Cuomo Signs Bill Strengthening FOIL

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday signed a bill that would make it easier for plaintiffs in records access lawsuits recoup attorneys fees.

The bill, a previous version of which Cuomo had vetoed, had been heavily supported by good-government organizations and media companies in the state.

“Thank you Governor Cuomo, Assemblymember Paulin and Senator Gallivan, this new law is a real advance for state and local government transparency in New York. This shows us that Albany can move forward and can make government more accountable to the public,” said John Kaehny, the executive director of watchdog group Reinvent Albany.

The bill expands the ability of successful plaintiffs in cases challenging records denials to have their attorneys’ fees repaid by a government agency.

“Information is power and this bill is a critical step towards more transparency,” Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“Thank you, Governor Cuomo, for signing this common sense law that should make it easier for people to get access to public records. All too often, government agencies delay, redact and out-right deny basic requests for information about how our government works. Through FOIL requests, the NYCLU has made public important information about our state government; everything from data on racial profiling by police, to school discipline policies that disproportionately impact students of color. FOIL is an important tool for significant policy campaigns to protect the rights of New Yorkers. We simply can’t fix what we don’t know is broken.

Cuomo Proposes Gun Control Measure For Domestic Abuse

Gov. Andrew Cuomo next month will propose a gun control measure that would prevent those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence of owning a firearm.

The proposal unveiled Wednesday will be part of the governor’s 2018 State of the State address.

“This year will be remembered as the year of reckoning, when both the tragedy of mass shootings and cultural and institutional harassment of women became impossible to ignore,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“Building on the Women’s Equality Agenda, we are continuing our mission for progressive values and women’s rights with this legislation to target the unquestionable relationship between domestic violence and gun violence.”

The proposal is an adoption of a bill backed by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Sen. Diane Savino. If approved, it would expand the loss of owning a firearm from felony convictions for domestic violence-related crimes to misdemeanor convictions.

Nearly five years ago, Cuomo pushed through a signature gun control package in the wake of a Connecticut elementary school shooting. The proposal proved controversial for gun owners, especially in upstate New York, and led to a drop in Cuomo’s popularity in the region.

It’s unclear whether Republicans in the narrowly divided state Senate will back the provision, given the flashpoint gun control has become for their upstate base.

Spano Officially Enters Bid For Senate

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano on Tuesday officially announced he’s running for the state Senate seat that will be vacated at the end of the month by Westchester County Executive-elect George Latimer.

The fight for the seat in an upcoming special election expected to be called for the spring is at the eye of a fractious storm for control of the Senate.

Spano joins fellow Democrats Shelley Mayer, an assemblywoman, People For Bernie co-founder Kat Brezler and Bedford Supervisor Chris Burdick in declaring plans to run for the suburban district that includes the eastern swath of Westchester County.

“I’ll work to get Albany’s attention to our needs, and you can bet I’ll stand up for Westchester values against the assault we are under from the Trump administration,” Spano said.

“People want good jobs, they want good schools, and they don’t want to be taxed out of existence,” he added, “That’s what this election will be about.”

Republican Sarmad Khojasteh announced he plans to run for the seat as well.

The 37th Senate district, along with the seat being vacated by Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, is at the heart of a proposed unity plan between the mainline Democratic conference in the chamber and the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference.

If Democrats win both seats, the party would have 32 enrolled members in the chamber. The focus would then turn to Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder to form an alliance with Democrats. Felder currently sits with the Senate Republican conference in the chamber.

Spano is a former Republican, having served in the state Assembly and is a member of a prominent political family in Westchester County. His brother served in the Senate until he was unseated in 2006 by now-Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Spano was elected Yonkers mayor in 2011 and will be term limited out of office.

Regardless of who is selected by local party leaders to run, the special election is expected to be one of the most costly in the state’s recent history, given the stakes for control of the chamber.

Republicans have long sought to flip the district for the last decade and redrew it in 2012 to be more friendly to a GOP candidate.

Reilich: No Qualms About Kolb for Governor

From the Morning Memo:

Upstate Republican county committee leaders expect to have a strong voice when the party gets together for its annual convention next spring to select a 2018 slate of statewide candidates.

That could be a good thing for Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Canandaigua resident and the first Republican to announce his candidacy for governor.

Monroe County GOP Chairman Bill Reilich, who served in the Assembly with Kolb, describes him as a centrist who can work across the aisle but has strong family values.

“I certainly know Leader Kolb the best, having served with him in the Legislature,” Reilich said. “When you’re in battle, you’re dealing with legislative issues or a lot of times those sessions go long into the night, you get to know somebody pretty well. and he’s an outstanding individual.”

GOP leaders – Reilich included – have said they’re not interested in a primary, and would rather things take care of themselves at the convention.

Whoever faces off against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in this Democrat-dominated state will have an uphill battle right off the mark. Given the fact that Cuomo already has more than $25 million in his campaign war chest, it doesn’t make sense for GOP candidates to spend money fighting one another.

While others – like Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco – have said they won’t engage in a primary battle for the party’s gubernatorial nod, Kolb has not ruled out the idea.

Reilich says it’s too early to get upset about a potential intra-party fight.

“The reality is there’s a number of people that have said they’re considering running,” he said. “”I think there’s five or six. Leader Kolb is the first to come out and make it official.”

“He wants to show everyone and demonstrate that he’s serious and he’s in this to win, but the fact that there may be a primary, with so many people that are interested in running, we can’t predict what one or more of those people might do.”

The chairman also isn’t getting ahead of himself when it comes to endorsements, despite his long relationship with the minority leader.

“As far as backing somebody, I think it’s fair to everybody that we wait until the field develops, but again I would have no qualms with backing Leader Kolb,” Reilich said.

 

Excelsior Scholarship Gets First Semester Report Card

From the Morning Memo:

The top education advisor in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Tuesday touted the newest college affordability program, the Excelsior Scholarship, during a legislative hearing on tuition aid and assistance.

Approved with much fanfare earlier this year, Excelsior helps supplement student aid packages, which some lawmakers call last dollar aid.

“We’re at over 210,000 students right now in New York state,” said Assistant Secretary for Education Daniel Fuller. “Fifty-three percent of our public college students are going to school tuition free. That’s a great, great achievement. This will grow and this will tell others that, most importantly, college is possible.”

More than half of the state’s public college and university students are attending school tuition free, thanks to a combination of grants and scholarships.

“It was marketed appropriately,” Fuller said. “It was free tuition, which is what we always said. But you also have to get in and out of college.”

State officials say 23,000 students are attending a SUNY or CUNY school with an Excelsior scholarship. Many of them have additional aid from programs like TAP and Pell.

“That’s a good thing for the state overall because we want to educate our students,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy. “The better educated, the better our economy, the better we can attract business.”

Some lawmakers say the state was initially slow in rolling out its promotional campaign to make prospective students aware of the aid.

“But given the program was brand new, kudos to the governor’s office for catching up and trying to get as much information out last year,” Fahy said.

Other lawmakers questioned the income requirements for the program and whether looking back two years was an accurate picture for families in need of the aid.

“We certainly heard from a number of people that if we had still been doing the prior year, they would have been eligible,” said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick.

In the first year of the program, families that earn up to $100,000 qualify. It will eventually phase in to families with $125,000 in total income.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Albany and New York City.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have lunch with bicameral tax conferees, after which, the president will participate in the swearing-in of Judge Gregory Katsas to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia

Later in the afternoon, Trump gives remarks on tax reform.

At 10 a.m., the Assembly holds a public hearing on immigrant access to health care, 250 Broadway, Room 1923, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission holds a public meeting, 33 Beaver St., 19th floor, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. hosts a Hanukkah celebration and menorah-lighting ceremony, 5625 Arlington Ave., the Bronx.

At 11 a.m., Cuomo will announce the 2017 Regional Economic Development Council Awards, Albany Capital Center, 55 Eagle St., Albany. (LG Kathy Hochul will also attend).

Also at 11 a.m., state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli visits Ridgewood Savings Bank, 1035 Fulton St., Brooklyn.

At 12:30 p.m., the Correctional Association of New York releases a new report about Southport Prison, alongside state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, advocates, survivors and family members, 250 Broadway, 22nd floor, Room 2225, Manhattan.

At 2 p.m., DiNapoli visits Spring Bank, 69 E. 167th St., the Bronx.

At 2:30 p.m., the NYC Franchise and Concession Review Committee holds a public meeting, 2 Lafayette St., 14th floor conference room, Manhattan.

At 4:45 p.m., Workmen’s Circle and five other Jewish organizations gather at the #NotTheWhiteHouseChanukahParty to recommit to fighting for justice in the year ahead, Trump Tower, 725 Fifth Ave., fifth floor, Manhattan.

At 5:30 p.m., the NYC Voter Assistance Advisory Committee holds its annual meeting, 100 Church St., 12th floor, Manhattan.

At 6 p.m., Hochul attends the Uniformed Fire Officers Association Holiday reception, The Downtown Association, 60 Pine St., Manhattan.

Also at 6 p.m., the NYC Panel for Educational Policy holds a public meeting, High School for Fashion Industries, 225 W 24th St., Manhattan.

At 6:30 p.m., Hochul delivers remarks at a Manhattan Chamber of Commerce event, TD Bank, 125 Park Ave., Manhattan.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has three holiday parties closed to the press today, all at Gracie Mansion. The first is for city leaders, the second is the annual Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City celebration, and the third will be for members of the NYPD Intelligence Division.

Headlines…

Doug Jones, a Democratic former prosecutor who mounted a seemingly quixotic U.S. Senate campaign in the face of Republican dominance in Alabama, defeated his scandal-scarred opponent, Roy Moore, after a brutal campaign marked by accusations of sexual abuse and child molestation against the Republican.

The upset delivered a significant victory for Democrats and reduced Republicans’ unstable Senate majority to a single seat, which could snarl Republicans’ legislative agenda in Washington and open, for the first time, a realistic but still difficult path for Democrats to capture the Senate next year.

After the race was called by the AP, Moore declined to concede defeat, saying he believed that the margin of victory could narrow enough to trigger an automatic recount. “Realize that when the vote is this close that it’s not over,” he said. “We also know that God is always in control.”

The Alabama Republican Party said it would not support Moore’s push for a recount, and the state’s Secretary of State expressed doubt on Twitter that such an undertaking would change the outcome of the race.

President Donald Trump congratulated Jones in a tweet on his “hard fought victory” and said Republicans will “have another shot at the seat in a very short period of time.”

“Tonight, Alabama voters elected a senator who’ll make them proud,” Hillary Clinton tweeted. “And if Democrats can win in Alabama, we can – and must – compete everywhere. Onward!”

Steve Bannon, an adviser to a top pro-Trump super PAC and ex-top White House aide, says the results of the Alabama special election are going to make Republicans and Trump supporters “start panicking.”

Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, scrambling to reach agreement on a final tax bill that they hope to pass next week, are coalescing around a plan that would slightly raise the proposed corporate tax rate, lower the top rate on the richest Americans and scale back the existing mortgage interest deduction.

Following Trump’s example, many of the world’s autocrats and dictators are taking a shine to the term “fake news,” employing it as a tool for attacking their critics and, in some cases, deliberately undermining the institutions of democracy.

Trump put himself once more at the center of the sexual harassment debate, repeating his contention that the women who have accused him of misconduct fabricated the allegations and describing U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of his leading critics, as a “lightweight” who “would do anything” for campaign contributions.

Trump’s attack on Gillibrand sparked a fierce backlash, as critics said the president made an outlandish and sexually suggestive accusation against the Senate’s foremost fighter against sexual harassment.

Two FBI agents assigned to the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia exchanged text messages referring to the future president as an “idiot,” according to copies of messages turned over to Congress last night by the Justice Department.

A federal judge in Chicago ordered that Dennis Hastert never be left alone with anyone under 18 unless another adult is present who is aware of the former U.S. House speaker’s conviction in a hush-money case that revealed he had sexually abused several high school students.

A federal judge rejected attempts by four of the Buffalo Billion defendants to move next year’s corruption trial to Buffalo, keeping the high-profile case in lower Manhattan instead.

Ten female employees say they were sexually harassed by Ken Friedman, the owner of the Spotted Pig in New York City. Dozens described it as a toxic workplace fueled by fame and fear.

An after-hours space on the third floor of the tony Village hot spot is reportedly known among workers and industry insiders as “the rape room” — where public sex is on display.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he’s gone to the Capitol Police about a bogus sexual-harassment complaint that has been circulated to the media in an apparent attempt to smear him.

More >

Extras

In an early-morning tweet, Trump took aim at U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who called for him to resign sue to sexual harassment allegations, deeming her a “lightweight” who once begged him for campaign contributions and would “do anything” to get them.

The president also called New York’s junior senator a “total flunky” who blindly follows Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Gillibrand called the president’s comments a “sexist smear attempting to silence my voice,” adding: “I will not be silenced on this issue, neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “There’s no way this is exist at all; this is simply taking about a system that we have that is broken.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has herself been a frequent target of Trump’s criticism, slammed the president on Twitter for “trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame” Gillibrand.

Schumer said Trump’s tweet was “nasty” and “unbecoming” of his office, suggesting that the president “ought to stop tweeting and start leading.”

Trump’s Twitter attack on Gillibrand is fueling Democratic calls for congressional hearings on the president’s own alleged past sexual misconduct, with some even joining the call for him to resign.

When asked for the first word that pops into their heads when they think of the commander-in-chief, U.S. voters gave such glowing descriptors as “idiot,” “liar” and “a**hole,” according to a new Quinnipiac poll.

Actress Meryl Streep said she thinks that if more women were in positions of power in Hollywood then the industry would not have tolerated or enabled the behavior of influential alleged predators like Harvey Weinstein.

Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore rode a horse up to his polling place on horseback this morning to cast his vote in a special election that has improbably electrified the nation.

Gillibrand and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio unveiled a bipartisan bill to change truck safety standards and help prevent the kind of truck-car crashes that killed four people this summer on Interstate 81 in Oswego County.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general will investigate Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to spend nearly $25,000 on a privacy booth for his office.

The Justice Department lawsuit to block the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger has an unexpected fan: former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

Authorities in Bangladesh said that alleged Port Authority bomber Akayed Ullah was not on the country’s terror list, and they are not sure when he left his homeland.

Prosecutors filed federal terrorism charges against Ullah. The five charges include use of weapons of mass destruction, provision of material support to the Islamic State and bombing a place of public use.

Brooklyn state Sen. Marty Golden tried to pull over a bicyclist by impersonating a cop — and then his wheelman ran a red light and drove into oncoming traffic to get away when the cyclist snapped the pol’s picture, according to the cyclist.

For the second consecutive week, the first two hours of the “Today” show – minus Matt Lauer – surged ahead of the show’s main rival, “Good Morning America” — not only capturing its usual lead among people between 25 and 54, the demographic most coveted by advertisers — but among overall audiences as well.

Republicans are more forgiving than Democrats when it comes to the personal issues of a candidate who’s running for public office, according to a new Morning Consult/Politico poll that shows GOP voters care more about policy positions.

The tax reform bill is highly unpopular among the American people, a new Marist poll finds. In fact, a majority of U.S. residents (52 percent), including more than one in five Republicans (22 percent) and one in five Trump supporters (20 percent), think it will mostly hurt their personal family finances.

First Lady Melania Trump and first daughter Ivanka Trump’s 2017 New York mayoral election votes did not count after the two reportedly failed to follow absentee ballot instructions.

Judith Clark, the getaway driver in a deadly 1981 heist of a Brink’s truck, sued the state Board of Parole, saying it had unfairly denied her bid to be released by treating her “as a symbol of crime rather than as an individual.”

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick visited a Rikers Island jail for a surprise visit with inmates, drawing immediate rebuke from the union representing New York City correction officers, which promptly yanked its sponsorship of a Christmas tree lighting celebration.

Five New York City Ballet dancers — one of whom still works with the company — have accused Peter Martins, the ballet master in chief who has since been put on leave while allegations are investigation, of threatening or physically abusing them and others in the company.

The Empire Center: New York laws encourage a proliferation of civil suits seeking damages for various kinds of alleged wrongful actions, known in legal terms as “torts.” The resulting liability costs have been estimated at $20 billion a year – or more than $2,700 per household.

Edwin M. Lee, an affordable housing advocate and technocrat who became the first Asian-American to be elected as mayor of San Francisco, died early today of undisclosed causes after reportedly collapsing at a supermarket. He was 65.

Gillibrand: Trump’s Response A ‘Sexist Smear’

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand pushed back against a tweet by President Donald Trump on Tuesday in which he suggested she would “do anything” for the political support of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The tweet from Trump was in response to Gillibrand’s call for the president to resign after women who accused him of sexual assault and harassment re-told their allegations on Monday.

“I think the president was using a sexist smear to try to silence my voice and silence the voice of the many survivors who came forward yesterday,” Gillibrand told reporters. “He’s not going to silence me and he’s not going to silence them.”

Gillibrand has pointedly distanced herself from former President Bill Clinton in recent weeks, saying that in this era of understanding sexual harassment, he would have had to resign.

Gillibrand denied her comments on the former president were spurred by political opportunism.

“This is not about any one president or any one person,” she said. “Sexual violence is a scourge, it’s across all industries.”

Schneiderman Blasts Acting Consumer Board Chief

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday said his office and a coalition of attorneys general around the country would continue to enforce consumer protection laws amid turmoil at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Board.

Schneiderman, in a letter signed by the AGs, knocked the acting director, Mick Mulvaney, who took over the agency amid a leadership dispute with the departing, Democratic-nominated head.

The letter notes Mulvaney has been critical of the board’s functions and enforcement powers.

“Such statements about an agency that has helped millions of American consumers and achieved fundamental reform in a number of critically important areas of American commerce are categorically false, and should disqualify Mr. Mulvaney from leading the agency, even on an acting basis,” the letter states.

“As the top state law enforcement officials charged with investigating consumer complaints of fraudulent, deceptive and abusive financial practices in our respective states, we know from first-hand experience that the need for strong consumer financial protection is undiminished in the years since the financial crisis.”

Judge Won’t Move Buffalo Billion Case To Buffalo

A federal judge on Tuesday turned down a request from upstate developers and former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros to hold their upcoming trial in western New York, according to court filings.

Denying the change of venue from New York City to Buffalo was part of a slew of denials in pre-trial motions made by defense attorneys over the last several weeks. The filing was made public Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni.

Attorneys for the developers LP Ciminelli had argued that holding the trial in Buffalo would have made it easier for them to be closer to home. At the same time, their attorneys argued many of the alleged incidents that resulted in the fraud and bribery charges took place in western New York.

But Caproni was unconvinced.

“While the moving Defendants live with their families in Buffalo, and some witnesses reside in Buffalo, there are also important witnesses elsewhere. And while certain relevant events allegedly took place in Buffalo, other events relevant to the allegations against the moving Defendants took place outside of Buffalo,” she wrote.

Set to begin next year, the trials are expected to center on the web of influence used to secure contracts and other economic development projects as part of the state’s effort to create jobs. A former close aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joe Percoco, will go on trial next month in connection with charges of fraud and receiving bribes.

Caproni also denied a series of motions that challenged pre-trial statements made by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired in March by President Donald Trump. That motion had been made for attorneys representing developers at COR Development.

Caproni wrote in her ruling that she found the argument that the grand jury was unduly swayed by Bharara’s comments — including his catchphrase “stay tuned” — unpersuasive.

“The statements and actions highlighted by the Syracuse Defendants do not constitute evidence of prejudicial preindictment publicity,” she wrote. “The public statements from the then-U.S. Attorney were properly qualified as allegations the Government intended to prove, did not express opinions of guilt, and were couched in generalities.”

Caproni by Nick Reisman on Scribd