Sarah Palin, speaking on Long Island today: “It’s no wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you better breast-feed your baby – yeah, you better – because the price of milk is so high right now!”

Palin and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are on the same page here.

Palin said there’s “no one” more qualified to handle the multi-tasking being president requires than “a woman, a mom,” but didn’t tip her hand about 2012.

She did, however, acknowledge that she gets her “butt kicked” in a lot of 2012 polls.

As expected, Mayor Bloomberg’s $65.6 billion budget includes the elimination of as many as 6,166 teaching positions.

Housing Works accused the mayor of throwing poor New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS “under the bus” in his budget.

Bloomberg wants the extra cash principals might be planning to roll over into the next school year.

The Senate Democrats invoke the ghost of their former colleague, Pedro Espada, in a video that pressures the Republicans on ethics reform.

A former DNer joined Rep. Peter King’s team.

The Assembly Democrats will host a March 1 hearing on the property tax cap.

Some constituent love from Sen. Jeff Klein.

Russell Simmons gave a boost to Richard Aborn with his latest gun control campaign.

The 2009-2010 school report cards are now on-line.

The MTA dumped infamous CityTime contractor SAIC.

“It is time to go,” said state Supreme Court Justice Lewis Bart Stone to Hank Morris.

Sen. Adriano Espaillat’s peace flan.

Facebook expanded its relationship options.

DiNapoli: Morris Sentence ‘Fitting’

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli a statement on this morning’s sentencing of political consultant Hank Morris for his role in the pay-to-play pension fund scandal, basically using this as an opportunity to put some more distance between himself and his predecessor (and Morris’ longtime client), Alan Hevesi.

“Hank Morris has received a fitting sentence. Jail time should help serve as a deterrent for anyone looking to rip off the state pension fund,” DiNapoli said.

“Since taking office, I’ve worked hard to restore faith in the Office of the State Comptroller after the abuses of the Hevesi administration. I banned placement agents so that corrupt middlemen could never again run the type of pay-to-play scheme that Mr. Morris did.”

“We must ensure that the pension fund is protected against this kind of criminal behavior.”

“Last month, I proposed a bill that would strip convicted former public officials of their pensions. Public officials who commit a felony related to their duties shouldn’t be rewarded. There are better ways to spend New York’s tax dollars than to support retired felons who ripped off the public.”

For the record, Morris was never an elected official or a public employee (at least not to my knowledge), and therefore doesn’t have a pension.

Hevesi, on the other hand, has a rather sizable pension – $105,221 a year – from his days as an assemblyman, NYC comptroller and state comptroller.

Hevesi pleaded guilty last October to a felony corrution charge and could face between 16 months and four years in prison. He was supposed to be sentenced in December, but that was postponed until March.

We have yet to hear whether AG Eric Schneiderman will demand prison time for Hevesi like he did for Morris.

Vacco In Schneiderman’s Corner

Here’s former AG Dennis Vacco telling me during a CapTon interview last night that while he supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s government consolidation effort in theory, his push to create an uber-regulatory agency that would essentially compete with the AG’s office in policing Wall Street is not a good idea.

“I fully recognize that he’s got a difficult task at hand,” Vacco said of Cuomo. “But I think that this proposal – at least part of the proposal that expands the prosecutorial power, the due process power through subpoena authority etc. while consolidating these agencies – is a little bit over the rail in my estimation.”

“…As he knows full well having done a great job as attorney general, the ability to enforce the Martin Act, the ability to guard against fraud on Wall Street, is a traditional power and responsibility of the attorney general.”

Vacco, a Republican who served just one term as AG and was ousted in a squeaker of a race in 1998 by Democrat Eliot Spitzer, refused to speculate on why the governor might be interested in usurping the powers of his old office.

He did, however, suggest an alternative, recalling back when the Legislature the AG and the governor formed an organized crime task force, which was run by an assistant attorney general who was a duel appointee by both the governor and the AG.

Another Day, Another Task Force

…Actually, this one is a “team.”

Specifically, Gov. Andrew Cuomo just issued an executive order establishing a team to explore ways to meet his goal of expanding minority- and women-owned business enterprise participation in state contracting to 20 percent. (It’s currently at 9.2 percent, so there’s a long way to go).

“Since its creation, the Empire State’s great strength has come from the diversity, innovation and perseverance of all its residents,” Cuomo said in a press release.

“New York’s M/WBE programs have provided access to countless entrepreneurs and businesses and provided a level playing ground for state contracts.”

“However, we must always look for ways to improve and strengthen our business climate and make it reflective of our current world. This team will find new ways to open doors to success for any New Yorker who has the talent, drive and passion for their business to succeed.”

The M/WBE team by will chaired by former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson, who was a significant Cuomo surrogate during the 2010 campaign. Not on the team: Former Gov. David Paterson, for whom M/WBE was a huge priority.

Jimmy Vielkind notes this annoucement just so happens to come on the eve of the annual caucus weekend. Coincidence? Probably not.

More >

Avella To Bloomberg: Stop Blaming The Unions

NYC Councilman-turned-Senator Tony Avella sent a letter today to his erstwhile political foe, Mayor Blooomberg, accusing him of taking an “unconscionable” stance on the so-called holiday “bonuses” he’s trying to eliminate as part of his pension reform push.

The Queens Democrat, who ran a longshot run for mayor in 2009 (losing the Democratic primary to then-NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson), is siding with the more than 33,000 former NYC cops and firefighters who receive that amount every December as part of the Variable Supplement Fund.

The bonus was established in 1968 and, unlike other pension benefits, is not constitutionally protected. Doing away with it would save the city $200 million a year, Bloomberg mantains.

But the unions – and now Avella – note the bonuses came about as a result of the collective bargaining process. In exchange, the city was allowed to adopt a more aggressive pension investment strategy to reduce its annual direct contribution to the pension funds. (This reportedly saved $4 billion, Avella said).

Avella called the mayor’s characterization of the VSF as “Christmas bonuses” disgraceful, adding: “Your attacks in this regard on the city’s uniformed personnel, who put their lives at on the line every day throughout their careers, is unbecoming for a mayor of the City of New York.”

Letter to Mayor Bloomberg re VSF

Environmental Report Cards: Congress Edition

The New York League of Conservation Voters and the National League of Conservation Voters have teamed up to compile rankings for the entire 2010 NY delegation in Congress.

There aren’t too many surprises here. All the Democrats scored extremely high. Most getting a 100 percent ranking. Many others getting an 80 or 90 percent ranking.

North Country Democrat Bill Owens is the only exception. He came in with a 60%, tied for the lowest among Democrats with Rep. Gary Ackerman.

The two Republicans on the list, Rep. Pete King, and Rep. Chris Lee both got a 10%. (I can imagine that this ranking is the least of Chris Lee’s concerns right now.)

Despite the high marks, LCV President Gene Karpinski says the organizations top priorities weren’t addressed in 2010. They had hoped for passage of a clean energy and climate control bill, known as Cap and Trade. They were also calling for a greater response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The 2010 National Environmental Scorecard clearly illustrates that there is much work to be done, and LCV will be there at every step of the way in 2011 and beyond, working to protect the environment and public health while transitioning our nation to a clean energy economy,” Karpinski said.

The full 2010 National Environmental Scorecard results for New York are after the jump:
More >

Klein Agrees With Sampson, On Redistricting At Least (Updated)

The Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference seems to agree with Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson that this redistricting bill should be passed as soon as the Senate comes back into session.

Senator Klein just released this statement, praising the plan, and touting his fellow Conference member Dave Valesky’s work on the issue.

“As one of the few members of the Legislature who has actually voted for legislation to create an Independent Redistricting commission*, I commend Governor Cuomo for once again demonstrating his commitment to this much needed reform. I look forward to working with him, Senator David Valesky, who has been a leader on this issue, and our partners in government to fulfill this critically important part of the Independent Democratic Conference agenda.”

Update: And Senator Dave Valesky just released this statement as well.

“I am pleased that Governor Cuomo has shown his support for an independent redistricting model similar to the legislation that I carry in the Senate. I look forward to working with him to put the process of drawing legislative districts where it belongs—in the hands of the people.”

Skelos Responds To Redistricting Bill

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos just issued this statement, basically saying redistricting reform is important, but not as important as the budget, tax relief and job creation right now.

“The issue of redistricting reform is an important one and I have said repeatedly that we will act on reform legislation. A number of proposals have been advanced and we have to take a close look at what makes the most sense to ensure a fair, open and truly nonpartisan process,” Skelos said in a statement.

“Cutting government spending, reducing taxes, providing property tax relief and creating private sector jobs are critically important issues that impact every family and business in this state. That’s why our focus right now must be on getting a fiscally responsible budget enacted by April 1st, which is just 43 days away.”

Since winning back the Senate in November, Republicans have appeared to walk back from their pledge to Ed Koch’s committee NY Uprising, which called for an independent redistricting commission. As you can see by the statement, Skelos is not prepared yet to publicly back this latest bill by Governor Cuomo.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has also yet to release a statement on the plan. As you will remember, he did not sign Mayor Koch’s pledge before the election.

Slattery ‘Mad’ For Gay Marriage

“Mad Men” star John Slattery is the latest prominent New Yorker to appear in a video for the Human Rights Campaign’s push for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“Unfortunately, equal rights don’t happen on their own,” Slattery says. “You need to fight for them. Join me in supporting marriage equality for all New Yorkers.”

This isn’t Slattery’s first foray into state politics. Last fall, he endorsed Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice’s AG bid. (The two attended college together). He called her “tough” and “compassionate.”

But his star power wasn’t enough to push Rice to victory; she ended up finishing second in the five-way Democratic primary to former Sen. Eric Schneiderman.

Morris Gets 1 1/3 to 4 Years Behind Bars (Updated 2x)

Hank Morris has received a sentence of one and one-third to four years in prison for his role in the pay-to-play pension fund scandal, NY1′s Grace Rauh reports from the downstate courtroom where the once-powerful political consultant appeared to learn his fate.

That was the maximum sentence allowable by law. Morris was immediately remanded into custody.

Morris was the longtime consultant for disgraced former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who pleaded guilty last October to a second felony corruption charge (the first, for misusing public employees to drive his ailing wife, cost him his statewide post after his 2006 re-election).

Update 2x: Governor Cuomo just issued this statement.

“The sentencing of Hank Morris serves as a strong signal that it’s time to clean up Albany and the culture of corruption must and will end. The pay-to-play special interest culture is always unethical and often illegal. Morris claimed that his actions were business as usual in Albany. Let that serve as a warning. I applaud Ellen Biben and Linda Lacewell who worked on this groundbreaking case for three years. I also thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his professionalism and courtesy in allowing Biben to continue the case.”

UPDATE: AG Eric Schneiderman released the following statement:

“Today, justice was served on Hank Morris, who will be appropriately punished for his role in one of the largest pay-to-play schemes in New York State history.”

“Today’s sentencing decision by the Court sends a strong message to New Yorkers that those who abuse positions of power to line their own pockets will be held accountable by this office. I’d like to thank Governor Cuomo and his team in the Attorney General’s Office for their work on this matter.”

Morris cut a deal with then-AG Andrew Cuomo last fall after he was hit with a 77-count indictment. He pleaded guilty to a single charge of felony securities fraud and agreed to forfeit $19 million.

Schneiderman demanded prison time for Morris, who was the architect of the pension fund scam. Schneiderman also brought back Ellen Biben, who handled the case for Cuomo as his public integrity chief, to represent his office in court today.

Biben is the currently the state inspector general, but she was deputized as a special assistant deputy AG – a post for which she will not receive additional compensation, according to today’s DN.

More details of Morris’ “scheme” appear after the jump, compliments of Schneiderman’s press release.

More >