, introduced legislation to reauthorize parts of the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act that are set to expire within the next two years.

At least four of Kind LLC’s self-proclaimed healthy bars are in violation of “healthy” labeling requirements, according to the FDA, which sent a warning letter to the company.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos won’t be joining Cuomo on his trade mission to Cuba later this month, but Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will.

Clinton isn’t naming a finance chair in her latest White House campaign. This is part of a larger strategy of trying to maintain a nimble campaign structure and avoid the mistakes of her 2008 bid when she was criticized for building out a massive and overpaid staff.

It appears Clinton’s Chipotle order was healthier than the average American’s order, with significantly fewer calories, saturated fat and sodium than most orders do.

Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro says NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio hasn’t lifted a finger to help support the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival, which was co-founded by the movie star.

Fresh off his win at the Masters, 21-year-old Jordan Spieth gave golfing tips to former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Jet Blue and its partner, developer MCR Development LLC, are in advanced negotiations with the Port Authority for the rights to turn the iconic Trans World Airlines terminal at Kennedy Airport into a modern hotel.

It looks like Kali – the orphaned polar bear who came to the Buffalo Zoo in May 2013 as an awkward and loveable cub – will leave for a new home in St. Louis in the next couple of weeks.

Carrie Andrews, the outgoing Democratic minority leader in the onroe County Legislature, said last week she was considering a campaign for the county’s top elected job. She has since decided not to run.

The average, unmarried U.S. worker without children paid an average tax rate of 31.5 percent in 2014, according to new data released today.