Cuomo: State Prepared To Shut Down I-84

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Tuesday said the state was prepared to shut down Interstate 84 as early as Wednesday at 7 a.m. should road travel be deemed too hazardous.

The warning comes as a snow storm is expected to hit parts of New York, including the upstate region, starting on Wednesday, with some areas receiving up to 10 inches of snow.

And the storm itself comes a day before Thanksgiving, typically the biggest travel day of the year.

As such, Cuomo is urging drivers to plan alternate routes around I-84.

“This is one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, and with winter weather expected to impact much of the state, I urge all travelers to planning to use I-84 to establish an alternative route and exercise caution,” Cuomo said. “I’ve directed State agencies to be on heightened alert as this storm develops, and we are taking all necessary precautions to address potentially hazardous conditions. We’re hoping for the best, but planning for the worst in order to keep New Yorkers safe.”

Weather forecasts do not expect snow to accumulate in significance until later in the day.

However, Cuomo would likely want to avoid a repeat of having drivers stuck on the state Thruway as many were following a torrent of snow being unleashed on western New York earlier this month.

Cuomo has closed I-84 in the past, a move that was met with criticism by Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican who represents the Hudson Valley. Ball questioned the need to for closing the road at the time given the conditions were not considered all that dangerous.

Could A Hydrofracking Resolution Come In 2015?

Come 2015, hydrofracking, controversial gas drilling process, and whether it should be done in New York State, could loom large in state politics.

The contentious environmental issue has been under review the entire time Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been in office.

In October’s gubernatorial debate, Cuomo said he expects a review of the impacts of the natural gas extraction process to be released by the end of the year, and that he’s relying on experts to help him make the decision.

Should he approve hydrofracking, even on a limited basis, expect a big push from environmental groups and from lawmakers who want to ban the practice entirely.

“If you’re in the Legislature, I don’t know how you go ahead and say yes to fracking when more health information comes out on a weekly basis,” said Peter Iwanowicz, Environmental Advocates of New York executive director.

Cuomo has been criticized for an ongoing health review that has been performed in secret with little public input.

“We’ve worked under the assumption that the governor can decide whether we’re going to frack or not at anytime. He can decide today. He can decide the minute he sees the health study, which he’s done in secret,” said Iwanowicz.

Supporters of hydrofracking, however, point to the economic benefits, especially for the economically troubled Southern Tier, where natural gas deposits are especially rich.

“These are benefits that our Southern Tier communities many of them are looking for,” said Karen Moreau, New York Petroleum Institute executive director. “They’re supportive of drilling and we’re hoping we’ll see this move forward in 2015.”

Moreau points to recent court rulings that have allowed local governments to set the agenda on fracking, suggesting the fight over fracking may be concentrated not in Albany, but on the local level.

“Frankly there’s been a defacto moratorium because of the executive’s decision, so I don’t see the legislature looking to do anything like that and most importantly the decision has mostly shifted to the local level,” Moreau said.

The health department’s review began in September 2012.

Last Night and What’s Ahead

Cuomo spends his last day in Erie County. State Senator Tim Kennedy talks about the state’s response to the storm. We have an update on fracking and reports on what’s next for Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Plus, Assemblyman John McDonald on legislation regarding adults with disabilities, Mark Dunlea on hunger in New York State, and Stu Gruskin on water levels in Lake Ontario.

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State of Politics LIVE – 11.25.14

Western Weather: Sen. Tim Kennedy Interview

Sponsored and Signed: Assemblyman John McDonald Interview

Helping Hunger: Hunger Action Network’s Mark Dunlea Interview

Lake Ontario Plan 2014: Nature Conservancy’s Stu Gruskin Interview

State Pension Fund Commits $50M In New Investments

The state pension fund has committed $50 million in additional investment funds that will go toward state-based companies, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced on Tuesday.

The investment is part of the In-State Private Equity Investment Program, which DiNapoli said has been a success with a rate of return of $293 million while also boosting growht in the local economy.

Investments being made in the companies is being overseen by Graycliff Partners.

“This $50 million commitment to Graycliff will help to keep the state pension fund strong for the more than one million retirement system members and retirees as well as promote growth in our local economies,” DiNapoli said.

Overall, the state has invested $760 million in nearly 300 state-based companies, which the comptroller’s office says has either created or retained 4,000 jobs as of September.

The September report on the equity program can be found here:

Investing in NY Report 2014 by Nick Reisman

NYC Unemployment Outpaces Upstate

Upstate continued to have a slightly lower unemployment rate than the New York City metropolitan region, according to regional employment data released by the state Department of Labor.

In the 52-county region designated as upstate New York, unemployment stands at 5.5 percent.

Downstate, in the New York City region including the northern suburbs and Long Island, unemployment last month was 5.8 percent.

Unemployment in the upstate region overall has fallen in the last 12 months by more than a full percentage point: In October 2013, unemployment stood at 6.6 percent.

The counties with the lowest unemployment are mostly upstate, with Tompkins County (home of Ithaca College and Cornell University) at 3.9 percent.

  • Tompkins County (3.9%)
  • Yates County (4.3%)
  • Saratoga County (4.4%)
  • Columbia County (4.5%)
  • Putnam County (4.5%)
  • Nassau County (4.6%)
  • Albany County (4.8%)
  • Ontario County (4.8%)
  • Rockland County (4.8%)
  • Suffolk County (4.9%)

Unemployment remains highest in the Bronx, where it stands at 9 percent.

Overall, unemployment last fell in New York from 6.2 percent to 6 percent.

Despite the unemployment numbers reflecting some good news for upstate, the area as a whole is not growing as fast economically compared to the rest of the state.

ur_map by Nick Reisman

Kennedy On Sticking With The Mainline Conference, Carlucci With IDC

Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat, says he’ll continue “working with” the mainline conference in the state Senate after the Independent Democratic Conference backed a primary challenge to him in September.

Kennedy, in an interview on Capital Tonight, didn’t necessarily give a Shermanesque, I’m-sticking-with-the-Democrats response to questions about his joining the IDC.

“Look, I am a Democrat. I’ve been working with the Democratic conference, and I’m going to continue to support the Democratic conference,” Kennedy say. “I believe in the short term and in the long term that Democrats are going to help our entire state have the economic recovery that we can all be proud of. Helping working families doing things like improving the minimum wage, fighting for women and the women’s health and the ten point women’s plan as well as helping to make sure children are a top priority, education is a top priority. We continue the economic revival of our state. We continue job creation, the momentum that’s already been started there.”

Asked a second time, Kennedy said he would work with both conferences.

“My goal right now is to get back to Albany and to continue to work on the progress we’ve already begun, continue to work with the Democratic conference, continue to work with the IDC and the Republicans where we can to deliver results to the people of Buffalo Cheektowaga and Lackawana, which is the district that I represent,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy at one point in 2012 received contributions from the IDC, which both sides downplayed in significance. This year, mainline conference member Sen. George Latimer received $40,000 from the IDC, which the the breakaway conference said was about supporting Democrats in state Senate races.

Meanwhile, Sen. David Carlucci says he will continue on as a member of the IDC despite speculation he’ll be jumping ship.

“I have been a proud Democrat throughout my career and that will never change,” Carlucci said in a statement. “I personally contributed time and resources toward winning a Democratic majority. At the same time for the last four years I have been a member of the Independent Democratic Conference that has produced real results for New Yorkers by working in a bipartisan fashion. The people of my district care about results, they care about governing, and they care that their elected officials are motivated by ideas and not politics. I will continue to work with with my colleagues in the IDC to help the people in my district.”

Carlucci remaining in the IDC’s fold comes despite pressure from local county Democrats to have him defect to the mainline conference.

Carlucci represents Rockland County, where Kristen Stavisky is the county Democratic chairwoman. She is the wife of Evan Stavisky, a partner at The Parkside Group, which provides consulting services for the mainline conference.

At the same time, incoming Democratic Sen.-elect Jesse Hamilton has not said whether he’ll join the mainline conference or the IDC.

The jockeying and speculation over who lands where comes as the IDC and Senate Republicans try to strike a new coalition agreement after the elections.

Under the current configuration, IDC Leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx and Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos share leadership power in the chamber.

The Republican conference captured full control of the chamber this month, but a source says one idea floated in the talks has been to allow the IDC to retain power in the chamber, with a hand-shake agreement continuing on through the 2016 elections.

Miner Releases “Syracuse Billion Agenda”

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is ready for her city’s billion dollar economic development program.

Miner today released her “Syracuse Billion Agenda,” which not suprisingly focuses mostly on infrastructure funding.

$725 million would go to water main replacement. The mayor says the city uses a “pay as it breaks” approach to repair leaks and breaks at a cost of over $1.32 million per mile. Water mains would be replaced and updated to add sensors to track usage, efficiency, and resiliency.

When we spoke with Mayor Miner on the show last month, the city of Syracuse had already dealt with more than 300 water main breaks for the year.

The second-largest chunk of funding would go towards a naturally chilled water project. $125 million would be put into creating a water distribution infrastructure that would use water from Skaneateles Lake to cool city buildings while also being used as potable water. It would replace the current mechanical chillers, saving an estimated $6.5 million dollars annually and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Cornell University has been using this system since 2000.

The rest of Miner’s “Syracuse Billion” includes building an ultra-high-speed internet system, a world marketplace for refugees, a ‘Say Yes’ endowment fund, and an Interstate-81 reinvestment fund.

This wish list comes after Governor Cuomo last month proposed a $1.5 billion upstate revitalization fund, similar to the $1 billion he announced for the city of Buffalo two years ago. Cuomo challenged the city of Syracuse to come up with an ambitious plan, and Miner – as promised – delivered her agenda ahead of Thanksgiving. The governor and mayor have had a rocky relationship in the past, but Miner did endorse Cuomo’s re-election.

You can read the full “Syracuse Billion” plan here.

Hanging A Help Wanted Sign On The Second Floor

From the Morning Memo, co-written by Liz and Nick:

Even before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s success on Election Day, there were reports of imminent departures from his administration. And those reports have only increased as Term Two looms.

The latest comes this morning. According to Capital NY, the state’s deputy secretary for transportation, Karen Rae, will be joining the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in a senior position.

Sources told Capital Cuomo is considering Leif Dormsjo, a senior transportation official in Maryland, to succeed Rae. (Interestingly, outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, is eyeing a potential 2016 presidential run).

The fact that a name is already being floated for Rae’s replacement is newsworthy, even though the position in question isn’t particularly high profile, as far as second floor jobs go.

Generally speaking, reports on departures from Team Cuomo have not been accompanied by news of new hires.

That’s because the governor and his recruitment agents (the outreach is being handled by both current and former top administration aides) are having a hard time finding people interested in working for the governor during his second four-year term.

Multiple sources in Albany and New York City report being contacted via either phone or email to gauge their interest in various top posts, including but not limited to: Secretary to the governor (currently held by Larry Schwartz), chief counsel (held by Mylan Denerstein, who left in September, and currently filled by acting counsel Seth Agata), and budget director (currently held by Bob Megna).

Cuomo’s point men are also trying to fill positions in the governor’s press shop (press secretary Matt Wing has confirmed his intention to leave after serving as campaign spokesman), and several senior counselor posts.

So far, all the sources in question say their response to potential job offers has been: Thanks, but no thanks.

With all the uproar over a potential legislative pay raise during the yet-to-be-called special session in December, it’s often overlooked that top executive chamber salaries would also be boosted if Cuomo agrees to a deal that raises lawmakers’ base pay from $79,500.

Cuomo’s own salary, which is $179,000, would also go up. During his first year in office, Cuomo took a 5 percent symbolic pay cut to demonstrate that he was willing to participate in trying to right the state’s fiscal ship. LG Bob Duffy and a number of top gubernatorial aides did the same.

Cuomo has complained in the past about the difficulty of attracting top talent to Albany due to the relatively low salaries set in statute. (Generally speaking, they’re in the six-figure range, but are comparatively far below private sector standards in many cases).

Perhaps it would be easier for the governor to fill the increasing number of vacancies in his administration if he and legislative leaders reach a pay raise deal.

Of course, even a considerable salary bump couldn’t change Cuomo’s reputation as a micromanaging and demanding boss. And numerous challenges and potential pitfalls loom during the second term – from US Attorney Preet Bharara’s Moreland Commission investigation to managing the fallout from a fracking decision.

For the record, no figures have yet been floated when it comes to a salary boost, though there has been talk of raising the $79,500 base pay to at least as high, if not higher, than the $112,000 incoming NYC Council members receive.

The driving force behind the call for increasing legislative pay, which hasn’t changed since early 1999, has come from downstate lawmakers whose cost of living is considerably higher than that of their upstate counterparts.

Earlier this month, Cuomo announced three new education appointments within his administration. In July, the governor brought Jim Malatras, who worked on his 2010 gubernatorial campaign and on his AG’s office staff, back into the fold to take the place of departed State Operations Director Howard Glaser.

It is not at all unusual for a newly re-elected governor to look to shake up his staff before embarking on his second term. And high level administration jobs are notorious for burning people out – especially if their boss in a particularly hard-charging type, like Cuomo.

As Cuomo struggles to put together his Term Two Team, there has been considerable speculation that he might turn to Republicans to full some key posts.

Environmental groups got nervous this week when they heard rumblings that the governor would tap soon-to-be-former Sen. Mark Grisanti to replace Joe Martens as head of the DEC.

Martens, who had a considerable environmental background before joining the administration, has been with the governor since 2011.

Grisanti is the outgoing Senate Environmental Conservation Committee chairman and is seen as especially close with the Cuomo administration.

During the campaign, Cuomo publicly praised the GOP senator – the last remaining Republican senator of the four who voted “yes” on same-sex marriage in 2011. The governor stopped short of endorsing Grisanti outright, but didn’t back his Democratic foe, Senator-elect Marc Panepinto, either.

But several sources on Monday didn’t just dismiss the idea, but slammed the door on the idea of Grisanti taking the job. And a DEC spokesperson also insisted a Grisanti-for-Martens switch is not in the offing.

Meanwhile, another Republican has been mentioned around the Capitol as a leading candidate for a variety of positions in the Cuomo administration: Robert Mujica, a top aide to Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos.

Mujica over the last several weeks has been floated everything from secretary to counsel to budget director.

The mere mention of Mujica’s name demonstrates in how much the governor respects the Skelos staffer, who is the only top legislative aide to be included in high-level budget negotiations since 2011.

Nevertheless, it might be a tough sell for Mujica to move from the third floor of the Capitol to the second – especially now that the Senate Republicans are back in the majority.

As one of the highest paid staffers in Albany (he earned $170,000 in 2013), he would likely have to take a pay cut with any new job in the administration – unless there’s a really big pay raise deal – and that would come with a lot more responsibility.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press office has not yet released his public schedule. As of yesterday, he was still in Erie County monitoring storm response and clean-up efforts.

At 9 a.m., Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, and Catholic Charities representatives ring the opening bell of the NYSE to coincide with the Cardinal’s Committee for Charity’s annual “Wall Street Breakfast” fundraiser, Exchange Place and Broad Street, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., NYC Council members and advocates for minority residents promote a legislative proposal that would require city agencies to allow residents to select multiple ethnicities on government documents, and a resolution calling for federal and state lawmakers to approve similar requirements; steps, City Hall, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., Assembly Banking Committee Chair Annette Robinson and Subcommittee on Banking in Underserved Communities Chair David Weprin, hold a public hearing on a proposed “borrow and save” regional pilot program; Assembly Hearing Room, room 1923, 250 Broadway, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., Joel Berg, executive director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, joins NYC HRA Commissioner Steven Banks and elected officials to release the group’s annual survey on demand at soup kitchens and food pantries and new findings on food insecurity, NYC Human Resources Administration SNAP Office. 12 W. 14th St., 5th Floor, Manhattan.

At 10:30 a.m., NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray participates in the commemoration of the International Day to End Violence Against Women, UN HQ, Economic and Social Council Chamber, Manhattan.

Also at 10:30 a.m., the Joint Commission on Public Ethics convenes, 540 Broadway, Albany.

At 11 a.m. central time (noon here), the Rev. Al Sharpton joins the parents of Michael Brown at a press conference, Greater St. Marks Missionary Baptist Church, 9950 Glen Owen Dr., St Louis, MO.

At 11:30 a.m., AG Eric Schneiderman will detail preventive measures to protect children and parents during the upcoming holiday shopping season, 120 Broadway, 25th Floor, Manhattan. (NYC Public Advocate and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer will also attend).

At 11:45 p.m., SBA Administrator Maria Contreras Sweet will be joined by NYC Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, NYC Small Business Commissioner Maria Torres Spring and off-Broadway Actress & Entrepreneur Catherine Russell to discuss the state of small business and amplify Small Business Saturday, BOGOTA Latin Bistro, 141 5th Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Also at noon, Sharpton’s National Action Network holds “hands up for justice” rallies in front of federal buildings across the nations. A list of locations is here: http://nationalactionnetwork.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/HANDS-UP-JUSTICE-RALLY-FLIER-11-241.pdf.

Also at noon, OGS Deputy Commissioner Gail Hammond hosts a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new gift shop and visitor center at the north end of the Empire State Plaza Concourse, Albany.

Also at noon, community, faith, and labor leaders gather at the state Capitol to call on lawmakers to raise the minimum wage before giving themselves a pay hike, third floor, outside the Senate chamber, Albany.

At 12:30 p.m., NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito hosts a press conference prior to the Council’s stated meeting, Red Room, City Hall, Manhattan. (Council meeting starts at 1 p.m., Council chambers).

At 12:45 p.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and McCray greet volunteers and distribute food, PATHHSEO Soup Kitchen, basement of Caldwell AME Zion Church, 1281 Chisholm St., the Bronx.

At 1 p.m., parents of charter school students call for NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina to apologize for recent comments about charter school recruitment efforts, during a news conference sponsored by charter school advocacy organization Families for Excellent Schools; steps, City Hall, Manhattan.

Headlines…

Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson, MO police officer who avoided a grand jury indictment for shooting unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, testified before the panel that he feared for his life first while fending off punches and then seconds later after a brief pursuit was reversed.

After it was announced the St. Louis County grand jury had brought no charges against Wilson, set off a new wave of anger among hundreds who had gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department. Police officers in riot gear stood in a line as demonstrators chanted and threw signs and other objects toward them as the news spread.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the protests that followed the announcement were “probably much worse than the worst night we ever had in August” after Brown was killed.

While reporting on the Ferguson protests, CNN’s Chris Cuomo (brother of Gov. Andrew Cuomo) was tear gassed on the street.

At least 1,000 people marched from Union Square to upper Manhattan to protest the grand jury’s decision. A man was arrested at Times Square when he threw what appeared to be red paint toward police officers and officials, including NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.

The NYC protestors snarled traffic and temporarily shut down three bridges.

In NYC, the chief medical examiner called the death of an unarmed man, Akai Gurley, 28, at the hands of rookie cop Peter Liang, 27, a homicide.

Liang knew he was in deep trouble as soon as he discharged his gun — telling his partner, “I think I’m going to get fired,” even before learning he had hit the innocent man.

The issue of rookies patrolling with rookies came up yesterday at a meeting between Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson and Melissa Butler, a friend of Akai Gurley who is the sole civilian witness to the shooting.

The Democratic National Committee has narrowed its list of possible convention sites in 2016 to Columbus, Ohio; New York City; and Philadelphia. The committee had previously been considering Birmingham, Ala., and Phoenix as well. A winner will be announced early next year.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and top Brooklyn pols held a major cheerleading session after the DNC announcement, proclaiming that Gotham should take the prize because “Brooklyn’s story is America’s story.”

More >

Duffy: Lobbying Albany ‘A Small Slice’ Of New Job

Outgoing Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy on Monday said he will adhere to any guidance offered by ethics regulators when it comes to his new post as the CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance.

But Duffy added to reporters earlier today that lobbying the state on business issues is only fraction of the job he’s due to assume in January.

“Lobbying in Albany and going to Albany is just a small slice of it,” Duffy said.

Duffy said he’s been consulting with both ethics officers in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office as well as the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an ostensibly independent entity that regulates lobbying.

Duffy will be sticking to a two-year ban on lobbying the executive chamber, but he also pointed out that he did not have a decision-making role as lieutenant governor.

Duffy, a former mayor of Rochester, said his job as the chairman of the governor’s regional economic councils was that of a “convener” who nonetheless was able to establish contacts with the state’s business community.

“In applying for the job at the RBA and accepting the job there are no conflicts,” Duffy said. “I’ve dealt very closely with JCOPE, with the chamber’s ethics officers. I’m very well aware of the ethics. I’m very aware of my ethical obligations going forward. While there may be some issues that I will work around, I will work around those, I will avoid any perception of conflict of the future.”

He does not plan to register as a lobbyist.

Still, Duffy taking on the new role will give Cuomo an ally in the state’s business community. The Rochester Business Alliance over the last several years has backed Unshackle Upstate, a pro-business group that hasn’t hesitated in criticizing the governor’s policies during his first term.

Duffy said he’s awaiting a possible ruling from JCOPE over the scope of what his work will be, but said he expects any restrictions to be limited.

“I don’t think I’ll be hamstrung at all,” he said.

Duffy did not run for re-election this year; former Rep. Kathy Hochul filled his spot on the ticket and will take office as lieutenant governor on Jan. 1.