Cuomo Unleashes a Rockefeller on ‘Ultra-Conservative’ Astorino (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is out with another attack ad that casts his GOP opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, as an “ultra-conservative,” this time employing one of Astorino’s fellow Republicans – Laurence “Larry” Rockefeller – to deliver the message.

It would be fair to characterize Rockefeller as a moderate – or “Rocky” – Republican. He’s the son of Laurance S. Rockefeller, brother of former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, and was an environmental lawyer who worked for 25 years with the Natural Resources Defense Council (supported by Rockefeller funds). He’s now a trustee of the organization, and also a conservationist whose grandfather donated 700 acres along the Hudson River to preserve the New Jersey Palisades.

Rockefeller is also one of the governor’s GOP donors (giving at least $50,000 from 1989 through this year) who attended a “Republicans for Cuomo” event hosted in March by John and Betty Levin at the Pierre hotel in Manhattan. Also, irony alert: Rockefeller ran a failed primary challenge in 1992 to US Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. He was forced out of the race because he failed to gather sufficient signatures on nominating petitions to withstand challenges from D’Amato’s campaign.

D’Amato played a big role in getting then-little known state Sen. George Pataki elected in 1994, ousting former Gov. Mario Cuomo – a turn of events Astorino often cites as a model for how he might come from behind to oust Cuomo-the-younger. Now, of course, D’Amato is a lobbyist and a major fundraiser and donor for Andrew Cuomo.

Also, Capital NY notes that during that 1992 campaign, Rockefeller pledged not to run political ads, saying the 30- and 60-second spots were “an affront to voters’ intelligence, an attempt to substitute emotion for reason.”

Astorino has been struggling to gain traction among his fellow Republicans – especially many top donors, who are already backing Cuomo. He has had particular problems with the Senate Republicans, who are cozying up to Cuomo to demonstrate their bipartisanship as they fight to win back the majority in this increasingly Democrat-dominated state.

This ad comes as Astorino made a pitch this morning at the ABNY breakfast (attended by the sort of business leaders and GOP donors that he desperately needs to win over) on what Year One of his agenda would look like if he manages an upset win in November. That includes: an across-the-board income tax cut, replacing the controversial Common Core standards and letting counties out of non-manadated Medicaid services.

UPDATE: The response from Astorino campaign spokeswoman Jessica Proud:

“In Andrew Cuomo’s New York, only a Rockefeller will be able to live here in four years. The rest of us are tapped. Mr. Rockefeller is about as Republican as Bill de Blasio; he’s been giving tens of thousands of dollars to New York Democrats and to radical groups like MoveOn.Org and the NRDC for years.”

Here’s the script for the ad, which is narrated by Rockfeller:

“I’m a lifelong Republican. But I cannot support the ultraconservative Rob Astorino. Mr. Astorino opposes marriage equality. He opposes a woman’s right to choose. He even opposes common-sense background checks that would stop the mentally ill from buying a gun. I’m supporting our mainstream Governor, Andrew Cuomo. I’m a Republican, but I’m a New Yorker first. We cannot afford to go backwards with Rob Astorino. Let’s keep moving forward with Andrew Cuomo.”

On Groundhogs…

The suggestion that Mayor de Blasio may have had a hand in a groundhog’s death brought gags and smirks across the city. Nothing was funny about a groundhog losing her life, but watching the story unfold in the press was, let’s face it, amusing. You know who didn’t have a sense of humor about it ( besides Charlotte the groundhog )? Mayor de Blasio, who coolly shook off reporter’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek questions about it Monday. There is of course some irony in a Mayor who championed the rights of horses somehow being implicated in such an awful accident involving an animal.

But let me propose an unpopular idea…maybe it’s time to give up Groundhog Day all together. Groundhogs, after all, are not meant to be handled by humans. They are wild animals. They have not been domesticated like other rodents such as gerbils and guinea pigs. One need only look back to 2009 when Staten Island Chuck bit Mayor Bloomberg as evidence these creatures aren’t exactly in on our joke about the future of foul weather.

In fact, one could argue that because the groundhog bit the Mayor, de Blasio was forced to wear those awkwardly big and unruly gloves which may have contributed to him losing grip of the slippery groundhog.

Bloomberg getting bitten was another somewhat funny groundhog story, but when you think about it, it really wasn’t. This poor groundhog gets hoisted up by a bunch of menacing-looking humans as part of some bizarre ritual dating back to the 19th century. I could sit here and run off the history of Groundhog Day, and how it dates back to German-American Traditions in Eastern Pnensylvania, but who cares?!?! I mean, honestly. Is this really something that needs to be done every year?

Let’s think about it carefully. On February 2nd, a bunch of men in top hats hoist a Groundhog out of his cage to check whether or not he sees his shadow. legend has it, that if the groundhog sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter persist. Ok, for starters there are always at least six more weeks of winter on February 2nd. Even before the polar vortex, the weather in March was usually pretty unbearable. So, six weeks of winter would actually be a welcomed gift, meaning the legend really has no basis in fact. Besides, we are all getting a little too sophisticated for silly superstitions. Especially in the age of instantaneous web searches and Wikipedia.

Finally, the Staten Island tradition only dates back to 1981. So, it’s not like we’d be throwing out some grand ritual dating back to the last ice age that the Lenape Indians first practiced on the land masses that comprise the five boroughs. It’s something we co-opted from Pennsylvania. So Why don’t we just let our friends in Punxsutawney be the ones to keep the antiquated tradition alive? If TV stations are desperate for a groundhog story on February 2nd, I am sure they can figure out a way to get the satellite feed from our neighbor to the west.

The 1993 film “Groundhog Day” really has become the authority on this anachronistic practice. The very premise of the film is a cliche in politics and pretty much everywhere else. I’m picturing politicians grandstanding on the House floor or in some state legislature complaining about a debate they’ve had before saying things like, “It’s like Groundhog’s day all over again!”

The subtext to that movie, and yet another reason why the “holiday” should be retired once and for all, is that Groundhog Day is ridiculous. Period.

So, why don’t we give it rest for now. At least here in New York City, since from now on it’ll always end up as a joke or a scandal. We’ve officially reached the no-turning-back point. I assure you the groundhogs will get over it.


Scarborough Arraigned On 23 Counts

Queens Assemblyman Bill Scarborough indicted on 23 counts of corruption charges ranging from grand larceny to making statements.

The charges stem from Scarborough’s use of campaign funds for personal purposes, according to prosecutors.

Scarborough pleaded not guilty to the charges in an Albany County court room this morning.

He is also expected to meet with investigators from the FBI later today.

His attorney E. Stewart Jones said investigators are misinterpreting campaign-finance records and the money paid to the Democratic lawmaker was meant to be a reimbursement of funds.

“Certainly no money was taken intentionally,” Stewart told reporters. “Mr. Scarborough was reimbursed. There was no crime committed here.”

He added the attorney general’s office has “misconstrued the financial records” stemming from reimbursements owed to Scarborough.

“Nonetheless, it’s his position that he spent money his campaign should have spent and he was entitled for those expenses,” he said.

Records show Scarborough has not filed a campaign-finance report with the state Board of Elections since January.

Stewart added none of the charges are related to per diem reimbursements for Scarborough.

Scarborough’s Albany office as well as his district office in Queens was raided by the FBI in March.

At the time, Scarborough said investigators were interested in his use of travel expenses and per diems.

Scarborough Arrested, To Be Arraigned In Albany

Queens Democratic Assemblyman Bill Scarborough was arrested by investigators from the state attorney general’s office on Wednesday and is due in an Albany court later this morning.

The arrest is expected be discussed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli at a news conference this afternoon at 2 p.m. in New York City.

Scarborough’s legal troubles began in March, when investigators from the attorney general’s office and the FBI raided the lawmaker’s district office in Queens, his home and his Capitol office in Albany.

Scarborough had initially told reporters investigators were interested in his reporting of travel expenses and denied any wrongdoing.

His arrest comes a year after a trio of incumbent lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly were arrested in separate corruption scandals.

Sen. Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican, was charged earlier this year with one count of lying to the FBI in a case stemming from his son receiving a job at a politically connected law firm.

The arrest, coming just over a month before Election Day, comes as the anti-corruption commission created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo comes under scrutiny from the U.S. attorney’s office in New York City.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks his streak of no events in Albany for 103 days. He’ll also be in New York City.

At 7:10 a.m., Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins will a guest be on Tompkins County radio WHCU 870AM.

At 8 a.m., Westchester County Executive and GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino will will deliver a speech at the ABNY breakfast on his plans for the future of New York, Warwick Hotel, 65 West 54th St., Manhattan.

At 8:45 a.m., Rep. Louise Slaughter speaks on military sexual assault at CDS Monarch Warrior Salute’s “Serve. Honor. Support.” Symposium, Otto A. Shults Community Center, Nazareth College, Rochester.

At 9 a.m., Regents Chancellor Tisch and state Education Commissioner King will visit Dual Language Middle School, 32 West 92nd St., Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., Cuomo attends the 2014 MWBE Forum, Hart Theater, The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany.

Also at 10 a.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Mayor of Barcelona Xavier Trias, Blue Room, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 10:30 a.m., Hawkins tours the final day of the Watertown Farmers’ Market and meets voters one-on-one.

Also at 10:30 a.m., Astorino will be a guest on Talk 1300 “Live from the State Capitol” with host Fred Dicker.

Also at 10:30 a.m., GOP AG candidate John Cahill, joined by Assembly candidate Maureen Koetz, discusses the role of the attorney general’s office in combatting domestic violence, Women’s National Republican Club, 3 W 51st St., Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., Women’s Equality Party members, including former NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, will join NYC Public Advocate Letitia James and Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd to make a pay equity announcement, Teamsters Local 237 Union Hall. 216 W 14th St., Manhattan.

Also at 11 a.m., Assemblymen Francisco Moya and Michael DenDekker encourage voters to approve the Smart Schools Bond Act, P.S. 19Q, 98-02 Roosevelt Ave., Queens.

At 11:30 a.m., Tisch and King visit The Bronx Latin School, 800 Home St., the Bronx.

At 11:45 a.m., Democratic LG candidate Kathy Hochul lunches with Sen. Dave Valesky and Assemblyman Bil Magee, Choo Choo Charlie’s Diner, 236 Main St., Oneida.

At noon, de Blasio makes an announcement, Dumbo Heights, 55 Prospect Pl., Brooklyn.

Also at noon, Astorino will be a guest on WXXI with host Evan Dawson.

At 12:20 p.m., Hawkins will be interviewed on WATN 1240 by Watertown Mayor Jeff Graham.

At 1 p.m., Hochul visits Steinhorst Square Senior Apartments with Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, 612 South St., Utica.

At 1:45 p.m., Hochul and Brindisi visit the Brook Senior Apartments, 2420 Oneida St., Utica.

At 2 p.m., Hawkins is scheduled to meet with the Editorial Board of the Watertown Daily Times.

Also at 2 p.m., state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and AG Eric Schneiderman will make an announcement about a development in a public corruption case, 120 Broadway, 25th Floor, Manhattan.

At 2:30 p.m., Hochul tours the Par Technology Plant with local business leaders, 8383 Seneca Turnpike, New Hartford.

At 4:30 p.m., Hochul tours the Riverwalk with Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane, intersection of Bridge Street & Gilliland Avenue, Amsterdam.

At 5:30 p.m., Chemung County Sheriff and GOP LG candidate Chris Moss attends and delivers remarks at the Broome County GOP’s “Chairman’s Reception”, Holiday Inn Binghamton, 2-8 Hawley St., Binghamton.

Also at 5:30 p.m., Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan presents the new city budget, City Hall, 24 Eagle St., Albany.

At 5:35 p.m., Astorino with be a guest on WABC radio’s “The Ride Home” with hosts Pat Kiernan & Rita Cosby.

At 6 p.m., Hocuhl attends the Fulton County Democratic Committee “meet the candidates reception,” Holiday Inn, 308 N. Comrie Aven., Johnstown.

At 6:30 p.m., Cuomo attends the 69th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, Waldorf Astoria Hotel, 301 Park Ave., Manhattan. (Many other elected officials and candidates, including de Blasio and Astorino, will also attend).

At 7 p.m., NY-19 candidates Sean Eldridge and Rep. Chris Gibson participate in a NYLCV forum on the environment, Lecture Center 100, SUNY New Paltz. (Note, my father, Dr. Gerald Benjamin, will also be attending).

At approximately 8:10 p.m., Cuomo attends the Rev. Al Sharpton’s 60th Birthday Celebration (PARTY for a CAUSE), The Four Seasons Restaurant, 99 East 52nd St., Manhattan. De Blasio will also attend and speak.


Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout pledged to support PEF members during their coming contract fight with Cuomo, telling them the governor “is not invincible anymore.”

Risa Sugarman, the head of a supposedly independent unit created to investigate state election law violations, kept Cuomo’s office in the loop about her work about an inquiry into the release of GOP AG candidate John Cahill’s internal poll numbers.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was fundraising for GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino in Buffalo just as news broke of the first U.S. case of the deadly Ebola virus surfaced in his home state.

Perry said he’s doing his “preparatory work” for a potential 2016 repeat presidential run, and will travel soon to early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire. “One thing I did not do right in 2011 was be prepared properly,” he said.

During an event with Astorino on Long Island, Perry criticized New York’s business and regulator environment and called on Cuomo to debate Astorino in a televised one-on-one matchup.

SolarCity, the California-based solar-energy giant that will benefit from $750 million in New York State investments to open a production facility near Buffalo, is a subject in two separate federal probes of its business practices.

US Attorney Preet Bharara deflected questions about whether he wanted to be the next US attorney general, then ticked off crimes his office has successfully prosecuted and said Eric Holder’s successor – whoever that person is – hould make them priorities.

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle calls Cuomo’s WFP endorsement deal to support a full Democratic Senate takeover “a potential step backwards for bipartisanship,” and urges voters to “look beyond party labels” this fall.

More >

Last Night and What’s Ahead

It’s the Cuomo-Astorino ad war, and we’re in the middle of it, literally. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined us to talk about her work, and her future, and we talk state issues including medical marijuana and terrorism. Here’s highlights from last night and a look ahead to what’s coming up tonight:



Full Show – 9.29.14

State of Politics LIVE – 9.30.14

Empowering Women Through Words: Kirsten Gillibrand Interview

Pushing Pot: Drug Policy Alliance’s Gabriel Sayegh Interview

Talking Terrorism: Dr. Steven Leibo Interview



Fordham Law Prof. and erstwhile gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout has joined the board of directors of Mayday, a “crowd-funded” PAC that seeks to limit the influence of large donors.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t had a public event at he Capitol (or Empire State Plaza) for 103 days – a new personal best ! (Worst?)

Texas Gov. rick Perry went sneaker shopping on Long Island.

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has made gun control one of his main issues, is the focus of a new advertising campaign by the NRA.

The FCC voted to eliminate its sports blackout rules, putting pressure on the NFL to do the same and open all pro football games to TV coverage even when they’re not sold out.

Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei kicked off a new initiative labeling his Republican challenger, John Katko, as “too reckless and radical” for NY-24 by criticizing Katko’s jobs plan.

JCOPE lost another commissioner.

Complete with a Dear Abby-style Q&A letters regarding government ethics, JCOPE is out with its first edition of The Ethics Review newsletter.

AG Eric Schneiderman is warning schools in New York to be on alert for a fake-invoice scam from a company called Scholastic School Supply.

Cornell University named its first woman president: Elizabeth Garrett, provost of the University of Southern California.

US Attorney Preet Bharara vowed to help compel reforms at Rikers Island, with or without the cooperation of the jail’s leadership.

Bharara is keeping mum on whether he’s interested in taking over for retiring US Attorney General Eric Holder.

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito would like to see US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez tapped to replace Holder.

The US attorney on Rob Astorino’s “Daisy” ad: “I do find it interesting that a lot of people try to use the work done by my office or the work they presume my office is doing for their own purposes.”

Just in time for election season, the tax rebate checks tout the state’s “efforts to reduce taxes.”

Hillary Clinton will headline a New York City fundraiser this week for New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Onondaga County legislators have knocked more than $1 million out of the $1.246 billion budget proposed by County Executive Joanie Mahoney, lowering property tax bills a little bit more.

The chairman of the state and Region 7 Fish and Wildlife Boards wants Cuomo to veto a bill that calls for the protection of mute swans.

A longtime WNY town justice resigned after the state Commission on Judicial Conduct filed disciplinary charges against him for arraigning a woman on drunken driving and other charges and then giving her a ride home.

John Catsimatidis is not letting his failed NYC mayoral campaign water go to waste.

A lawyer for Bernie Fine’s wife asked a federal judge to force SU to turn over more documents from its investigation of molesting allegations against the former assistant basketball coach.

Just under half of the 66,000 children who entered the country unaccompanied frmo Central American and are now appearing before the New York City Immigration Court have no attorney.

De Blasio: Not So Dangerous

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio brushed off criticism from Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos that his agenda is “dangerous” and that his support for a Democratic-controlled Senate would be problematic for the rest of the state.

Skelos, on The Capitol Press Room this morning, said de Blasio’s agenda passing a Democratic-controlled Senate would be “the worst thing” for the state.

“If you look at his agenda, I think it’s dangerous for this state,” Skelos said. “You have his candidates running for the Senate or running for re-election around this state.”

Obviously, de Blasio disagrees, saying full control of the Senate by Democrats would help middle-income people.

“I think helping working people reach the middle class is what the state needs,” he said according to a transcript. “So, if somehow, Senator Skelos thinks it’s dangerous that people would get better wages and benefits, I don’t understand that. I think we need to uplift our working people. They’re struggling. And right now, we have an opportunity to act here in this city, so we’re acting with every tool we have to help working families. We need to do that across the state of New York. And that’s why we need a Democratic state senate majority.”

Meanwhile, de Blasio insisted Gov. Andrew Cuomo remains on board with a plan to allow local governments to increase the state’s minimum wage on its own, based on a state formula even after the governor maneuvered to alter an initial proposal for pre-Kindergarten in New York City that took the idea statewide.

“The governor said very clearly this spring that he supports the minimum wage increase, he supports indexing, he supports local opportunity to adjust minimum wage within the context of the state law. He said it repeatedly. And I take him at his word, and I look forward to following through with a new Democratic Senate,” de Blasio said.

Not Exactly A Campaign Of Ideas

It’s been nearly a month since the general election season officially kicked off and so, far at least, there has been little airing from either candidate as to what they would do for the next four years.

Instead, both campaigns of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Republican rival Rob Astorino have traded barbs either through surrogates, TV commercials or in opposition research made to paint the other guy as corrupt.

Consider this chart from the brilliant Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group, showing how many words on the campaign websites are devoted actual policy ideas for the next four-year term:

At this point, the wonk of the race is Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.

Cuomo in 2010 released volumes of policy books on everything ranging from ethics proposals to ideas to help revitalize New York’s agricultural sector.

After an eventful four years as governor, Cuomo is running on his record of accomplishments: A property tax cap, the legalization of same-sex marriage, a sweeping gun control law and enacted budgets that have kept spending increases under 2 percent.

But Cuomo has not laid out any grand vision for a second term. Instead, he’s hinted at proposals for economic development and strengthening security in New York City while also adopting the agenda of the labor-backed Working Families Party as he received their endorsement in May.

Cuomo at the Business Council’s annual meeting did lay out this month an outline for spending a $4 billion surplus that includes using it for encouraging local government shared services in order to reduce property taxes and infrastructure investment without many specifics.

The only legislation Cuomo has emphasized this election year has been one proposed in 2013: The 10-point women’s agenda.

Astorino, meanwhile, has made proposals on education issues, ethics and jobs. When it comes to the major education issue of the day, Astorino wants to end the state’s involvement in Common Core while replacing it with a new set of standards yet to be determined.

On issues like property taxes, Astorino wants to simply double-down on what Cuomo and the Legislature already have in place: Making the current property-tax cap permanent while also going after mandated spending, a perennial concern for local governments.

When his proposal to overhaul ethics at the state Capitol were met with shrugs by lawmakers, Astorino’s top advisor blasted them in a column for Newsday.

The bulk of the campaign up until this point has been about both candidates finding ways to beat the pulp out of each other in television ads or through surrogates.

Since May, Cuomo’s state Democratic Committee has served as the conduit for all things anti-Astorino: His fight with the Department of Housing and Urban Development over affordable housing, his conservative stance on abortion and a lawsuit filed against him stemming from the obscure battles within the Independence Party in Westchester County.

Astorino’s campaign, struggling to gain any semblance of traction in public polls, has resorted to what amounts to throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks, releasing mostly online-only videos critical of Cuomo’s handling of the economy and suggesting — without any context — that he could be in jail one day.

Astorino’s statewide ad is critical of the state’s economy and then pivots to the Republican gubernatorial hopeful promising undefined change if elected.

According to the Wesleyan Media Project, the race for governor in New York has been one of the most negative in the country, second only to the close battle in Wisconsin and ahead of a similarly close race in Connecticut.

Here in New York, Cuomo has a vast lead over Astorino.

Skelos Holding Out Hope For The IDC

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos isn’t ready to write off the coalition government with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference just yet.

In an interview on The Capitol Pressroom on Tuesday, Skelos pointed to successes of the Senate under coalition rule — ranging from on-time budgets to a property tax cap (a measure that came in 2011, before the formal governing agreement was actually in place).

“I can go on and on and on of all the accomplishments that we did have together and hopefully that will continue down the road,” Skelos said while adding, “The IDC and the Republican conference work very well together. We showed that bipartisanship could work. We worked with the governor.”

Even so, IDC Leader Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, has made potential noise about trying to snag one of Skelos’ own, Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Republican who lost primary this month and retains the Independence Party line.

Klein and Grisanti reportedly met in Buffalo recently, fueling more intrigue over the Senate chessboard.

But Skelos shrugged at the idea of Grisanti, a former Democrat, defecting to the IDC.

“I don’t know if that’s just a news account that he reached out about joining the IDC or that he met with them,” Skelos said. “I don’t think that’s really unusual.”

Klein, along with the mainline conference, have promised to form a new coalition after Election Day, a deal that was brokered by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The governor himself for the first time in office backs a full Democratic takeover of the state Senate by his own party, a pledge he made when receiving the endorsement of the Working Families Party.

“Right now the IDC is (five) members as I understand and we’ll see what post-November brings,” Skelos said.

But it’s de Blasio, not Cuomo, who has been cast as the villain for Republicans in state Senate races.

It’s a role reversal for Republicans in Albany, who previously had billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg donating to their soft-money account.

Now de Blasio, who wants to see his home rule legislation pass the chamber, needs full Democratic control of the Senate.

“If you look at his agenda, I think it’s dangerous for this state,” Skelos said. “You have his candidates running for the Senate or running for re-election around this state.”

A de Blasio-controlled Senate, Skelos said, “would be the worst thing that could happen to this state.”