NTSB: Tour Bus Didn’t Hit Tractor Trailer

The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report into the tour bus accident that killed 15 people in the north Bronx last month, finding that the bus wasn’t struck by a tractor trailer before overturning.

Driver Ophadell Williams had claimed the bus was clipped by a tractor trailer prior to the accident. It was later discovered Williams’ license was revoked for speeding.

From the report:

The motorcoach driver stated that a truck-tractor semitrailer encroached into his lane, striking his vehicle. A truck driver subsequently identified himself as a witness to the accident. NTSB investigators interviewed the truck driver and conducted a focused examination of the combination vehicle, including taking dimensional measurements of the truck-tractor and semitrailer. No evidence was found that would correspond to a potential area of contact between the bus and the combination vehicle.

The accident resulted in a crackdown on tour bus operations across the state. Department of Transportation officials announced Thursday that 1,286 buses had been stopped in surprise inspections. In total, 124 drivers were cited and 96 buses were taken off the road.

Here’s the NTSB report:
New York Preliminary Report 041411

Political Recycling

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel was in full-throated campaign mode during an appearance on ABC News’ “Topline” earlier today, smacking around Republicans who voted in favor of the 2012 budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan.

The proposal passed without any Democratic support and sets up the next big battle between Congress and the White House.

Israel, a Long Island Democrat, accused Republicans who pledged in 2010 to protect Medicare of “hypocrisy”, adding: “We’re going to hold them accountable for that hypocrisy.” Asked to come up with a hypothetical 2012 campaign ad the DCCC might run against a targeted Republican member, Israel replied:

“Well, all we have to do is use the ads the Republicans ran against Democrats. They ran these ads saying: I’m going to come to Washington and protect Medicare. And we’re going to remind the American people.”

“They lied about us. All we have to do is tell the truth about them. And the truth is in today’s vote to terminate the guaranteed Medicare benefit. And if we tell the truth, we’ll win the House back.”

Cuomo’s Women Host ‘Women For Cuomo’ Fundraiser

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to be ramping up his fundraising efforts again.

A reader forwarded this invitation to a “Women for Cuomo” luncheon on May 6 at the Waldorf Astoria. (That’s a Friday, incidentally, and the Legislature is not scheduled to be in session). Tickets start at $250 a head for “guests” and run to $25,000 for chairs.

Headlining this event are all the Cuomo women – that includes the governor’s mother, former First Lady Matilda Cuomo; his three sisters, Maria, Madeline and Margaret; his sister-in-law, Cristina (married to brother, Chris) and his live-in girlfriend, Food Network star Sandra Lee.

Lee has eschewed the first girlfriend role, generally declining to make any comments about politics while also doing things like traveling the state to raise awareness about hunger and hosting what was billed as the world’s largest bake sale in Grand Central Station.

Lee recently hired a consultant, Risa Heller (former spokeswoman to Sen. Chuck Schumer and ex-Gov. David Paterson), to assist with her state-related PR.

Cuomo hasn’t held a big fundraiser in a while. The last reported event was a $15,000-a-head do at the Top of the Rock in Manhattan on Feb 17 to help raise cash for the budget battle that ended up not really materializing.

Cuomo said back in November that he would use the roughly $4 million left over from his 2010 gubernatorial campaign to do battle against the so-called “special interests” during the budget fight.

But then the Committee to Save NY stepped in, raising $10 million to pay for a pro-Cuomo ad campaign.

The committee didn’t spend nearly as much as it expected to, thanks to SEIU 1199 and the GNYHA staying out of the budget war. REBNY’s Steve Spinola recently told me the committee has about half its cash left over and plans to use it to run ads in support of the tax cap and mandate relief.

There’s a number of other interesting names on the host committee here, including Joyce Brown (wife of former state Comptroller H. Carl McCall), NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Catherine Giuliani (a lobbyist and cousin of/former aide to the former NYC mayor), former state Party Chairwoman Judith Hope, Ivanka Trump, and Joni Yoswein (also a lobbyist).

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Fuschillo: Enlist Private Sector To Speed Up Projects

Languishing road and bridge projects could be sped up with help from a bill that would increase private sector participation, Long Island Republican Sen. Charles Fuschillo said today.

In a statement, Fuschillo said he was introducing legislation that would increase private-public partnerships by giving state agencies more flexibility in entering into contracts for road, bridge and tunnel projects. The proposal is meant to help a cash-strapped state with a sagging infrastructure get costly projects off the ground, he said.

“New York’s transportation infrastructure is at a crossroads,” Fuschillo said. “With a severely underfunded DOT capital plan and massive outstanding projects like the Tappan-Zee Bridge replacement, it is time for New York to explore effective and innovative ways to fund our transportation system.”

“Public-private partnerships are a proven tool we need to deliver vital projects on-time and under-budget.”

The Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River connecting Rockland and Westchester counties, was one of the first stops Gov. Andrew Cuomo made immediately after his election, saying the state has to do more to update its infrastructure.

The cost of replacing the aging bridge is estimated at $16 million billion.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was cool to the idea of public-private partnerships in January, saying that while they could be put to a good use, the programs need vigilant oversight.

Senate GOP Digs In On Rent Control

ICYMI: Appearing on CapTon last night, Sen. George Maziarz threw additional cold water on the suggestion that his conference might be willing to link the property tax cap Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seeking with extension of the rent control laws in hopes of getting the Assembly Democrats on board.

“I wouldn’t see Senator Skelos linking it to rent control,” Maziarz, a WNY Republican, told me.

“…I can tell you: We are pretty firm on rent control. I am pretty firm on rent control. I’m not in favor of extending rent control. I never say I’m going to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a bill before I have read it. But, I’m not in favor of rent control.”

Ironically, Maziarz had just come from a bill signing ceremony in North Tonawanda at which the governor put pen to paper on Recharge New York and spoke of the bipartisan effort that went into getting it passed as part of the budget earlier this month.

Maziarz noted that the final budget deal included very little in the way of non-germane policy riders – including, much to the chagrin of both business interests, the Assembly Democrats and housing advocates, both rent control and the tax cap.

According to the senator, it was Cuomo himself who pushed to include the Recharge New York program in the budget – even going so far as to personally involve himself in negotiations.

Samuels: Spitzer Was More Of A Reformer Than Cuomo

ICYMI: Bill Samuels, Democratic donor and good government gadfly, questioned Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reform chops during a CapTon interview last night, saying former Gov. Eliot “Steamroller” Spitzer was more dedicating to overhauling Albany than the current governor is.

Samuels accused Cuomo of doing “nothing” to help the Senate Democrats maintain the majority last fall (which, of course, they didn’t), noting that Spitzer went out of his way to try to flip the chamber into Democratic hands, ruining his relationship with then-Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno – not to mention laying the groundwork for the Troopergate scandal – in the process.

There’s no doubt about it,” Samuels said. “(Spitzer), after he was elected, with support and comments like Greg Ball’s, went into Nassau – where (Jack) Martins is now a state senator – and supported Craig Johnson against Bruno’s wishes.”

“He got involved in all of the issues. And if he had still been governor, I can tell you that when we won in ’08 all the reforms would have been passed. Cuomo I hope in 2012 switches his priorities from the economic priorities to reform. And I think he may. But I need to see real action because a veto isn’t meaningful.”

Samuels was on the show to call on Ball, a self-professed maverick, to buck the Senate GOP and stick to his NY Uprising redistricting reform pledge. His New Roosevelt Initiative will be targeting Ball with a rally on May 16. (Martins was its first target, and was the focus of a similar rally on Long Island last month).

Samuels had hoped Cuomo, who, according to Ed Koch, recently reiterated his pledge to veto any partisan redistricting plans, would veto the money included in thie 2011-2012 budget deal for LATFOR, which essentially enables the continuation of the current (read: partisan) method of redrawing district lines.

You have to consider the source here: Samuels is a deep-pocketed donor, but he marches to the beat of his own drum. He ran for LG last fall and threatened to primary Cuomo’s pick, then-Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy, before switching gears to focus on helping the Senate Democrats.

After the Democrats lost control of the chamber, he founded the New Roosevelt Initiative and helped topple former Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., whom Samuels says the Democrats should never have accepted back into the fold after the 2009 coup.

Klein To Anton Glamb: Album Cover Not Cool

Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, is not cheering Brooklyn DJ Anton Glamb’s album cover that depicts two cans of the now-banned alcohol-caffeine brew Four Loko as the collapsing twin towers.

Though he’s probably giving the hipster-ish Glamb free publicity by complaining about the album, Klein said the album art is both “dumb and offensive.”

“Comparing the tragic events of 9-11 to our efforts to keep Four Loko and other high-alcohol, super-sweetened, alcopops out of the hands of minors is equal parts dumb and offensive. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, it is in extremely poor taste to use an attack on our country that killed more than 3,000 New Yorkers as a parody. Frankly, I think this artist owes an apology to the families of those who lost their lives on that day.”

Klein, the chairman of the Senate Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, held hearings in Albany this week on cracking down on so-called Alco-pops that he says are responsible for dozens of underage drinking deaths.

Few Surprises In DiNapoli Tax Return

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli unveiled his tax returns today and — shockingly! — there are few surprises from the pol whose primary source of income is his state job.

In all, DiNapoli paid $580 in state taxes and received a federal refund of $2,850.

The comptroller declared a total income of $166,976 for 2010, with $12,629 in extra income coming from a successful tax reassessment lawsuit by the board of his Great Neck condominium. DiNapoli was not party to the suit, but reaped the benefits after it paid out five year’s worth reimbursements last year.

DiNapoli also declared $4,837 in charitable donations, with the largest single donation — $1,308 — going to the St. Aloysius Church of Great Neck. He also donated $100 to his alma mater Hofstra and $25 to the NYCLU.

The more interesting news could come Monday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo releases his returns. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said he would release his tax returns sometime next week.

Broken Horses

An interesting, and rather nonpolitical, Friday sort of story: NYC Comptroller John Liu released a rather disturbing audit today that found a company that ran three city carousels overcharged customers, maintained little or no records of its cash transactions, and violated health codes.

It’s that last part – the health code violations – that’s particularly disturbing. The findings include:

- Employees built a makeshift toilet in the Central Park carousel’s mechanical room using buckets and a funnel.

- The operator did not maintain the three carousels’ pushcarts, snack bars, and surrounding areas in a safe and sanitary manner.

- A dirty popcorn machine and hot dog roller at the Central Park carousel continued to be used in spite of a Parks Department order to halt sales.

- Food carts at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park carousel were not properly licensed by the Department of Health.

Those carousels, particularly the one in Central Park, are very big tourist attractions. All I can say is…Ewwww.

Hevesi’s Prosecutors: Sentence Fits Crime (Update)

The two men who oversaw prosecution of the pay-to-play pension fund scandal that resulted in former comptroller Alan Hevesi’s jail sentence today both said the penalty should serve as a warning against other public officials seeking favors and gifts while in office.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who as attorney general investigated and successfully had Hevesi plead guilty just before taking office as governor said the punishment shows public corruption will not to be tolerated.

“Public integrity was my top priority as New York Attorney General and it is as Governor. For government to work, it must have the trust of the people. Those who hold public office must safeguard that trust, and those who violate their oath must incur just punishment. It is a new day in Albany and the old way of doing business will not be tolerated.

Cuomo successfully prosecuted eight people in the pension-fund scandal, including political consultant Hank Morris and Hevesi’s chief investment officer, David Loglisci. In addition to recovering $170 million, Cuomo fined the high-powered lobbying firm run by Patricia Lynch for $500,000 and banned her from appearing before the comptroller’s office for five years.

Update: A reader points out that it’s also fair to mention political consulting firm Global Strategy was hit with an even larger, $2 million fine for its role in the scandal, as was Quadrangle LLC, which was fined $7 million; GKM Newport Generation Capital Services, LLC was fined the equivalent of $1.6 million; California lobbying firm Platinum Advisors was fined $500,000; and unlicensed placement agent Kevin McCabe, $715,000.

Schneiderman, who inherited the case from Cuomo, successfully recommended the maximum penalty for Hevesi. In his statement, Schneiderman said the punishment fit the crime.

“Today, Alan Hevesi was appropriately punished for abusing his position as New York’s Comptroller,” Schneiderman said. “Hevesi brazenly sold access to New York Pension Fund investments—a betrayal of the public trust that went to the heart of his duties as Comptroller. Today’s sentencing decision will help achieve my office’s principal objective of restoring New Yorkers’ faith in their state government. I’d like to thank Governor Cuomo and his team in the Attorney General’s Office for their work on this matter.”