Skelos: No Gay Marriage Bill From Cuomo (Yet)

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos shrugged off this afternoon any possible loss of support from the state’s influential Conservative Party if a gay marriage vote is allowed this year in the Senate.

“I think this is really an issue that is personal, personal conscience and as I’ve said all along, members will vote the way they wish to vote,” he said.

Skelos, R-Nassau County, also noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is yet to introduce a gay marriage legalization measure for the Senate Republicans to discuss in conference.

“That will be subject to the conference decision, we have not conferenced it yet. And we’re also waiting for the governor to send his program bill.”

Gay marriage advocates, who have formed a coalition of groups called New Yorkers United for Marriage, hope to legalize same-sex marriage this year. In order for any measure to be approved, several legislators on the GOP side will have to vote in favor.

Republican legislators seen as targets for “yes” votes include Sens. Roy McDonald of Saratoga, Greg Ball of the Hudson Valley, Jim Alesi of Monroe County and Mark Grisanti of Buffalo.

NYSUT To Hold Vigil Protesting Cuts

The state United Teachers union plans to hold a “candlelight” vigil protesting state aid cuts to education.

The vigil, which, for safety reasons will actually utilize glow sticks, will take place tonight from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. at West Capitol Park.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature agreed to about $1.2 billion in education aid cuts in the 2011-12 fiscal year spending plan, which took effect April 1. NYSUT also plans to protest the lack of a tax on millionaires, which they said would bring about $750 million in revenue to the state and offset some of the cuts.

Cuomo was steadfastly opposed to increasing taxes those who making $1 million or more, saying it would further drive them out of the state.

Sen. Tony Avella, D-Queens, introduced a new measure last week with the hope of reviving the millionaires tax. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has also said he doesn’t think the issue is dead.

The vigil also comes as school districts across the stat vote May 17, next Tuesday, on local school district budgets.

From NYSUT:

The vigil, sponsored by New York State United Teachers, is “for every person who has received a layoff notice or knows someone who has; for everyone upset that schools are being closed; and for those concerned that students are being denied educational opportunities, while the most affluent New Yorkers are enjoying new tax cuts,” organizers said.

Cuomo Robocalls On Gay Marriage

Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have been a no-show from today’s Equality and Justice rally, but he will be coming to a phone near you.

The state Democratic Party announced this afternoon that Cuomo recorded a robocall in support of gay marriage. It comes as his administration is being sent on the road in order to press the issue, along with a property tax cap and an ethics overhaul.

In the phone call, the governor frames the issue as a non-partisan necessity. Gay-marriage advocates need several Republican lawmakers in the Senate to vote in favor of the bill if it is to become law.

Here’s the script:

Hello, I’m Governor Andrew Cuomo.

There is a pressing issue of basic fairness and civil rights in New York…and that is marriage equality.

Without the ability to marry, same-sex couples and their families are denied over one thousand federal and state rights such as visiting a spouse in a hospital in the event of illness.

It makes same-sex couples second tier citizens who receive less protection and have fewer rights than others.

This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is a question of New York going forward or backward.

It’s hard to imagine today, but at one time in this country it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry each other. We have come a long way and now it is time to go further — to achieve marriage equality for all New Yorkers.

I urge you to call your State legislators and ask them to vote for equality – marriage equality- for all New Yorkers.

Thank you.

Cuomo Takes Center Stage In LCA Room

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s portrait has officially replaced David Paterson’s as front and center in the Legislative Correspondent’s Association press room.

The picture of the sitting governor is placed as the centerpiece on the wall right beneath Susan Arbetter’s Capitol Pressroom office, surrounded by previous governors.

Paterson’s portrait is still waiting a new spot with his fellow Democratic former governors.

ESPA’s Levi: No Slight From Cuomo

Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross Levi insisted gay marriage advocates did not take offense over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision not to address their lobby day rally today, sending LG Bob Duffy to represent the administration in his place.

“It’s impossible to say that this governor has not been fully in support of marriage equality; he has not been shy about it at all,” Levi told Fred Dicker on Talk 1300 just now.

Levi noted that legalizing same-sex marriage was one of the few social issues the governor mentioned in his State of the State address and also is one of just three agenda items he’ll be pushing on his People First Tour. (The others are ethics reform and a property tax cap – both controversial in their own way, but nothing like this hot-button topic).

This is a new level of commitment on the part of a governor, according to Levi, who pointed out that while former Gov. David Paterson made gay marriage a signature issue, he didn’t have nearly the clout or the popularity that Cuomo now enjoys.

Meanwhile, Duffy, who told the ESPA rally attendees this morning that people will flee the state if they are “denied a basic civil right” – just like they are departing in the face of ever-increasing property taxes – did not stick around to chat with reporters who were covering the event.

ESPA members will be fanning out throughout the Capitol complex today to lobby individual senators on gay marriage, paying particular attention, no doubt, to those Democrats (who are still here) and Republicans who voted “no” in 2009.

Levi told Dicker legislators should be aware of the “new political calculus” in Albany, noting two longtime opponents of gay marriage – Republican Frank Padavan and Democrat Bill Stachowski – were successfully ousted in 2010 and replaced with “yes” votes (Democrats Tony Avella and Tim Kennedy, respectively).

“All elected officials have to be looking around andthinking that there’s a political force out there that they have to be aware of,” Levi said. “…We will stand by our friends and take on those that we need to take on.”

Duffy Reassures Crowd: Cuomo’s For Gay Marriage (Updated)

LG Robert Duffy spent a large portion of his speech at the Empire State Pride Agenda’s Equality and Justice rally reiterating Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s support for gay marriage.

Cuomo is not slated to speak at the rally.

In roughly 10 minute address, Duffy reminded the crowd that Cuomo is beginning a statewide tour drumming up support for gay marriage, along with a legislative ethics bill and a property tax cap.

The governor is also backing a coalition of advocacy groups called New Yorkers United for Marriage in an effort to push the issue.

“No one should ever question Gov. Cuomo’s position on marriage equality,” Duffy told the crowd at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. “He has made it one of his top legislative priorities this year.”

“This is a basic issue of human rights,” he added.

Duffy did not stick around to speak with members of the media after his speech. UPDATE: The LG later told Susan Arbetter on the Capitol Pressroom that the governor is a “tremendous supporter of marriage equality…nobody should read into anything on this; this is one of his top priorities.”

Cuomo is deputizing his entire team, Duffy said, to carry his agenda and message across the state as part of the People First tour. More >

CapTon’s New Host

…OK, it was a one-night-only affair, but Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos killed as a stand-in CapTon host in his LCA show response Saturday night.

Look for cameos from: Deputy Senate Majority Leader Tom Libous, former Gov. David Paterson (billed as a “true titan of NY politics and bitching about how Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting all the credit for the all-of-nothing budget extender idea that he pioneered), Sen. Marty Golden (barefoot), the IDC members, a fake Ed Koch, and…yours truly.

FUN!

NY Lands $354 Million For High Speed Rail

New York is benefiting from Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida’s decision to turn down federal funding for high speed rail. This morning, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced where the $2 billion that had been earmarked for rail projects will be spent.

The Northeast Corridor is getting the bulk of the money, $795 million. More than half of that will be spent in New York.

Governor Cuomo and Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand were all quick to release statements celebrating the influx in funds.

“New York stands ready to use this federal money to rebuild our transportation infrastructure, expand high speed rail, and put New Yorkers back to work. In April I applied for federal grant money to fund promising projects that would push New York’s high-speed rail plans forward and create jobs,” Governor Cuomo said.

“These initiatives have tremendous potential and will be a significant factor in ushering our economy and transportation system into the 21st century.”

The bulk of the state’s funds are going to go to New York City, but $58 million will be spent on improvements in the capital region, to both Schenectady’s station and to build a 4th track at Albany-Rensselaer station. There is also $1.4 million for a preliminary study for a new Rochester Intermodal Station.

This money comes on top of $151 million the state secured back in January for high speed rail.

Today In NY-26

The three top candidates in the race for the NY-26 seat vacated by former Rep. Chris Lee are all busy today. Here’s the rundown:

- House Speaker John Boehner travels to WNY to support the Republican contender, Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, signaling a growing concern in the national party leadership about this long-GOP held seat. Boehner and Corwin will be at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens in Depew at 11:45 a.m.

- In a continued push to make the GOP’s controversial plan to overhaul Medicare the central issue of this race, Democratic Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul will appear with members of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare at 2 p.m. at her Clarence campaign office. (Clarence is Corwin’s hometown and base).

- Independent Jack Davis is inviting members of the public – regardless of party affiliation – to have a hot dog at Zorba’s Texas Hots on his dime between noon and 1 p.m. while Corwin is up the road (about 3/4 of a mile away) at a fundraiser with, as Davis’ campaign put it, the “Washington Republican elites.”

“The problem with both parties is the influence of special interest money,” said Davis campaign manager Curtis Ellis.

“While Jane Corwin is sipping chablis with lobbyists and the Washington Republican elite, Jack Davis is inviting everyone, Republicans, Democrats and independents, to join him for a workingman’s lunch – a hot dog at Zorba’s Texas Hots.”

In recent days, the Buffalo News’ Bob McCarthy reports, a “phalanx” of GOP leaders have trekked to Buffalo to help Corwin, including: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus, and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

But, aside from a downstate fundraiser hosted by Rep. Carolyn Maloney and an email appeal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (which netted $12,000 for Hochul’s campaign), the national Democats are largely AWOL from this race – at least publicly speaking.

Not great from a PR standpoint. As Cantor told McCarthy:

“If I were the Democrats, I certainly wouldn’t want national leaders coming in to campaign for this vision that is not producing the results people want.”

According to McCarthy, Sen. Chuck Schumer will host a fundraiser for Hochul “soon.” There is some behind-the-scenes assistance from the DCCC in the form of polling and personnel. Rep. Louise Slaughter will appear at a Hochul fundraiser on May 16, but has no plans to campaign with her.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently side-stepped a question about a Hochul endorsement, but insisted – through spokesman Josh Vlasto – that he supports her “100 percent” and will do whatever he campaign asks of him.

Here And Now

It’ll be crowded at the Capitol today as more than 1,200 gay marriage supporters gather for the Empire State Pride Agenda’s lobby day.

Attendees will hear from LG Bob Duffy, Sen. Thomas Duane, Assemblymen Daniel O’Donnell and Matt Titone, Miss New York Claire Buffie, Rev. Stacey Latimer, Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward and Dru Levasseur, a Lambda Legal transgender rights attorney.

Also on tap today: US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will be at Penn Station to announce nearly $800 million worth of federal high-speed rail funds will go toward improving rail service on the Northeast Corridor. About $450 million of that will go to Amtrak to improve track conditions – particularly in New Jersey.

Members of the newly formed NYS Bipartisan Pro Choice Legislative Caucus will launch their fight to protect women’s reproductive rights with the Reproductive Rights and Health Information Fair. (12:15 p.m. in the LOB well).

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will receive NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s 2011 Champions of Choice Award in Manhattan.

And now, some headlines…

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s live-in girlfriend, Food Network Star Sandra Lee, and his ex-wife, Kerry Kennedy, reportedly lunched recently at the “Provençal-style restaurant Café of Love” in Mount Kisco.

UB’s new president, Satish K. Tripathi, acknowledged the scaling back of the long-sought UB2020 plan was necessary, saying: “The goal hasn’t changed. The reality has changed, in terms of funding.”

More >