Cuomo Releases Hevesi-Inspired Pension Reform Plan (Updated)

A week after former Comptroller Alan Hevesi was sentenced to 1-4 years in state prison, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has released a reform proposal aimed at stomping out corruption in the pension fund pool.

The new guidelines address an issue raised by Jim Odato’s column in the TU on Monday, which pointed out many of the safeguards put in place by the state Insurance Department in the wake of the Hevesi scandal were temporary.

“It is long past time that we learned the lessons of the Hevesi case and made permanent changes to our system that will stop the culture of corruption,” Cuomo said in a statement. “In case after case in the pension fund investigation, we saw the systemic abuse of the pension fund by public officials and those seeking quick profits at the expense of taxpayers. Our mission now must be to protect public and taxpayer dollars from being further abused by elected officials who misuse their office and violate the law.”

Hevesi, a Democrat, plead guilty to using his office in a massive pay-to-play pension fund scheme. Hevesi received millions of dollars in trips and gifts in exchange for favorable investment in the fund. The scandal also led to the conviction of Hevesi’s longtime political fixer, Hank Morris, as well as five other people.

Among the proposals:
· A permanent ban on elected officials, lobbyists and all placement agents, whether paid or unpaid, which have been a source of conflicts of interest with the pension fund.

· Impose a higher standard of conduct: The new regulation will prohibit (1) improper relationships between pension fund officials and an investment firm’s personnel or agents, (2) “revolving door” employment by investment firms of former public pension fund officials and employees, and (3) improper gifts by investment firms to public pension fund employees and officials.

· A prohibition on firms that make contributions to the Comptroller: The regulation will also ban investment firms that directly or indirectly make campaign contributions, charitable contributions, or gifts to the Comptroller.

Cuomo also plans to introduce a measure that would prohibit a state employee convicted of a felony from receiving their pension. The Hevesi conviction was a feather in Cuomo’s cap just as he was leaving to the attorney general’s office to be sworn in as governor.

Update: Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who hasn’t been on the best of terms with the governor — Cuomo did not endorse him during the campaign — issued a statement noting that placement agents have been banned since 2009 in his office.

Comptroller DiNapoli banned placement agents in April 2009. As long as he’s Comptroller, that ban will stay in effect. The Comptroller welcomes today’s regulations, and he continues to advocate that his placement agent ban – along with the pension forfeiture bill he proposed earlier this year and his other pension reforms – be made into law.

Long: Let There Be A Gay Marriage Vote (Updated)

ICYMI: State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long is unabashedly opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, and has made it clear that any Republican senator who votes “yes” will be in danger of losing his party’s support come 2012.

But, Long supports the idea of letting the bill come to the floor for another vote, even though he would vastly prefer to see the whole controversial issue relegated to the back burner where he is convinced it belongs. He’s hopeful that several of the eight Democratic “no” voters from 2009 who are still serving will resist enormous pressure from the governor and his allies to switch sides.

“I think the voters deserve to know where their senators stand – both Democrat and Republican,” the chairman said.

“Let them know where they stand…There’s a lot of Democrats that voted the other way the last time. They may vote with us again, and I would hope they do because they could be in swing districts that could make a difference in their election or in the primary.”

“They’re under a lot of pressure and I understand the addition of the governor in this whole move makes it even more uncomfortable for them. And that’s why I would hope that Governor Cuomo really doesn’t push this too far and force the issue and stays focused on bringing New York State back into the status of the Empire State.”

Only four of the eight “no” voting Dems are left: Joe Addabbo, Shirley Huntley, Ruben Diaz Sr., and Carl Kruger. Of those, three (guess which one is the odd man out; it’s not hard) have said they’re now on the fence. Three of the others – Hiram Monserrate, George Onorato, Bill Stachowski – have been replaced by “yes” votes, while Darrel Aubertine is a wash, since he was replaced by another (Republican) “no”.

UPDATE: Two readers note that three “yes” voters – Antoine Thompson, Craig Johnson and Brian Foley – were ousted last year by three expected “no” voters: Mark Grisanti (not if Lady Gaga has anything to say about it), Jack Martins and Lee Zeldin.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said at a Log Cabin Republicans event last fall that he would advocate for the marriage bill to return to the floor and would make it a “conscience” vote. But he also said he would have to get the go-ahead from his members before doing so.

If the bill doesn’t come up for a vote this year, it’s hard to see the GOP letting it out in 2012 when they’re fighting like hell to retain the majority – with new district lines, to boot.

Senate GOP: 14,000 For Tax Cap

Senate Republicans are touting 14,000 signatures collected so far supporting the 2 percent cap on local property taxes.

Recall that the petition drive began April 12, as Republican lawmakers tried to push the reset button the debate that they were unwilling to negotiate on a cap with Assembly Democrats.

Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif said the results showed New York voters want the cap.

“New Yorkers are sick and tired of paying the highest property taxes in the nation, and they are reacting positively to our efforts to cap their property taxes. All we need now for the cap to become law is for the State Assembly’s Democrat majority to join us in passing it.”

The cap, as proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and approved by the Senate GOP, would cap local property taxes at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Republicans have been accused of not willing to debate or negotiate on the cap, because they fear the impact a cap would have on local governments, but prefer to keep the issue alive by passing a measure that stands no chance of being approved in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has said he would back a 2 percent cap, but one that includes some exemptions.

Liz B. spoke to one-time GOP gubernatorial candidate and former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso last night, who, despite all the talk of a gay marriage bill and an ethics package this week, believes a cap is still possible.

Langworthy Raps Hochul On Medicare Claims

Assemblywoman Jane Corwin’s campaign tapped Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy to respond to the latest ad released by her Democratic opponent, Kathy Hochul, accusing the Erie County clerk of resorting to “false, negative attacks” and using “scare tactics…to mislead seniors.”

The Republicans take particular issue with a line in Hochul’s ad that says Corwin would have voted “yes” on Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget plan which “would essentially end Medicare,” forcing seniors to pay $6,400 more for the same coverage, while also cutting taxes for wealthy Americans.

The ad backs up its claims by citing stories in the Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg Times and the Chicago Tribune, respectively.

Politifact.com deems the $6,400 claim “mostly true” (click here for a lengthy explanation, all you wonks out there).

As for the “end Medicare” piece, Politifact takes the Democrats to task for other ads that accuse the Republicans of wanting to axe the health care program for the elderly without adding the “as we know it” qualifier. Since Hochul employs “essentially” in this spot, she’s kind of covering herself, but it’s a little dicey.

But for Langworthy, the designated attack dog of the Corwin campaign, there is no nuance here. he went into full-throated partisan mode, issuing the following statement.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Kathy Hochul is taking another page out of Nancy Pelosi’s playbook by trying to scare and mislead seniors.”

“Hochul’s plan would bankrupt Medicare, cut benefits and raises taxes on job creators. Western New York seniors won’t be fooled by Hochul’s false negative attacks when they know that Jane Corwin will work tirelessly to preserve and protect Medicare in Congress.”

It’s hard to say what Corwin would do, exactly to “preserve and protect” Medicare if she’s elected on May 24. Would she, for example, reject so-called vouchers and insist Medicare remains a government-run program?

We don’t know because so far she has refused to make time to sit down with CapTon for an interview, in spite of mulitple requests. We’ll keep you posted on that.

Gibbs Analyzes Trump: Won’t Run Because He Fears ‘Failure’

Former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs engaged in a little pop psychology of potential 2012 contender Donald Trump, saying he doesn’t believe the real estate developer-turned-reality TV star will challenge President Obama because he “probably fears failure the most.”

“The American people are smarter than the candidacy that he’s offering,” said Gibbs, who departed his post in early 2011 and now serves as an outside advisor to the president as he gears up for his 2012 re-election bid.

“And if he thinks he can build a campaign on the president’s birth certificate, I think he’s going to be – I don’t think he’ll be hired by the American people.”

“In the end I don’t think he runs because I think that he probably, most of anything, probably fears failure the most. And I think in the end he, I don’t think he’ll have what it takes to put it on the line and have voters give their say about him.”

“I think it’s easier to go on a cable TV show and opine, then get in your jet and fly somewhere than it is to sit there in Iowa and do a back and forth with a real voter.”

Interestingly, Gibbs’ comments, which he made during an appearance at Union College last night, come Trump is preparing to travel to the early primary state of New Hampshire. However, The Donald’s Granite State schedule is being kept under wraps for security purposes, according to his attorney Michael Cohen.

Gibbs said he believes former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has the best shot at clinching the GOP nomination.

The field is shrinking fast. The first presidential campaign debate is scheduled for May 5 in South Carolina, which could force some of the would-be candidates into making a decision. Trump has said he won’t likely decide until June.

Sliwa Returns, Bag In Hand

Some might file this in the “too much information” category, but I would say it’s merely vintage Sliwa.

The radio shock jock returned to the airwaves – with catheter bag in hand, as promised – less than one week after undergoing prostate surgery. He released this photo as proof that he is indeed living up to his word.

“As promised, I returned to the airwaves on Monday, with a catheter bag in one hand and a microphone in the other,” Sliwa wrote. “I resumed my normal morning show duties this morning.”

The guy has a knack for theater, and you really gotta give it to him – he’s got chutzpah. I know people who have had the same procedure he did, and it’s really no joke. Invasive, scary and painful.

So, hats off to you, Sliwa. (Thanks, though, for sparing us the shot of the full bag). Hope you heal fast.

CurtisReturns

Avella and Stavisky Blast Toll Plan

Sens. Tony Avella and Toby Ann Stavisky are knocking the revived plan to toll East River bridges in New York City — Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queensboro.

As you may recall, Senate Republicans introduced a bill earlier this month without little fanfare that would exclude the seven suburban counties from paying the much-despised MTA payroll tax meant to shore up revenue for the transportation authority that provides commuter bus, rail and subway service of metro New York.

Those counties include Putnam, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Suffolk, Dutchess and Nassau.

But as an alternate means of raising revenue is a plan to toll the East River bridges, affecting outer borough commuters.

That’s offended Avella and Stavisky, both Queens Democratic lawmakers.

From their joint statement:

Tolls are a tax, and Middle Class families can’t afford to keep paying more while getting less in return. The legislation proposed by Long Island and Upstate Senate Republicans to place tolls on the East River bridges will adversely affect commuters, small businesses and working families in outer-borough communities who have very limited access to public transportation.

The plan was initially offered by Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch, who wanted the tolls as a way of keeping down fare hikes. But then, as now, outer borough lawmakers cried foul.

Here’s their full statement: More >

Hochul: Cut The Budget ‘The Right Way’ (Updated)

Democratic congressional hopeful Kathy Hochul released a new ad this morning (perhaps channeling her inner Lady Gaga by titling it “The Right Way”) that attacks Republican opponent Jane Corwin for her stated support for the controversial 2012 GOP budget plan.

From the ad:

“… the plan Jane Corwin supports would cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.The budget would overwhelmingly benefit the rich. Kathy Hochul says cut the deficit but do it the right way. Protect Medicare. And no more tax breaks for multi-millionaires.

Framing the debate and — the race for the 26th CD in a special election — in this way offers a test case for Democrats across the country. Is the budget plan, which seeks deep cuts in federal spending over the next several years, that was approved by the Republican House so overwhelming to Americans they would oppose candidates who support it? Or do voters consider it a good starting point in the debate over federal spending?

Update: Below is the response from Corwin spokesman Matthew Harakal, saying the Democratic claims that the bill would end Medicare garner a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact.

“This commercial and personal attack is a bold faced lie. Politifact has given claims in this ad a “Pants on Fire!” rating. These types of baseless scare tactics are exactly what you’d expect from a career politician like Kathy Hochul, but Western New Yorkers deserve better.”

Hochul Making The Rounds In NYC (Updated)

Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul is in NYC today for some meet-and-greet events and fundraising with downstate Democrats as the clock ticks down to the NY-26 special election on May 24.

Rep. Caroyln Maloney is hosting a $250-a-head event for the Democratic congressional hopeful at her Upper East Side home tonight. Former Rep./NYC Comptroller Liz Holtzman is scheduled to attend, as are Jill Lafer, Sarah Kovner and Gloria Steinem.

Prior to the fundraiser, Hochul is scheduled to discuss the race with members of the DL21C at the Copia Bar/Lounge. The DL21C Website sums up the NY-26 contest thusly:

The Special Congressional Election is for the open seat created by the resignation of Republican Christopher Lee (the Craig’s List Congressman), and will be held in May. Kathy is a progressive, pro-choice candidate. She is running in a 3-way race against a self-funding Tea Party candidate who will likely split votes with her Republican opponent.

Interestingly, Hochul hasn’t been stressing her progressive, pro-choice positions very much – particularly not in her TV ads, which don’t even mention her political affiliation. That makes sense, considering the GOP enrollment edge in the district.

But the message is different in Democrat-dominated NYC, where the WFP’s Bill Lipton sent an email last night to leaders in the labor-backed party, urging them to attend the DL21C event “at the request of important allies.”

“Kathy, running on the Democratic and Working Families lines, has also received endorsements from Emily’s List and the AFL-CIO.,” Lipton wrote. “The election will be held May 24th, and we need to do everything we can to send another Working Families candidate to Congress!”

UPDATE: Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy sent a response on behalf of the campaign of Hochul’s GOP opponent, Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, that appears after the jump.

More >

Bloomberg: Obama Has To ‘Make His Case’ For Re-election

Mayor Bloomberg, appearing on Tavis Smiley’s Late Night Show last night, sidestepped a question about whether President Obama deserves a second term by saying: “He’ll have to make the case to the voters.”

“I think he has done…as good a job as virtually any new president, first two years, lots of things he could have, would have and should have,” the mayor added. “That’s always going to be the case. He’s done it differently than the last guy, differently than the next guy.”

“He’s got to make the case to the voters why he’s the right person going forward. But once the voters get the opportunity to listen and make the decision then we should get behind the president.”

“So we should be behind this president, even if you’re a candidate to run against him – which I am not – but I think those out there on the Republican side. One of them said – I don’t know if it was a candidate, but one of the commentators – he hopes he fails. That’s sick.”

(I believe the person who said he hopes Obama fails was Rush Limbaugh, back in 2009).

Bloomberg, as you’ll recall, declined to run for the White House himself in 2008, but said in a NY Times OpEd that he would endorse a candidate who adopted an “independent, nonpartisan approach – and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy.”

The mayor met with both Obama and his GOP opponent, John McCain, and was even reportedly on the Arizona senator’s short-list for potential VP candidates. He never did endorse anyone, and wouldn’t even say who he voted for – although GOP officials said he indicated his preference for McCain during a meeting at which he was advocating for their ballot line in his quest for a third term.

Last year, there was speculation that Bloomberg might be tapped for a job with the Obama administration. That never materialized. Every few months, the “Bloomberg for president” trial balloon gets floated again, but the mayor has insisted – as he did yet again during this interview – that he’s not running.