Why Row C Matters

The state Conservative Party has now codified its threat that any lawmaker who votes “yes” on gay marriage will be politically punished, passing a resolution that states “any elected official or potential candidate who does not support marriage as defined between one man and one woman” won’t get Row C “in any election”.

That makes things complicated for the Senate Republicans, who are gearing up for a big fight over control of the chamber next year – a battle that will be waged with all legislators representing newly-drawn districts.

Leaving aside the whole redistricting reform question for a moment (and yes, I realize it’s a great big wrench in the works), let’s consider how much of a factor the Conservative Party was in the 2010 elections, when the GOP successfully wrested the majority back from the Democrats.

A helpful reader compiled the following vote tallies in four of last fall’s key Senate races:

- In SD-07, Craig Johnson (“yes” on marriage) led Jack Martins (“no”) 42,477 to 36,349 on the Democratic to Republican lines, but Martins received 1,959 votes on the Independence Line and 4,620 votes on the Conservative line to overtake Johnson. The Working Families line was vacant.

- In SD-40, Mike Kaplowitz (“yes”) led Greg Ball (undecided) 43,586 to 42,363 on the Democratic to Republican lines, and Kaplowitz had an additional 4,981 votes on the Independence line, but Ball received 8,342 votes on the Conservative line to overtake Kaplowitz.

Remember: Ball won the Conservative Primary as a write-in candidate. He would have lost the race otherwise by wide margins. The Working Families line was vacant.

- In SD-55, Mary Wilmot (“yes”) led Jim Alesi (unclear) 47,298 to 45,141 on the Democratic to Republican lines, but Alesi received 3,914 votes on the Independence line and 7,970 votes on the Conservative line to win. The Working Families line was vacant.

- In SD-61, Antoine Thompson (“yes”) led Mark Grisanti (undecided) 30,688 to 28,875 on the Democratic to Republican lines, and Thompson received an additional 2,036 votes on the Working Families line, but Gristanti received 4,368 votes on the Conservative line to squeak it out. The Independence line was vacant.

SUNY Research Prez Slapped For Bruno Daughter’s ‘No-Show’ Job

The Commission on Public Integrity announced today that the years-long investigation into the hiring of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s daughter by the SUNY Research Foundation found “reasonable cause” to believe she was awarded a “no-show” job.

The commission found that SUNY Research Foundation President John O’Connor hired Susan Bruno for a job that she wasn’t qualified for, performed little or no work and rarely came to the office.

The CPI found:

“The lack of any documents or testimony evidencing Ms. Bruno’s duties on behalf of the [Foundation] coupled with the statements of the witnesses who all almost universally stated that they rarely ever saw Ms. Bruno at the office supports a determination that there is reasonable cause to believe that Ms. Bruno was afforded what amounted to a ‘no-show job.’”

O’Connor faces a civil penalty of $10,000.

The elder Bruno was found guilty in federal court on felony charges of theft of honest services, in a case unrelated to the Susan Bruno affair. However, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned parts of that law and Bruno may face a new trail with different charges.

Here’s the ruling against O’Connor:
John J. O’Connor NORC

de Blasio’s Gay Marriage Pep Talk

Speaking of who’s calling around on gay marriage…

NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was at SEIU 1199′s HQ in Manhattan last night to phone bank with New Yorkers United
for Marriage, the coordinated campaign that is lobbying to get a bill passed in the Senate prior to the session’s end next month.


As you’ll recall, former first daughter Chelsea Clinton worked the phones at this same location last week.

De Blasio, a likely 2013 NYC mayoral contender, also had a strategy session/pep talk with marriage advocates in which he explained why the bottom-up approach to motivate constituents to pressure lawmakers is the best way to move on-the-fence senators to the “yes” column.

(Recall that de Blasio is a big labor guy and also largely owes his election in 2009 to the WFP, which subscribes so heavily to the grassroots organizing campaign model that it has its own for-profit field arm).

“Given the state Senate and the way they operate, the way they’re clinging to their power, we’ve got to disrupt their comfort and say no to this,” de Blasio said.

“We’ve got to get to the grassroots. You can have the moral consensus in society. You can have the governor with you. But the grassroots piece is what will fundamentally upset any Republican’s notion that they can get away with a vote that’s the wrong thing to do.”

“So, that’s exactly why this is so important. So, I think if we do this right and we keep doing this, we’re going to win this.”

Cuomo Mails Boehner, Reid On Anti-Terrorism Funds

It’s a busy day of letter-writing for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The governor’s latest missive is sounding a concerned note to House Speaker John Boehner and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over a proposed halving of Homeland Security funds, which Cuomo notes comes at an inopportune time.

“At a time when the federal government is warning that we may see retaliatory attacks for the death of Osama Bin Laden, congressionally proposed cuts to state and local homeland security grants for the FY2012 federal budget would undermine the very initiatives that have been put in place to protect our nation and people from the persistent and evolving threat of terrorism,” he writes in the letter.

Cuomo said earlier this month that the state would step up security at vital transportation points in the wake of the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

Records recovered from the compound where bin Laden was living found the Sept. 11 mastermind was planning attacks on trains in the U.S., possibly on the 10-year anniversary of the attacks.

A frequent complaint from New York elected officials has been a lack of Homeland Security money for police, firefighter and first responder training. The money has often been diverted for pork-barrel projects in other states that are not historically on terrorists’ hit lists.

The full letter is after the jump. More >

Who’s Calling Who?

There have been a number of stories over the past several days, starting with Wednesday’s Gay City News, about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s low-key approach to lobbying the Senate on gay marriage.

GCN’s Duncan Osborne reported Sen. Joe Addabbo, of Queens, who is one of two Democrats and four Republicans currently undecided on this issue, had not yet received a call from Cuomo, despite the fact that the governor has made legalization of same-sex marriage one of his top three post-budget priorities and signaled he’ll get personally involved in the effort.

Today brought a story by the WSJ’s Jacob Gershman (now subscription only) in which another on-the-fence senator, Hudson Valley Republican Greg Ball, said he hadn’t heard from the governor yet either.

A person with knowledge of Cuomo’s strategy told Gershman that the governor wants to ramp this campaign up slowly. There’s no question that this is a big deal Cuomo, and he is definitely involved in mapping out the coordinated effort to push a bill – whenever it arrives – through the Senate.

But the governor’s comments this week that he doesn’t want to see a bill go to the floor if it doesn’t have sufficient votes to pass was seen as a setback by a number of LGBT advocates, who told me they worry that would give an out to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who doesn’t want to anger the Conservative Party with the 2012 elections looming.

Several sources involved in the coordindated campaign told me the Cuomo administration has called a meeting in NYC today in hopes of regrouping.

Meanwhile, the pro-marriage movement has enlisted Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to lobby senators – both Republicans and Democrats – who are on the fence on marriage.

Gillibrand is in a unique position to understand this issue, having once been a Blue Dog congresswoman representing a centrist – if not slightly conservative – upstate district. Since joining the Senate, she has gone all in for gay marriage and become a big champion of gay rights.

“My goal is to talk to all of them,” Gillibrand told me during a CapTon interview Wednesday. “All of the undecided state senators. Anyone who’s vote is in play. I hope to talk to each and every one of them over the next few days.”

“…They’re beginning to understand that marriage equality is when two people want to make that commitment. That commitment of love and dedication, and it’s also about children.”

Trump Blasts NYT Story, Reporter

Real-estate mogul and possible presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on CNBC this morning to blast the New York Times story that took a critical look of the development practices by Trump International.

The Times piece described the businessman’s empire as being nothing more than a series of licensing deals that merely slap the Trump name on developments. Trump himself has little involvement in the developments, which have a tendency to fail.

The story says about 300 people are either suing Trump or his company for lost deposits.

Trump charges that the story’s writer, Michael Barbaro “didn’t have the guts” to go on the show and the discuss the article.

(NOTE: CNBC says Barbaro was supposed to appear, but canceled “at the last minute”. Also, it’s sort of a badge of honor in journo circles to be attacked by Trump, who has a history of sending hand-written screeds to reporters who write things he doesn’t like).

“He should be defending himself,” Trump. “He didn’t have the guts to go on because he doesn’t have the guts to defend himself…He had the documents. We gave him the documents. We brought him though. He’s highly unsophisticated.”

Trump added that many of the people who have been part of failed developments have received part of their deposit back. He also accused the NYT of “flipping” their old building at W. 43rd Street. (The paper relocated in June 2007; it’s now on 8th Avenue between W 40th and 41st Streets).

Cuomo Calls For Sharper Teacher Evaluations (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today sent a very long letter to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on revising standards for teacher evaluations calling for specific statistics on testing data, classroom observation and student growth.

And for schools that implement the evaluations, Cuomo is dangling the $500 million grant program included in the 2011-12 state budget known as the Executive’s School Performance Incentive Program, adding that he wants a new system in place by the 2012-13 school year.

We not only need a strong evaluation system that will improve the performance of our children, but also to support our educators so they can continually develop and improve. Our goal should be to have the best system of evaluation in the nation, yet our proposed system falls short of other states, such as Colorado and Tennessee.

Update: Merryl Tisch released a statement saying the regulations would be amended to include Cuomo’s recommendations:

Based on the comments received from numerous stakeholders including our conversations with Governor Cuomo in recent weeks, the State Education Department will issue shortly amended regulations that will include all of the recommendations made by the Governor.

“I believe Governor Cuomo’s recommendations to improve these regulations will lead to an even stronger teacher and principal evaluation system for New York and I will support them when my colleagues and I on the Board of Regents convene on Monday.

The governor said the Department of Education’s proposed draft regulations for teacher and principal evaluation need to be sharpened in order to take a “rigorous” look at objective standards such as testing and student improvement, along with “subjective” measurements, like classroom observations.

Focusing on test scores has been a major-league bugaboo of teachers’ unions, who argue test scores are not an accurate measurement of either student or educator performance.

Here’s the full letter:

SED Letter

Astorino Would ‘Sooner Trust Tony Soprano’ Than Albany On Mandate Relief

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican whose name has been floated as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2014, posted a video on his official website today calling for relief from mandated spending along with a property tax cap.

Astorino said in the video that Albany can’t be trusted to pass a hard-line property-tax cap and then promise to take up the mandate relief issue later.

“I’d sooner trust Tony Soprano,” he said, adding that he strongly supports the cap.

Astorino goes on to ask residents to contact legislators asking them to push for mandate relief along with a tax cap.

“”A tax cap alone would be disastrous for municipalities,” Astorino said. “That is where I need your help. I urge you to contact your local state legislators to let them know that mandate relief from Albany is just as important as a property tax cap.”

Earlier this month, another Republican county executive, Chris Collins of Erie County, told Fred Dicker on Talk 1300-AM, that a cap without mandate relief “undo society.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Westchester County resident himself, is traveling the state to push for a 2 percent cap on local and school taxes. Westchester residents pay among the highest property taxes in the country.

While Astorino is targeting Albany legislators with his mandate talk, the conversations I’ve had with most lawmakers is they share his mandate concerns. It’s the Cuomo administration — including Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy and economic development czar Kenneth Adams who have said a cap must come first.

Cuomo Wants SAGE Advice From Public

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today announced the launching of a website for the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission as a way to solicit ideas from the public.

“As I have said repeatedly, right-sizing government is essential to get the state back on the right track, but we can’t do it alone,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The future success of New York requires that we consolidate the sprawl of state entities, find efficiencies, and further improve the state’s operations. As this is the people’s government, the public must have a say in how it operates.”

The effort, being led by aide Paul Francis, is meant to shrink the size of state government through consolidations and sharing of services. Cuomo says the effort is the first fundamental reformation of how Albany works since the 1970s.

The commission’s first meeting was on April 25 and will being to offer suggestions later this month.

Some consolidation efforts are already underway. The 2011-12 state budget consolidated the Banking and Insurance departments. It also cut agency spending across the board by 10 percent.

NAACP To Cuomo: Tax Cap Hurts Students

The NAACP sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week urging him to reconsider his position on the property tax cap, which the organization says would hurt student achievement.

“While these proposals are well intentioned, they will lead to lower test scores and higher dropout rates,” wrote Hazel Dukes, the NAACP New York Conference’s president. “We must prepare our children in order for them to compete in the 21st century workforce.”

Cuomo wants to cap the annual increases in school and local property taxes at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. The Republican-led Senate approved the measure Jan. 31, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, says he will introduce his own cap that may include some exemptions.

The governor has said school districts can live within a hard 2-percent ceiling if they root out wasteful spending and bureaucracy. He’s also urged them to tap into their reserves.

However, school districts and teachers’ unions have pushed back, saying the money isn’t there.