State Taps Emergency Management Response

The state is tapping into a $150 million pot of emergency management money to deal with the aftermath of two tropical storms that devastated parts of upstate New York last month.

Members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet left a roughly hour-long private meeting this morning, called ostensibly to discuss the legislative session in January.

(Cuomo did not take questions following the meeting).

Budget Director Bob Megna told reporters after the meeting that some of the money taken from the emergency management fund will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

And Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said the state initiated its emergency contracting procedure to help move along needed repairs to roads and bridges that had been washed away by the storm.

If anything, the flooding that hit the Catskills and the North Country, along with the flooding in the Southern Tier in the wake of what was left of Tropical Storm Lee showed how Cuomo deployed his cabinet to respond to the crisis.

Criticism of the Cuomo administration’s handling of the immediate response to the flooding has been virtually non-existent. Meanwhile, the important Essex County artery Route 73 opened earlier this week ahead of schedule.

Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Darrel Aubertine, who has been made co-chairman of a cabinet-level task force charged with repairing storm damaged infrastructure, said

“Suffice it to say I believe that state agencies working side by side with local agencies and I think we’ve done very well. I think everyone is doing very well and pulling in the same direction,” Aubertine said.

It remains unclear how much the damage from Lee will cost. Cuomo previously pegged the damage from the earlier storm to be about $1 billion.

Aubertine said he was impressed with the speedy re-opening of Route 73, but said the cost was unclear.

“I really don’t know what those numbers were, other than to say those reprairs were done in an expeditious way for sure,” he said.

Koch’s New/Old Crusade: Redistricting Reform

Fresh off his big win last night in NY-9 (vicariously, through Congressman-elect Bob Turner), Ed Koch plans to return his attention to a crusade he launched last year with (so far) somewhat less success: Redistricting reform.

The former NYC mayor plans to use next week’s LATFOR hearing in Manhattan to remind the media – and elected officials – of the NY Uprising pledges signed by so many Assembly members and senators who were anxious to be branded reform “heroes” at a time when then-gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo was pledging to clean up Albany.

Koch will be joined by his NY Uprising compatriots, New York Civic founder Henry Stern and Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey at a 9 a.m. press conference on the City Hall steps in Lower Manhattan. LATFOR is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. in the Assembly Hearing Room at 250 Broadway, which, for the upstaters among you, is across the street from City Hall.

The former mayor is no doubt hoping his success in crossing party lines to endorse Turner and make the NY-9 special election in part a referendum on President Obama’s Israel policy will help jump-start the stalled push to establish an independent redistricting commission.

Interestingly, the subtext of the NY-9 special was all about redistricting, with much speculation about what will happen now that the Democrats’ assumed sacrificial lamb, Assemblyman David Weprin, failed to win.

I’m among those who suggested yesterday’s outcome was bad for upstate Democrats like Rep. Kathy Hochul, or maybe Rep. Brian Higgins, who, as a reader pointed out, was on the wrong side of the failed 2000 Assembly coup against Speaker Sheldon Silver – a man with a very long memory.

Another reader said Weprin’s loss was bad for Rep. Maurice Hinchey, who survived a difficult re-election bid last year and then had to undergo cancer surgery. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt had a different take altogether, saying the downstate Democrats are in trouble after Weprin’s loss, because they’ll have to find someone among their numbers to sacrifice.

Sen. Chuck Schumer said during a conference call today that he assumes, based on past performance, that the GOP-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled Assembly will cut a Solomonesque deal that costs each side one seat. He refused to speculate about who might get screwed in the process.

An independent redistricting commission would potentially be bad for both sides, since it takes the deal-making capability out of the equation.

Schumer: NY-9 Not A Bellwether (Updated)

After canceling his own conference call (on getting federal disaster aid for flood-ravaged NY farmers), Sen. Chuck Schumer teamed up with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to push back against the GOP spin that Congressman-elect Bob Turner’s upset win in NY-9 spells bad news at the national level for Democrats, and President Obama in particular.

Schumer, who represented NY-9 for 18 years, insisted the district is about 75 percent the same today, geographically speaking, as it was when he was in office, but drastically different when it comes to demographics. There are more Orthodox Jews, he said, and also more immigrants, making the district skew even more conservative than it had been back in his day.

The senior senator said it would be a “big mistake” for anyone to try to extrapolate between what happened in NY-9 last night and what might happen in New York – or, for that matter, the nation – in 2012. He noted that when he last ran statewide (in 2010), his two worst-performing Assembly districts in New York City (where he received just over 50 percent of the vote) were in NY-9.

“It’s not a bellwether district, and trying to read what any specific group or any specific person did does not make sense,” Schumer stressed.

Schumer said he believes Obama will not only carry NY-9 in 2012, but “do well” there, particularly as he shifts the focus to jobs and the economy. Wasserman-Schultz said that anyone looking for predictions in next year’s presidential election should look at Obama’s standing in battleground states, where his numbers remain respectable.

The DNC chair insisted NY-9 became vacant “in what can be called unusual circumstances,” and can’t be considered indicative of anything in particular. As for NV-02, where the Republican won an open House seat, she said the Democrats had expected to lose that race and “didn’t really play” there as a result.

Wasserman-Schultz, a Florida Jew, also predicted Obama – and the Democrats in general – “have consistently received the Jewish vote and will again” due to the president’s “strong record” on Israel and other issues Jewish voters care about.

Apparently, she hasn’t spoken with former NYC Mayor Ed Koch lately.

UPDATE: There’s a recording of the entire conference call after the jump.

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White House Downplays Special Election Results

President Obama is in North Carolina today touting his new jobs bill, and we just got the first pool reports back in house. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked by reporters to respond to the special election results, and he quickly downplayed the predictive powers of the two Republican wins. One in Nevada and the other here in NY-9.

Here is the transcript:

Q: How can they be viewed as anything other than a referendum?
Carney: “Special elections are often unique and their outcomes don’t tell you very much about future regularly scheduled elections… You can make those predictions and look foolish in 14 months or not, I’m simply saying we do not view them that way (as a referendum).”

In New York, it was a special case in a specific district in a low turnout election, Carney said.

Be our count, voter turnout appears to be around 20%. That is actually a lot higher than many people expected for this race. But, is less than half of what normally turns out for regular Congressional general election in even years.

Weprin Concedes

Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin just released the following statement officially conceding the NY-9 race to GOP Congressman-elect Bob Turner:

“I just called Bob Turner to congratulate him on a well-fought campaign. He will now have the honor of representing Brooklyn and Queens in Congress, and I hope that he will work every day to represent all of the diverse communities that make up the 9th Congressional district.”

“I’m incredibly proud of the campaign that we ran, and incredibly grateful to the countless volunteers who worked day after day to bring our message to voters. In doing so we raised the profile of issues like Medicare, Social Security, and tax relief for working families – issues that will be of critical importance for the next Congress.”

“Though we may not have won, our work is far from over. The challenges that face our nation are many, and I will continue to work with all of my supporters to ensure that middle class New Yorkers have a real voice in our city, our state, and our country.”

Last night, Weprin refused to acknowledge his loss, despite the early 54-46 result with 87 percent of precincts reporting. “It’s not over yet,” he insisted, adding: “There’s still quite a few ballots to be counted.”

We might not know the final NY-9 results for some time, as the Turner campaign successfully sought a court order to impound the paper ballots, citing irregularities – including absentee ballots mailed to dead people – at the Board of Elections.

Also, Weprin still has a job, since he didn’t have to give up his Assembly seat to run in this special election. He’s not up for re-election until 2012, and I’m not sure anyone has asked him yet whether he plans to run.

He won a special election for his seat in 2010, effectively switching seats with his brother, Mark, who is now a NYC Councilman. David Weprin gave up that seat to run a failed bid in 2009 for NYC comptroller. (I believe he finished fourth out of four).

GOP: Let’s Not Rush On Insurance Exchange

Senate Republicans say they’re taking their time implementing a health-insurance exchange for New York, part of the health-care overhaul passed in 2009.

Some GOP lawmakers, notably Sen. Greg Ball, R-Putnam County, have balked at allowing a vote on the measure, saying it helps pave the way for “Obamacare.”

I caught up with Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif this morning, who said the exchange still leaves some unanswered questions for the conference.

“We’re taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach to the formation of a health insurance exchange, given that the federal program will require New Yorkers to pay an additional $3.75 billion in taxes to the federal government. It’s not surprising that the Senate Democrats, who increased taxes by $14 billion during their two disastrous years in the majority and continue to call for higher taxes at every turn, want us to rush into this without a complete review.”

Only 10 states have set up the exchanges goes far and Republicans have argued it has the potential to drive up taxes in New York, a state that already has a relatively low Medicaid reimbursement rate.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have charged that Republicans are obstructing a common sense measure that would bring millions of dollars in federal aid to New York. Sen. Mike Gianaris, D-Queens, said in a radio interview yesterday that Republicans were “foolish” for not allowing a vote on the bill.

Still, it’s interesting that Republicans are at the very least in no rush to get this bill done and say they have some unanswered questions. The architects of the Senate’s version of the measure, Sens. Kemp Hannon and James Seward, are considered experts in their respective fields of health and insurance.

At the very least, not voting on the measure keeps the conservative Republican base (it does, indeed, exist in parts of New York) happy with the Senate GOP, who are fighting to keep their majority next year.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has not been out in front to get the Legislature back to Albany to take up the exchange as his administration focuses on the rebuilding efforts in the wake of heavy flooding upstate and security concerns in during the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.

From Diaz And Skelos, Two Very Different Takeaways

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, analyzed the upset victory of Republican Bob Turner in Anthony Weiner’s old congressional district as a sign that the GOP can be competitive in New York City.

Stridently anti-same-sex-marriage Sen. Ruben Diaz, D-Bronx, meanwhile, said perhaps unsurprisingly that the election was a referendum on Democrat David Weprin’s yes vote in June for the law.

Here’s the statement from Skelos, who sounds a hopeful note on his party’s chances in the five boroughs, where they have only two lawmakers in their conference, Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza. And to be sure, if the Senate Republicans need to expand outside of the suburbs and upstate New York if they want to hold and expand their narrow 32-30 majority.

Bob Turner’s tremendous victory in the New York City congressional race yesterday proves that the political momentum is on the side of the Republican party.

The election of Bob Turner sends a clear message that New Yorkers are tired, angry and frustrated by Democrats who want to keep taxing and spending and cannot figure out how to turn around the economy and create jobs.

Turner’s win shows that Republican candidates can be competitive and win in New York City. Next year, New Yorkers will elect more Republicans to the State Senate in New York City and across the state, because we have worked hard to lower state spending, reduce taxes, create new jobs and make state government function again.

Turner will be a special guest at tonight’s Republican State Committee dinner in New York City, which features National Chairman Reince Priebus, and former National Chairman, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Diaz, who railed against Republicans in June for allowing a vote on the same-sex marriage bill, said the National Organization For Marriage played a “major role” in deciding the election’s outcome.

The National Organization for Marriage has played an important role in this special election by giving me the opportunity to reach out to Hispanic voters in the district by robo-calls and mailings to their homes to let them know which candidate stood for family values and which candidate did not.

I look forward to future victories of pro-family candidates in New York State.”

Diaz’s claim is a little spurious, given the Turner campaign’s focus on the economy, unemployment and President Obama’s Israel policy. And it carries even less water when you factor in Weprin, who never caught on with constituents in the Brooklyn-Queens district.

Interestingly, City Hall News reported this morning that Turner’s PR man, Bill O’Reilly, refuted the idea that the campaign made gay marriage an issue. Still, in their morning wake-up email, City Hall writes that Weprin’s instance that the marriage vote was constant with his Orthodox Jewish beliefs made some religious leaders decline to support him.

Winners And Losers, Take I

These are always hard posts to write, because everyone’s a pundit in the wake of an election – particularly one as volatile and surprising as the NY-9 special.

Still, I’m going to take a shot at it. As a truly addicted NYS political junkie, it’s hard not too.

I’m going to shy away from the extremely obvious, except to note very briefly the following:

Losers: President Obama, national Democrats, Assemblyman David Weprin (if he manages to win any future elections, or even bothers to run again, I’ll be surprised).

Winners: Congressman-elect Bob Turner, national GOP, former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, pollsters (PPP and Siena NY in particular; they got this one right!)

And now, some more in-depth observations. First, the losers…

- WFP, labor. Even the union GOTV machines could not save Weprin. There has been speculation that they got started too late, didn’t take Turner and the district’s anti-Obama seriously enough etc.

Maybe. But they’ve pulled victory from the jaws of defeat before (just ask state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli), and this one seems to be particularly painful, given the national implications. It comes at a time when unions are under fire all over the country, and labor is trying to reassert its power in advance of the 2012 cycle.

As for the WFP, it failed in the 54th AD where Jesus Gonzalez had the chance to become the party’s first-ever solely-elected state legislator. The progressives have seen their star fade Albany and could have used a win to demonstrate some political muscle to fiscally conservative Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Not this time.

- Queens Dems and their chairman, Rep. Joe Crowley.

Actually, the once-vaunted machine has been losing clout since at least 2008 when its members dumped then-Sen. John Sabini (in the wake of a drunk driving arrest) to endorse then-NYC Councilman Hiram Monserrate, largely due to Crowley’s fear of a primary challenge from the Latino lawmaker.

As we now know, picking Monserrate was a huge mistake, and it sent a message to party loyalists that the chairman cared more about his own hide than theirs.

That was evident again here in his selection of a lackluster, but supposedly safe candidate like Weprin to run in NY-9. Weprin was supposed to win and then go away quietly when NY-9 was redistricted out of existence, allowing Crowley to finally get rid of that piece of the Bronx in his district.

Well, now Crowley – and the Dems in general – have to find another sacrificial lamb, which brings us to our next potential loser…

- Rep. Kathy Hochul.

The WNY Democrat’s big win in the supposed GOP stronghold of NY-26 back in May was widely heralded by the party leaders as sending a message, writ large, to the Republicans that voters were dead set against any entitlement reform – particularly Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare overhaul plan.

(Interestingly, the same party leaders are now insisting there are no macro messages in special elections because they’re too quirky with not enough turnout to be a bellwether of anything).

With the conventional wisdom of one Dem seat and one GOP seat on the chopping block in the 2012 redistricting, Hochul must have been breathing a sigh of relief at the prospect of a Weprin win.

But now that Turner has won, she’s potentially back in the crosshairs, while GOP Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, whose NY-25 district was also seen as a potential target, might be breathing a bit easier.

Then again, a number of observers said prior to yesterday’s election that NY-9 wouldn’t be long for this world no matter who won. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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Here And Now

A big day for the GOP – both in New York and nationally – following Congressman-elect Bob Turner’s upset win in Democrat-dominated NY-9 last night over Assemblyman David Weprin.

The Republican candidate won a House special election in Nevada, too. This was less of a surprise, but perhaps more of a bellwether for the Dems heading into 2012.

Expect a lot of belly button gazing and hand wringing (on the part of the Dems, particularly members of the once-vaunted Queens machine) and victory lapping (by the GOP) throughout the day. The race was a blowout for Turner.

Unofficial results: 54-46. Yet Weprin hadn’t conceded as of 12:15 a.m., according to NY1′s intrepid Grace Rauh. “It’s not over yet,” he insisted, despite the fact that AP (and everyone else) had called the race. “There’s quite a few ballots to be counted.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recorded a robocall and appeared in a mailer for Weprin, but otherwise didn’t exactly knock himself out to assist in NY-9 (remember, he did a TV ad for now-Rep. Kathy Hochul in NY-26), has a cabinet meeting in the red room this morning. So, the press will get his take on the loss.

Also, Sen. Chuck Schumer has a 12:30 p.m. conference call – ostensibly on his push to bring post-storm federal aid to NY farmers. I’m sure he’ll have plenty to say about NY-9, too, since it used to be his district (albeit in a different configuration).

Meanwhile, in a case of seriously good timing, the state GOP’s rescheduled annual dinner happens to be taking place tonight at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers. Chair Ed Cox, who played a role in clearing the field for Turner, will honor the congressman-elect. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus will be on hand.

The Democrats swept all four NYC special Assembly elections in the 23rd, 27th, 54th (a big blow to the WFP, and a big win for Brooklyn Democratic boss/Assemblyman Vito Lopez) and 73rd, as well as the 116th and 144th upstate.

NYT headline (“front page” of paper’s Web version, it’s slightly tamer – but still above the fold – in the print edition): “GOP Scores Upset, Claims Win as Omen for Obama.”

Turner proclaimed himself “the messenger,” and said there will soon be a “bonfire” in D.C.

A “sharp rebuke” to Obama, according to the WaPo.

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In Shocker, Turner Defeats Weprin

Republican Bob Turner upended the political world Tuesday evening, defeating Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin to capture the House seat held by disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner.

The Associated Press called the race at 11:57 for Turner, a 70-year-old former television producer, making him the first Republican to represent that area in nearly a century. Though Weprin told supporters just after midnight that he was still waiting for absentee ballots to be counted, he is not expected to make up the deficit.

With 63 percent of precincts reporting, Turner led Weprin 53 percent to 47 percent.

“This is an historic race. We’ve been asked by the people of this district to send a message to Washington and I hope they heard it loud and clear. We have been told this is referendum and we’re ready to say, ‘Mr. President, we are on the wrong track,” Turner told supporters shortly after midnight.

“I am telling you, I am a messenger. Heed us,” Turner added.

The loss of a safe seat in the Brooklyn-Queens district will surely produce soul-searching among Democrats and postmortems about what the loss means, along with its implications for President Obama’s re-election in 2012.

It will be seen and spun as simultaneously a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy, his policy toward Israel, the unique demographics of the NY-9 and the weakness of Weprin, an awkward campaigner who was never able to out razzle-dazzle his opponent.

If anything, the special election to fill the seat of Weiner, who resigned under the cloud of a sexting scandal, is the opposite number of the special election to fill the seat of Rep. Chris Lee, who left office after sending sexually explicit photos on the Internet.

His district, long a Republican western New York stronghold, went to Democrat Kathy Hochul.

And both of those districts may be erased next year once redistricting is completed in 2012. New York is expected to lose two seats in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the election is a victory for maverick Democrat Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor who backed Turner. Koch recorded a lively robocall for Turner and campaigned on his behalf.