Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is headed to Wisconsin, another state that will play an important role in the 2016 elections.

From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Attorney Preet Bharara (12:20 p.m.) and NYC First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris (9:15 a.m.)deliver keynote speeches during the Regional Plan Association’s annual assembly; Waldorf Astoria New York Hotel, 301 Park Ave., Manhattan.

At 8:15 a.m., Rep. Chris Gibson will speak with students about leadership at the “Operation Courage” assembly – a four-day series of events organized by Columbia students and administrators to address cultural awareness, Columbia High School, East Greenbush.

At 8:30 a.m., Cuomo speaks at the ABNY breakfast, addressing the recently passed state budget and his priorities for the remainder of the year, Grand Hyatt New York, 109 East 42nd St., Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., DEC Commissioner Joe Martens attends an Arbor Day celebration, Tivoli Park, Albany.

At noon, a press conference will follow a meeting between Bronx elected officials and Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Meera Joshi about problems facing the taxi’s non-medallion industry and its drivers, 900 Rogers Pl., the Bronx.

Also at noon, Staten Island DA and NY-11 GOP candidate Dan Donovan will receive the endorsement of the influential Lin Sing Association and several other Chinese community organizations, Lin Sing HQ, 49 Mott St., 2nd Floor, Manhattan.

At 12:10 p.m., AG Eric Schneiderman delivers the keynote address on the interaction between technology companies and regulators during a conference at Fordham University’s School of Law, titled “Sharing Economy, Sharing City: Urban Law and the New Economy” and presented by the school’s Urban Law Center; 150 W. 62nd St., Manhattan.

At 6 p.m., de Blasio will deliver the keynote address at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s 2015 Founders Day Gala, Milwaukee Athletic Club, 758 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

At 7:30 p.m. Gibson will attend the Depot Lane Singers concert, Schoharie High School, Schoharie.

Headlines…

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver took “certain official actions” requested by a private investment executive believed to be Buffalo’s Jordan A. Levy, a longtime Silver friend whose advice helped make the once-powerful Democratic leader a wealthy man, according to a new indictment handed up by a federal grand jury.

The superseding indictment brought by Bharara includes a new count – “monetary transactions involving crime proceeds” – outlining how prosecutors believe Silver shifted illegal financial gains into various high-yield investments, including at least two with Buffalo connections.

Silver now faces seven charges as opposed to the three contained in the original indictment filed in February.

“This new filing is an attempt by the government to address defects in the indictment that we raised in our motion to dismiss. We are reviewing this new pleading and we will respond as before, in court,” Silver’s attorneys said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo lunched in Cuba with Gustavo Machin Gomez, a government official who was booted from the United States in a spy controversy. Cuomo administration officials defended Gomez’s appearance at the lunch, noting he’s been involved in the ongoing talks to normalize relations.

A coalition of parents’ groups that organized a boycott of state English and math exams is calling on Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to resign, claiming she has left New York’s education policy in shambles.

Tisch’s call for a deadline extension in the new teacher evaluation system came only a few hours after an official memo from the Education Department to superintendents reiterated that school districts would have to negotiate their plans by Sept. 1 in time to receive approval by Nov. 15 and receive increases in state aid.

Regent Roger Tilles, who represents Long Island on the board, said the governor’s office implored members to use the hardship exemption only on a case-by-case basis. But the board is going to stand up to the administration, he said, adding: “I certainly think the Regents will have the back of anybody who needs the time.”

Civil liberties advocates filed a lawsuit claiming that the Utica City School District diluted the education of refugee students by illegally diverting them from regular classes into weaker alternative programs. AG Eric Schneiderman has also opened an investigation into Utica’s academic placement policies and is reviewing new accusations of misconduct in several other school districts.

The biggest winners in Cuomo’s tax-freeze program are homeowners in Scarsdale, the Lower Hudson Valley’s richest municipality, who received the highest average checks statewide in the first year of the property-tax rebate program.

Former NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn weighs in on the dust-up over Curtis Sliwa calling himself the “papi” of her successor, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, saying: “His statements made it clear that he sees women as sexual objects who exist largely for his pleasure.”

More >

Extras

After one of the nation’s most protracted cabinet-level confirmation delays, the US Senate voted 56-43 to approve US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta E. Lynch to be attorney general. She is the first African-American woman to hold the position.

U.S. District Judge Vincent Briccetti abruptly re-scheduled Matthew Libous’ sentencing on tax-fraud crimes, pushing it back until May 18. He had previously been set for sentencing this coming Wednesday.

Warren Weinstein, a former SUNY Oswego professor, was killed during January drone strikes on an al-Qaida compound in Pakistan, the White House said.

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is pressing the White House for more information on the drone strike that killed Weinstein and his fellow al-Qaeda hostage, Italian national Giovanni Lo Porto.

Former Florida Governor and potential 2016 candidate Jeb Bush, speaking after breakfast with NY Republicans, said economic inequality is not what is holding Americans back.

A second plane in as many days made an emergency landing at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport after experiencing engine problems.

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver continues to lead the School Overcrowding Task Force, despite losing his speakership and his ongoing legal troubles. “I look forward to being more productive as we go forward,” he told participants at a recent meeting.

Cuomo announced that New York will create an interagency taskforce to develop a pollinator protection plan to promote the health and recovery of bees and other bugs that help the state’s agriculture.

AG Eric Schneiderman is accusing a pair of tanning salon chains of downplaying the risks of indoor tanning and claiming it has added benefits that do not exist.

NT2 opposes MMA, and urges Assemblywoman Deborah Glick to “continue the fight” against a bill that would make the sport legal in New York – the last state to ban it.

Bill Hammond: “Two disturbing truths have surfaced recently about New York’s $420 million-per-year film and TV tax credit, which basically bribes major studios to produce their movies and shows here instead of somewhere else.”

Despite widespread speculation, Nassau County has not paid an Albany lobbying firm drawn into the Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos corruption probe since 2011 after the county’s financial control board rejected the firm’s 2012 and 2013 contracts, officials said.

State education officials will hold an invite-only “learning summit” on the new teacher- and principal-evaluation system on May 7 in Albany.

Hillary Clinton is looking to staff up her teach team.

Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, had hoped to spend this morning rallying fundraisers in Manhattan. But he also found himself fielding concerns about a spate of unsettling investigations into the her family’s personal fundraising.

Comcast Corp. is reportedly planning to walk away from its proposed $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc. after regulators planned to oppose the deal. More here.

Since dropping the “Redskins” mascot last month, the Lancaster School District has represented its students with simply an “L” or just “Lancaster.” Now, it’s up to the students to come up with a new nickname or mascot by May 1.

A federal judge sentenced David Petraeus, the highest-profile general from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to two years’ probation for disclosing classified information. He was also fined $100,000, which was $60,000 more than the government had recommended.

Someone doth protest too much.

State Purchases 6,800 Acres Of ADK Land

New York state on Thursday finalized a $4.2 million purchase of 6,800 acres of the former Finch Pruyn lands in the southern Adirondacks High Peaks region.

The agreement, announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, is aimed at strengthening public access to the region and is aimed at creating additional recreation and tourism possibilities in the area.

“This is another milestone in our commitment to protect and provide public access to 69,000 acres of former Finch Pruyn lands,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The MacIntyre East property will allow New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy additional fishing, paddling, hiking, hunting and other recreation activities in the unparalleled beauty of the Adirondacks. By working closely with local officials in the region on these acquisitions, we have been able to maximize the recreation and economic benefits of these lands, while retaining the natural character and beauty of Adirondack forest lands and waters.”

The purchase, long in the works, is part of the MacIntyre East property from The Nature Conservancy. The money is coming out of Environmental Protection Fund cash.

The land is located in Essex County, primarily in the town of Necomb, with some portions of Keene and North Hudson included in the parcel.

The purchase allows for hunting, hiking as well as sight seeing. New paddling and fishing areas will also be made available on more than five miles of the Hudson River.

Adirondack land purchases can be complicated and controversial within the Blue Line of the park, but this agreement appears to have won the support of local officials.

“The MacIntyre East Tract will be an unforgettable draw for outdoor recreationalists eager to explore the southern High Peaks region,” Sen. Betty Little, a Queensbury Republican, said in a statement. “Working together, our local communities and the Department of Environmental Conservation are doing a very good job of finding a balance of ecological conservation and recreational access important to the environment and supportive of our tourism-dependent Adirondack economy.”

ASC: Delaying Evaluation Implementation A Minimal Step

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Thursday called the effort to delay the implementation of teacher evaluations on the school district level a “minimum step” to alter the education policies included in the budget.

“Rushing to implement a new teacher evaluation system would be misguided,” Stewart-Cosuins said in a statement. “We’ve been down this road before and we’ve seen where faulty and fast implementation of poorly conceived education changes leads. Demonizing teachers, over-testing students and rushing major reforms will not improve our education system, it will only cause more problems. Delaying the implementation of this new teacher evaluation system is the minimum step that should be taken.”

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on Wednesday announced she was asking Department of Education officials to extend the deadline for the implementation of the new evaluation criteria to September 2016.

The state budget tied the implementation of the evaluation criteria to a boost in school aid for districts that adopt the new measures by November.

The move to extend the deadline doesn’t go against the law approved in the budget. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top counsel, Alphonso David, said in a statement that such extensions should be for true hardship cases on the district level and be the “exception, not the rule.”

More broadly, state lawmakers have more or less embraced the decision by Tisch to extend the deadline as many had reluctantly voted to approve the education measures in the budget.

Kellner Loses Appeal Against Sanctions

Former Assemblyman Micah Kellner is no longer in office.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who sought sanctions against the Manhattan Democrat for sexual harassment claims made by staffers, is no longer speaker.

But Kellner’s effort to have those sanctions appealed was never totally resolved until today with what appears to be the final word on the case from the appeal’s hearing officer, Judge Howard Levine.

In the ruling, Levine wrote, “the public admonition and reprimand issued by the speaker and the Assembly Ethics Committee is entirely appropriate. As the hearing officer in this appeal, the sanction imposed does not shock my sense of fairness in anyway.”

In the ruling, Levine upholds the decision to sanction Kellner, who was accused of conducting sexually explicit chats with legislative staffers.

Kellner left the Assembly and unsuccessfully sought a seat on the New York City Council.

The sanctions had initially included banning the lawmaker from having interns working for him and stripping him of his committee posts.

Decision in former Assemblyman Micah Kellner's appeal in sexual harassment case. by liz_benjamin6490

NY Pols Fete Lynch’s Confirmation

Elected officials in New York on Thursday celebrated the long-awaited confirmation of Loretta Lynch to succeed Eric Holder as the U.S. attorney general.

Lynch has deep ties to New York, including her tenure as the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York.

“In addition to being uniquely qualified for this position, Ms. Lynch is also a trailblazer whose long overdue confirmation represents another step forward for our country,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the leadership she has shown in New York benefit the American people at the helm of the Justice Department in the days to come.”

The U.S. Senate had waited months to confirm Lynch, and ultimately her nomination was linked to the passage of an anti-human trafficking bill.

The nomination was approved 56-43.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer on Twitter wrote: “Finally. Congratulations to our long-awaited 83rd Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch.”

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in his statement, also took note of the delay in Lynch’s confirmation.

“I am pleased that the Senate has finally, after a record delay, recognized her strong qualifications for the office,” he said. “And because she will be the first African-American woman to lead the Department of Justice, this is a historic day for the United States, and I am proud to call Ms. Lynch our next Attorney General.”

But the confirmation is also an historic one for Lynch, who will become the first African-American woman to serve as the nation’s highest law enforcement official.

“Not only is she making history as the first African American woman to serve in this role, she is one of our country’s most accomplished and distinguished minds serving in law enforcement,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said. “During her career, Loretta has dealt with an impressive array of cases, on subjects ranging from civil rights to organized crime to terrorism; this experience will serve her exceptionally well in her new position.”

DiNapoli Versus Cuomo Administration, Yet Again

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office this week once again found itself in a dispute with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration over the contents of a critical audit.

This time, it was a report released by the comptroller’s office that drew on more than 70 audits of the state’s handling of the Medicaid program.

The Department of Health moved to swiftly rebut the concerns raised by the report, which pointed to hundreds of millions of dollars in improper payments, along with missed revenue opportunities.

In a lengthy statement, the DOH pointed to the Cuomo-led effort to redesign the state’s costly Medicaid program, which has resulted in a flattening of spending.

At the same time, the DOH noted that many of the issues raised by the report date back several years and have been corrected.

“In the few instances where funds have not been recouped, DOH will recoup or collect them through its strong enforcement effort,” the department said in a statement. “DOH and OMIG are committed to recouping or collecting all overpayments identified in any OSC audit.”

In response, DiNapoli’s communications director said the reaction from the DOH misses the point of the report.

“It is an expensive program, and our auditors have found problems,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman. “Instead of being so defensive, in the interest of taxpayers, the department should consider our recommendations.”

This isn’t the first time DiNapoli’s office has debated the contents of a review of administration policy and spending with the Cuomo administration.

DiNapoli and Cuomo have sparred over the finer points of the state budget as well as the moving of funds within the spending plan after approval.

Two years ago, the comptroller sparred with Cuomo’s budget office over the borrowing in the state budget. That, too, resulted in a back-and-forth with the administration and DiNapoli.

Later, the Department of Financial Services wound up auditing DiNapoli’s office as well, issuing a critical report of the comptroller’s computer system.

Cuomo declined to endorse DiNapoli in 2010; he did endorse his re-election in 2014.

Cuomo Counsel: Evaluation Delay Should Be ‘Exception, Not The Rule’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top legal aide in a statement acknowledged that there is a hardship exemption on school districts adopting the state’s new teacher evaluation criteria.

But at the same time, Cuomo counsel Alphonso David in a statement said that delaying evaluations on the district level should reflect a “hardship that is genuine.”

“The law is clear that the additional state funding is linked to a teacher evaluation system, just like last year,” David said. “The State Education Department and Chancellor Tisch should do their job properly and competently and enact the regulations governing the process by the end of June as prescribed by the law. Under existing law, SED may have a hardship exemption procedure if SED defines the process by regulation and if the hardship is genuine and due to a particular circumstance, but that is the exception not the rule.”

The statement was released in response to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch announcing on Wednesday afternoon she would ask the Department of Education to carve out a later deadline for districts adopting evaluations from November of this year to Sept. 1, 2016.

Adopting the evaluations is tied to a boost of school aid from the state.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan on Wednesday night announced they backed Tisch’s proposal.

Assembly Plans Criminal Justice Hearing

From the Morning Memo:

The state Assembly next month will hold its second public hearing on potential changes to the state’s criminal justice system.

The hearings will be led by the Assembly Codes and Judiciary committees, as well as the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

“We intend to look at all of the areas where the criminal justice system needs reform and where people don’t think they’re getting a fair shot,” said Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol, the chairman of Codes Committee.

The hearing comes after the Senate Finance Committee voted down a bill that would have created a special investigation office within the Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office to review cases involving police-related deaths of civilians.

Senate Republicans earlier in the year held their own hearings that focused on police safety, spurred in part by the assassinations of New York City officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

More broadly, talk of criminal justice reform was spurred late last year following the death of Eric Garner, unarmed black man who died after being put in a chokehold by police.

A Staten Island grand jury voted to no indict the officer in Garner’s death, Daniel Pantaleo.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January proposed a seven-point plan in his State of the State and budget presentation. Cuomo’s proposals include a reconciliation commission on police/community relations and an independent monitor in certain police brutality cases in which a grand jury issues no indictment.

The Assembly plans to consider the governor’s reform package as well their own push for reforming post-arrest procedures, including video taping interrogations, false confessions and line up procedures.

Lentol added that while the measures weren’t taken up in the budget, the remaining weeks of the legislative session are the correct time to consider criminal justice issues.

“This is where they’re supposed to be taken up,” he said. “You can’t really do justice to criminal justice issues that are contentions issues in the budget negotiation. They should be aired in the legislative process, in the light of day, so people can express their opinions, have experts weigh in, so we don’t do in a vacuum. We do it carefully and we do it intelligently, so we come up with good reform.”

Lawmakers Spurred By Test Opt-Out Figures

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers this week said the effort to alter and trim some of the education policy measures approved in the 2015-16 budget plan are being spurred in large part by the large number of students opting out of the current round of standardized tests.

“It’s not my colleagues, it’s being generated by the people of the state of New York,” said Buffalo Assemblyman Sean Ryan. “Last week’s opt out numbers are really shocking.”

Reports have pegged the number of students opting out of the tests at more than 100,000.

The opt-out movement is not new, but this month it was embraced by the statewide teachers union, NYSUT, after the budget contained a new criteria for teacher evaluations linked to tenure, made tenure harder to achiever and made it easier for districts to fire teachers deemed to be poor-performing, regardless of tenure.

In many ways, the tests occurring in April, just days after the budget was approved, allowed the union to seize on tangible evidence of widespread unhappiness with testing in schools.

“We’re only here through the consent of the governed,” said Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan, a Queens Democrat. “If people are unhappy, then we have to respond. And the Assembly is responding.”

But even without the tests this month, state lawmakers would likely be urged on to make alterations to the education policies.

The education measures as pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo were bitter pills for some lawmakers — especially on the Democratic side of the aisle — to swallow.

Lawmakers reluctantly approved the education bill in part because of its linking of school aid to the reform measures.

Now lawmakers are considering measures designed to scale back the effects of evaluations, including a bill that would codify student opt-out rights and prevent districts from being financially penalized due to high-opt out rates.

“I did have my own child take that test,” Nolan said. “He’s a successful high school student, but I don’t think it did that much. It was a lot of anxiety for us as a family, a lot of pressure. All the things that were promised in terms of information of where your child is — it hasn’t really delivered.”