King Doesn’t Want 9/11 Phone-Hacking Allegations ‘Festering’

U.S. Rep. Pete King said today he hoped for a speedy investigation into the allegations that British journalistis hacked into the phones of Sept. 11 victims and family members.

He also confirmed the FBI was looking into the matter.

The Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee had called for the investigation last week after the allegations were raised, part of the growing phone-hacking scandal in Britain that is engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. empire, Scotland Yard and the Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron.

And the meltdown today included the news that one of the whistleblowers in the case was found dead, The UK Guardian reported.

King told WOR’s John Gambling that given the 10-year-anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the horizon, it was important to determine whether journalists from Murdoch’s now-defunct tabloid News of the World hacked into their voicemails.

“I just thought this was such a horrible situation if it were true, that the berst way to address it and the quickest way is to have the FBI investigate it; to resolve it one way or the other. I can’t imagine really anything worse,” he said, adding, “My concern was this could just be festering over the summer. I was getting contacted by a number of the 9/11 families outraged over this.”

At first glance, it’s surprising that a Repuiblican would go after News Corp., given its media properties’ proclivity for the Republican Party.

However, King, the most visible Republican in elected office in New York, is considered something of a rogue and certainly has never minced words when it comes to Sept. 11.

Pro Same-Sex Marriage Lobbying Cost $1.8M

New Yorkers United For Marriage, the pro-same-sex marriage coalition formed at the behest of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, spent $1.8 milllion on lobbying efforts in the two months leading up to the successful vote.

According to the group’s filing with the soon-to-be-defunct Commission on Public Integrity, the umbrella group spent heavily in May and June on statewide advertising purchases (more than $800,000) and on direct-mail advertisements ($124,500 in May).

Perhaps most tellingly, $50,000 was spent on canvassing in “select Senate districts,” according to the report – a sign that the group was heavily involved in gauging public opinion in districts represented by lawmakers who were considering voting yes.

The money spent underscores the deep-pocketed effort to pass same-sex marriage this year, a major goal of Cuomo’s first year.

Last week, it was revealed the Pride Agenda donated $60,000 to Cuomo’s re-election effort in 2014 in May – nearly two months before the vote.

Three Democrats and five Republicans were at one point believed to be on the fence in how they would vote, with many of them being prior “no” votes on the issue.

In the end, the three Democratic “no” voters – Sens. Carl Kruger, Shirley Huntley and Joe Addabbo – flipped to the yes column. Four Republicans also voted in favor of the measure – Sens. Roy McDonald, Steve Saland, Mark Grisanti and Jim Alesi.

The group spent $44,500 in the prior reporting period, but that was before the debate in Albany intensified.

A driving force behind the group was Cuomo ally Jennifer Cunningham, who provided much of the messaging and behind-the-scenes PR for the coalition.

Cuomo told LGBT advocates at the start of the year that he did not want a repeat of the failed 2009 in the Senate, when the disparate groups succumbed to in-fighting.

In classic Cuomian fashion, the governor organized them into a coalition designed to speak with one voice. It won plaudits from Republican political operatives like Bill O’Reilly for its early messaging.

The group also recruited celebrities like the actress Cynthia Nixon and New York Rangers Sean Avery to lobby in Albany.

In the end, obviously, the effort proved successful. The measure passed 33-29 in the Senate and takes effect Sunday.

Another Day, Another Clerk Resignation

A second town clerk has resigned in opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, which will take effect on July 24.

Granby Town Clerk Ruth Sheldon submitted her resignation effective July 23. She’s also the town tax collector and has held her job for more than 15 years Town Supervisor Ed Williamson told our Bill Carey that the Town Board will appoint a replacement through year’s end.

Williamson also said he admires Sheldon for standing by her religious beliefs.

In her resignation letter, which you can view here, Sheldon said the gay marriage law passed in June by the Legislature and promptly signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo “violates my conscience and my faith.”

“I have struggled prayerfully how to handle this situation, since I would be forced to sign same-sex marriage licenses,” Sheldon continued.

“It is clear that I must stand for what I believe. It is with deep sadness that I hereby submit my resignation as Town Clerk/Town Tax Collector for the Town of Granby.”

Sheldon is the second clerk to resign rather than issue same-sex marriage licenses or officiate over gay weddings. The first was Barker Town Clerk Laura Fotusky.

The Volney town clerk, Barbara MacEwen, was the first to speak out about her discomfort with this issue, but she also said she would likely choose her job if forced to make a decision between following her conscience and being out of work.

Guilderland Town Clerk Rosemary Centi has said she will issue marriage licenses to gay couples, but will not officiate over their weddings. But Town Supervisor Ken Runion said he agreed with the governor that municipal officials must uphold the law, regardless of whether they are personally offended or in opposition to it.

So far, no lawsuits have materialized over this clerk situation. It seems like it’s just a matter of time, though. July 24 is still just under a week away.

Kruger’s Refunds, Legal Bills

Embattled Sen. Carl Kruger’s once prolific fundraising came to an abrupt halt after he was slapped with federal corruption charges in early March, according to the Brooklyn Democrat’s July 15 filing with the state Board of Elections.

Even the senator’s decision to switch his 2009 “no” vote on same-sex marriage to “yes” – a move for which his fellow Democrats, Queens Sen. Joe Addabbo, and four Republicans, Sens. Jim Alesi, Steve Saland, Roy McDonald and Mark Grisanti, were handsomely rewarded – didn’t net him any campaign contribution love.

Kruger has barely taken in a dime since he turned himself in. He used to be one of the conference’s top fundraisers, sending big infusions of cash to his fellow Democrats’ coffers. Now, according to NYPIRG’s Bill Mahoney, the senator has seen his own take drop by nearly 50 percent.

He has, however, returned $30,750, including $3,750 to the State Troopers PAC and $500 to SEIU 1199.

Kruger did continue to spend his campaign cash, mostly to cover his legal expenses – a move that has been hotly debated on any number of occasions as current and former elected officials sought to defend themselves against corruption charges. So far, he has spent $710,000 with Brafman & Associates.

(H/T to The Brooklyn Politics blog for catching this first).

Kruger still has just over $1 million on hand.

Political Insurance

NYC Councilman Lew Fidler is deeply engaged in the delicate endeavor of raising campaign cash – a fairly copious amount, actually – for a seat that is not yet vacant.

The Brooklyn Democrat has raised $323,711 over the past three months for an unspecified state office and now has $327,211 (he transferred in $3,500 from his city-level committee) on hand in “Lew Fidler for New York.”

He reported $0 in expenses.

Fidler sent out a fundraising appeal back in June saying that he wanted to “be prepared” – “like a good Boy Scout” – for whatever might come his way.

It is widely speculated that the councilman is eyeing a potential run for Sen. Carl Kruger’s seat in the event that the scandal-scarred lawmaker cuts a deal/pleads/is found guilty of the federal felony corruption charges he faces.

Kruger’s attorney rejected a recent NY Post report that the senator will resign by the end of the summer in a prelude to a guilty plea in a wide-ranging pay-to-play corruption scandal that also netted seven other defendants, including lobbyist Richard Lipsky, and Assemblyman William Boyland Jr.

Fidler, who will be blocked by term limits from running for a fourth term in 2013 (he was able to seek a third term in 2009, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg’s successful push to extend term limits), seeded his own state campaign committee with $500 and received $1,200 from family members.

He received $5,000 from Rep. Jerry Nadler, $1,000 from NYC Councilman Mark Weprin, and $250 from NYC Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.

Kruger was widely shunned by his Democratic Senate colleagues following his corruption scandal back in March. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo stood by him and singled him out for praise after he joined two fellow Democrats – Sens. Shirley Huntley and Joe Addabbo – in switching his “no” vote on same-sex marriage to a “yes” this year.

Kruger was was on the few senators allowed to speak on the evening of the Senate’s same-sex marriage vote, which was highly micro-managed – much to the dismay of Sen. Kevin Parker – by the second floor.

That vote did not universally improve Kruger’s standing with gay marriage supporters.

Mayor Bloomberg excluded both Kruger and Huntley, who is facing a member items probe by AG Eric Schneiderman’s office, when he maxed out to five of the seven key “yes” voters in his post-gay marriage vote campaign contributions blitz.

Sampson: Come Back For Redistricting

Senate Minority Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, is urging Republican counterpart Dean Skelos to return to Albany before the year is over and approve a plan that would create an independent redistricting commission.

In the letter, Samspon reminds Skelos, R-Nassau County, of the pledge made by GOP lawmakers that they would create a independent panel.

“I think you will agree that New Yorkers are sick and tired of politicians who will say one thing to get elected and do another once they are in office. New York needs independent redistricting to have fair elections and a more effective legislature, where the public interest comes before political incumbency,” Sampson wrote in the letter.

Incumbent parties drawing legislative boundaries often do so to the benefit of their political familiars, creating an often-times absurd jigsaw puzzle. Good-government groups have long decried the gerrymandering process.

The lawmaker-run body known as the Legislative Task Forece on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, also known as LATFOR, began earlier this month.

Sen. Michael Nozzolio, R-Fayette, Seneca County, the GOP lawmaker leading the Senate effort, said after the first Albany meeting that there isn’t any time to develop an independent panel.

Senate Republicans did approve a constitutional amendment that would create an independent panel, but that would not take practical effect until the 2022 redistricting process.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has vowed to veto any lines drawn by LATFOR. Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, urged him not to, saying it would be a “dumb approach.”

Redistricting Letter Skelos

Senate Dems: Not As Rich As Advertised (Updated)

Senate Democrats trumpeted their fundraising prowess last week after the first six months of 2011 on paper at least appeared to be doing well fundraising-wise, including raising more than $1 million in the first six months.

But Republicans today are pointing reporters to the complete filing, which shows direct contributions of only $694,395.

Meanwhile, more than $100,000 was transfered from Senate Democrats, including a $90,715 transfer from ex-Sen. Brian Foley – a fairly standard operating procedure in the campaign-finance world.

But with loan payments and expenses totaling $888,187, the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee has only $36,799 in the bank.

Update: A look at the Senate Democrats housekeeping committee shows a different story. A Democratic source says it will include $225,000 that is yet to be posted.

“Republicans should get their facts straight if they want to crticize,” the source said.

Senate Democrats spent a tumultous two years in the majority, with much of their agenda hobbled by a leadership coup, disorganization and a weak governor.

Republicans hold a slim 32-30 majority and could face an uphill climb during the legislative redistricting process thanks to the shear number of Democratic enrolled voters.

But the GOP has proven to be prodigious fundraisers in the first half of the year, netting $2.75 million.

To be sure, the Democrats now in charge of re-election efforts were dealt a pretty terrible hand. Sen Neil Breslin, the deputy minority leader, pointed out this morning that more cash had been raised between January and June than at any other time when they were in the minority.

He also said Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, who is leading the Senate Democratic fundraising efforts, is “terrific.”

“We raised more money during that period of time duiring any time we were in the minority,” noting that controversial figures like Sens. Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate are no longer in office.

“Mike Gianaris has done a first-class job. I think he’s been teriffic. People are beginning to see we’ve got our act together.”

Astorino Warns Of Economic Crisis Without Tappan Zee

ICYMI, here’s my interview with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino on the need to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. And yes, we are indeed on a boat.

The aging superstructure that connects Rockland and Westchester counties over the Hudson River, built in the 1950s during a Korean War-induced materials shortage, is handling more traffic than it was ever designed to.

Astorino, a Republican elected in 2009, warned in the interview that if the bridge closed suddenly, it would have dire economic implications for an entire region.

“This is a major economic viaduct for this entire region and economy. If something happens to this bridge — catastrophic or just an engineer coming and saying, you know we have to shutdown this bridge — we would have an absolute shutdown of this region’s economy,” Astorino said.

Bridge replacement options are considered nearly unfeasible economically right now. Money to pay for any replacement would likely take tax increases or a costly borrowing plan. Astorino said the onous was on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to develop a plan to replace the bridge and soon.

After he was elected last year, Cuomo visited the bridge as part of his tour of the state. At the time, Cuomo said New York’s aging infrastructure needs to be deal with in the near term.

DiNapoli Raises And Spends, Has Just $53K On Hand

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli very nearly out-spent what he raised over the past six months, reporting a paltry $52,997 on hand in his July 15 filing with the state Board of Elections.

DiNpaoli, who won his first statewide election last fall in a close race with first-time GOP candidate Harry Wilson, raised $326,527 since January, but spent almost all of that: $316,016. He started out with $23,476 on hand and has no debt.

Among DiNapoli’s bid individual donors is Orin Kramer, a major Obama bundler who helps manage the hedge fund Boston Provident, LP. ($10,000); and Healthplex bigwig Stephen Cuchel ($10,000). As usual, the comptroller pulled in a lot of labor cash, with the biggest contribution – $10,000 – coming from the DRIVE Committee (the Teamsters national PAC).

Another $10,000 donor: The Albany-based lobbying firm Wilson Elser.

DiNapoli is spending a ton of cash on consultants – political and fundraising. He paid $15,000 to New Ross Strategies, $15,000 to Red Horse and $25,500 to Connecticut-based Dowell Consulting. His event fees included $10,110 to the Harvard Club, $4,621 to the Sheraton, $4,482 to Le Parker Meredien, and $7,500 to Somos el Futuro Inc. for “catering.”

The comptroller, who was cleared shortly before last year’s elections by then-AG Andrew Cuomo for any role in the pay-to-play pension fund scandal, used his campaign cash to cover legal bills, spending $7,798.15 on Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, and $522.50 on Genova, Burns & Giantomasi.

DiNapoli also has a few very large Amex bills: One for $23,842, $11,307.49, $2,000 and $7,029.33. No additional information was provided in his filings on that.

Zeldin Nudges Cuomo On Payroll Tax

Sen. Lee Zeldin, R-Suffolk County, is back beating the anti-MTA payroll tax drum this morning, urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to repeal the measure.

“Governor Cuomo is a key ally with the leadership skills to bring this legislation across the finish line in the Democrat controlled State Assembly,” Zeldin said in a statement. “The Governor has already called the MTA payroll tax ‘onerous’ and said he is open to discussion. My bill, which has already passed the Senate, is a practical, workable alternative.”

The tax affects suburban counties within the MTA’s service zone. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority provides commuter service to New York City and its environs.

Cuomo and Senate Republicans were allies during the budget process when it came to resisting calls for tax increases in order to close a $10 billion budget deficit. The Democratic governor, however, was cautious to say tax decreases were not in the cards for this current 2010-11 fiscal year considering the state’s precarious fiscal situation.

The payroll tax, arguably, was a contribuiting factor in Zeldin’s November victory over incumbent Sen. Brian Foley and Nassau County Sen. Craig Johnson. Displeasure over the tax also nearly unseated Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, D-Mamaroneck, Westchester County, who nearly lost to Republican Bob Cohen.