Gay Marriage And NY-9

Depending on whose spin you’re buying, the outcome of today’s NY-9 special election is a referendum on one or more of the following: President Obama’s support (or lack thereof) of Israel, the Democrats’ failure to fix the lagging economy, the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York.

On that last issue, I’ve received dueling emails today from the National Organization for Marriage and the Human Rights Campaign.

While NOM insists Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin’s “yes” vote on gay marriage could cost him the race, HRC stresses that no matter who wins tonight (assuming it’s not too close to immediately call, which is a distinct possibility, given the history of past NY House specials) marriage equality “did not play an influential, even modest, role in the outcome.”

“Marriage is an issue that is not going away,” NOM President Brian Brown, told the Daily Caller.

“When you have voters who have been betrayed by their elected officials on an issue as important as marriage, the impact on the election cycle is a big one.”

To back up its point, NOM cited this week’s PPP poll, which found 45 percent of NY-9 voters think gay marriage should be illegal, compared to 41 percent who support its legalization and 14 percent who weren’t sure.

However, when asked how important the gay marriage question was in deciding who they would vote for today, 44 percent said “not all that important,” while 29 percent said “very important” and 26 percent went with “somewhat important.”

Compare that to the Israel question, where the answers were as follows: 37 percent “very important,” 32 percent “somewhat important” and 29 percent “not all that important.”

The HRC, meanwhile, is relying on last week’s Siena poll to back up its claim, noting gay marriage didn’t even register when voters were asked about the single most important factor in their decision to vote for either Weprin or Turner.

The top concern, according to respondents, was the economy (32 percent), followed by entitlements like Social Security (28 percent), a candidate’s political party (18 percent), and position on Israel (7 percent).

What’s more, former Rep. Anthony Weiner was an outspoken advocate for gay marriage – far more so than Weprin – and nevertheless managed to get re-elected repeatedly in NY-9, serving for 12 years.

Said the HRC’s Brian Ellner:

“The National Organization for Marriage has aggressively tried to infuse its fringe agenda into the NY-9 race. NOM is a highly secretive organization thought to funnel money from a small group of extreme donors to anti-gay causes.”

“It is still reeling from its big loss in the Empire State this summer. But no matter who wins tonight, tomorrow a strong and decisive majority of New Yorkers will continue to support the freedom to marry, just as a majority of the American public does.”

The HRC also pointed out that Turner himself has been far more interested in linking Weprin to Obama that highlighting the assemblyman’s “yes” vote on same-sex marriage, telling the DN: “The gay marriage issue is closed, (sic) it’s New York state law. I don’t see any reason to be using this as a campaign issue.”

Interestingly, Turner said he took his cues on this one from former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, who wants to make the NY-9 special election a referendum on Obama’s Israel policy. Koch also said it’s “wrong” for Orthodox rabbis to condemn Weprin, an Orthodox Jew, “for exercising his conscience.”

Of course, that hasn’t stoppped them from doing so – with considerable encouragement and financial support from NOM and its allies, including Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who reprotedly recorded a NY-9 robocall.

Regents Board Moves To Tighten Exam Rules

The state Board of Regents today approved tighter standards for state examinations that include universal test dates and requiring teacher training certifications.

“We are relying more than ever on state exams – to measure student achievement, to evaluate teacher and principal effectiveness, and to hold schools and districts accountable for their performance,” Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said. “If we’re going to use the tests in these ways, we need to be absolutely certain that our system is beyond reproach. Today’s action by the Board will help ensure that our tests are not compromised in any way.”

Also included among the provisions includes directing Department of Education staff to develop proposals that include a prohibition against teachers grading their own students and the implementation of a centralized statewide scoring and scanning system.

Update: The Regents didn’t vote to approve to implement these provisions, but directed SED to develop the rules.

(It’s unclear how, say, a foreign-language examination would be scored in a school district with only one teacher qualified to score the test.)

The new exam rules come after a 2009 review by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found multiple scoring inaccuracies for Regents exmainations at the local level.

An updated audit from from DiNapoli earlier this summer found that the state Education Department had addressed some of the issues, but scoring problems linger.

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Lupardo: Tax Cap Further Stressing Storm-Tossed Schools

ICYMI: Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo told me during a CapTon interview last night that she’s worried Southern Tier school districts impacted by recent flooding won’t be able to stay within the 2 percent property tax cap pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and passed by the Legislature this past session.

“I’m concerned for our school districts…One of my school districts launched lost an entire elementary school – one that, in fact, just had gone through a beautiful renovation – they’re now trying to locate themselves in another place,” the assemblywoman told me while standing outside a Vestal shelter where she has set up a temporary district office.

“So, I think the school districts, I have to say, are going to be challenged, honestly, sticking with that 2 percent property tax cap. We’ll have to see how our municipalities do, but we’ll know more when we have the data.”

Cuomo said recently the cap has a “built-in relief valve” that lets voters override if they feel the need to raise taxes by more than 2 percent.

Even so, some local officials want the state and federal governments to pick up the full tab of the storm recovery bill, insisting that to require them to pay their 12.5 percent share would break the bank for already over-taxed property owners.

NYCOM’s Peter Baynes told Gannett many local governments were already eyeing tax cap overrides even before the added expense of the storm, and predicted that number will now only grow. He lamented the fact that the cap legislation included no exceptions for emergency spending.

In A Jam (Updatedx2)

There are a lot of drawbacks to the compressed time frame of a special election, but one distinct positive is that the silly season is considerably shorter.

The intense battle for the NY-9 seat of disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner is (mercifully) almost over. But while the polls are still open and the two campaigns are casting about for a Hail Mary pass that might tank the opposition before the voting ends at 9 p.m. tonight.

The latest: An accusation from David Weprin’s campaign that Bob Turner’s anonymous Republican “allies” sent a mass text message to voters at 3 a.m. this morning, telling them to call the Assembly Democrat’s HQ in a “blatant attempt at phone jamming.”

According to Team Weprin, this appears similar to phone jamming done by the New Hampshire GOP executive director, the RNC political director and a Virginia consultant in connection with a 2002 US Senate race that resulted in the Republicans going to jail.

“Bob Turner’s Republican allies are pulling dirty tricks in a blatant attempt to steal this election because they are afraid that Democrats’ turnout operation will get voters who want to protect Medicare and Social Security to the polls,” said Weprin spokeswoman Elizabeth Kerr.

“It is outrageous that Bob Turner’s allies would resort to jamming our phones in an effort to prevent our campaign from contacting voters and getting out the message about how radical Bob Turner really is. Republicans participating in phone jamming in the past have landed in jail, and there must be a full investigation into the Republican phone jamming campaign.”

Turner spokesman Bill O’Reilly (whose email address, oddly, wasn’t working when I first tried to contact him), called the jamming claim “complete garbage,” adding:

“We are busy talking to voters. We have neither the interest nor the inclination to play grade school games. If, in fact, that is occurring, it is not at the direction of this campaign. Mr. Weprin must have 25 phone banks working. This sounds more like an election day smoke screen for Weprin campaign mistakes.”

UPDATED: Upon reflection, O’Reilly also sent the following:

“While we’re on the subject, though, Mr. Weprin might want to explain why a manufactured group calling itself ‘Jews for Jesus for Turner’ is calling into Jewish precincts to suppress Turner support. There is no such group. This is one of the many shenanigans we are dealing with today.”

No word back yet from the NRCC’s spokesman.

UPDATE: A reader reports he received the following text message at 4:12 this morning : “Subject: Abandon. David Weprin will abandon Israel as an ally to America. Call to ask him why – 7182681105.”

The sender was nycd9@aicpac.org. Apparently that is the Americans in Contact PAC, which, according to its Website, endorsed GOP Assemblywoman Jane Corwin in her (failed) NY-26 special election bid in May. There’s no mention of Turner on the home page, though.

Here’s the irony: The reader in question doesn’t even live in NY-9, although he does live in Queens. He’s also involved in Democratic politics – not exactly the ideal pro-Turner target.

Gianaris: Not Voting On Health Exchange ‘Foolish’

Not voting on a measure that would create a health-insurance exchange in New York is “foolish” Sen. Michael Gianaris told Susan Arbetter earlier today.

Gianaris, who has increasingly become the public face of the Senate Democratic Conference, blamed Senate Republicans for obstructing the bill.

They have refused to bring this up. It’s a simple decision; clear up the vote pass the damn thing. I don’t know what the hold up is. Everyone realizes there’s no rational basis for holding up on this thing To make a symbolic statement against the president and cost New York state millions of dollars is foolish.

The measure would create a marketplace exchange that ostensibly would bring down insurance rates and free up millions of dollars in federal aid to the state. Conservative Republicans in the state Senate have balked at the meausure because it is part of the controversial health-care law pushed by President Obama.

In private and in public, the more conservative members of the GOP conference, including Sen. Greg Ball, have derided it as helping enact “Obamacare” — the pejorative used by conservatives for the law.

Gianaris added that he didn’t blame Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not being out front of the issue or making a concerted effort to push for a special session to the pass the legislation. And, to be fair, the Cuomo has had his hands full with the multiple tropical storms blowing through upstate New York.

“The Senate Republicans have obstructed this and refused to bring it to the floor,” he said.

The measure, which was crafted by respected policy wonks in the GOP conference like Sen. Kemp Hannon and James Seward, had to be taken off the floor back in June. It also nearly derailed the vote for the same-sex marriage law, which ultimately passed.

Ugly In 54th AD, Take II

After my post yesterday (with a H/T to The Brooklyn Politics blog) on the anonymous sex offender flyer that targeted WFP candidate Jesus Gonzalez, a reader forwarded this unsigned hit piece that slams another of the three 54th AD candidates, Deidra Towns.

It’s a pretty unsurprising approach, given the duration of time members of the Towns family have been in the public eye and its troubled history.

The most recent mini-scandal involved former Assemblyman Darryl Towns, whose departure to become Cuomo’s housing czar sparked the need for today’s special election. He was arrested for drunk driving in Westchester back in July.

Darryl Towns agreed to be evaluated by an alcohol abuse treatment program and is expected to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge at his next court hearing on Sept. 19.

There has been a lot of speculation as to who’s behind this flyer, but so far I haven’t been able to nail it down. There’s no lack of bad blood and tangled relationships in this race.

For example, Juan Martinez, Deidra Towns’s campaign manager, ran the last two successful campaigns for Rep. Nydia Velázquez of Brooklyn, who is supporting Gonzalez.

And Michael Olmeda, the campaign manager for the third candidate in this race, Rafael Espinal, spent a lot of time prepping Darryl Towns to succeed his father in Congress, but then left in frustration when it became clear Rep. Ed Towns had no immediate plans to depart. Espinal later became a consultant to Sen. Martin Maleve Dilan, whose son, NYC Councilman Erik Dilan, in Espinal’s boss.

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Martens: Enviros Wanted Regulations Done Now

Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens today defended the department’s decision to write regulations for hydraulic fracturing along with conducting an environmental review of the process, a move that environmental groups have said is essentially a fast-tracking.

But Martens said environmental groups in part wanted the DEC to write regulations early. And he said the methodology being used by the DEC will make for a more efficient process.

In releasing its latest update to the draft environmental impact study, the agency also added 30 days to the public comment period.

Well, we just extended the process, the comment period, from 60 to 90 days, we’ve had most of the document out for a couple of months, so they would have had 150 days to look at the vast majority of the document. The process has been going on for several years and in fact it was the environmental community who asked us to do regulations which we intended to simultaneously along with the SGEIS so I think a lot of what we’re doing is in response to what the environmental community asked for.

The process uses a mixture of chemicals and water to blast through rock and access natural gas underneath. Business groups, especially the energy industry, are eager for the state to begin issuing permits for high-volume hydrofracking as soon as possible, saying it could benefit the state’s economically moribund Southern Tier.

But environmentalists contend the process could damage the local water table for the long term. They were especially alarmed after heavy rains created serious flooding in the Southern Tier, adding to the worries that runoff from fracking fluid would make the process even more dangerous.

Martens said the DEC was learning from Pennsylvania, which also experience flooding during the remnants of Tropical Strom Lee, and was able to contain the hazardous chemicals used in hydrofracking.

Duane Wants The Drugs Out Of Horse Racing

OK, maybe not steroids for race horses, but Sen. Tom Duane is pushing a new measure that would ban the use of performance enhancing drugs in the thoroughbred industry.

The legislation is aimed at stemming the use of the diurectic Lasix, which is meant to stop nose bleeds in horses.

But the drug, which has been in use since the 1970s, has been criticized for damaging horses in the long run and is no longer in use overseas or in some parts of Canada.

“Unil this legislation becomes law, I urge everyone ro refrain from wagering on any horse that is being does with Lasix — or worse,” Duane said in a statement. “No one in the horesracing industry should be monetarily rewarded for racing a horse which may be too sick to run without such drugs.”

The meet at Belmont in Queens starts today and the Saratoga Springs season ended last weekend.

The legislation would slap repeat violators with a fine of up to $50,000 and a multi-year ban from racing in New York.

Horseracing is one of the most heavily regulated industries in New York state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year ended a retired horse racing panel through a veto after saying it was part of needless government bureaucracy.

And in the spring, he blasted the New York Racing Association for hiring out-of-state workers in an OTB call center.

Additionally, one of the few fee increases in the approved 2011-12 state budget included one aimed at breeders.

Minnesota AG Backs Schneiderman In Mortgage Case

Arguing that any agreement with the major mortgage-holding banks ought to “have teeth” Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson wrote in a letter that she was backing New York’s top lawyer Eric Schneiderman’s position after he was kicked off a nationwide settlement task force.

In a letter sent Sept. 9 to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, Schneiderman and the U.S. Department of Justice Swanson wrote that banks shouldn’t be released from future liability in any settlement — a key provision in the potential deal that Schneiderman refused to back.

“We should fully welcome and support all legitimate efforts to investigate the banks and to hold them accountable for their unlawful activity, which has been enormously destructive to this country and its citizens,” she writes.

Schneiderman has garnered largely positive press from the saga of being kicked off the panel, especially from liberal-leaning editorial boards and progressive organizations. Many of the institutions backing Schneiderman say there should have been more of an investigation into the collapse of the housing market and whether it was instigated on purpose.

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Here And Now

Voters in NY-9 go to the polls today to select a replacement (most likely a short-term gig) for ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner.

They’ll choose between Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin and Republican businessman Bob Turner. Now, it all comes down to GOTV, an area where the Dems – thanks in part to their labor allies – have a considerable advantage.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Westchester County and NYC with no public schedule. (In other words, he’s not making any last-minute campaign appearances with Weprin).

Weprin has no fewer than six GOTV stops planned today, many of which with fellow elected officials, including his brother, NYC Councilman Mark Weprin, with whom David Weprin switched seats.

Areas in NY-9 to watch tonight as returns come in: Middle Village, Maspeth and Glendale, where Obama and McCain split their votes in 2010.

The anti-gay marriage forces are trying to make NY-9 into a referendum on Weprin’s “yes” vote to let same-sex couples legally wed, but his spokeswoman says it’s a “non-issue.”

As his panicked fellow Democrats pulled out all the stops to try to keep his old seat, Weiner finished moving from the district to a new pad in Manhattan.

The finger-pointing has already started, with some blaming Queens Democratic Chairman/Rep. Joe Crowley for wanting a weak candidate who wouldn’t put up a fight if NY-9 is redistricted out of existence.

Another NYer with a lot to lose if NY-9 goes to the GOP: DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, who dumped $600,000 into the race to help Weprin.

House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said a win by Turner would be “unprecedented.”

Said Weprin: “It’s only been six weeks, yes, it does feel like six months.”

Rudy Giuliani stumped for Turner yesterday, saying: “We need to send somebody to Washington who is going to send a message to President Obama that we’ve got to come up with a new plan.”

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