Distraction? What Distraction?

…That sums up Rep. Paul Tonko’s answer when I asked him if he’s concerned that Weinergate has overshadowed what was otherwise a strong week, news-wise, for the House Democrats.

Thanks to the Brooklyn congressman’s Twitter scandal, the storyline of Rep. Kathy Hochul’s upset win in NY-26 and the political danger of backing Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal was completely derailed, replaced by breathless and pun-filled reports about the lewd photo Tweeted from Weiner’s account to a Seattle college student.

Tonko notably did not defend Weiner (none of his fellow Democrats are exactly running to back him up on this one), insisting he lacked sufficient details to comment.

“This still the overall priority: Grow jobs, grow the economy, stop shrinking the middle class – these are the guiding principles,” Tonko insisted. “This is where all the focus is. I can tell you down here it is not that distraction. People are still working.”

Extras

Will John Edwards bump Rep. Anthony Weiner from the tabloid wood?

Weinergate hasn’t changed Manhattan BP Scott Stringer’s 2013 strategy.

Rep. Anthony Weiner decided to forgo his trip to Wisconsin to spend the weekend with his wife.

Footage of Marcia Kramer getting threatened by the Capitol Police for crashing Weiner’s office.

The guy who went after Weiner isn’t particularly computer savvy.

The seven most embarrassing politician-related Twitter scandals.

Perhaps Weiner would have been better off following Roger Stone’s advice? “Admit nothing, deny everything and launch counter-attacks.”

The House passed a resolution sponsored by Speaker John Boehner that scolded the president for going into Libya without congressional approval.

The NYC Department of Investigation found no proof of a city employee slowdown during the blizzard of December 2010.

A little light reading: Here’s the DOI report in full.

Rudy Giuliani thinks Rep. Paul Ryan is a hero.

Marist pollster Lee Miringoff ponders why sports terminology is so often applied to politics, but not the other way ’round.

Gay rights advocates delivered 25,000 postcards signed by supporters to the Capitol.

A same-sex couple who co-own a Brooklyn restaurant recorded a pro-gay marriage video.

The Buffalo News does not approve of Cuomo’s selection of donor/developer Howard Milstein to head the Thruway Authority.

Sarah Palin’s take on Paul Revere’s historic ride was more than a little bit off.

Mitt Romney believes in global warming.

SUNY released a report on the Research Foundation after the foundation’s head, John O’Connor, resigned.

Ethics Deal Announced

At 4:36 p.m. on the nose, a press release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing he and the legislative leaders have reached an three-way agreement on “historic ethics reform” landed in the CapTon inbox.

The measure even has an official title: The Clean Up Albany Act of 2011.

This is, of course, a big win for Cuomo, who made cleaning up Albany a hallmark of his 2010 campaign and has been threatening legislators with a Moreland Act commission is they didn’t agree to ethics reform.

“I have repeatedly said that in order to get this state back on the right track, we must end the dysfunction and corruption that has plagued Albany for far too long and bring integrity back to the halls of our Capitol,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“This bill is the tough and aggressive approach we need. It provides for disclosure of outside income by lawmakers, creates a true independent monitor to investigate corruption, and spells out tough, new rules that lobbyists must follow.”

“Government does not work without the trust of the people – and this ethics overhaul is an important step in restoring that trust.”

It is a near ironclad rule in the world of news management that only bad news gets released in the late afternoon on a Friday – and a summer Friday, no less! – in part because the Saturday papers generally have the lowest circulation of the entire week, and things tend to get buried by Sunday’s uber-news hole.

However, insiders said the Cuomo administration wanted to get this announcement out ASAP to prevent the deal from falling apart over the weekend (a la the tax cap, perhaps?).

One source familiar with the negotiations said a 2 p.m. announcement was originally in the cards, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos were still deep in talks with the governor at that point.

As rank-and-file lawmakers started to get word of the deal – particularly with the strict disclosure requirements – they basically started to freak out and push back against their leaders, with some even warning that they won’t seek re-election come 2012. (A very big problem for Skelos and his razor-thin 32-30 majority).

According to the governor’s release, the bill establishes an independent Joint Commission on Public Ethics with “robust enforcement powers to investigate violations of law by members of both the executive and legislative branches, oversee their financial disclosure requirements, and oversee lobbyists with newly expanded disclosure rules and definition of lobbying.”

JCOPE will have 14 members, eight of whom will be appointed by the Legislature (four each from the two major political parties). The governor and LG get six appointees, which means that unlike the Commission on Public Integrity, this entity will not be controlled by the executive branch.

More >

John Edwards: ‘There Is No Question I Have Done Wrong’

Former Senator and Presidential Candidate John Edwards plead not guilty today in a North Carolina court room to charges he violated campaign finance laws. He is charged with misusing nearly a million dollars back in 2008 campaign cash to hide the identity of his mistress and the baby they had together.

After his appearance in court, he made a brief 30 second statement where he claimed his innocence while also admitting he had “done wrong.”

“There is no question that I have done wrong. And I take full responsibility for having done wrong. And I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and harm that I have caused my daughters. But I did not break the law. And I never, ever thought that I broke the law,” Edwards said.

Senate and Assembly Dems To Hold Redistricting Forum

Democrats in the Senate and Assembly plan to hold an “interactive” forum on creating an independent redistricting commission on Tuesday that will use social media websites and live questions from voters on the issues.

Questions will be taken via Twitter through @NYSenDems and the hashtags #NYRedistricting and #NYSenate and the forum will be broadcast over Livestream and Senate Democrats’ Facebook page.

Good-government groups like NYPIRG and Citizen Union are also participating.

Senate Democrats are trying to reignite the somewhat dormant issue of using an independent commission to draw the boundaries of state and federal districts — a topic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not raising on his People First tour around the state.

The GOP-led Senate did approve a measure that add an amendment to the state constitution requiring independent redistricting, but it won’t realistically be in place for 10 years.

“Our energies are focused on passing Governor Cuomo’s independent redistricting legislation to fundamentally change Albany,” said Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran. “Despite Senate Republicans’ attempt to maintain their stranglehold on power through the partisan drawing of electoral lines, we will continue to engage the public in an all-out effort to highlight the critical need for a fair and independent redistricting process,” said Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Senate Democratic Conference.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to veto any lines drawn by the Legislature, throwing those duties to the courts.

O’Connor Resigns Research Foundation, Vice Chancellor Posts (Updated)

SUNY Research Foundation President John O’Connor is resigning his post no later than June 15 following an investigation into his hiring of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s daughter for an alleged “no-show” consultant job.

The SUNY Board of Regents voted unanimously today to accept the resignation, which also includes O’Connor leaving his job as vice chancellor. He was paid a total salary of $276,000.

The resignation comes as both Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Inspector General Ellen Biben planned to begin special investigations into O’Connor’s hiring of Susan Bruno.

The Board of Regents met in executive session to discuss the issue before accepting O’Connor’s “separation” from SUNY, said spokesman Morgan Hook.

The Commission on Public Integrity alleged earlier this month that Bruno was hired to fill a job at the Research Foundation for which she did little work, but took $70,000 a year.

O’Connor had initially taken a leave of absence from the job following the CPI report.

O’Connor at the time charged that the CPI had played politics with their report on the issue and asked that Biben investigate the commission for its leaks to the press.

Update — Here’s the resolution:

Resolved, that the SUNY Board of Trustees hereby accepts John O’Connor’s separation from his roles as Secretary and Senior Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation of the University, by no later than June 15, 2011; on the understanding that he will also separate from his position as President of the Research Foundation of State University of New York by that same date.

Catholic Conference Defends Diaz

New York State Catholic Conference Executive Director Richard Barnes is defending Sen. Ruben Diaz’s stance opposing same-sex marriage, writing a post on Facebook that the Bronx Democrat is preaching inclusion and knocking the threats made against him.

Diaz, a Pentecostal minister, is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage and has been ridiculed by gay-marriage advocates. A Brooklyn event called F— Ruben Diaz called on participants to write humorous, Onion-inspired short stories about Diaz.

The lawmakers has also said he’s been subjected to death threats, which he asked the FBI to investigate.

Barnes writes that none of this is amusing:

We are unjustly called “haters” and “bigots” by those who have carefully framed their advocacy strategy. The entire campaign to enact same-sex marriage is conducted under a banner of acceptance, and equality and respect for others. Yet behind that banner of tolerance is another campaign – of intimidation, threats and ugliness.

NYSUT Begins Anti-Tax Cap Push

The state United Teachers union is starting a $1.3 million statewide ad campaign opposing the cap on local and school property taxes.

The commercial — called “A Tax Cap Is Not The Answer” — began running this morning.

“Make no mistake, educators are taxpayers, too, and support real, meaningful tax relief,” union President Richard Iannuzzi said in a statement. “The agreement reached by the governor and Legislature fails to provide that relief. Instead, it would lead to the elimination of needed programs, even more overcrowded classrooms and thousands and thousands of additional layoffs. The impact on municipalities would cripple community colleges and prevent local governments from providing the essential public services that middle-class New Yorkers need.”

The ad quotes heavily from The New York Times editorial on the tentative cap agreement between Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

The new proposal, introduced in the Assembly, would still cap property taxes at 2 percent, but include some limited carve outs for pension growth and an undetermined expiration date.

Senate Republicans say the possible sunset date coinciding with rent control complicates the agreement, but remain confident a cap will stay in place.

The teachers union, long an opponent of caps, says pushing a ceiling the same year as deep cuts in education spending is especially troubling.

Lazio Invites You To Ignite With Him

Former GOP Rep. Rick Lazio announced today he’s forming an online publication called “IGNITE With Rick Lazio” — a website he says will focus on economic, political and social news.

In an email announcing the launching of the website, the one-time Senate and gubernatorial candidate said he would be the moderator and “moderator and perhaps at times a provocateur” of the news and commentary site.

The site also promises to provide “civil discussion” on current issues.

“As I promised you last year, I’ll continue to be a voice for progress by speaking out on issues that effect our daily lives and the future of our nation. I plan to create a dialogue with civic leaders, business professionals, ordinary citizens and political leaders who want to come together to express their views and ideas for the common good. Certainly, I can’t do it without your help.

From what I can tell so far, the site’s initial offering is like a Lazio fanzine, with a link to a Politico story quoting Lazio, two lengthy articles written by Lazio and an analysis of Medicaid spending. It also includes a link promoting Lazio’s upcoming appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

Lazio last year was defeated for the Republican nomination for governor by tea party insurgent Carl Paladino. Lazio later dropped the Conservative Party bid for governor as well.

Kolb Seeks Answers From Great Beyond

When you’re the leader of the smallest legislative conference in Albany, you sometimes have to resort to desperate measures to get information on negotiations at the Capitol.

(A point of clarification, as per a Kolb aide: The Assembly GOP is, in fact, the second smallest legislative conference. The Senate Democrats hold the title for smallest with 26 members – not counting the fearsome foursome (AKA: the IDC). Propotionately speaking, however, and in terms of clout, the Assembly Republicans are the smallest, with 51 members to the Democrats’ 99).

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb expressed his frustration during a CapTon interview last night over being left out of negotiations on key policy issues like the property tax cap, ethics reform and redistricting reform.

Kolb told me he has some suggestions for Gov. Andrew Cuomo about how to tweak his (yet to be passed by either house) redistricting reform program bill. He put those ideas to paper and sent them off to the second floor, but has yet to receive a response.

The minority leader is also annoyed by the fact that he stood at a press conference with the governor and majority legislative leaders (with about an hour’s notice) at a Red Room press conference to hail a so-called property tax cap “deal”, but has yet to see anything codified via passage by the Legislature. I asked if there really is a cap deal, and he replied:

“Back in my office in Albany, I have this thing called a Ouija board. And you take a pulse on the day, the hour, the minute, the second in terms of what’s going to happen or not happen in Albany.”

“And again, I think a lot of this is more posturing, more theatrics, that – quite frankly – it gets tiring…Any help I could get to predict the outcome in Albany would be great.”