Cuomo Says He’s Been Invited To Visit Israel

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said he has been invited to visited Israel, a trip his office is considering amid the latest conflict engulfing the region.

Cuomo, on Long Island this morning, told reporters conversations continue on potentially visiting the country, adding that New York stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Israel during the conflict.

“We’ve been having conversations,” Cuomo said. “The situation has been evolving on a daily basis. My main communication thus far has been the state of New York stands in solidarity with the state of Israel.”

Cuomo added that he was recently invited to travel to Israel, which would be his first out of the country since he’s taken office as governor in 2011.

The governor also said New York has important ties to Israel, pointing to both regions familiar with terrorism as well as New York having a large Jewish population.

“I think we have a special connection with Israel historically,” he said.

Bharara and Schneiderman Do Lunch

At the height of Moreland madness, two of the most high profile players in this seemingly never-ending saga – US Attorney Preet Bharara and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – met for a very public lunch in lower Manhattan yesterday, multiple sources confirm.

The Democratic duo was spotted lunching at City Hall Restaurant – an eatery favored by members of the New York City political set due to its proximity to (you guessed it) City Hall. Schneiderman and Bharara have known each other in a professional capacity for the past several years, but aren’t personal friends, according to a source familiar with their relationship.

It’s worth noting that Bharara, who is investigating the demise of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s now-defunct corruption-busting Moreland Commission, would probably not be seen in such a public place with Schneiderman if the attorney general was a target of that probe.

Given the role that Schneiderman played, however, through his agreement to deputize its 25 members to broaden their purview beyond the executive branch and loaning of top aides to staff the commissinon, it’s possible that he is providing information to the US attorney as the investigation progresses.

Schneiderman has been under fire – especially from his Republican opponent, former Pataki administration official John Cahill – for refusing to comment on the Moreland Commission and explain why he did not speak up when the Cuomo administration was, as has been exhaustively documented by the New York Times (and refuted by Cuomo himself) interfering with its work.

It’s no secret that the relationship between Cuomo and Schneiderman has been rocky, dating at least as far back as the 2010 Democratic primary to replace Cuomo in the AG’s office.

At the time, Cuomo was widely believed to prefer Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice to Schneiderman in that race, due in part to her ticket-balancing capability (the Democratic slate that year was all white, almost all male – with the exception of US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – and all from downstate), but also because he felt Schneiderman was too liberal and, as a former senator, too tied to the scandal-scarred Legislature.

Now Rice is running for the seat of retiring Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, and is trying to keep a low profile given her role as one of the Moreland Commission’s three co-chairs. (Unlike Onondaga County DA Bill Fitzpatrick, whose public comments have provided considerable cover for Cuomo in the wake of the Times story, neither Rice nor the third co-chair, Milton L. Williams, Jr., have offered support of the governor’s position).

Rice may soon be forced to end her silence. Tomorrow, her Republican opponent in the NY-4 race, former Nassau County Legislator Bruce Blakeman, is holding a press conference tomorrow afternoon outside the Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola to “to discuss his opponent’s role in the Moreland Commission and answer questions from the media.”

Cuomo: Astorino’s Moreland Criticism ‘Entertaining’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo brushed off criticism from Republican Rob Astorino on Wednesday, who alleged the incumbent Democrat may have broken the law when his office became involved in the direction of subpoenas issued by the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption.

Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor, said in a news released that Cuomo’s violated state law when he failed to turn over any evidence gathered by the commission to the State Police.

“The only way to get to the bottom of this is for Mr. Cuomo to produce evidence right now that Moreland criminal probes were referred to the State Police and other law enforcement authorities, or for an impartial special state prosecutor to be appointed to look into why these cases were not referred. If Mr. Cuomo shut down criminal probes of political cronies without passing along accumulated evidence, that would be a very serious charge, indeed.”

Cuomo, on Long Island for an announcement on storm recovery, laughed the comment off.

“Yeah, that’s entertaining,” Cuomo said with a laugh.

He later added the anti-corruption commission itself was composed of prosecutors who would have had access to any of the information on criminal wrongdoing.

Cuomo again insisted the commission was an independent entity despite his top aide, Larry Schwartz, calling to request that a subpoena to an ad-buying firm that counts the governor among its clients not be sent.

“There was extensive communication between the commission and the executive and the Senate and the Assembly,” Cuomo said. “They were talking about legislation, they were talking about reforms to make.”

Cuomo again leaned heavily on statements made by Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick, who released an extensive statement this week denying any allegations that commission was interfered with by the governor’s office.

“He said he made all the decisions and they made them independently. Period,” Cuomo said. “So that’s that.”

When it was pointed out that the other co-chairs of the commission — Kathleen Rice, now running for Congress, and Milton Williams, an appointee of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — are yet to weigh in on he panel’s independence, Cuomo said Fitzpatrick was the “senior co-chair.”

Fitzpatrick has not been referred to as the “senior” member of the commission to date.

“That’s up to them,” Cuomo said as to whether other commission members would comment. “I’m sure if they had a different opinion you would have heard from them.”

The Anti-Astorino Ad Blitz Continues

The barrage of TV ads knocking Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino continued on Wednesday with the “Astorino Truth Squad” unveiling a 30-second spot with “questions” for the candidate.

The spot has seven questions for Astorino that almost focus solely on the political issues in Westchester County, ranging from a practically dormant ethics board, patronage hires in the county executive’s office and a $30,000 consulting job the Republican has with a media company.

The ad from the “Truth Squad” — a group funded by the Westchester County Democratic Committee whose campaign coffers have swelled in recent months thanks to donations from supporters of Gov. Andrew Cuomo — comes after a state Democratic Committee ad knocked Astorino on ethics as well in an ad released Tuesday.

Democrats have poured more money into TV ad spending as Cuomo faces questions over his handling of the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption.

DiNapoli: Sales Tax Growth Slows

Sales tax revenue grew by 2.4 percent in the first six months of 2014 compared to the first half of last year, but that is the weakest increase since the conclusion of the 2008 financial crisis, according to a report released by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Sales tax collections on the county level increased by $177 million in the first six months, gains that were driven mostly by New York City, which saw a rate increase of 4.8 percent.

The city accounted for almost 90 percent of local sales tax growth in the state.

Collections on Long Island — where local governments were battered by Hurricane Sandy — saw collections fall 3.8 percent, mostly due to the drop off in post-storm spending.

In the state’s Southern Tier region, collections fell .02 percent.

But overall, sales tax revenue is flat in most regions of the state, DiNapoli’s office found.

“While sales tax revenues continue to increase across the state, the growth is the weakest since the end of the Great Recession,” said DiNapoli. “Sales tax collections in New York City are thriving but several regions are experiencing only modest gains or even declines. Clearly our state’s economy remains in a recovery mode and local government officials will need to be mindful of the volatility of sales tax revenue as they monitor their budgets during the second half of the year.”

Local Sales Tax Collections 0714 by Nick Reisman

Cuomo Asks DOH To Speed Up Med Mar Program For Children With Epilepsy (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office is directing the state Department of Health to find ways to speed up the implementation of the state’s medical marijuana program for children who have epilepsy, an administration official on Wednesday morning confirmed.

Updated: In a letter released this morning, Cuomo called on Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to explore ways to speed up the process for implementing the program for epileptic children.

“Striking the right balance to ensure public safety and public health are protected is crucial,” Cuomo wrote in the letter. “That said, I ask that you review the eighteen month implementation timeline to determine if there is any way to accelerate the process for this specific dire population. I know you had an opportunity to meet with advocates this week on this very issue — I hope that the meeting was constructive and can be helpful to you as you move forward in this process.”

In the letter, Cuomo cited both the deaths of 9-year-old Anna Conte and 3-year-old Olivia Marie Newton in western New York as “tragic reminders of the urgent help children with epilepsy desperately need”

In the days since, Cuomo’s staff reportedly met with the state health commissioner and advocates for medical marijuana, who requested the program be implemented on a faster timetable.

The medical marijuana law was approved in June following an intense period of negotiations between the governor and the lawmakers who backed the legislation.

In the end, the program that was approved was one that gave broad authority over a medical marijuana program that would be implemented over the next 18 months.

At the time of the program’s passage, advocates for medical marijuana said the timetable for the implementation of the program was disappointingly slow.

Cuomo in Buffalo this week said he wanted to implement the program quickly but also do it right.

“If it can be accelerated safely, then we will do that,” Cuomo said.

Updated: Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat who was one of the key sponsors of the legisltion, weighs in on the news.

“I applaud the Governor for agreeing to heed our initial call to action to fast track New York’s signature medical marijuana law. There is little doubt that the families are the true heroes in this saga, particularly Wendy Conte, who tragically lost her daughter, Anna Conte, this past Fourth of July. Their direct advocacy and lobbying efforts with the Health Commissioner helped to convince the administration that this is the appropriate course of action. This new timeline is absolutely critical so that children and patients all throughout the state obtain the medical relief they need sooner, safer, and without delay.”

Gam CD Oh Zucker by Nick Reisman

Cahill Fundraises Off Moreland Controversy (Updated)

Republican candidate for attorney general John Cahill’s campaign on Wednesday sent out a fundraising email that ties incumbent Democrat Eric Schneiderman to the ongoing Moreland Commission mess.

In the email, Cahill’s fundraising team writes that Schneiderman has “done little to fight the corruption” — a claim the AG’s office would likely dispute, considering its high-profile corruption case brought against ex-state Sen. Shirley Huntley.

“While Eric Schneiderman continues to run from the press, I am running a hard-hitting campaign to defeat him this November,” Cahill’s campaign writes in the email. “If you’re sick and tired of corrupt politicians, support my campaign with a contribution of $10, $35, $50, $100, $250, or another amount to hold Eric Schneiderman accountable for his failures.”

The fundraising note is yet another sign that Republican candidates — including gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino and comptroller candidate Bob Antonacci — are trying to capitalize on the Moreland Commission controversy and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office’s involvement in the anti-corruption panel.

“As the Republican candidate for Attorney General, I will restore integrity, confidence, and action to this important office,” the email says. “New Yorkers WILL know my name because I will be their voice. Stand with me today so we can reclaim this office for the people of New York.”

In a dig at Schneiderman’s record, the email adds: “We wouldn’t need a Moreland Commission to root out public corruption if we had a real Attorney General!”

Cahill this month reported having raised $1 million since starting his campaign in May. Schneiderman reported raising $2.6 million over the last six months, and has already reserved two large chunks of advertising time ahead of the November elections.

Updated: Schneiderman campaign spokesman Peter Ajemian sent along a response pointing to the AG’s efforts to combat public corruption while in office.

“No Attorney General in New York State history has been as aggressive in cracking down on public corruption as Attorney General Schneiderman, who has in less than four years prosecuted forty politicians, government employees and nonprofit officials who abused the public trust — including legislators from his own party. Just last week, Attorney General Schneiderman sentenced a politically well-connected nonprofit leader to years in jail for looting state funds,” he said. “He’s done all this despite the absence of original jurisdiction covering public corruption — a statutory weakness he’s fought to change — and helped overcome that constraint through an innovative and unprecedented partnership with the State Comptroller, Operation Integrity. All of which leaves one to ask, simply: where on earth has John Cahill been on any of these issues?”

Moreland = Troopergate?

From today’s Morning Memo:

A former top Senate GOP aide says there are uncanny parallels between the infamous “Troopergate” scandal that bedeviled former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the Moreland mess that is now causing headaches for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

John McArdle, who served as spokesman for Joe Bruno when the then-Senate majority leader was the target of Spitzer’s botched political hit job, made the connection during his appearance on the “Insiders” segment of last night’s CapTon.

“Governors have tried this in the past – one in particular – Governor Spitzer, who, I think, used an entity – the State Police to try and force something,” McArdle said.

“…Here’s the parallel: That something was done in an attempt to force using an entity – whether it was Moreland or the state troopers – and you had it backfire.”

“I think the Moreland Commission, which is an executive entity – the statute says Moreland exists to investigate the executive, not the Legislature, that is the statute – so I think what happened with this is that by deputizing the members and making them deputy attorney generals, it was an effort to go after the Legislature,” McArdle continued.

“I think that was the intent all along. And using the commission as a vehicle, was, I think, the wrong vehicle, since they in turn started looking at the governor.”

(Interestingly, McArdle’s partner on “Insiders” last night was Democratic consultant Bruce Gyory, who worked for the Spitzer administration – albeit after Troopergate. Gyory declined to comment on McArdle’s theory).

Troopergate, as you’ll recall, involved Spitzer’s effort to use the State Police to report on Bruno’s travel and try to catch him violating the rules of mixing politics and state business while traveling on state aircraft.

Bruno at the time was Spitzer’s main political nemesis, and the governor was intent on trying to flip the Senate into Democratic hands.

The whole thing backfired, in no small part due to the NY Post’s Fred Dicker, who broke the story and furiously fanned its flames, but also because of an investigation conducted – and bombshell report issued – by none other than one Andrew Cuomo, who at the time was state attorney general (not to mention governor-in-waiting and a longtime political rival of Spitzer’s).

Troopergate sparked numerous probes – including one by Albany County DA David Soares, who, ironically, was also a member of the now-defunct Moreland Commission, and complained (according to the New York Times’ opus) about not receiving any case referrals before the governor shut the commission down.

No charges were ultimately brought against Spitzer for his role in Troopergate, but several of his top aides were slapped with charges by JCOPE’s predecessor – the State Commission on Public Integrity.

Also, Troopergate didn’t bring Spitzer down, though it did tarnish his reputation considerably. The former governor orchestrated his own demise with his penchant for pricey prostitutes.

McArdle didn’t mention another parallel between Spitzer and Cuomo – both are ambitious and aggressive, which led to complicated relationships with the Legislature.

But Cuomo has a deeper well of support than the self-professed “steamroller” Spitzer – even though some are now crowing over his current Moreland troubles. (Whether that support is motivated by fear of reprisal from the powerful governor is another story).

Cuomo has also been in office much longer than Spitzer was at the time Troopergate broke, and he has had far more success in office than Spitzer, passing four on-time budgets and numerous pieces of high-profile legislation (the SAFE Act, gay marriage etc.) through the Legislature.

So far, there’s just one probe – conducted by US Attorney Preet Bharara – into the Moreland scandal.

GOP AG candidate John Cahill is slamming his Democratic target, AG Eric Schneiderman, for remaining silent to date on the matter. But Schneiderman is in a bit of a bind, having deputized the Moreland members to give them investigatory powers outside the executive branch and providing top staffers to assist the commission.

Watch Here >>

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City and Nassau County.

At 8:30 a.m., Westchester County Executive and GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino attends a breakfast with local ministers hosted by the Rev. Michel Faulkner, Sylvia’s Restaurant, 328 Lenox Ave., Manhattan.

At 9:03 a.m., GOP AG candidate John Cahill appears on the Bob Lonsberry Show, AM 1180 WHAM.

At 10:30 a.m., public transportation advocates from the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign discuss the release of their annual report card ranking city subway lines based on performance statistics; City Hall station, southeast corner, Broadway and Warren Street, Manhattan.

At 10:45 a.m., Astorino holds a press conference on the Moreland Commission scandal, Tweed Courthouse, 52 Chambers St., Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., Cuomo makes a Sandy rebuilding announcement, 50 Florence Ave., Freeport.

Also at 11 a.m., Cahill holds a press conference along with Assemblymember Ray Walter and Assembly candidate Angela Wozniak to call on AG Eric Schneiderman to “break his silence” on his role in the Moreland mess, 350 Main St., Buffalo. (AG’s Buffalo office).

At 11:30 a.m., Astorino will be a gust on “The Capitol Pressroom” with guest host Kyle Hughes.

Also at 11:30 a.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio makes an announcement, University Senior Housing – Community Room, 1285 Merriam Ave., the Bronx.

At 12:45 p.m., U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand holds a conference call with reporters on legislation regarding college sexual assault.

At 2 p.m., Cahill and Assembly candidate/former U.S. Marshal Peter Lawrence hold a press conference where Cahill will reiterate his Moreland message, 144 Exchange Blvd., Rochester. (AG’s Rochester office).

Also at 2 p.m., winery owners and their allies call on Cuomo to deny a proposal for gas storage facility in Finger Lakes, LOB, Room 120, Albany.

At 2:15 p.m., Sen. Tony Avella and advocacy groups challenging the “Willets West” mall proposal begin their oral arguments followed by a press conference on the courthouse steps, New York State Supreme Court, 71 Thomas St., Room 210, Manhattan.

At 1:30 p.m., Astorino will hold a press conference on the Moreland Commission scandal, Nassau County Supreme Court, 100 Supreme Court Dr., Mineola.

At 6 p.m., GOP LG candidate and Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss attends the Chemung County Fair, 170 Fairview Rd., Horseheads.

Also at 6 p.m., the Teachout-Wu campaign holds a “strategy call” with supporters.

At 6:30 p.m., Astorino will attend a Long Island Superstorm Sandy/meet the candidate forum, Loyal Order of Moose Lodge, 883 S. Broadway, Lindenhurst.

At 9:30 p.m., Astorino attends the Frank Kenna Republican Club meeting, VFW Post 2348, 31-35 41 St., Astoria.

Headlines…

Is the IDC-regular Democrat reunification deal in jeopardy (already)?

The now-defunct Moreland Commission spent over $350,000 in its nine months of existence for travel, information technology and data analysis.

Bill Hammond says Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commission “was an elaborate bluff — and the Legislature called him on it, not once but twice.”

Brandishing a bottle of bleach, GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino continued his call for the cleanup of Albany.

Astorino scoffed at the controversy that erupted after he used a line from “The Godfather” to criticize Cuomo’s handling of the Moreland Commission, saying: “Next time I guess I’ll quote from the Wizard of Oz and maybe they’ll get upset with that too.”

The NYT slams Cuomo’s “unconvincing spin” on the Moreland Commission’s demise.

Of the two dozen companies so far announced that will receive 10 years of tax breaks through START-UP NY, more than half are actually expansions of companies that already operate in New York or elsewhere.

The Buffalo News sings the praises of Cuomo’s START-UP NY program, saying: “It’s hard to recall any time in the last decade or more that a governor has made so many appearances in Buffalo to announce hundreds of new jobs.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is excited about his family’s move into Gracie Mansion – especially since there is no longer “a line for the bathroom, or conflicts over the bathroom.” (The new digs has five compared to his Park Slope one).

New York City’s finances are being responsibly managed despite the large cost of negotiating labor settlements with city workers, according to members of the state Financial Control Board.

More >

Time Warner Cable News/Siena College Poll: Upstate Voters Would Seek Employment At Casinos

Upstate residents who may soon live close to a casino would consider going to one, if not to gamble then to have dinner or maybe golf. That’s according to an exclusive Time Warner Cable News/Siena College poll that surveyed residents living in one of the three regions due to receive a resort casino:The Southern Tier, the Catskills and Hudson Valley and the Capital Region.

“It sounds like significant percentages in each of the three areas would be interested — at least would give it a shot to go over to these casino developers and try to see whether they would enjoy it,” said Siena Polling Institute Director Don Levy.

The poll found 19 percent of those surveyed would gamble more if they lived near a casino, while a combined 64 percent said they would likely or very likely attend a concert. More than half said they would go out to dinner at a casino’s restaurant.

“Nearly one out of every five said I would gamble more if there’s a casino near me so you would have to decide whether that’s too many or not,” Levy said.

And when it comes to employment, a major promise of casinos, 26 percent overall said they expected either themselves or a member of their household to apply for a job at one of the resorts.

“We’re talking about well over 200,000 in these three upstate regions as a composite where there is someone either unemployed or underemployed who’s saying that’s a job I’m going to go after,” Levy said.

For casino supporters, the poll shows the state has been losing out on revenue as some gamblers head across state lines to spend their money.

“You see a large number — 37 percent — would be very interested in using a casino and some have said they’ve gambled within the last year. You can conclude that there’s activity the state is missing out on,” said Business Council spokesman Gary Hughes.

But with so many states now allowing for the expansion of casino gambling, gamblers have more options, which means heightened competition for operators.

“Clearly the market is maturing,” said Bob Ward, a deputy state comptroller for budget and analysis. “At some point we will meet a saturation level. So what that suggests is the competition is fairly intense and will become more so for those of us in upstate New York. That will be especially true if Massachusetts goes ahead with casinos.”

The poll of 816 registered voters has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. It was conducted from July 20 through July 23.

TWC0714 Total Crosstabs 072914 by Nick Reisman