Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule.

At 9 a.m., Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, Regent Lester Young, Jr., and state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia will speak as part of the opening plenary session of a day-long symposium on My Brother’s Keeper, Cultural Education Center, 222 Madison Ave., Albany.

At 9:30 a.m., the last in a series of 13 joint legislative budget hearings on the governor’s 2017-18 spending plan will be held, focusing on the housing portion of his proposal, Hearing Room B, LOB, 198 State St., Albany.

At 10 a.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will appear live on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, and will take questions from listeners.

At 10:30 a.m., IDC Leader Jeff Klein, Assembly members Mark Gjonaj, Michael Benedetto and Jeffrey Dinowitz as well as New York City Councilman Andrew Cohen host a closed press Valentine’s for Veterans event with Miss USA Deshauna Barber, James J. Peters V.A. Medical Center, 130 W. Kingsbridge Road, the Bronx.

At 11 a.m., Sen. David Carlucci will release a report on the condition of Rockland County’s dams and urge passage of new legislation that will prioritize aging water infrastructure to target available funding to improve them, 46 Old Mill Rd., West Nyack.

Also at 11 a.m., Sen. Tony Avella, NYC Councilman Barry Grodenchik and community members hold press conference to protest the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s bioswale project in Northeast Queens, 200-15 36th Ave., Queens.

Also at 11 a.m., Rep. Carolyn Maloney will join with seniors and advocates at the Stein Senior Center to warn against a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Stein Senior Center, 204 East 23rd St., (just off 3rd Avenue), 2nd Floor, Manhattan.

Also at 11 a.m., Sen. Michael Gianaris, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and The Legal Aid Society announce a lawsuit protecting low-income tenants of the New York School of Urban Ministry dormitory residence from unlawful eviction, 31-10 47th St., Queens.

At 11:15 a.m., NYC Commissioner of Media and Entertainment Julie Menin honors the cast and creators of VH1’s new Made in NY series, “The Breaks,” by renaming 44th Street and 7th Avenue to The Breaks Way, 1515 Broadway, Manhattan.

At noon, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown delivers his 11th State of the City address, the last in his current term.

At 1:30 p.m., de Blasio will tour the offices of AppNexus, a new tech startup, and then join Andrew Rasiej in a discussion regarding the tech sector and announce more details about the City’s new tech hub at Union Square, 28 W. 23rd St., Manhattan.

At 6 p.m., Sen. Marisol Alcántara holds an immigration town hall with Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa, NYC Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, New York Legal Assistance Group, Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, LatinoJustice and MFY Legal Services, P.S. 48, 4360 Broadway, Manhattan.

At 6 p.m., an invite-only “chair’s reception” is held to kick off Caucus Weekend 2017, Empire State Convention Center, Albany.

At 9 p.m., City & State holds a Caucus Weekend Kickoff Cocktail Reception, The State Room, 100 State St., Albany.

Headlines…

President Trump dismissed reports about his associates’ contacts with Russia last year and vigorously defended his performance in his first four weeks in office, in a contentious news conference that showcased his unconventional and unconstrained presidency.

“My message is being filtered,” Trump reportedly told senior administration officials inside the Oval Office hours before his freewheeling news conference. “I want to speak directly to the American people about the progress we’ve been making.”

Trump blamed the problems the country and world currently face on the “mess” he “inherited” as president, but pledged to “tackle these challenges.”

At the conference, which lasted 80 minutes, Trump forced a point he has been repeating in early morning tweetstorms for days: all of the controversial news about his administration is nothing more than “fake news” — a term he has come to use for any news article he does not like — and that the mainstream media is out to get him.

Robert Harward, the retired vice admiral and former Navy SEAL who was Trump’s top choice to replace his ousted national security adviser, turned down the post in the latest setback for a White House already in turmoil.

Crossroads Media founder Mike Dubke is expected to be named as White House Communications Director, and the appointment is expected to be announced as early today.

Moving quickly to replace his original U.S. Labor Secretary pick after controversial fast food executive Andrew Puzder withdrew his name, Trump played it safe with his selection: Alexander Acosta. Even the AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, said Acosta deserved “serious consideration” for the post.

EPA employees have been calling their senators to urge them to vote today against the confirmation of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s contentious nominee to run the agency – a remarkable display of activism and defiance that presages turbulent times ahead for the agency.

In a surprise move, the Department of Justice now says the president “intends in the near future to rescind” his executive order on immigration, and will “replace it with a new, substantially revised” order, though Trump himself seemed to contradict that.

Trump said he’ll issue a new executive order next week, though he provided no details about what it will contain.

House Republican leaders sketched out a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, offering a set of policy specifics but showing they have yet to bridge significant GOP divisions over many of its components.

Restaurants, from San Francisco to Phoenix to Washington, D.C., were some of the most visible spots affected by yesterday’s “Day Without Immigrants” demonstration, with well-known chefs closing some of their eateries for the day in support.

Melissa Mark-Viverito delivered her last State of the City address as the speaker of the New York City Council, peppering the speech with policy, Spanish and invocations of immigrant contributions — and lacing it with allusions to, but no direct mention of, Trump.

Mark-Viverito vowed to further restrict the city’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities under Trump, delivering a full-throated defense of immigrant communities. “If you are here, you are a New Yorker,” she said.

Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order threat to cut federal funds to cities and counties that decline to cooperate with federal authorities enforcing policies on illegal immigrants is unlikely to hurt the municipalities’ credit, at least in the short term, according to credit-ratings firms, analysts and investors.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo denied allegations that the agency was hiding intelligence from the president, calling reports that it was doing so “dead wrong.”

Advocates for those living in the country illegally say this week’s two local raids netting 32 people demonstrate a significant uptick in law enforcement activity stemming from Trump’s executive order to depart “all removable aliens.”

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn misled the FBI about discussing sanctions with a Russian diplomat ahead of Trump’s inauguration. That could have meant criminal charges, but investigators reportedly don’t believe Flynn intentionally lied.

An elite Upper East Side private school’s annual ice-skating party at Trump Wollman Rink in Central Park reportedly had to be canceled after parents refused to send their kids in protest of the president.

More >

Cuomo Defends Thruway Signs As A Money Maker

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Williamsville on Thursday defended the disputed state signs erected along highways and the Thruway system as a way of advertising tourism in New York.

Cuomo insisted the signs, which the federal government contends are illegal because they do not follow required guidelines, are helping boost tourism.

“Obviously we’re meeting the law and we’re talking to the federal government about it,” Cuomo said. “They have technical questions about the signs.”

The signs advertise tourism, destinations and I Love NY-brand apps to motorists.

“It’s called making money for the people of New York and I’m proud of it,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo administration officials on Wednesday told a joint legislative budget panel the signs cost $8.1 million.

Cuomo rolled the cost of the signage into a broader tourism strategy he says is working.

“Revenue has gone up $9 billion this state. Tourism revenue — $9 billion for a $150 million investment. We’re getting tourism in upstate New York at levels we’ve never gotten before,” he said. “You’re darn right I’m going to advertise New York and tourism because we’re making money at it.”

Extras

The president has selected R. Alexander Acosta, currently dean of Florida International University College of Law and chairman of U.S. Century Bank, to be secretary of Labor after fast food exec Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration.

Acosta was assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in the Bush administration. He’ll be the first Hispanic member of the Trump cabinet if he’s confirmed.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, to lead the Office of Management and Budget in a narrow vote this morning, giving the congressman one of the most powerful positions in Trump’s Cabinet and the responsibility of reconciling the new administration’s conflicting spending priorities.

During a free-wheeling press conference, Trump expressed disappointment about media reports of “chaos” in his administration, saying that he “inherited a mess,” and adding: “It is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.”

The House passed a measure in a 230-188 vote that would reverse a last-minute rule from the Obama administration that said conservative states can’t block the women’s health and abortion provider from receiving family planning dollars under the Title X program.

In her final State of the City address, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito decried Trump’s policies and promised that city lawmakers would strike back against federal immigration policies and guarantee women free birth control that the GOP has promised to restrict.

Another Broadway show standing ovation for Hillary Clinton last night. (She saw Sunset Boulevard).

Keep it short and free of nuance – that is the new guidance that has recently circulated to some intelligence analysts who compile materials for the president’s Daily Brief on security threats around the globe.

A coalition of Long Island business groups is calling on state judges to expedite LIPA’s legal challenges to the taxes it pays on National Grid power plants, saying the delays are costing businesses and homes millions of dollars a year.

The state Department of Health has sent out the first results to 370 residents whose blood was tested for a toxic chemical found in Newburgh’s water supply.
Not all the Momentive workers are happy with the three-year contract that ended their 105-day strike, though it was approved in a 317-211 by union members.

Outspoken political activist John “Rus” Thompson pleaded guilty this morning to a misdemeanor offense for voting on Grand Island in 2015 after he had moved to Niagara Falls. After rejecting a deal offered by a previous DA, Thompson said he felt this outcome was fair.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand penned an OpEd about why the country needs a national paid family leave program.

In an Albany TU OpEd, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer takes on Cuomo over his effort to do away with foundation aid, which was set up to settle the CFE case, but never fully funded.

For the first two months of the new Congress, the 292 Republicans have scheduled just 88 in-person town hall events — and 35 of those sessions are for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. In the first two months of the previous Congress in 2015, by contrast, Republicans held 222 in-person town hall events.

In NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s State of the City speech this week, which ran to over 8,000 words, a mere 214 of them were devoted to education.

The City of Buffalo is considering regulating AirBnBs like traditional bed and breakfasts.

A student at Sol La Music Academy in Santa Monica, CA turned Clinton’s campaign concession speech into a song called “To All the Little Girls.”

In the face of mounting complaints about his failure to fund capital improvements at the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an $8 million allocation for the state-owned facility.

The Obama administration’s accountability regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act have been paused by the Trump administration, and they’re on thin ice in Congress. But U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants states to keep going on their ESSA plans.

Clinton praised Oscar de la Renta as an inspiration to striving immigrants like himself at an event honoring the late fashion designer with a series of commemorative stamps.

In case you’re curious, actress Lena Dunham says she is not, in fact, single-handedly to blame for Clinton’s loss to Trump.

Government prosecutors may be investigating 21st Century Fox for quietly settling sexual harassment claims against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes without reporting it to the media giant’s shareholders.

Just one full-length novel under his belt and Syracuse University professor George Saunders is on Stephen Colbert’s list of top living authors.

Cuomo Offers Carrot In Property Tax Plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo added a sweetener on Thursday to his property-tax plan proposal: Any savings county and municipal governments approve, the state will offer a match.

Cuomo was in Williamsville to boost the property tax plan with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, a Democrat who endorsed the proposal at the event. Cuomo will travel to a fundraiser in the area later in the day.

Cuomo’s plan for controlling property taxes would require county governments to work with municipalities to develop shared services and consolidation plans, which would then be approved by voters in a referendum this November.

Cuomo maintains the proliferation of local governments in New York is one of the principle drivers of property taxes in the state, an assertion fiscal watchdogs have disputed.

Consolidation and sharing services has been a longtime push for the governor, who as attorney general also pursued similar efforts for local governments.

Poloncarz is the latest county executive to endorse the proposal, with county leaders in Broome, Nassau and Suffolk also backing it.

The proposal is similar to a consolidation plan backed by officials in Onondaga County, which is recommending the folding of city and county government into one entity. The proposal has been criticized by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democratic critic of the governor.

The Governor’s Play List

With the political world in turmoil, it’s easy to understand if you missed what amounts to Governor Cuomo’s mixtape to New York. But as the governor on Wednesday announced that the Spotify music streaming service was expanding its footprint in New York, he also unveiled his Spotify playlist — which showed his love for middle-aged white guy rock — which makes sense considering he’s a middle-aged white guy.

Frankly, I’m shocked Cuomo’s list was free of Boston — the ultimate in non-threatening suburban listening for men of a certain age. Let’s also put aside some of the more eclectic tracks such as those by the Alabama Shakes and Bruno Mars or even Tom Waits who is at least interesting.  I want to focus on the obvious stuff which rings more authentically Cuomo: a couple of tracks from Bruce Springsteen, “The Rising” and “Erie Canal.” Both perfectly respectable. I would have maybe gone with “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and “Spirits in the Night.” Or perhaps something dark that really captures the essence of New Jersey, like “Atlantic City.”

The least surprising picks included his friend Billy Joel but here is where I really would have to part ways. Shortly after the press conference, WNBC-TV’s Andrew Siff immediately walked up to me, cocked his head, and asked “We didn’t Start the Fire?! Really?!” It was a sentiment I share. Of all of Billy Joel’s many songs, this one is just bad. I think even Billy hates that song. I mean, how could he not!?! It’s not the worst song ever written because that prize clearly belongs to “Benny and the Jets” by Elton John — with “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood a close second.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Billy. My mom used to put on “The Stranger” when I was little and we would dance around the apartment. “The Nylon Curtain” was by far my favorite album when I was in the fourth grade. I can even rock “The Bridge.” But “Storm Front” was a bit much. And “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is not only emotionally aggressive but also painfully contrived and riddled with pseudo-sentimentality. Not to mention I feel like he is shouting at me. Stop yelling. Oh, and don’t even get me started on “River of Dreams.”

The Tina Turner stuff on the governor’s list is both good, and anticipated. For those of us who covered the 2014 Cuomo re-election campaign we became very accustomed to hearing the theme song, “Simply the Best,” which was played loudly at every stop. “Proud Mary” is on there too and it’s hard to argue against. Interestingly enough with all the hits Tina churned out in the 70s and 80s, the only song she ever recorded that hit number one on the charts was “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” which is not on here. The Lady Gaga stuff is good in the wake of a Superbowl halftime show that was deeply patriotic while also managing to be very entertaining. The Journey tune on there (guess which one) just wins the obvious award. And that John Fogerty song, “Rock and Roll Girls” is hardly a winner. Let’s be honest.

It’s hard not to love “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. Of course Jay-Z was going for the stadium anthem here, and me not being a playa hater, I’m willing to let him have it. One day it will seem quaint that New Yorkers used to exit sporting events to Frank Sinatra instead of the more modern Jay-Z, who was at least very much on top 17 years ago as opposed to 60.

But here is the bottom line. I give the Governor a lot of credit for even putting out his playlist. I’m sure we’d all have some gems on our own that we wouldn’t exactly be proud to share with the general public. I certainly have some. In fact, Jesse McKinley from The New York Times has been on my case since I revealed to him and his colleague Vivian Yee at a generously-served dinner that my four Pandora radio stations are Michael Jackson, Big Daddy Kane, Steel Pulse and Traffic. And yes, it’s the last one he won’t stop bringing up. Whatever, dude. Steve Winwood was brilliant prior to 1980. It was the “Bring me your Higher Love” stuff we would all have been better off without. It’s not quite Lionel Richie “Dancing on the Ceiling” bad, but awful nonetheless. Besides, I suppose I can cop to Traffic since I’m not very far from being a middle-aged white guy myself.

 

Savino: Not Enough Patients In Med Mar Program

Staten Island Sen. Diane Savino is pushing New York to open more dispensaries for medical marijuana and reach out to doctors to prescribed medically based cannabis in order to boost demand.

“Right now we don’t have enough patients for the existing license holders that we have,” she said in an interview. “We have an excess product. We don’t have excess patients. We still need to build the patient base, we need to engage more doctors.”

Savino raised the issue on Thursday in the joint legislative health budget hearing in Albany, telling Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top health officials she is opposed to granting more licenses to manufacture medical marijuana. Instead, she wants the state to grant licenses for opening dispensaries in different areas.

The current law as written doesn’t allow for that.

New York over the last year has sought to expand its fledgling medical marijuana program by allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistance to participate and expanded the number of illnesses to qualify for the drug.

“It’s a very successful program and even across the country people have said it’s a very successful program,” said Health Commissioner Howard Zucker after his testimony. “We are growing it slowly. We are growing it aggressively, but we are growing it slowly.”

Zucker acknowledged, however, there is room to expand access for patients.

“The issue really is here is we have gaps in the state and we need to identify those — where people don’t have as much access and we are working on that,” he said.

Zucker Touts Hoosick Falls Water As Among Cleanest In U.S.

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Thursday touted efforts to filter drinking water in the village of Hoosick Falls, insisting it is “probably the cleanest water in the entire nation.”

“It’s very important to recognize that water in Hoosick Falls is not contaminated,” he said. “It is probably the cleanest water, among the cleanest water, in the entire state. For that matter, it’s probably among the cleanest water in the entire nation.”

His comments come amid renewed concerns in the rural village near the Vermont border after officials at Honeywell while testing for PFOA found levels of volatile organic compounds — an airborne contaminant that has been used in household products.

In comments to reporters after testifying before a joint legislative budget hearing on health care spending, Zucker said the state was practicing “aggressive” oversight at the Honeywell site.

“Honeywell is the corporate polluter there. We are monitoring,” he said. “It’s their responsibility to look at the soil — the soil evaporation process is the concern there. Honeywell is responsible for that and we have aggressive oversight — DEC and DOH — on that issue.”

But at the same time, Zucker sought to assure residents the water filtration system installed by the state have been working well by removing PFOA contaminants from the drinking water.

“It’s provided unbelievable success there,” he said.

Here’s some video of the exchange:

Cuomo Admin: Prescription Drug Plan Will Withstand Legal Challenge

The plan to have New York regulate and control the price of prescription drugs will withstand legal challenges, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top health officials told state lawmakers at a joint budget hearing on Thursday.

“We considered and worked on this project and proposal for a good long time because we are well aware that other states have had proposals challenged in the courts,” said Jason Helgerson, the governor’s top Medicaid adivsor. “We are confident the governor’s proposal will stand up to any legal scrutiny.”

The proposal is aimed at creating a price ceiling for drug costs, cracking down of “abusive business practices” of pharmacy benefit managers and impose a fee on high-cos drugs when sold in the state.

Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald, a pharmacist, is skeptical of the proposal and its $55 million cost.

“I think today’s hearing is giving some insight into their strategy, which is if they put up a very strong policy, the manufacturers will adhere to it,” McDonald said.

But at the same time, he was taken aback by the degree of certainty Helgerson and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker had over the plan holding up in court given the struggles other states have had enacting similar policies.

“They were very clearly that it would. I was surprise to hear that,” he said. “Obviously it has not done well in other states, but at the end of the day there’s a $55 million price tag tied to this in the budget.”

WNY Tea Party Activist Accused Of Voter Fraud Takes Misdemeanor Plea Deal

An eight-month legal saga involving Western New York Tea Party activist Rus Thompson appears to have been resolved relatively painlessly Thursday morning. Thompson, facing felony voter fraud charges, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of offering a false instrument for filing. His attorney said he’s not likely to face any prison time as a result.

Thompson was accused of voting in the wrong district in three separate elections between 2015 and 2016. Due to zoning issues, he had been evicted from his home in Grand Island and moved to Niagara Falls, but continued to vote in his previous district.

Thompson essentially admitted to that in his affidavit but said he was only living in the Falls temporarily and never registered to vote anywhere but Grand Island.

“I do everything on Grand Island it’s been my home since 1995 and I will be back on the island, but the senseless politics that are being played here. In politics you win or you lose you lose you turn around and you fight the next fight, not on Grand Island, on Grand Island you fight you win they lose they come after you with everything they’ve got,” he said.

While Thompson, typically outspoken, did his best to follow his attorney’s advice and remain silent throughout the course of the litigation, some of his friends, like former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, suggested the case was politically motivated. In particular, Paladino believed then-Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty was trying to make a name for himself in the middle of his election campaign.

Thompson previously turned down a deal offered by Flaherty that would’ve likely allowed him to avoid prison but still plead guilty to a felony. The activist said if he had accepted he’d give up his right to vote or own a gun, two of the things he advocates for regularly.

In September, John Flynn defeated Flaherty in a Democratic primary and ultimately won the seat. Flynn said Tuesday felony charges were not appropriate.

Thompson and his attorney repeatedly thanked the new DA for taking politics out of the case.

Skoufis Says He’s Not Running For Orange County Exec

Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis on Thursday took himself out of contention for the Orange County executive’s race, announcing he would not be a candidate in a statement.

“My position in state government grants me an opportunity to make a significant, positive impact on our community while working in partnership with local officials,” he said.

“Representing parts of two counties in the Assembly, I lend a substantial voice on regional and statewide tax, education, labor, veterans, health, economic development, public protection, environmental, insurance, and transportation policy. While county government performs many important functions, its purview is narrower in scope and oftentimes subject to state approval.”

Skoufis has been talked up as a potential candidate for the state Senate district represented by Republican Sen. Bill Larkin. The Democratic lawmaker, first elected in 2012, had run afoul of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office this year amid a disagreement over how to structure a proposal for free tuition at state university and college campuses.