Cuomo To Cuba On April 20 (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will lead a trade mission of state officials and business leaders to Cuba on April 20, his office on Thursday announced.

In doing so, Cuomo will become the first chief executive of a U.S. state to travel to the Communist country after President Obama announced diplomatic relations would be normalized.

“I am pleased to announce that New York will be the first in the nation to conduct an official state trade mission to Cuba since President Obama’s announcement,” Cuomo said. “This mission will be a tremendous stepping stone for our State’s relationship with Cuba, and will help open the door to a new market for New York businesses. Creating an environment that supports growth and economic development is one of our administration’s top priorities, and Global NY is the perfect example of how we’re taking that approach to the international stage. As the first state to launch a trade mission to Cuba in this new era, New York will continue to stand at the forefront of opportunity.”

Updated: Cuomo will not be the first governor to travel to Cuba, after all. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon will be making the trip next week.

Cuomo announced in January he would lead the trade mission as part of a larger effort to promote New York business overseas.

The governor also plans to travel to Mexico, Israel, Italy, Canada and Japan as part of the trips.

The overseas trips could burnish Cuomo’s foreign policy credentials even as he is no longer considered a possible candidate for president in 2016.

Cuomo has insisted he would travel to Cuba strictly to discuss trade, namely the state’s agriculture sector, and not the country’s oppressive government.

He was questioned last month about Cuba’s record on human rights, especially its treatment of its gay citizens (Cuban leader Fidel Castro has previously acknowledged the “injustice” of the country’s treatment of gays and lesbians).

“There are issues that concern me about Cuba and issues that I would like to address, but you wear different hats and there are different purposes,” Cuomo said at the time. “This is going to be about a trade mission and meeting with trade ministers and trade relations in the agriculture sector. It’s not really conducive to having a conversation about locking up gays.

Assembly Republicans Push For School Aid Runs

Republicans in the state Assembly on Thursday pushed Gov. Andrew Cuomo to release school aid runs so that districts can better plan their budgets and tax levies, which are due to go before voters this May.

“I can think of no worse example of not being transparent, not having sunlight than not releasing school aid runs for school districts around the state,” Minority Leader Brian Kolb said.

The information typically is released in conjunction with a governor’s annual budget proposal and provides a district-by-district breakdown of how much money a given school district expects to receive in state aid.

This year, as Cuomo ties most of his $1.1 billion spending increase in education to policy changes, his office has declined to release the school aid information. Cuomo has said school districts should budget with last year’s state aid numbers as a projection.

Still, not releasing the aid runs is an unusual step for Albany’s budgeting process, lawmakers said.

“School districts need this information so they can at least start their planning,” Kolb said. “I have been here 15 years and I’ve never experienced a governor in both parties as not releasing school aid runs in both parties not releasing school aid runs as part of their budget.”

Cuomo’s budget would create a more stringent teacher evaluation system and make it harder for teachers to obtain tenure. At the same time, Cuomo wants to increase the statewide cap on charter schools by 100.

The policies have put Cuomo on a collision course with the state’s teachers unions, which have accused the governor of being “anti-teacher.”

But for districts, the lack of aid information is more acute, with anticipated levies due by March 1.

“There’s a process that has to take place,” said School Boards Association President Tim Kremer. T”hese are multi-million dollar budgets and putting them together with a few weeks notice is impossible.”

Kremer said that some districts are even moving forward with layoffs while assuming flat spending increases.

“This has become very chaotic without that revenue figure,” he said.

Siena Poll: Voters Trust Local Governments Over State, Feds

A Siena College poll sponsored by local government advocates released Thursday morning found voters across the state trust their local government over Washington or Albany.

The poll found 28 percent of voters trust the federal or state government to do the right thing, while 43 percent back their local government most or all of the time.

Only 27 percent of voters support the federal government as having a positive job performance of either good or excellent, 30 percent give the state a positive job performance.
Forty-two percent of voters surveyed say local government, meanwhile, is doing a good or excellent job.

The poll was sponsored by the Conference of Mayors, Association of Counties and the Association of Towns.

“While trust in government at every level is near historic lows, significantly more New Yorkers trust their local government most or all of the time than trust those working on their behalf either in D.C. or Albany. And when it comes to assessing the job that they are doing, over four in ten give local government a thumbs up while a third call the federal performance poor and a quarter put that black mark on state government,” said Don Levy, Director of the Siena Research Institute.

Even with the sponsorship from those groups, the results aren’t necessarily surprising: Voters have more direct interaction with the Leslie Knopes of local government compared to, say, Andrew Cuomo.

NYSAC0215 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman

DiNapoli Questions Cuomo Per Diem Reform Tactic

From the Morning Memo:

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office was blindsided by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement in his 30-day amendments that he had linked part of his ethics reform package – an overhaul of the legislative per diem system – to a portion of the comptroller’s own budget.

No one from the Cuomo administration had bothered to give the comptroller’s staff a heads-up on this, or even seek their counsel regarding the rather sticky constitutional implications of putting ethics reforms into appropriations bills in an effort to force the Legislature’s hand.

“We were not consulted by the executive,” DiNapoli spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman confirmed.

This is not terribly surprising, given the rocky relationship between Cuomo and DiNapoli.

The governor is in the habit of not consulting the comptroller on issues that impact him – the public campaign finance pilot program (which turned out to be a dud) established last year solely for the comptroller’s race, is a perfect example.

(To be fair, the comptroller wasn’t warned by legislative leaders about that, either – not even by his former colleagues in the Assembly Democratic conference).

So, Cuomo’s surprise proposal that the comptroller would be prohibited from reimbursing expenses for a member of the Legislature or statewide elected official until expanded disclosure provisions are met sent DiNapoli staffers scrambling to figure out the ramifications and implications of that plan.

So far, they’ve determined that if for some reason the Legislature completely rejects Cuomo’s amendment, it could wipe out funding for the comptroller’s office employees who are in charge of reviewing – and paying – the state’s bills.

(Remember: If something is embedded by the governor in an appropriation bill, the Legislature only has the power to either strike it entirely or reduce its monetary value; but not to amend it).

This, of course, would be highly problematic. But the comptroller’s office isn’t terribly worried, because it seems unlikely lawmakers will take the risk of completely ruling out Cuomo’s per diem reform idea.

That said, the comptroller is questioning the efficacy of Cuomo’s plan, noting that anything achieved through the budget will be short lived – basically lasting only as long as the duration of the spending plan itself, which would be (at most) two years.

“Clearly there is a need to strengthen the state’s ethics laws,” Freeman said. “But broad policy issues are generally best dealt with on their merits rather than attaching them to time-limited appropriations.”

“Comptroller DiNapoli expects these issues will be worked out during negotiations between the Legislature and the Executive.”

An Ethics Reform Blind Spot

From the Morning Memo:

Ethics reform is pretty much THE hot topic at the Capitol these days, thanks to Cuomo’s desire to extricate himself from the Moreland Commission mess and the Sheldon Silver corruption scandal.

But while the governor is threatening to hold up the entire budget in order to see his reform proposals passed by the state Legislature, he has recommended no additional funding for the three existing ethics enforcement entities currently responsible for policing the three branches of government: JCOPE, the state inspector general and the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

A lot of ink has been spilled about JCOPE and its ineffectiveness. But even though good government groups have been calling for changes to its structure (the Legislature is more or less able to block any investigation out might want to launch), the governor has failed to propose any reforms.

As for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, this is the fifth year in a row the executive has recommended zero increases for its budget of $5.4 million, despite holding other state agencies to a 2 percent spending increase, according to commission administrator and counsel Robert Tembeckjian.

The commission is a constitutionally created independent agency of state government that enforces judicial ethics by investigating and disciplining judges for misconduct. Its work has resulted in 786 public disciplines of judges in 36 years – an average of 22 a year – including 168 removals and 51 stipulated resignations.

In testimony Tembeckjian will deliver at a joint legislative budget hearing today, he says the commission has learned to do more with less, cutting staff, giving up formal training and adopting cost-cutting technologies.

“Years of flat budgeting and corresponding cuts in staff and services have diminished our effectiveness,” Tembeckjian will say, according to an advance copy of his testimony provided to CapTon. “Unless the Legislature acts, I will be forced to make even more mission-impeding economies.”

Tembeckjian says he’s seeking from the Legislature an additional $273,300 – a 5 percent increase – “the minimum amount necessary for us to maintain the status quo,” covering a rent increase, mandated 2 percent staff salary bump and also fund step increases to eligible staffers.

WFP Claims Victory in Special Prosecutor Probe

From the Morning Memo:

The Working Families Party is celebrating the end of a protracted legal battle over its efforts in the 2009 NYC elections that lead to the demise of its for-profit arm, Data & Field Services, but ultimately resulted in no charges against the labor-backed party.

Special prosecutor Roger Adler announced yesterday that his investigation of the WFP’s involvement in Councilwoman Debi Rose’s campaign resulted in the indictment of two former aides to the Staten Island Democrat, but no allegations of wrongdoing against the party itself or any of its officials.

In a lengthy statement released late last night, New York WFP Director Bill Lipton slammed Adler, calling him an “unqualified prosecutor with a political axe to grind” who had spent “three years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to reinvestigate allegations…that had already been debunked.”

“This matter never should have been the subject of a criminal investigation in the first place,” Lipton continued. “It should have been treated as a routine administrative matter and examined by the Campaign Finance Board, and Roger Adler himself has admitted as much.”

“Instead, he pressed forward with a full-scale criminal investigation to attempt to inflict political damage on his opponents, while keeping the meter running for himself. By the end, we have no doubt that he’ll have billed half a million dollars in public money for himself.”

“The indictment of a defunct corporation that has been out of business for more than three years is bizarre. But the indictments against the Rose campaign and two campaign workers are especially outrageous.”

“Councilmember Debi Rose is the first and only African American elected official on Staten Island, and it is wrong that her campaign and her volunteers were subject to a different standard than everyone else.”

The US Attorney’s office and the NYC Campaign Finance Board also both investigated the WFP’s 2009 efforts and found no significant violations.

A lawsuit brought by Randy Mastro, a former Giuliani administration deputy mayor, was settled in 2010, requiring some restitution by Rose for “alleged undercharging” by DFS for services provided to her campaign and also structural changes to how DFS operated. Under the settlement, there was no finding of wrongdoing by the WFP.

The WFP hired former Chief Judge Judith Kaye to review DFS, and she recommended that it reconstitute itself as a taxable, nonprofit corporation. The WFP ultimately opted to shut down DFS altogether and pony up $100,000 in legal fees to settle its long-running dispute with Mastro.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule. The Senate is in session at 11 a.m. The Assembly is in session at noon.

At 8 a.m., the executive director of The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Patrick Foye, delivers a keynote speech during a Queens real estate conference presented by REBNY, Schneps Publications Inc.’s The Queens Courier weekly newspapers and the Star Network; Terrace on the Park catering facility, 52-11 111th St., Queens.

At 10 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul holds a media availability after a sexual assault campus roundtable with students, Long Island University, Tilles Center Patrons Lounge, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville.

Also at 10 a.m., a joint legislative budget hearing will be held on the public protection portion of Cuomo’s 2015-16 spending plan, Hearing Room B, LOB, Albany.

At 10:30 a.m., a funeral will take place for former Queens Democratic Sen. George Onorato, 2117 45th St., Long Island City, Queens.

Also at 10:30 a.m., the PSC meets, 9th Floor Board Room of its offices located at Three Empire State Plaza, Albany.

Also at 10:30 a.m., NYC Council members workers, and advocates will unveil the CLEAN Act: new legislation to clean up the laundry industry through new regulation and licensing that sets stronger workplace health and safety standards, City Hall steps, Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., NYS Broadband Program Office David Salway discusses the New NY Broadband Fund included in Cuomo’s 2015-16 budget, The Roxbury Motel, 2258 Co Rd 41, Roxbury.

Also at 11 a.m., the September 11th Museum holds a ceremony to mark the 22nd anniversary of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, West and Fulton streets, Manhattan.

Also at 11 a.m., Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and his colleagues will be joined by education advocates and professionals at a press conference to call for equitable education funding and the release of school aid runs, back of Assembly chamber, state Capitol, Albany.

At 11:15 a.m., Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie holds a press conference on the DREAM Act, Speaker’s Conference Room (342), state Capitol, Albany.

At noon, NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray will speak at the Vera Institute of Justice on the intersection of mental health and criminal justice, Woolworth Building, 15 Barclay St., Manhattan.

Also at noon, hundreds of students, faculty and staff from CUNY and SUNY will be in Albany for a statewide Higher Education Action Day of citizen lobbying and activism, outside concourse meetings rooms 2, 3 and 4, Empire State Plaza, Albany.

Also at noon, Bronx BP Ruben Diaz Jr. hosts an annual “Dominican Heritage Celebration” honoring NYC Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, The Mott Haven Bar & Grill owner Rosa Garcia and the corporate and community development director of CUNY’s Lehman College, Nestor Montilla Sr.; Salsa Con Fuego lounge and restaurant, 2297 Cedar Ave., the Bronx.

At 12:30 p.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will speak at the Police Officer Eddie Byrne annual memorial service, 107 Avenue and Inwood Street, Queens.

Also at 12:30 p.m., Hall of Fame Pitcher Pedro Martinez will be honored at an award ceremony during Dominican Heritage Week by Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Sens. Adriano Espaillat and Jose Peralta, and Assemblyman Victor Pichardo, Minority Conference Room (315), third floor, state Capitol, Albany.

At 1 p.m., opponents of proposed state regulations and taxes on e-cigarettes participate in a news conference and rally organized by the New Yorkers for Smarter Smoking Alternatives coalition; steps, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 2 p.m., a bipartisan group of eight US Senators, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, will reintroduce a strengthened version of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, Senate Visitor’s Center, Washington, D.C.

At 3 p.m., Salway makes another appearance on the same topic (broadband), 144 Main St., 2nd Floor, Moravia.

At 6 p.m., Eric Adams, the first person of color to serve as Brooklyn’s chief executive, will host his Black History Month celebration at Brooklyn Borough Hall, where he will celebrate the legacy of the borough’s African-American businesses, 209 Joralemon St., Brooklyn.

At 6:30 p.m., Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley III delivers a “State of the District” address; Higgins Hall, Pratt Institute, 65 St. James Place, Brooklyn.

At 7 p.m., the Staten Island Democrats meet to select a candidate for the May 5 special election in NY-11, The Crystal Room, 67 Olympia Blvd., Staten Island.

Also at 7 p.m., during a legislative forum and rally in support of a proposed Education Investment Tax Credit, Archdiocese of New York officials including Bishop John O’Hara and Superintendent of Schools Timothy J. McNiff, city officials and state lawmakers are scheduled to speak; Monsignor Farrell High School, 2900 Amboy Rd., Staten Island.

Headlines…

A yearslong investigation into the Working Families Party, the influential left-leaning group that helped fuel the rise of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, has resulted in the indictments of two former aides to a Staten Island city councilwoman, but no changes to the party itself.

De Blasio’s first trip to Albany this year could not be called a success. His budget requests were met with skepticism from some lawmakers, and his call for a permanent extension of mayoral control was promptly dismissed by Cuomo, who held a competing event at the Capitol.

The mayor’s agenda diverges significantly from the governor’s this year.

Cuomo shot down de Blasio’s pitch for permanent mayoral control of the NYC school system, saying the idea should be subject to review in Albany every few years.

Cuomo, who convened a cabinet meeting at the exact time de Blasio was providing budget testimony to a legislative panel, scoffed at the notion that he would seek to upstage a man whom he has repeatedly referred to as a good friend, saying: “Only a really twisted mind would come up with that.”

The mayor panned two of Cuomo’s top education proposals that would weaken his say over school policy — including one that would allow the state to put failing city public schools into a receivership.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner told state legislators during a budget hearing that her city needs state money to fix its water system and other aging infrastructure. She made it clear that she meant grants, not just loans. She got a good reception from lawmakers.

A spokeswoman Cuomo said that “no employee of the executive chamber” has been subpoenaed in connection with a federal investigation, a few hours after the governor himself wouldn’t say whether they had.

Cuomo unveiled “Enough is Enough” – a campaign designed to address what he called “an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses.” He’s pushing legislation that would require private colleges to adopt uniform sexual assault policies and the governor is encouraging students to call outside police to investigate rape cases.

More >

Cuomo And de Blasio: No Rivalry Here

Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted on Wednesday he wasn’t trying to upstage New York’s other prominent Democrat: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Only a really twisted mind would come up with that one,” Cuomo said of the implication.

De Blasio traveled to Albany to testify before a joint Senate and Assembly legislative budget hearing.

In the middle of the testimony and while de Blasio was being grilled by state lawmakers, Cuomo across the street at the Capitol building held a cabinet meeting.

The meeting featured one of de Blasio’s main primary foes from 2013: Former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is now a special advisor to the governor on campus assault and rape policy.

The second announcement at the meeting was a signature issue for de Blasio in 2014: Universal pre-Kindergarten in New York City. Cuomo at the meeting today highlighted his own efforts to extend universal pre-K not just to 4-year-olds, but 3-year-olds as well.

During a question-and-answer session, Cuomo would not support de Blasio’s push for a permanent mayoral control of city schools.

De Blasio brushed off the talk of a rivalry.

“I applaud him for focusing on pre-K,” de Blasio told reporters at a news conference.

Later, after meeting privately with Cuomo, de Blasio was similarly unphased.

“Look, there’s a process that happens up here over – you know, in the case of the budgets, it’ll be over the next weeks – in the case of legislative session, it’ll be over months – and there’s always a lot of give and take. So I think it was an open and productive conversation, meaning I have phrased a series of concerns, he was receptive, nothing was concluded – it’s a beginning – but I think, at least, I can say safely he heard very clearly that the city has a number of concerns,” de Blasio said.

Cuomo has previously insisted that he has one of the tightest working relationships with de Blasio in recent history.

Given that governors and mayor frequently feud — Rockefeller versus Lindsay, Mario Cuomo versus Koch, Pataki versus Giuliani — the bar is set rather low.

Extras

Asked if his cabinet meeting was deliberately timed to coincide with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s budget testimony, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said: “Only a really twisted mind would come up with that one.”

The proposed Lago casino beat back a legal challenge in the form of an injunction request by opponents concerned about what the development will to do the area’s environment.

Cuomo did not endorse NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for permanent mayoral control of schools, saying: “I think it’s going well enough to extend it for three years.”

US Attorney (and US AG nominee) Loretta Lynch announced the arrest of three Brooklyn residents on charges they conspired to provide material support to the Islamic State terrorist group, or ISIL.

The CBC released its recmomendations to lawmakers regarding what to support and what to reject in the governor’s 2015-16 budget.

The all-Hasidic Village of Kiryas Joel is urging Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney to boycott Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress next week.

The de Blasio diaries…”Fifty Shades of Blush.”

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg says the Keystone pipeline can be a major chip in climate talks with Canada.

Former Democratic state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk of Duanesburg will host a new radio show called “The Albany Report” on WGXC (90.7 FM) beginning next Monday at 10 a.m.

Brooklyn Sen. Velmanette Montgomery apologized for her racially charged comments regarding the imminent closure of a supermarket.

The developers of the former Nevele resort unveiled their “Plan B” for revitalizing the site in the wake of the state’s rejection of its casino application.

Families for Excellent Schools, a Manhattan-based nonprofit and lobbying group, is calling for New York state leaders to place 178 failing public schools, including some in Syracuse, under state receivership this fall.

The International Business Times reports that News Corp. gave Cuomo a book contract after his administration backed a series of state initiatives that benefited the media giant.

Hillary Clinton says she has been given three Fitbits and Jawbones, but she never really took to them.

Cuomo’s AIDS task force is trying to go beyond its mandate, not just reducing the number of new HIV infections below the threshold necessary to qualify as an epidemic, but virtually eradicating the disease.

SUNY Oswego alumnus Al Roker suggests global warming is to blame for the harsh winter.

Piglets and sows will return to the 2015 New York State Fair, Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Richard Ball announced.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick has signed a 20-year electric power purchase agreement for a solar array that will replace greenhouse-gas emissions equal to that created for 120 homes.

It’s historically cold in Buffalo.

Cuomo: Mayoral Control ‘An Experiment’

As Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday called for a permanent extension of mayoral control of schools in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it an “experiment” that should be renewed in 2018.

“Remember, mayoral control is basically an experiment that was started under Mayor Bloomberg,” Cuomo said. “The point was let’s try this — mayoral control — in New York City. It had been tried in other cities, but let’s try it to see if it’s better than the Board of Education system. That was the genesis and let’s review it to see how it’s doing.”

Asked how he felt mayoral control was working, Cuomo said: “I think it’s doing well enough to extend it for three years.”

De Blasio, before a panel of state lawmakers, called in his testimony for a permanent extension, saying it was the most efficient vehicle for education reform.

“Mayoral control gives the City the authority it needs to carry out a vision of improving and reforming education,” he said. “The speed and scale of our pre-K-for-all and expanded after school initiatives were only possible because of mayoral control.”