Al Franken: Gillibrand’s A Fighter For Women’s Rights – And In Squash

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office forwarded this video made by NARAL Pro-Choice NY for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who received the organization’s “champion of choice” award in NYC yesterday.

The video features testimonials on Gillibrand’s record of fighting for women’s reproductive health rights from Sen. Chuck Schumer, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Regina Glocker (the junior senator’s Dartmouth College roommate) and Sen. Al Franken, who discusses how he and Gillibrand try to kill one another (figuratively speaking) on the squash court.

“I got to tell you, she doesn’t want to lose,” Franken says. “She’s a competitor – both in squash and in women’s reproductive rights.”

Gillibrand’s profile has risen considerably in recent months. She received a lot of press in the wake of the shooting of her good friend, Rep. Gabby Giffords, and, before that, for her role in pushing for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and passage of the Zadroga bill.

Cuomo On The ‘Battle For Control Of Gov’t’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo all but declared war today on state lawmakers and lobbyists who, in his opinion, control them, seeking to enlist voters in a “battle for the control of state government.”

During the first stop of his “People First” tour at Onondaga Community College today, Cuomo excoriated the Capitol, saying it is “dominated by lobbyists…and they have the politicians button-holed, and if the people don’t speak, the lobbyists win.”

“And it’s that fundamental,” the governor continued. “It’s a battle for control of the government. It’s a battle between the politicians and the people, and the citizens and the government, who is that government going to work for?”

“…If they want the trust back, let them pass ethics reform. Let them say who they work for. Let them say who they’re getting paid by. And if they want to represent the people of this state, let them come forth in disclosure and transparency…and if they’re not willing to do that, they’re telling you something.”

This is a continuation of a theme Cuomo has been intoning since he first kicked off his campaign a year ago this month.

The governor also made a case for an independent entity to police the Legislature, saying:

“The Legislature has had an ethics committee since 2007, since 2007, the Legislature has never taken a real action. And the concept of self-policing is an oxymoron. You cannot police yourself, by definition.”

“Since 2007 when the legislative ethics committee started, you have long line of senators and assemblymen who have gotten into trouble. A long line of scandals, a long line of corruption, and not a peep from the legislative ethics committee in the meantime.”

Carlucci Not Crying Over Onions

Though he was on the losing end of the onion versus sweet corn debate, Sen. David Carlucci is taking it all in stride.

Carlucci had proposed legislation that would make the onion the official state vegetable, competing against Sen. Michael Nozzolio’s legislation that would declare officialdom to sweet corn.

But it was revealed Monday that sweet corn will be taken up, not the onion.

The ever-earnest Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County, said he was just glad the issue of New York farmers could be given huge, if somewhat lighthearted, play.

“I’m just glad the issue got so much publicity,” Carlucci said this afternoon.

Raising awareness of farms, small business and agriculture in New York was the point of his legislation, he said.

“We should be demanding that our local businesses owners be given preference and more room to enable people to buy locally,” he said. “That’s what we should be taking away from this — not the merits of onion versus sweet corn.”

Noisy Protests Erupt At Pro-Cap Rally

A noisy protest, which lurched from nearly violent to uncomfortably cordial erupted, at a rally for a tax cap in the Legislative Office Building’s Well this morning.

The rally, organized by Assembly Republicans, began with lawmakers speaking in favor of the 2 percent property tax cap, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to get approved this year.

We arrived there just as Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, Ontario County, was trying to finish his speech when anti-tax cap protesters standing on a flight of stairs tried to shout him down.

One person was accused of being a “racist” while one woman dismissed the anti-tax protesters as “communists.” And then, strangely enough, one argument ended int two debaters shaking hands.

If anything, the incident served to show how high emotions are running on the issue. Though the property tax cap that Cuomo wants to pass the Democratic-led Assembly enjoys broad support in polls, concerns remain over the impact a “hard cap” without exemptions and mandate relief.

Skelos Applauds Tax Cap Push

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos today is applauding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s renewed push for a property tax cap and is touting the Republican-led Senate’s Jan. 31 approval of the measure.

Senate Republicans first passed a property tax cap in 2008 to respond to the state’s property tax crisis, and New Yorkers everywhere continue to demand it. While I applaud the Governor for his continued leadership, it’s important that he utilize the bully pulpit to challenge the Assembly to act.

Skelos has been hesitant to negotiate a compromised cap, fearing it would be “watered down” by the Democratic-led Assembly. Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has said he may introduce an alternative measure, including one that may exempt pensions, debt and an expiration date.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office quickly shot down the notion that the cap could expire, however. Cuomo is speaking today in Syracuse to push for the cap, along with gay marriage and an ethics bill — the kickoff of his “People First” tour.

Here’s the full statement from Skelos: More >

Off To See The Wizard

ICYMI: Sen. Tom Duane made a “Wizard of Oz” reference during a CapTon interview last night, saying gay marriage advocates should be seeking Republican senators with sufficient brains, heart and courage to vote “yes” when (and if) the bill comes to the floor for a second time.

Toward the end of the interview, which is posted in full here, I asked Duane when the governor would be introducing his marriage program bill. He rather uncomfortably directed me to ask the administration, saying Cuomo is working on his own timetable.

This underscores a story in The Capitol that suggests Duane, who carried the marriage bill when it failed in 2009 and was involved in vote-whipping, has been relegated to a bit part in this year’s coordinated campaign.

Duane, who repeatedly insisted there were GOP votes to be had in ’09, talked to me about how he felt betrayed by some – unnamed – senators who told him privately that they were in the “yes” column, but when push came to shove, fell in line with their fellow Republicans and voted “no” as a bloc.

Gas Lobby Coming To Albany

As the state Department of Environmental Conservation is expected to release its draft report in to the safety of hydraulic fracturing in New York, the Independent Oil and Gas Association will be heading to Albany on Wednesday for its lobby day.

The lobbying organization, which is very much in favor of drilling for natural gas through the controversial extraction method, says they will discuss the “energy and economic future” of the state.

“We want to ensure that state lawmakers understand that people all across our country are searching for a solution to America’s long-tem energy needs,” Executive Director Brad Gill said.

“In New York we don’t need to look very far; the energy is literally right under our feet. We can pursue the goals that are important to all New Yorkers: To rebuild our regional economy, diversify our energy resources and safeguard the environment.”

(To be clear: The revised draft SGEIS on hydraulic fracturing is due to be released some time this summer. A date has not yet been set, but it’s a safe bet it won’t be out this week – or even this month, for that matter).

Hydrofracking uses a combination of chemicals and water to blast through rock in order to access the potentially lucrative natural gas reserves below ground. Though environmentalists fear the process will harm the water table, advocates for drilling the Marcellus Shale region of the Southern Tier say it will provide a much-needed shot in the arm to the economically troubled area.

New York could begin granting permits to drill for natural gas in the Southern Tier as early as this summer. Complicating the call for drilling is studies like this one, which shows increased levels of methane gas near drilling sites.

Selective Attendance

Some updates to the ongoing storyline about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s low-profile approach, which serves to elevate the appearances he does choose to make to a new level of importance.

As has been widely reported, the governor is heading to Central NY today for the first stop in his statewide “People First” tour during which he will enlist the support of the public for his top three post-budget agenda items: The property tax cap, ethics reform and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Cuomo opted for his noon appearance at Onondaga Community College over the annual memorial ceremony to honor law enforcement officers from across the state who have died, including two who were killed in the line of duty in 2010. All told, 15 names will be added to the memorial on the Empire State Plaza, the bulk of those (nine) died of Ground Zero-related illnesses since 2008.

This event has been a tradition for governors dating back to as long as I can remember (and that would be former Gov. George Pataki’s tenure; he attended every year). Former Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson also made a point to go.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has also made it a point to attend this event. He will be there today and is scheduled to speak at 1 p.m., according to his press office.

Cuomo’s decision to remain behind closed doors yesterday and send LG Bob Duffy to reassure attendees at ESPA’s annual lobby day that the administration remains firmly committed to trying to push the marriage bill (when there is one) through the Senate did not go unnoticed.

The governor’s absence from yesterday morning’s announcement by US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that New York had won $354.4 million of the $2 billion high-speed rail funding returned to the Obama administration by Florida was also remarked on by officials who attended the event, according to a source who was present.

There was “surprise” among the federal attendees that Cuomo took a pass on the LaHood appearance, said the source, he noted: “He asked for the money.” (Actually, he asked for $517 million to fund eight projects; what he ended up with will be enough to pay for three of those).

I emailed Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto to ask why Cuomo didn’t join LaHood, but never received a response. The governor was working at the Capitol yesterday, and did meet with LGBT officials for a closed-door strategy session along with his point-man on gay marriage, Steve Cohen.

DN columnist Bill Hammond has a smart piece this morning about Cuomo’s eschewing of the spotlight since he took office in January.

The upshot: Cuomo, who was tripped up in 2002 by his “hold the coat” remark regarding Pataki’s post-9/11 leadership, has learned that the less you say in public, the less chance there is for screwing up.

NOTE: A Cuomo aide pointed out that the DOT commissioner was present at the LaHood event and Duffy is again surrogating at the police memorial. In response, I pointed out that sending a representative doesn’t send the same message as the governor putting in a personal appearance.

Cuomo On Property Taxes: ‘It Has To Stop’

Declaring that the state’s property taxes have the “deck stacked” against homeowners and business, Gov. Andrew Cuomo today released a web video calling on lawmakers to approve his 2 percent ceiling on local and school taxes.

“It has to stop,” Cuomo said. “Government must show the same fiscal discipline that every family and every business in this state must exercise.”

The video comes as the governor travels to Syracuse today at noon to pitch voters on his tax cap, as well as an ethics bill and the legalization of gay marriage.

The Republican-led Senate approved the cap in January, but the Democratic-controlled Assembly is yet to take any action.

In his strongest words yet, Cuomo charged lawmakers who don’t want a cap are fearful of losing power to raise taxes.

“In New York, owning a home can be a nightmare, because of runaway property taxes,” he added. “It has to stop. Government must show the same fiscal discipline that every family and every business in this state must exercise.”

The property tax cap is extremely popular among voters. One poll showed 82 percent of voters approved of the cap.

But the video released this morning made no reference to reducing costly state-mandated spending on schools and local governments. Some lawmakers and local government officials say that while a cap is a good idea, mandate relief is necessary so that districts and municipalities can live within the cap.

Rallies for and against the cap will be held in Albany later today as well.

Gillibrand: ‘We Can Win’ In NY-26

ICYMI: Here’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand making a plea on behalf of Democratic NY-26 candidate Kathy Hochul at a reception in Manhattan yesterday at which the junior senator received NARAL’s annual Champion of Choice award.

While other high-profile Democrats (like, say, Gov. Andrew Cuomo) are keeping their distance from this race, Gillibrand is all in for Hochul. She recently endorsed the Erie County clerk, and sent her supporters a fundraising appeal on Hochul’s behalf and said yesterday that she will be in WNY the weekend before the May 24 special election to do some in-person campaigning.

Gillibrand invoked what some are calling the NY-23 theory – that a Tea Party candidate (in this case, Jack Davis) will siphon votes from the Republican favorite, Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, providing a path to victory for Hochul. If you believe the polls, it appears that’s exactly what’s happening.

“There are so many candidates that need your help,” Gillibrand told the NARAL audience yesterday. “Kathy Hocuhl’s election is this month….Let me tell you about this candidate. She’s running in Chris Lee’s seat. Do you know who Chris Lee is? He’s the guy who emailed that photo of himself, no shirt.”

“So, she’s running in that district. Its a very Republican district. Its been Republican for a long time. But it’s a three-way race and there is a Tea Party guy in the race that’s going to take the votes away from the Republican. So, if you want to get a House seat and you want to take back this House, get involved in that race. It’s just in a couple weeks. We can win that race.”

“And so if you get involved, if you send money, if you literally go up there and campaign on the weekend before the election- I’m going to be there, will you join me there? Please join me there. Those are things we can do, together.”