Protestor In Chief

Just call him the self-appointed head of the Committee to Save New Yorkers.

NYC Councilman Charles Barron clearly is relishing the role of chief agitator against Gov. Andrew Cuomo – an effort he started during the 2010 campaign as the Freedom Party’s gubernatorial candidate and is now perfecting as the budget battle gets underway.

“When we have those top 1 percent who are making 44 percent of the income in New York City, and 35 percent of the income in the state, tax the rich! Don’t come to the table and say the only thing we’re going to do is cut,” Barron told reporters outside the caucus gala last night prior to his interruption of Cuomo’s speech.

“…The elected officials, the Senate and the Assembly, should save the people of New York from this governor, who promised them he was going to freeze wages, he was going to take money from the pension. They better remember what happened in Wisconsin. That could happen here, too, because the people are sick and tired of bearing the brunt of balancing the budget.”

The Brooklyn councilman rejected Cuomo’s argument that the polls prove New Yorkers are on his side, noting: “The majority of the people in the state don’t even vote; that 77 percent approval rating is bogus.”

Barron, who called himself an “elected activist” earlier today, said he plans to continue dogging the governor “wherever he shows his face.” He said he’s looking for some fellow elected officials and union members with “guts and spine,” adding: “We’re there to protect the people, not to kowtow to the governor.”

Indys Leaning Toward Corwin, Open To Others

The state Independence Party is playing the wait-and-see game in NY-26, but is currently leaning toward backing Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, assuming GOP leaders select her as expected, according to a party source.

However, the Indys could be convinced to support someone else – particularly if they get a personal ask from Rep. Steve Israel, the new DCCC chairman. The congressman is allies with state Indy Chairman Frank MacKay (they’re both Long Islanders), who would like to help Israel land his first victory in his new leadership role, if at all possible.

“The party wants him to do well,” my source said. “…That’s by no means saying we’ll go there no matter what, but we’re certainly have an open ear.”

It would have been a different story altogether had Sen. George Maziarz gotten into the race. Both the Indys and the Conservatives would have had a hard time saying “no” to the Niagara County Republican, with whom they have a long-standing relationship.

The Democrats, too, were hoping Maziarz would take the plunge, because it would have put his Senate seat in play at a time when control of the chamber is very important from a redistricting perspective (Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reform bill notwithstanding).

This whole point is moot, however, because luckily for – or perhaps because of – Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Maziarz took a pass on the race.

A sort of waiting game is going on in NY-26 at the moment. The Democrats are coalescing behind Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, but she’s reluctant to get in without support (read: cash money) from the DCCC, according to a WNY Democrat.

But the DCCC, which apparently has done some polling on this, doesn’t see the point of putting any money into the race unless there’s a strong third party or independent candidate who might split the GOP vote in the Republican-dominated district, providing the Democrat with a potential path to victory.

And then there’s a question of where the Greens will go, because thanks to Howie Hawkins’ performance in the 2010 gubernatorial race, they now have a ballot line to play with.

So, even though the Republicans are scheduled to make their selection tonight, there’s still a lot left to shake out in NY-26. Plus, we still don’t have a date for the special election.

Rangel On The Power of Legislators, Meaning of Independence

Even while declining to weigh in on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal, Rep. Charlie Rangel last night seemed to be siding with state lawmakers who are agitating in favor of extending the millionaire’s tax and using the revenue that would produce to soften the governor’s proposed spending cuts.

“Unlike Wisconsin, there is a relationship between the legislators and the governor,” the Harlem Democrat told reporters at last night’s caucus gala. “And the governor has a reputation even through his family in being fair.”

“You don’t have to tell him about the pain of unemployment, the pain of lack of education money and all those things. So it’s going to be rough. You deal with the rough bunch of assemblymen here, and I know most of them. And I think in New York we’ll have a more honest level playing table than what the Tea Party is doing in Washington…I have more confidence in the state than I do have in the House right now.”

“I think I have to get a better handle on the problems we’re having in Washington before I start giving an analysis of what’s happening. The wonderful thing a bout democracy is that the governor’s an executive, they present their ideas, but ultimately it’s the state legislators that decide what’s best for their constituents.”

“So, of course, some of the things that I’ve seen are devastating – not just from Cuomo, but from President Obama.”

Rangel also weighed in on the question of independent redistricting, which is something the governor is pushing via the program bill he sent to the Legislature last week.

Not surprisingly, the congressman seems to think the current system of drawing legislative and congressional lines words just fine, thank you very much.

“The real question is: Is it going to be better? And I don’t think it is,” he said.

“…’Independen’ is a very fluid term. Is it my independent or someone else’s? There’s no such thing as the committee or the group not leaning somewhere….Just saying ‘independence’ is like saying ‘freedom,’ you know, ‘democracy.’ You want to know who’s calling the shots.”

Corwin’s ’08 Abortion Position Could Cause Trouble (Updated)

A reader forwarded a 2008 Political Courage Test filled out by Assemblywoman Jane Corwin that could prove problematic with conservative voters even as GOP leaders appear poised to select her as their favorite to run in a yet-to-be-called special election to fill former Rep. Chris Lee’s seat.

In the survey, conducted by the nonpartisan research organization Project Vote Smart, Corwin indicated support for the following statements:

- Abortions should be legal only within the first trimester of pregnancy.

- Abortions should be legal when the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape.

- Abortions should be legal when the life of the woman is endangered.

The assemblywoman also said she favors requiring parental consent for minors seeking to have an abortion – a position that is staunchly opposed by pro-choice advocates.

That first answer would certainly not sit well with pro-life conservatives, although it didn’t stop the state Conservative Party from endorsing Corwin in the past.

UPDATE: A reader notes that Corwin has consistently ranked very high in the Conservative Party’s annual legislative ratings for the past two years, in both 2009 (with a 75 percent voting record) and 2010 (with 84 percent). She has also always voted “no” on gay marriage.

I spoke over the weekend with Party Chairman Mike Long, and he told me he doesn’t see any reason why the assemblywoman wouldn’t be completely “acceptable” to his NY-26 leaders, although they aren’t planning on endorsing a candidate until after Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially calls the special (whenever that occurs).

Some WNY Tea Partiers appear poised to go their own way in NY-26. Sources say it’s possible that two of the eight candidates interviewed by the GOP leaders yesterday – Jack Davis and David Bellavia – could try to launch independent candidacies if they don’t get the official nod.

From what I can gather, and the state Board of Elections is closed in observance of Presidents Day, so I can’t double-check this, it is possible to mount an independent candidacy in a special, but the time period for name collection is very compressed and it’s an uphill battle to gather the 3,500 good signatures necessary to get onto the ballot – even for the most well-funded candidate.

A strong independent candidate in the NY-26 mix could create a redux of the NY-23 situation where then-Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava was deemed too liberal for the taste of the Conservative Party, who went for Doug Hoffman instead.

Even though Scozzafava dropped out of the race and endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, her name remained on the ballot and she pulled sufficient votes to provide a route to victory for Owens, who is now representing the district in Congress.

Schumer: Avoid Shutdown At All Costs

Here’s Sen. Chuck Schumer chatting with reporters at last night’s caucus weekend gala. While he side-stepped questions of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, which was the topi du jour of the evening, he had a lot to say about the budget talks going on in Washington, D.C.

New York’s senior senator said he thinks President Obama “got it right,” by outlining spending cuts, but also calling for investment in education and other areas deemed critical to winning the battle for the future.

“I think that the path that Speaker Boehner laid out on Thursday is reckless, because it could very well lead to a government shutdown,” Schumer said.

“…A shutdown should be avoided at all costs. We have told Speaker Boehner that we want to sit down and negotiate and, you know, we can come to some agreement together. But to just lay down the gauntlet and say: Unless it’s this way, we’re going to shut the government down. That’s a huge mistake and, you know, Newt Gingrich tried that in 1995 without very much success.”

Schumer said the Senate will put forth a budget that cuts $41 billion, but it won’t be anywhere close to the “extreme” and “reckless” $100 billion worth of reductions included in by the GOP in the House-passed plan.

Diaz Sr. Stresses Schneiderman On Monserrate Outside Counsel

Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. is continuing to target his former colleague, Senator-turned-AG Eric Schneiderman, this time on the DN report that the Democrats spent $376,464 worth of taxpayer dollars on outside counsel while mulling the eventual expulsion of ex-Sen. Hiram Monserrate.

“Since the expulsion of Hiram Monserrate was touted as a major accomplishment for Eric Scheniderman, who chaired that Special Committee, and who stressed this effort when he ran for Attorney General, I would like to make the following inquiries,” Diaz Sr. said in a press release.

“Who authorized $376,464 to be spent on outside legal services and legal staff to expel Hiram Monserrate from office when the State Senate is already staffed with more than 150 lawyers and plenty of staff?”

“Did Senator Jeffrey Klein, another licensed attorney, authorize the hiring of outside legal counsel and legal staff for $376,464 to be paid to expel Hiram Monserrate?”

“To whom were Kaye Scholer’s rates disclosed at the time that law firm was hired to expel Hiram Monserrate?”

“Was the firm of Kaye Scholer and its partners thoroughly vetted to determine that there was no actual or potential conflict of interest between those Senators who championed the cause of ousting Hiram Monserrate and the members of that firm?”

“Do any of my colleagues in the State Senate have any connections between them and the attorneys at the Kaye Scholer firm?”

“Did members of the firm of Kaye Scholer provide any assistance to help Eric Schneiderman in his campaign for Attorney General or provide assistance to the re-election of any other New York State Senators?”

At the very least, we know this: Sheila Boston of Kaye Scholer served on Schneiderman’s transition team. (Fixed).

Ditto for a former firm partner, Daniel Alonso, who advised the Manhattan senator pro bono while he chaired the committee that eventually recommended Monserrate be jettisoned from the Democratic conference.

Last week, Diaz Sr. called for Schneiderman to recuse himself from the investigation of alleged spending of nonprofit funds for personal use by former NARAL Pro-Choice NY President Kelli Conlin. The AG eventually did so, citing his father’s long-standing relationship with the organization, having served on the board for more than a decade.

Cuomo Digs In

Here’s some brief footage of Gov. Andrew Cuomo getting shouted down by NYC Councilman Charles Barron and his supporters last night with chants of “stop the cuts” and “tax the rich.”

Cuomo, as you can hear, got a laugh when he deadpanned: “OK. How are you tonight, Charles. I can’t see who it is. But I know who it is.”

Speaking briefly to reporters after his speech, the governor remained unmoved on the millionaire’s tax extension question, despite the fact that he had just faced a crowd that so clearly felt the opposite.

“I don’t believe in increasing taxes,” the governor explained. “I believe it’s counterproductive for the state. I believe more people will leave the state and you’ll have less revenue.”

“So, I think it actually hurts the economy of the state to raise taxes at this time. That’s what I believe. I believe that, started saying that over a year ago in the campaign. So my belief hasn’t changed.”

Here And Now

Happy Presidents Day. Winter appears to be back. The Legislature is off this week for its annual mid-winter break.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow said NYC Charles Barron’s outbreak at the caucus weekend gala last night was “disrespectful,” adding: “I’ve had my differences with some of the methods the governor proposed to address the deficit, but there’s a time and a place for everything.”

Barron called Cuomo’s budget plan Draconian because it doesn’t include an extension of the millionaire’s tax.

A source close to the Cuomo administration accuses the legislative leaders of plotting to delay the budget past the April 1 deadline, even while publicly claiming it will be on time.

Sen. Malcolm Smith would like to see some more communication from Cuomo, and is “hopeful” he’ll see that soon.

The Senate Democrats spent $376,464 in taxpayer dollars on a private law firm to advise them during the deliberations over whether to expel (eventually expelled) ex-Sen. Hiram Monserrate.

The IRS has slapped lobbyist Pat Lynch’s firm with another federal tax lien.

The Post moves its crusade against “last in, first out” from the editorial to the news pages.

More on LIFO and the teachers it would impact from the WSJ.

The battle over public employees in Wisconsin has put President Obama in a difficult position.

A top political advisor to NJ Gov. Chris Christie revealed he’s mulling creation of a federal PAC, even while insisting the governor isn’t interested in running for president in 2012.

Christie, who has long struggled with his weight, has managed to lose a few pounds.

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Cuomo Disrupted, Pressured At Caucus Gala (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s brief remarks tonight at the gala that caps the annual caucus weekend were interrupted by one of his 2010 opponents, NYC Councilman Charles Barron, who led supporters in loud chants of “tax the rich!” from the back of the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.

Cuomo soldiered on as Barron, who ran an unsuccessful bid for governor on his self-created “Freedom Party” line last fall, yelled loudly and urged his backers on by waving his arms. At least three dozen people responded by joining his chant and pounding on their tables.

“OK. How are you tonight, Charles? I can’t see who it is, but I know who it is,” the governor quipped from the stage.

The governor tried to portray Barron as one of the forces that is seeking to divide New Yorkers, and he urged the room to join him in his efforts to unite the state and return it to greatness via the path of fiscal conservatism.

“The more you yell, the tighter we get,” Cuomo shouted over the din.”…Yes, we have challenges, but we’re going to meet those challenges together.”

Cuomo noted he has invited a host of interested parties in the state to “come to the table” to address the state’s budget crisis, specifically speaking of “our brothers and sisters in labor,” 1199 SEIU (the health care workers), the Senate and the Assembly.

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The Weekend That Was

Gov. Andrew Cuomo hosted a private reception at the executive mansion Sunday night for caucus weekend. On the guest list: His 2002 gubernatorial primary opponent-turned-2010 ally, Carl McCall.

AQE demonstrators left a “Tax the Rich” bumper sticker at the mansion Saturday.

There’s a push for Cuomo to include $4 million for an anti-gun violence program in the state budget.

The $500 million Cuomo proposed to reward schools for innovations and efficiencies is not actually in the budget.

Even as he urges districts to consolidate and share services, Cuomo is proposing to eliminate incentives to districts that join together to use Boces services.

Unions have unleashed a barrage of newspaper and TV ads attacking Bloomberg’s budget.

NYC Firefighters union President Steve Cassidy said a deadly Brooklyn fire was “directly attributable” to Bloomberg’s staffing cuts.

Buffalo and other large city school districts are trying to piggyback on Bloomberg’s push to repeal “last in, first out.”

Senate Minority Leader John Sampson used DSCC cash to pay off a staffer and longtime associate.

With one snap of his cell phone camera, former Rep. Chris Lee upended WNY politics.

Skepticism abounds about Trump 2012.

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