Senate Will Conference Gay Marriage Vote Today

It’s going to be a long day.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said this morning that his GOP conference will discuss for the first time today whether to let the same-sex marriage bill come to the floor for a vote. Skelos did not give a time for this closed-door confab.

The majority members have had several lengthy discussions about the issue of gay marriage in general, but have not yet officially wrestled with the question of whether they want to vote on the controversial issue or punt.

“We’re going to conference the language of the amendments; we’re going to conference the whole issue,” Skelos said. “And I expect that that’s going to take a little time.”

Skelos refused to say whether he believed the vote could take place in the middle of the night (to minimize TV coverage and allow for a quick getaway), as has been widely speculated. He said the conference will make that decision.

As for the “big ugly,” Skelos insisted that “everything is on track,” although some technical details are still being worked out. He said some bill printing has begun and he is “optimistic” and “hopeful” about passage sometime today.

All but one (Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr.) of the 30 Democratic senators have announced they will vote “yes” if the bill comes to the floor, including three who voted “no” when the bill failed in 2009: Sens. Carl Kruger, Shirley Huntley and Joe Addabbo.

Two members of the 32-member GOP conference have announced they will join the Democrats in voting “yes” – Sens. Roy McDonald and Jim Alesi.

That leaves the gay marriage bill one vote short of the 32 needed for passage. Republicans who have been working on this issue have insisted the 32nd vote has been secured, but they refuse to reveal who that individual is. A number of GOP senators have privately said they believe the bill will pass – perhaps even with 34 or 35 votes – if it is allowed onto the floor.

The question now is if the majority of the majority conference is willing to let the bill out. They’re under enormous pressure from the Conservative Party, which has threatened to un-endorse any Republican who votes “yes,” and the religious right, which is threatening to primary any straying GOP senators.

However, these threats are offset somewhat by the deep-pocketed and well-organized LGBT community, which has pledged to protect “yes” voters and also will undoubtedly be furious if the bill doesn’t at least come to the floor a second time.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been pushing very hard on this one, had said he didn’t want to see the bill come to the floor if it was going to fail. But he changed his tune yesterday, saying the public deserves an up-or-down vote.

Another Sign Of A Long Night

Republican Assemblyman Steve Katz just sent out a press advisory cancelling a town hall he had scheduled for 7pm tonight in Brewster. And he didn’t mince words, blaming the “extended legislative session” for the cancellation.

It’s just another sign that lawmakers expect to be here late tonight, as leaders still debate bill language on mandate relief, and other issues.

Another sign that we might be here for a while came from a tweet by the Associated Press’s capitol bureau chief Mike Gormley.

He wrote: “Caution for those hoping for an end soon to the NY legislative session: NYC lobbyists and staffers asking where they can buy dress shirts.”

Schumer, Gillibrand Praise Prez Over Oil Decision

President Obama’s decision to tap into the strategic petroleum reserve was quickly praised by both of New York’s Senators. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have been asking the president to open up the oil reserves for months now, as gas prices skyrocketed.

“The President has heeded our call to release oil from the strategic reserve. This can only help in combating the all-too-high price consumers face at the pump, and is a needed shot in the arm for our economy. We hope the President will continue to keep a watchful eye on the situation with oil prices, and if this dollop proves to be insufficient, will consider releasing more from the reserve,” Schumer said.

Senator Gillibrand said in a statement, “I applaud President Obama’s decision to release oil from the SPR. With our families already struggling in this difficult economy, the last thing we need is for gasoline prices to continue to skyrocket. This release will stabilize gas prices and provide crucial relief to families here in New York and across the country.”

Under the president’s plan, 30 million barrels will immediately be put into the market, and 60 million barrels will be tapped over the next few months. The decision was timed to provide some relief for the summer months, when demand spikes.

Hinchey Challenger Hopes 3rd Time’s A Charm

George Phillips, a conservative Republican who has twice failed to unseat veteran Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey, has decided to make a third attempt at a House seat in 2012.

A reader forwarded me an email Phillips sent to supporters early yesterday morning announcing he has decided to run again next year after “much thought and prayer” with his family. He explained the move thusly:

“Our decision is based on the following:

1) We had one of the closest and most exciting races in the country in 2010

2) We believe our district will be improved in the redistricting process

3) Given our strong performance, we believe we can receive national support much earlier in 2012 if we start now

4) We have received tremendous encouragement to run again from so many supporters as well as local, state and national leaders.

5) We face great challenges as a nation and I believe I can still make a difference serving in the United States Congress.”

Phillips did not specifically say he will challenge Hinchey again. It’s unclear what the already-sprawling 22nd CD will look like come 2012.

There had been some speculation that the 72-year-old Hinchey – who is undergoing treatment for colon cancer and had a tough re-election campaign, although he ended up winning by a comfortable, albeit not huge, margin – would be targeted in redistricting. But that was back before Weinergate.

Hinchey, who was first elected in 1992, fended off Phillips last fall by winning 52 percent of the vote – and that was in spite of the considerable cash spent on the race by outside-the-district GOP outfits like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.

Hoping to get a jump on fundraising, Phillips said he is launching a “new strategy” for money-gathering. He’s asking supporters to make a small monthly donation to provide a steady stream of cash instead of writing one big check. He’s aiming for a strong showing in the next FEC report, the deadline of which is June 30.

Here And Now

It’s officially the session that “can’t find a way to end,” says Tom Precious.

More hurry-up-and-wait down at the Capitol today because no big ugly = no decision on the Senate’s gay marriage vote. Expect more sign-waving, hymn-signing protestors.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo might know something we don’t because his public schedule for the day expects him to be both in Albany and back home in Westchester County, although he’s been known to spend the night there and then return to the Capitol for work the next day.

The delay is taking its toll on wardrobes. Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell warns against malfunctions.

Some thing did get done yesterday while we waited for the “big ugly.” For example, Power NY, which includes a new Article X power plant siting law passed. The legislation also included green jobs and solar energy components.

Also, an oral chemotherapy bill that has been languishing for years was approved by both houses.

In addition, Cuomo reached a tentative contract agreement with the largest state workers union, CSEA, that includes significant concessions.

If CSEA members don’t vote to ratify the contract deal, they’ll face up to 4,500 layoffs.

The Journal News lauds the CSEA deal.

The NY Times deems the agreement is “reasonable” and urges other unions to follow suit.

“Sensible change,” says Newsday.

Despite the absence of a tax cap/rent laws/SUNY tuition/mandate relief omnibus bill, Cuomo insisted the end of session talks are going “exceptionally well” and he’s “thrilled” with the progress.

“I’d much rather get it right than rush it,” Cuomo told reporters. “If it takes a few more days to get it right that’s fine by me, I’m in no rush.”

More >

No Rent, Tax Cap Bill Tonight

There won’t be a big ugly tonight as the bills won’t be printed until late tonight, Assembly Majority Leader Ronald Canestrari confirmed.

It’s just printing it and reaching some agreement on language and things of that nature. It can possibly get done tonight, but we don’t want to wait until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. And I think it’s just healthier for a lot of things, a lot of reasons, get what we got done in print, in the next hour or two and then leave and come back tomorrow at a reasonable hour Thursday.

In the Republican-led Senate, lawmakers are meeting to discuss the Article X measure and expect to take that measure up tonight. SUNY 2020, a plan that would allow for indexed tuition increases, may also be taken up tonight as well.

That makes it a virtual certainty that same-sex marriage will not be voted on tonight or in the wee hours of Thursday. A Senate official said no agreement has been reached on an amendment for religious exemptions in the bill, but language has been proposed.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo held another impromptu press gaggle to trumpet the agreement reached earlier today with CSEA that avoids layoffs, but includes a pay freeze and less generous health-care contributions.

Cuomo said he was being patient on the big ugly bill.

I don’t know that they get done tonight. It could be tonight, it could be. These are very, very complex matters we’re talking about. Property tax cap will be the first time in the history of this state that there is a tax cap. So these are important, weighty matters and if they’re not done immediately is sort of the essence of what we’re doing here. The rent regulation, property tax, mandate relief is a complicated bill, it’s an important bill. We want to do it, we want to do it right. And if it takes a little more time, it takes a little more time. I would much rather get it right than rush it.

Extras

While we’re waiting for the big ugly and a same-sex marriage vote to materialize at the Capitol, a few end-of-the-day, largely off-topic headlines:

NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn is No. 1 on NY Observer’s list of “Power Gays.”

The Chinese Weiner.

Sarah Palin thinks daughter Bristol’s book, which describes drunken sex encounter, is “perfect.”

Does the governor have a conflict of interest with Mayor Bloomberg’s taxi bill?

Rep. Kathy Hochul returned the fundraising favor for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Hochul is settling in on Capitol Hill, and insists she doesn’t mind that she’s now anonymous.

Former LG Richard Ravitch and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker are serving as co-chairmen of a new task force that will examine issues such as health-care costs and municipal borrowing practices.

Bills that would protect New Yorkers with developmental disabilities are advancing in the Legislature.

The livery bill is still stalled in the Senate.

Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long and Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., co-writers.

Woops.

Keith Olbermann attracted more viewers on his first night than Eliot Spitzer’s “In the Arena,” although the former governor is on vacation this week.

Do not cut the librarys budggets or else!”

NBC made skipping 2012 worth The Donald’s while.

EJ McMahon thinks CSEA bested Cuomo in the contract talks.

Jimmer is in NYC for the NBA draft.

A Democrat In Defense Of The Deal On Rent

Assemblyman Rory Lancman is pushing back against criticism from some of his fellow downstate Democrats that the rent deal struck by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders yesterday does not go far enough.

“I think in the context of what can be done it’s probably the best that we can get at this particular moment,” Lancman told me late this afternoon. “At the moment we have a Republican Senate that is eager to see rent regulation expire because then gold would rain down upon them from real estate industry.”

“We’ve got to take what improvements we can get and live to fight another day…Hopefully, we can revisit this issue with a Democratic majority in the Senate in two years. If anyone thinks that (Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver), with full support of Democratic conference, hasn’t gotten the best deal that can be gotten, I think they’re being unrealistic.”

Lancman, a Queens Democrat, said he grew up in a rent stabilized apartment and has about 6,000 to 7,000 of them in his district. In other words, he’s not a stranger to this issue.

The assemblyman did admit there’s some merit to the argument from the other side that the $200,000 income threshold is inconsistent with the old $200,000 (for individuals) threshold of the millionaire’s tax, which will remain in place through the end of the year. That’s part of the reason why the Assembly Democrats passed a new millionaire’s tax with a threshold of $1 million, Lancman explained, adding:

“There is force to argument that $250,000 in New York City doesn’t make someone rich, so I think accepting $200,000 on rent regulations luxury decontrol is consistent with that.”

The complaints are mainly coming from members of the Black, Puerto Rican Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, who held an emergency meeting earlier today to discuss the shortcomings of the agreement.

New caucus chair, Assemblyman Karim Camara, and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who has been a point main for his chamber on rent, met this afternoon with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to air their grievances. Jeffries later told reporters that the “deal as it is remains as it is,” but that it may require “clarity and strengthening” going forward.

Jeffries blamed the Senate Republicans for blocking any substantive strengthening of the rent laws, accusing them of being a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of the real estate lobby. He said he’s still thinking about whether he will vote “yes” on the omnibus rent/property tax cap/mandate relief bill when it comes to the floor.

Jim Alesi, Gay Icon

You knew this was going to happen. It was only a matter of time.

The most amusing thing about this is that Sen. Jim Alesi himself asked me as I passed him in the Senate hallway if I had seen Huffington Post yet. He was downright bursting with (forgive me) pride.

Don’t be at all surprised to see the Rochester Republican, who was the first member of his conference to announce he would vote “yes” on same-sex marriage, hit the road ASAP if the bill comes to the Senate floor and passes. As he told me during a CapTon interview, the senator plans to be an “emissary,” spreading the word to fellow Republicans that it’s politically safe to vote your conscience on gay marriage.

That is, all fellow Republicans EXCEPT his New York Senate majority colleagues. Alesi has said he’s not lobbying them.

Conlin To Pay $75K Restitution

Former NARAL Pro-Choice New York Executive Director Kelli Conlin will pay a $75,000 restitution fine Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance annouced this afternoon.

As Liz reporterd earlier, Conlin pleaded guilty to felony falsifying documents, the culmination of a five-month investigation into wrongdoing at NARAL under Conlin’s leadership. The deal does not include jail time for Conlin.

“There is a special trust placed in the leadership of non-profit organizations,” Vance said in a statement. “Kelli Conlin was a leader in the pro-choice movement and a powerful advocate for women, but she treated the organizations’ funds as her own, betraying the trust of the donors she solicited. When people contribute their hard-earned dollars to non-profit organizations, they should be assured that their funds will be expended only for appropriate purposes.”

Vance says in a news release that Conlin had expensed NARAL funds for personal claiming she had been authorized to do so by the organization’s board, when in fact she had not. Vance also said the exact amount of funds lost is difficult to quantify.

Conlin used the NARAL funds for personal meals, child care costs, car service expenses, and clothing purchases, as well as a summer rental house in the Hamptons.

Donna Bascom, the chairwoman of NARAL Pro-Choice New York and Raquel Levin, chairwoman of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, issued a statement saying the organizations were changing their accounting methods in the wake of the investigation and guilty plea:

“Today, Kelli Conlin, our former President, pled guilty to a felony count of falsifying business records. NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health cooperated fully and completely with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in its investigation. We are pleased with this outcome and to have a final resolution in this case.”