More Turnover At State GOP

The state GOP’s deputy political director, Michael Lawlor, is getting a promotion. He’s moving up to replace his boss, Matt Masterson, who is departing for a job in the private sector, party Chairman Ed Cox announced this afternoon.

“Mike Lawler has been a key member of our team for over two years,” Cox stated. “He has moved through the ranks, gaining valuable experience and honing his political skills. We are pleased he has agreed to step into this key role.”

“Matt Masterson is a veteran of New York politics who has also worked in other states and in Washington, DC. As ourpPolitical director he has been instrumental in enhancing our efforts to provide training and services to our county committees and component organizations. We wish him great success.”

Masterson hasn’t been on the job all that long. He started less than six months ago, in fact. The Troy native previously worked for ex-Rep. John Sweeney.

Masterson’s abrupt departure comes amid something of a shake-up at the GOP. He’s the second top staffer to depart in as many weeks.

Amid all the end-of-session hoopla, Cox announced the resignation of the party’s executive director and his longtime right-hand man, Tom Basile, who said he was leaving for both personal and professional reasons.

Basile was a controversial figure whose departure has been speculated (and actually actively campaigned for by some party operatives and county chairs) for some time.

Lawler is native and life-long resident of Rockland County, which is also Basile’s home turf. He started his political career working on Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. Cox was one of the few McCain supporters in New York, where most Republicans supported the hometown contender: Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The Bruno Factor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is justifiably receiving the lion’s share of the credit for pushing the same-sex marriage bill through the Senate.

But he wasn’t the only one who played a role in getting the Republican majority to take up the measure, clearing the way for its passage by the full house last Friday.

According to former Senate Majority spokesman John McArdle, there was a recognition immediately after the bill failed in 2009 that the Republicans would be key to future success – a feeling that only grew after the GOP recaptured the majority in 2010.

With this in mind, the Gill Action Fund’s political director, Bill Smith, who started his career working for Karl Rove, set about putting together a team that would be able to relate to the Senate Republicans and convince them that voting “yes” on the gay marriage bill – or, at the very least, letting it come out for a vote – would not be political suicide.

That team included McArdle, who served as a strategist and sounding board, since he’s barred from lobbying for two years; and another former Senate GOP staffer, Mike Avella. Gill also turned to the Senate GOP’s own pollster, Claude LaVigna, to run the numbers on gay marriage, assuming lawmakers would be more apt to trust his results.

In addition, former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who experienced his own conversion on same-sex marriage back in 2009, quietly worked behind the scenes to assuage the fears some of his old colleagues were feeling about this vote.

Although Bruno is fighting an attempt by the feds to re-try him on corruption charges, he still has a close relationship with a number of senators – particularly his hand-picked replacement, Sen. Roy McDonald, who switched his 2009 “no” vote to a “yes” this time around.

Bruno also has a good relationship with state Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay, whose ballot line could make up the difference for some GOPers who lose the Conservative Party’s endorsement.

“The simple fact is, and it was a very smart recognition, that in order for this to succeed in New York and across the country you need Republican support,” McArdle told me during a CapTon interview last night.

“So, the strategy was to bring in people who could bring a comfort level to the leadership. Senator Skelos, Senator Libous, and to the members. That’s the role I played, Mike Avella certainly played.”

(Me: And Joe Bruno?) “And Joe Bruno and the others,” McArdle responded. “That I think was something that helped the conference bring it to the floor.”

At the request of then-Gov. David Paterson, with whom Bruno had a close relationship, the ex-majority leader also lobbied his former colleagues behind-the-scenes back in 2009. That strategy didn’t work so well, but in McArdle’s eyes, the problem then was one of timing.

The Democrats’ didn’t have sufficient votes in their conference to pass the bill without the handful of GOP senators they could count on. After advocates successfully bounced some “no” voting Democrats from the conference, Cuomo and Senate Minority Leader John Sampson made sure the rest of the members were on board this time around.

Wilson Stays In The Mix

Harry Wilson, the 2010 GOP state comptroller candidate who came close to ousting the Democratic incumbent, Tom DiNapoli, focused much of his campaign on fixing the problems plaguing New York’s pension system.

Empire State voters may have rejected Wilson’s advances, but pension troubles – sadly – are not unique to this state, and the former hedge fund manager has found a new spot to exercise his expertise: Rhose Island.

The Ocean State’s governor, Lincoln Chafee, and general treasurer, Gina Raimondo, tapped Wilson to serve on a 12-member voluntary advisory group to craft a comprehensive pension reform plan. The group met for the first time this week, and Wilson was interviewed by the local news. (His comments start at about the 1:45-minute mark).

At the request of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Wilson’s firm, MAEVA Advisors, is playing a key role in the restructuring of YRC Worldwide, the nation’s largest trucking company. (Ironically, the local chapters of the Teamsters endorsed DiNapoli, whose widespread labor support played a key role in his defeat of Wilson).

A NY GOP source said Wilson is being courted to challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2012. (She already has one announced opponent, Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, who has pledged to spend up to $5 million of his own cash on that campaign).

According to this source, Wilson definitely still has the political “bug,” and hasn’t yet ruled out a Senate run.

UPDATE: A source close to the Teamsters – both the IBT International and joint Council 16 – are “solidly behind both DiNapoli and Gillibrand.” In fact, the union just dropped $10,000 at a recent DiNapoli fundraiser.

Schneiderman: Cancer Charity Scammed Millions (Updated)

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is trying to shutdown a Long Island-based breast cancer charity he says scammed millions of dollars out of donors.

Schneiderman filed a lawsuit today against the Coalition Against Breast Cancer, claiming the charity sent phony invoices and used telemarketers to provide fake claims that donors’ money would go toward fighting breast cancer locally.

Rather, the money was used to fund fat incomes for the charity’s board. The top directors received $550,000 in combined salaries for 2005 through 2009, another $150,000 in retirement accounts, and dental and medical benefits that totaled at least $9,000 per year, according to Schneiderman.

At the same time, the board used chairty funds to pay for Internet, television and phone service as well as cell phones.

Board members also used donated money to fuel personal loans and devised a scheme to allow one of the charity’s employees to receive unemployment insurance after being fired, Schneiderman charged.

“By using a charity as a personal cash machine, the Coalition Against Breast Cancer and Campaign Center shamelessly exploited New Yorkers’ natural sympathies and generosity,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Instead of benefiting breast cancer victims and their families, millions of dollars were misused for personal benefit. This type of scam will not be tolerated in New York, and my office will continue its work to stop charities fraud and hold those who commit it accountable.”

The AG’s office has a website that allows tipsters to complain about charities they believe are fronts for frauds and provides a listing of guidelines for charitable organizations.

Summons and Complaint

Follow The Leader

Deep in NYPIRG’s by-the-numbers assessment of the 2011 legislative session are some interesting statistics that demonstrate just how leadership-driven Albany really is.

The average majority members in both houses voted with their respective leaders between 97.41 percent (Assembly Democrats) and 98.87 percent (Senate Republicans) of the time.

But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is the only leader who can boast 100 percent loyalty from members of his conference – 10 to be exact, including the speaker himself.

Four of those are no longer in the Assembly: RoAnn Destito, who is now the OGS commissioner; former Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn, who retired; former Assemblywoman Audry Pheffer, who is now Queens County clerk; and former Assemblyman Darryl Towns, now Cuomo’s housing czar.

The others are: Assembly Ways & Means Committee Chairman Denny Farrell Jr., a longtime Silver loyalist; Naomi Rivera, Peter Rivera, David Weprin and Michelle Schimel.

Even the members who voted most frequently against Silver were comparatively loyal. They include: Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak (87.47 percent), Assembywoman Aileen Gunther (87.98 percent) and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (91.19 percent).

No GOP members voted with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos 100 percent of the time, but four came darn close: Marty Golden (99.85) and Kemp Hannon, Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous and John Flanagan – all coming in at 99.77 percent each.

Those who voted differently from Skelos most often were Sens. Bill Larkin (96.03 percent), John Bonacic (96.17 percent), and Ken LaValle (96.52 percent).

Assembly Republicans are arguably the Capitol’s most independent conference – relatively speaking. The 51 minority members only voted along with their leader, Brian Kolb, 90.94 percent of the time. The members who voted with him most frequently include a former minority leader, Jim Tedisco (95.85 percent).

The Senate Democrats’ most “renegade” members – those who vote least often with Minority Leader John Sampson – include Sens. Tom Duane (88.40 percent), Bill Perkins (89.29 percent), and Kevin Parker (90.35 percent).

The most loyal include Senate Deputy Minority Leader Neil Breslin (98.55 percent), former Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (98.17 percent), and freshman Tim Kennedy (98.09 percent).

Ironically, with the exception of Senators Smith, Kennedy, Breslin, Joe Addabbo, and Suzi Oppenheimer, every senator enrolled as a Democrat voted more consistently with the IDC head, Sen. Jeff Klein, Sampson.

The Cuomosexual Agenda

Stephen Colbert explains how same-sex marriage in New York will lead to “Dolphin love.”

Cuomo Cabinet To Take Summer Road Trip

Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to again deploy members of his cabinet around the state this summer a yet-to-be branded campaign.

Cuomo held a cabinet meeting for about 45 minutes today, which department chiefs said was meant to jumpstart the second half of the year.

Cabinet members, as usual, divulged hardly any details about what was discussed or what the post-session agenda will specifically look like.

“I don’t want to get into all the details now,” said Ben Lawsky, the commissioner of the Department Financail Services. “We talked about getting around the state, getting to all the regions of the state and we’re going to do that.”

Added Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Barbara Fiala: “It was informative and were we go from here. It was just more of recap and review of the first six months.”

The new campaign could begin later this week. During the legislative session, Cuomo and the cabinet hit the road in the “People First Tour” which pushed his major goals: gay marriage, a tax cap and an ethics overhaul.

The Legislature passed all three, including an extension of rent control for New York City.

Martens Hedges On Fracking Report

The draft recommendations from the Department of Environmental Conservation on the controversial natural-gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing are due Friday, but Commissioner Joe Martens today hedged on whether his agency will have the report ready by then.

“We’re still working on it, so stay tuned for later in the week whether we’re going to meet the deadline or not,” Martens said following a cabinet meeting on the second floor of the Capitol.

“We’re working on it, hopefully we’ll meet our Friday deadline,” Martens added.

Martens said the report was in the “production process” right now.

The long-expected report on the process known as hydrofracking has been pushed back several times before. The report, which is due on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk at the end of the week, will later be released to the public, the governor said Monday.

The process involves a mixture of chemicals and water to extract natural gas from below ground. Energy companies say the process can be performed safely and become a boon to the local economy, esepcially in the hard-hit Southern Tier region where drilling is being eyed.

But environmentalists argue the process is too risky and can harm the water table. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in May file suit against the federal government after he says Delaware River Basin Commission approved fracking regulations without following all guidelines under federal law.

There is currently a moratorium on the use of hydrofracking under executive order first issued by Gov. David Paterson and sustained by Cuomo.

Martens also suggested today that more information could be released after Friday.

“We’ll see what we can get out Friday versus what we can get out in the days after,” he said.

State Ed: Court Will Back Teacher Evaluations

The controversial teacher evaluation overhaul that is now facing a court challenge from the state’s largest teachers union will be upheld, the state Department of Education predicted in a statement this morning.

The DoE’s full statement:

“In May, the Board of Regents adopted critical reforms that will allow schools for the first time to more accurately measure the performance of teachers and school leaders. This new teacher and principal evaluation system will allow local districts to recognize and replicate teaching excellence, provide intensive professional development for teachers in need of additional support and provide a fair, objective and expedited means of removing ineffective teachers from the classroom. It is the critical foundation of all of our efforts to ensure that every classroom is led by a highly effective teacher. We have every confidence that it will be upheld by the courts.”

The state United Teachers union is suing the department and the state Board of Regents over the proposed evaluations, saying state officials overstepped their authority when it comes to using standardized test scores to gauge teacher effectiveness.

The new guidelines were quickly taken up in May by the Regents after Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for them.

Cuomo Versus Christie Could Be A Blockbuster

File this blog post in the Department of Insanely Early Speculation.

But political junkies, journalists and pundits — who tend to possess the attention span of fruit flies — are getting excited for a hypothetical presidential brawl between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“I’m rubbing my hands not about 2012, 2012 strikes me as a boring election,” said Quinnipiac pollster Mikey Carroll. “But 2016 — Cuomo versus Christie — how do you like that?”

Carroll, speaking on Fred Dicker’s Talk 1300 radio show this morning, noted that both the New York Democrat and New Jersey Republican have achieved significant victories early on in their tenures and have staked out conservative fiscal ground.

“Cuomo did exactly the same thing,” Carroll said of Christie’s and Cuomo’s attempts to seek concessions from public-employee unions. “They’re peas in a pod.”

Cuomo, who is completing only his first six months as governor, was thrusted onto the national stage last week when he signed a same-sex marriage bill that passed the Republican-led Senate.

The bill was necessary for Cuomo’s prgressive street cred, especially after turning down attempts to re-instate the so-called millionaires tax and his successful passage of a property-tax cap.

“I think where ideologically Cuomo may have suffered from the conservative image, but now he’s got the entire left saying what a great guy, he got gay marriage,” Carroll said.

A Cuomo-Christie matchup is the surrogate to what political reporters in New Yorker wanted in 2008 — Hillary Clinton versus Rudy Giuliani.

Neither won the nomination.

But for all the comparisons between Cuomo and Christie, their styles differ significantly. Cuomo is yet to appear on a national Sunyday morning political chat show. Christie does them all the time. Cuomo’s confrontations are done in private, Christie’s are done in public.

Christie has insisted he’s not running for president in 2012 despite the seemingly weak Republican field. Cuomo nearly ruled out running in 2016 to Dicker on Monday only to walk the Shermanesque statement back.

And Christie’s popularity in New Jersey is waning, while, for now, Cuomo remains on top of the polls in New York.

Of course, the biggest caveat in all this is that five years is an eternity in politics.