Brooklyn, Queens GOP To Settle Struggle Over NY-9 Pick Today

Brooklyn GOP Chairman Craig Eaton and his Queens counterpart, Phil Ragusa, are scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. this afternoon to try to settle their differences over picking a standard-bearer for the NY-9 seat vacated by ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner last month.

Both the candidates who have been mentioned as finalists for the GOP nod – Bob Turner and Juan Reyes – will be re-screened at this meeting, which will take place at the Queens GOP HQ, I’m told. State GOP Chairman Ed Cox is now involved in this mess, too, and his presence has been requested, although it’s unclear if he’ll be on hand.

While the Democrats settled after much jockeying on Assembylman David Weprin – the steady, wonky, anti-Weiner, if you will – the Republicans have been fighting amongst themselves over their candidate selection process.

As has been reported in several outlets now – including by Grace Rauh on NY1 – the Brooklyn GOP, as well as the Queens Conservatives, are backing businessman Turner, who ran against Weiner in 2010 and received about 40 percent of the vote. The Queens GOP, on the other hand, appears more inclined to back attorney Reyes.

Reyes has been characterized as a former aide to ex-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But several Giulianites have since insisted that’s being way overplayed, describing him to me as a “nobody,” who had a very low-level job in the administration.

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Cuomo Nominates Cox For Medicaid Top Cop

It’s a busy day for nominations and appointments in the Cuomo administration.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this morning nominated James Cox to become the new Medicaid inspector general.

“Jim Cox is exactly who we need to serve as the New York State Medicaid Inspector General,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“He is an exemplary professional with an impeccable public service record and extensive knowledge of health and human services. In addition his experience with the auditing process will help create a more efficient and cost effective system that will monitor the delivery of crucial services across the state.”

“I look forward to working with Jim as we continue to put the needs of New Yorkers first.”

James Sheehan, the former top investigator, was asked to resign in June by Cuomo.

Cox is currently the Department of Health and Human Service’s Supervisory Auditor for Region II, overseeing several field offices. He has been charged with coordinating investigations with the FBI and state comptroller’s office. He was previously the senior auditor in the Albany Field Office.

Advocates Dispute Impact Of DEC Layoffs

The Environmental Advocates of New York are disputing the Department of Environmental Conservation’s claim that the 43 layoffs at the agency won’t have an impact on its ability to monitor and issue permits if and when hydraulic fracturing.

The agency insisted on Thursday that despite environmentalists’ concerns, the controversial natural-gas extraction process commonly referred to as hydrofracking won’t be affected by the layoffs, the second wave at the department since 2009.

“Any layoffs required as part of achieving workforce savings will have no impact on the review, monitoring and enforcement of activities associated with hydraulic fracturing,” said spokeswoman Emily DeSantis. “None of the affected individuals are part of DEC’s oil and gas program.”

But today Environmental Advocates of New York are disputing that claim, saying the section-by-section breakdown shows fracking would be hit.

From the advocates:

We’re still looking for information on who is being cut in which division at DEC, other than the agency’s comments yesterday it’s hard to say. However, we do know which regions are being hit (list below).

We would argue strongly that fracking oversight will be threatened by these layoffs at the DEC. We’re talking about water and air quality monitoring and much more. Not just permitting through the Division of Mineral Resources.

Central office – 14
Regions total – 29
Region 1 – 3
Region 2 – 7
Region 3 – 4
Region 4 – 2
Region 5 – 2
Region 6 – 5
Region 7 – 3
Region 8 – 2
Region 9 – 1

The DEC last week released its draft report on the possible guidelines for hydrofracking, which would prohibit high-volume fracking near the Syracuse and New York City watersheds. Environmental groups want all fracking banned outright, but DEC Commissioner Joe Martens believes it can be performed safely.

Martens said at the news conference unveiling the report that the agency is spread thin following the December 2009 layoffs and, without additional resources, the permitting process for high-volume fracking could be delayed.

Schwartz To Replace Cohen As Top Cuomo Aide

Gov. Andrew Cuomo just announced that Larry Schwartz, a Paterson administration holdover who has been serving as a senior advisor on the second floor, will be appointed secretary to the governor to replace Steve Cohen.

“Steve has served with dedication and distinction,” Cuomo said in a press release.

“Steve has been a critical member of a team that has produced results for the people of the State. He has been both a friend and advisor, and he will be missed.”

“It is an honor to have Larry Schwartz in the position of secretary. For the past six months, Larry has guided the new administration through both the budget and legislative process during one of the most successful legislative sessions in our history.”

“Larry has a wealth of experience in government and brings extraordinary character, intellect and dedication to this key position. I am gratified that Larry has agreed to continue with the administration.”

Cohen’s departure has been expected for some time – even as he was appointed by Cuomo back in January, insiders viewed him as a placeholder/short-timer. He has been with Cuomo since the governor’s AG days, and was one of a handful of Cuomo loyalists to follow him from the AG’s office to the Capitol’s second floor last winter.

This is something of a loss for Howard Glaser, Cuomo’s director of state operations, who was once seen as in line to take over for Cohen.

I assume this change is effective immediately. No date was given for Cohen’s last day. Nor did the press release indicate if Schwartz will be getting a salary bump, and who – if anyone – will be taking his current job.

UPDATE: A Cuomo spokesman says Cohen’s last day – and Schwartz’s first day in his new post – will be Monday, but he’ll be sticking around for a bit to assist with the transition. Still no word on the salary question.

Cohen is leaving on a high point. He spearheaded Cuomo’s successful push to legalize same-sex marriage along with another long-time Cuomo confidant, former SEIU/1199 political director/communications guru Jennifer Cunningham. (Cohen was the inside guy, while Cunningham, who is now at SKDKnickerbocker, was the outside strategist).

Schwartz’s ascention was predicted Monday by the TU’s Jim Odato, but it has been speculated in the Capitol hallways for weeks now.

Schwartz has long-standing ties to the Cuomo clan. In 1994, he was deputy campaign manager for former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s ill-fated campaign for a fourth term in which he was defeated by a little-known GOP state senator, George Pataki.

Schwartz served for years as a top aide to former Westchester County Executive Nick Andy Spano, a Democrat (not related to the former GOP senator with the same last name) who was ousted in 2009 by Republican Rob Astorino is an upset election.

While in that post, he earned a reputation as a hard-charging and aggressive – yet savvy – insider who did not get along well with the local labor unions.

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Here And Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is Westchester County and NYC today with no public schedule.

His cabinet members are on the road. LG Bob Duffy is in Watertown at 11 a.m. Secretary of State Cesar Perales is in Suffern at 11 a.m., Ag & Markets Commissioner Darrel Aubertine is in Geneva at noon, and DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald is Niagara Falls, also at noon.

Sen. Chuck Schumer is in Central New York.

Headlines…

Ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner’s would-be Democratic replacement, Assemblyman David Weprin, insists he didn’t promise to be merely a placeholder.

Weprin makes sloth and luddism work for him: “I’ve never tweeted in my life and I don’t spend any time in the gym.”

Weprin lives a few blocks outside the boundary lines of NY-9, which means he’ll have to move if he wins under the constitution he just has to live in the state, so he won’t have to move into the district.

“An unsurprisingly safe pick for everyone involved.”

Queens Democratic boss/Rep. Joe Crowley keeps his car – and his family – at a $690,000 house in Virginia, but maintains an address back home in the district. Rep. Gary Ackerman lives on a houseboat in D.C. called “Unsinkable.”

Dem insiders called Weprin “wonky” and a “workhorse,” saying he’s unlikely to challenge either Crowley or Ackerman if it comes down to that.

The DN pans Weprin for being selected by the “bosses” and not the “people.”

Weprin’s rollout started last night in Brooklyn.

The Post isn’t buying Cuomo’s tough talk on redistricting reform, saying: “(T)hink of him as Gov. Cahoots.”

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Extras

The second wave of PEF layoffs includes 321 job titles, bringing the union’s total loss so far to more than 700.

How Assemblyman David Weprin won over Queens Democratic Chairman Joe Crowley: He took the under-the-radar route.

Assemblyman Rory Lancman’s Tweet about losing out to Weprin: “Congrats to our next Congressman, David Weprin. It was an honor to have been considered. On to a big Democratic victory on Sept. 13.” (No link).

“High-level bickering” among NY-9 Republicans could jeopardize their already uphill effort to win ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner’s seat.

Knowledgeable TV insider on Eliot Spitzer’s failed CNN run: “It was crazy for him to try and come back to public life so quickly, in such a high-profile situation, so soon after his scandal. He should have bided his time and done it gradually.”

Michael Barbaro Tweets: “NYT EXCLUSIVE: Mayor Bloomberg will officiate wedding of two City Hall aides, John Feinblatt and Jonathan Mintz, in July 24 at Gracie.” (Story link here).

Former Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau defended his successor, Cy Vance Jr., for his handling of the DSK case.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli stopped more than $3.4 million worth of workers compensation overpayments in 2010.

The Riverkeeper’s Paul Gallay: Mayor Bloomberg’s position on Indian Point “brings to mind the Woody Allen line about the man whose brother-in-law thinks he’s a chicken. Asked why he doesn’t have the poor fellow committed, he replies: ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’”

Chris Matthews (who has ESP?) was impressed by Weprin back in 2007 and thought he would “go places in New York politics.”

The Brooklyn Catholic Diocese has “no plans” to deny Cuomo – or any other elected officials – Holy Communion “at this point.”

Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt says the closure date for the Orange County prison (one of seven state facilities set to shut down) is Dec. 1.

Sens. Gillibrand and Schumer have cameos in Club for Growth video on 20 Democrats voicing support for balanced budget amendment.

NYC launched a new Website that allows New Yorkers to propose policy initiatives and tap municipal resources to bring those ideas to fruition.

Tim Pawlenty is a fan of Lady Gaga.

Enviros Blast DEC Cuts (Updated)

Environmental Advocates of New York is knocking the latest round of state layoffs at the Department of Environmental Conservation, saying the cuts could mean severe problems if and when hydraulic fracturing is allowed.

“New York’s environmental agency has lost more than a quarter of its staff since 1990. The Department of Environmental Conservation lost 139 staff just this past December. Without boots on the ground, how will the agency ensure the safety of the water we drink? How will the DEC have the capacity to monitor a gas industry champing at the bit to begin fracking in almost every corner of the state?” said Alison Jenkins, Fiscal Policy Program Director, Environmental Advocates of New York.” Cutting staff at the Department of Environmental Conservation will serve only to harm both our environment and the state’s economy.”

Last week, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said it was more than likely that without the resources, the agency would have trouble granting permits and providing oversight of the controversial natural gas extraction process.

“We have limited staff right now,” he said. “I have said in the past we are going to only review those permits that we have the staff capacity to handle. Right now, we only have limited staff capacity.”

DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis says the layoffs won’t impact any permitting or oversight capabilities.

“Any layoffs required as part of achieving workforce savings will have no impact on the review, monitoring and enforcement of activities associated with hydraulic fracturing,” she said. “None of the affected individuals are part of DEC’s oil and gas program.”

Anti-Frackers Mail Cuomo

Dozens of environmental groups in Albany today calling for a complete ban on hydraulic fracturing — including the controversial high-volume method.

The call comes after the Department of Environmental Conservation released its draft report offering guidelines for high-volume hydrofracking.

“They shouldn’t be drilling,” said Wes Gillingham of the group Catskill Mountainkeeper at a rally in The Well of the Legislative Office Building. “They shouldn’t be doing horizontal drilling, they shouldn’t be doing vertical drilling because it’s an unsafe place to drill and how we found that out is by drilling.”

The groups, one of the largest anti-hydrofracking protests at the Capitol in months, delivered a letter to Cuomo asking that he not allow any hydrofracking in New York.

From the letter:

“…The ban in New York City and Syracuse watersheds will not be fully protected by the DEC’s guidelines,” the groups wirte in the letter to Cuomo. “because water is not constrained by arbitrary boundaries and neither is contamination.”

The process involves blasting chemicals and water into rock in order to release natural gas underneath. Though environmentalists fear the impact it could have on local water tables, business groups say high-volume fracking could be a boon to the hard-hit upstate economy, especially in the Southern Tier region where hydrofracking is being eyed.

The DEC draft report, which goes to a 60-day public comment period later this summer, could potentially pave the way for end on the moratorium for high-volume hydrofracking. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said last week permits would not be issued this year while the agency continues to review the environmental safeguards.

More Layoffs Coming This Week, Glaser Warns

I’m playing some catch-up here thanks to CapCon’s Rick Karlin and his Terminator-like determination to scoop everyone, but here is a copy of the memorandum from State Operations Director Howard Glaser promising more layoffs of state workers in the immediate future.

The memo, sent to agency heads, notes the Civil Service Employee Association units, whose leadership struck a tentative deal with Cuomo administration the includes a pay freeze and less generous health insurance benefits, will be not be impacted.

The Public Employees Federation, a white-collar union, has not reached a deal with the administration. Eight-six employees at the Department of Environmental Conservation were laid off earlier today. The memo makes no reference to the ongoing discord with PEF.

From the letter:

“We embark on these reductions with the utmost reluctance. The impact on our employees and their families is painful.”

But he goes on to point out the dire fiscal situation faced by the state.

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Dems Raising Off ‘Historic’ Legislative Session (Updated)

Senate Democrats, pushed back into the minority after a single term leading the chamber, are fundraising off the most recent legisaltive session.

In a letter sent to supporters, Queens Sen. Michael Gianaris, who replaced the Bronx’s Jeff Klein as chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, points to the legalization of same-sex marriage as one of the major highlights of the year (all but one Democrat, Sen. Ruben Diaz, voted for the bill).

He also writes that more work is needed in the area of creating an indepedendent redistricting commission, which given the enrollment numbers in New York would greatly increase the chances of Democratic re-control in 2012.

Next year could be a huge Democratic year at least in the Empire State as more of the party faithful will come out to vote in a presidential contest.

(H/T to Joe Spector at PolHud).

UPDATE: IDC spokesman Rich Azzopardi didn’t take kindly to his four-member conference being left out of the mix here, sending over this statement:

“The Independent Democratic Conferece was proud to be part of a coalition that included our four members, the four members of the Senate majority and 25 of the 26 members of the Senate minority that made marriage equality the law of the land. You don’t have to check that math.”

The full letter is after the jump. More >