Assembly Higher Ed Chair Suggests Homophobia At Play In Kushner Flap

So far, the motivation behind CUNY Trustee Jeff Wiesenfeld’s rejection of an honorary degree for Tony Kushner has been attributed to his believe that the Pulitzer prizewinning playwright harbors anti-Israel views.

But Assemby Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Deborah Glick told me today that she believes something else is also at play here: Homophobia.

“Academic freedom has been challenged, you know, in every generation,” said Glick, a Manhattan Democrat. “And I think that on the one hand, conservatives rail against political correctness unless they are the ones who are determining what that political correctness is. And this would be one of those instances.”

“This isn’t the first time that this trustee has stepped over a boundary that I think is inappropriate. I think that half of this fight, although he hasn’t said it, he’s said it’s about Israel, the fact that Tony Kushner is openly gay is an aspect that has not been discussed.”

“It angers me. And I think that nobody challenging the trustee at the meeting was disappointing and relfects, perhaps, the need for new blood on the board.”

Glick, who is one of a handful of openly gay members of the Legislature, stopped short of calling for Weisenfeld to resign, (the CUNY faculty union has renewed its calls for his removal).

She did, however, say she would be “gravely disappointed” if Cuomo reappoints Wiesenfeld when his term expires in 2013.

Wiesenfeld, a longtime GOP activist and the son of Holocaust survivors, describes himself as a “Conservadox” Jew. He worked briefly for former Republican Gov. George Pataki. He was originally appointed to the CUNY board by Pataki in 1999.

He has a history of sparking controversy – particularly when it comes to NYC Councilman Charles Barron, who is himself no stranger to controversy.

The CUNY Board of Trustees, which is made up of some serious political heavy hitters, reversed its previous decision on Kushner’s honorary degree Monday night. Six members of the board’s executive committee voted unanimously to grant him a degree of doctor of letters.

Nevertheless, the controversy Wiesenfeld sparked doesn’t appear likely to due down any time soon.

Senate GOP Will Up The Ethics Ante

The Senate Republicans will see your ethics reform, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and then do you one better.

In a move clearly designed to up the ante as the governor is holding the Legislature’s feet to the fire on ethics reform, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told me today that his conference will soon propose some “suggestions” for, as he put it, “tightening up dislcosure and ethics for the executive branch, too.”

“You know, there seems to be a focus always on the Legislature,” Skelos said. “But we think there can be, also, a tightening up of ethics on the executive level, too.”

“And we’re working with some suggestions that we’re going to come on for the governor about improving the ethics on the second floor…If there’s going to be the transparency that the governor is calling about, and the ethics reform, this can apply to all levels of government, including the executive branch.”

Skelos refused to provide any details, other than to say simply: “We’re working on it; it’s a work in progress.” But he pledged that we’ll be seeing something within the next two weeks.

I did ask if the Senate GOP’s plan might include some guidelines about who the governor can appoint to noncompensated task force positions (recall, for example, the uproar over Jeffrey Sachs participation on Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Task Force). But the majority leader declined to bite.

Closed-door negotiations over the ethics reform bill have been dragging on for weeks now, despite the fact that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has said repeatedly that his house has an agreement with the governor. So far, we’ve seen no sign of an actual bill.

Davis Pulls Out Of NY-26 Debates

Independent Jack Davis, who is the object of attacks from all sides in NY-26, just announced he will not participate in any debates, opting instead to hold an eletronic town hall this Saturday “where voters can ask me any question they want and get an honest answer.”

A debate hosted by Channel 2 WGRZ was supposed to take place tomorrow night.

In a statement released by his campaign, Davis slammed both his major party opponents – Democrat Kathy Hochul and Republican Jane Corwin – calling them “professional politicians” who are “lying about me and my record” – not to mention their own respective records, “taking credit for work done by others.”

“In the real world, any employer would fire both of them for dishonesty,” Davis continued. “Sadly, their behavior is considered politics as usual. I refuse to accept it.”

“My morality and upbringing require me to tell the truth. My opponents have no such loyalty to the truth. We have seen politicians from both parties say one thing in campaigns and do another when elected. Jane Corwin and Kathy Hochul fit that mold.”

“My honesty and my reputation have enabled me to build a successful business in Western New York. They are also my qualifications for serving the people of the 26th district in the U.S. Congress. I will not lend my integrity and my reputation for honesty to a forum with two politicians who will say anything to get elected.”

“After thinking about this long and hard, I have come to a decision that I will not participate in the alleged debates. Jane Corwin and Kathy Hochul can use the television time to explain how both political parties have sent our jobs overseas and spent our nation into debt.”

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Canestrari: ‘This Doesn’t Get Done Overnight’

Lawmakers will take up Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s preferred legislation — including a tax cap and an ethics overhaul — Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari said today.

But he cautioned that the bills won’t be completed immediately.

“There’s certainly issues that we’re working on,” he said. “The session has a long way to go before we end. I expect a real property tax cap and other things as well. This doesn’t get done overnight.”

Legislators left Albany today without taking up any of Cuomo’s priorities, which he is now traveling the state to promote.

Canestari said that the legalization of same-sex marriage would be a “slam dunk” in the Assembly despite the gains made by Republican lawmakers in recent years. This is the first session in about a decade that Democrats in the 150-seat Assembly have fall below 100 members.

Canestrari also said he expects a “strong” ethics bill to pass this year, making the governor’s threat to create a Moreland Commission to investigate the Legislature unnecessary.

“He has a right to do that,” he said. “If that’s the direction he wants to go in, that’s up to him. But I am convinced there will be an ethics bill, a strong ethics bill and we should do it.”

Skelos To Cuomo: Heed The Lesson Of Spitzer

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos does not at all like the tone Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking with the Legislature these days, saying Cuomo is “heading in the direction” of former Gov. Eliot “Steamroller” Spitzer, whose tough approach with state lawmakers proved largely unsuccessful (even before the prostutition scandal that pushed him from office).

“It didn’t work, as we saw with Governor Spitzer,” Skelos told me during an interview this afternoon that will air in full on CapTon at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

“I’m a firm believer in consensus, talking, working things through. I’ve told the governor on a number of occasions that the Legislature has a process that we have to go through.”

“…He’s very popular, and I’m very popular in my district…We’re elected to be part of the process. It’s just not dictates from the governor as to what he wants. The issue here is: Go back to the model that we used when we passed an early budget.”

Shortly after he sat down with me, Skelos was scheduled to meet with Cuomo for the first time since the governor hit the road for his “People First” tour and returned to his campaign days of accusing the Legislature of being dysfunctional and corrupt. No word yet on how that get together went.

Skelos accused Cuomo of wanting to “water down” the 2 percent property tax cap program bill he introduced that was passed by the Senate earlier this year. (The governor, through a spokesman, has insisted he still wants his own bill and rejected the less stringent plan Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he’ll be introducing “any day now”).

The majority leader said he hopes the governor will return to his pre-budget approach and stop excoriating the Legislature, explaining:

“The budget negotiations, the governor has a tremendous amount of power. When you get into the legislative side, that’s when there’s a balance of power. And you’re talking about public policy. And the legislature is part of that process.”

“But unfortunately, I think we’re getting the sense that the governor wants it all his way, and it’s not even a bicameral Legislature. It’s only going to be what Governor Cuomo wants. That’s not the way we operate.”

Cuomo: No Ethics Bill Equals ‘Total Failure’

Not passing an ethic overhaul would be a “total failure” by the Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said today.

The governor, who made a renewed push for the issue this morning with the release of a video calling on legislators to clean up their act in Albany, said lawmakers not approving a bill shows they never want one to begin with.

He also renewed his threat to create a Moreland Commission to investigate the Legislature if his yet-to-be introduced bill isn’t approved. Cuomo said the commission would be in place by the end of June, when the Legislature wraps up its regular session.

“If the Legislature does not pass ethics reform and we end this legislative session and there has been no ethics reform legislation passed and the people of the state of New York are looking at another year and nothing happened…that is avoidable.”

“That would be a total failure of elected service in this state. If they don’t pass ethics reform, then I’m going to do a Moreland Commission,” he said.

It’s unclear what would be included in the ethics bill since all of the talk on the measure has been conducted behind closed doors. However, Cuomo has indicated he wants a bill that would require legislators to further disclose their outside income and, for lawyers, reveal their clients.

‘Temperature Rising’ On Tax Cap, Cuomo Says

Never mind those pesky details on alternatives to the introduced property tax cap, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said today.

The real question is whether the Democratic-led Assembly will take up his 2 percent measure, the governor said at a midday news conference.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has said he will introduce his own separate measure to cap local and school property taxes. Silver has said there will be “few” exemptions, which may include pensions, debt and other mandate cost drivers.

But Cuomo said the specific differences aren’t relevant.

“The multiple iterations to me are basically irrelevant. Either you have an agreement or you don’t. Either you pass a bill or you don’t pass a bill. What this building is very good at is, and you guys like to play is, we’re close. That doesn’t mean anything. It’s very easy to get close, it’s the last few inches that are the problem. Do we have an agreement? No.”

The governor, along with members of his administration, are traveling the state to promote the proposed 2 percent annual limit to property tax increases. Cuomo has urged voters to contact their legislators in support of his proposal, which has no exemptions or an expiration date.

“You know my position on the property tax cap. It’s clear, it’s simple. I’ve said, I’ve written it, I’ve yelled it. So I have my position, the Assembly has their position, the Senate has their position — the Senate has passed my bill. We do not have a bill yet. Conversations are ongoing.”

Asked if he was “warming” to any of Silver’s cap ideas, Cuomo responded, “The temperature is rising, but I don’t know if I’m warming.”

Cuomo: No Marriage Bill If Votes Aren’t There

A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage won’t be introduced in the Senate unless the votes to pass it are available, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said today.

Speaking at a news conference for the swearing-in of Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito, the governor said votes were still be counted in the Republican-led chamber. Cuomo said the goal was to avoid a repeat of 2009, when a same-sex marriage bill was up for a vote in the then-Democratic-controlled Senate, but failed 38-24.

Cuomo, responding to a question about whether Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell jumped the gun on introducing his own measure and not wait for the program bill from the governor, said the focus remained on the Senate.

“This has never been about, on marriage equality, a vote in the Assembly primarily. The Assembly has passed it before. People expect it will pass again. The question is what’s going to happen in the Senate. The discussions that I’ve had with the collective group that is working on this in a unified way is we want to pass a bill. We don’t want to bring a bill up in the Senate that will fail, right? We don’t want to have an instant replay of last year. It’s not about having a vote for a sake of a vote. It’s about if it’s going to pass. and the conversations we’re having now will educate as to whether we’ll bring the bill to a vote.”

A coalition of advocacy groups was formed at Cuomo’s urging earlier this year with the goal of passing the bill this year. Cuomo himself has said same-sex marriage should be legalized by the end of this legislative session in June.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told us on Monday that his GOP conference is yet to receive a bill from the governor’s office and has not discussed the measure.

The pro-same-sex marriage group, New Yorkers United for Marriage, are lobbying Democratic and Republican lawmakers considered to be on the fence in the debate.

1199 SEIU Backs Gay Marriage

The state’s largest healthcare union just announced that they are urging their 350 thousand members to pressure Albany into passing marriage equality by the end of the Legislative session.

“A growing majority of New Yorkers from all political, religious and economic walks of life support marriage equality,” said George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “It’s time for the New York State Legislature to do the same. All committed and loving couples should be allowed to marry whomever they choose. This is not just a legal issue, this is a civil rights issue and we will fight with our sisters and brothers in the LGBT community to pass this important legislation.”

1199 has been a close ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has made gay marriage a priority. The union helped him win the race for Attorney General back in 2006. This year, they were major players in the Medicaid redesign team. Bringing them to the table stopped the powerful union from spending millions on ads attacking Cuomo’s budget.

Also the former political director for 1199, Jennifer Cunningham, is now heading up the coordinated effort to get marriage equality passed.

Bellavia Backs Davis For Congress

Iraq War Veteran David Bellavia, who tried to run in the special election in NY-26 but couldn’t secure enough signatures to get on the ballot, has endorsed 3rd Party Candidate Jack Davis.

In a press release, Bellavia calls him the “best choice for veterans.” He also says he is going to appear with Davis at a campaign stop at 6pm tonight in Greece.

“I’m proud to endorse Jack Davis, who served honorably in the United States Coast Guard and Marines and returned to build a successful business from nothing,” Bellavia said. “When our country called, Jack answered and served during the Korean War era. When his enlistment was up, he came home to Western New York to build a company in a garage and grew it into an American manufacturing success story.”

“As the only veteran running in this race, Jack has consistently shown unswerving support for the men and women who defend our nation. Veterans in Western New York and voters of all stripes have one clear choice for Congress, and that is Jack Davis, a true independent who will work for the people as he caucuses with the Republicans in the House of Representatives.”

Before trying to petition onto the ballot, Bellavia met with Republican county chairs, and conservative party leaders, including state chair Mike Long, in an attempt to receive a ballot line. But both the GOP and Conservative party supported Jane Corwin. Bellavia also considered a run back in 2008, before eventually stepping aside for Chris Lee.

The Army veteran is well known in Western New York. So this endorsement could have some sway among the more conservative members in the district.