The New Front at the Port Authority

Now that the Chris Christie Bridgegate crowd has been ( forcibly ) moved out of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a new dynamic is taking shape at the bi-state agency. Traditionally, there have been fights between the New York and New Jersey side over priorities and allocation of resources. Much of that was put on hold when the Bridgegate scandal erupted, because that was so overtly political and so New Jersey specific, that all New York had to do was step aside and let it play out. That is precisely what New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did, though mostly for his own political reasons.

But now Christie appointees Bill Baroni and David Wildtsein have been ensnared by the U.S. Attorney’s office, and I’m told former Chair David Samson may soon be in handcuffs over the “Chairman’s Flight.” Which means that a new New Jersey crew has moved in to stake out positions on behalf of the Garden State. As one insider put it about Baroni, Samson and Wildstein, “those guys were just a–holes. But it’s definitely a weird place and a weird time at the Port Authority now.”

Stepping in to fill the void are current Port Authority Chairman John “Why should I resign?!?” Degnan, and Democratic New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who while not a member of the Port Authority Board, hopes to control half of it in the near future if he can get elected Governor in 2017. Governor Christie seems to want nothing to do with the Port Authority these days and for good reason, but Cuomo does. He very much wants his plans to revamp LaGuardia Airport to go through. The Sweeney and Degnan crowd, which includes New Jersey Democratic Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, are slightly less than enthusiastic about Cuomo’s plans and want to at least make sure they get what they want, which is a new Port Authority Bus Terminal in Times Square. The politics on the Jersey side are interesting because Degnan’s kid, Phillip Degnan, is the Comptroller for the State of New Jersey, appointed by Christie ( please do not even ask why New Jersey allows the Comptroller to be appointed by the Governor, because that is a whole other issue ). Some believe Degnan is cozying up to Weinberg and Sweeney because he is hoping his son could get appointed Attorney General in a Sweeney Administration.

The new fault line between New York and New Jersey came into view at the March 24 meeting of the Port Authority Board where Sources say Degnan threatened to hold up Cuomo’s LaGuardia Airport project unless he got a commitment from the agency to build a new bus terminal. In the end he got it. But insiders say the bus terminal is very nebulous at this point with an unknown price tag and no money to really get started. Moreover, the New York side is taking heat about yet another massive construction project in Times Square. New York City Councilman Corey Johnson and New York State Senator Brad Hoylman have both raised concerns. New York wants there to be a smaller terminal in Times Square and a second terminal built on the Jersey side, but Sweeney and the current Jersey crop oppose that because they don’t want New Jersey commuters to have to make two stops on their ride into the City, also known as a “two-seat bus ride.” A second terminal has long been opposed by Weinberg, and Sweeney is fishing for North Jersey votes since he is a creature of the South Jersey machine which is headed by South Jersey Democratic Political Boss George Norcross. The South Jersey Democrats have difficulty winning Statewide elections, and Sweeney knows a solid way to stay in the good graces of North Jersey, and Bergen County voters specifically, is to make their commutes into Manhattan MORE pleasant not LESS. New Jersey watchers also know that so goes Bergen County in most statewide elections, so goes the rest of New Jersey. It’s a little like Ohio in national elections.

What’s interesting here is that normally it’s the Jersey side pushing for more projects in New Jersey, and New York pushing for more projects in New York. Here, at least on the bus terminal, the opposite is true. And Foye, who was recently asked by Cuomo to stay on at the Port Authority despite an announced retirement last year, continues to be a thorn in the side of New Jersey. Foye is the one who sounded the alarm on Bridgegate. Some believe he would have gone a lot further had Christie not called Cuomo and told him to tell Foye to – ahem – back off ( the actual language was far more colorful ). But clearly Sweeney now has it out for Foye because he wants to control the agency and use it for what every other New York or New Jersey Governor has ever wanted – his own projects.

According to a source, earlier this month Sweeney said of the March 24 fight between Degnan and Foye,

So you know something, I am not happy with Pat Foye in any way, shape or form and he can go at any time…if I was John Degnan…I would have fired him on the spot for the way he spoke to him, the way he handled himself. Who the hell did he think he was? He works for them. He’s not their equal. He’s not their advisor. But that shows you how screwed up the place.

During the same rant, Sweeney also called himself “the fly in the ointment” on Port Authority reform. Bills to reform the agency need to pass all four houses of the legislatures in both states, and be signed by both Governors. Christie and Cuomo vetoed the real reforms that came to their desks over the holiday weekend in late 2014, and efforts to restart the reform train have all stalled.

Sweeney actually attended the March Port Authority meeting and after tensions flared, Degnan joined Sweeney in the back of the room for a gaggle with reporters. Degnan has wanted the New York bus terminal project for some time. On his first day as Chair he even took a symbolic bus ride from New Jersey into the terminal to make a point. But insiders from the New York side say  the bus terminal “is not well vetted,” and another described it as “half baked.” The good news about the Port Authority is we appear to be past the Bridgegate era, and now the New York and New Jersey sides can go back to what they have done for over 80 years which is hating each other and fighting over public policy.

***UPDATE***

In a statement, Sweeney says,

“I think Chairman Degnan is doing a great job at the Port Authority in making sure that both states are treated fairly when it comes to developing transportation related capital projects. While the Port Authority has a checkered history when it comes to New Jersey getting its fair share, the current Chairman never shies away from standing up for our interests and for transparency.  Plans to build a new bus terminal in New York, preserving the one-seat ride for New Jersey commuters is a perfect example of that.  He should to be treated with the respect and dignity his position deserves.”

Schumer Backs Federal Hearings For Hoosick Falls

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer on Monday became the latest elected official to call for federal hearings into the water contamination issues in Hoosick Falls.

However, Schumer declined to say whether the state should hold similar hearings on the PFOA contamination in the rural village, saying that’s up to elected officials in Albany.

“I would have no problem with federal hearings finding out exactly what happened,” Schumer said during a stop in Albany. “What happened was horrible.”

The site in Hoosick Falls has been declared a state Superfund site and water filtration system has been installed earlier this year by the state.

Questions remain, however, over how quickly the state responded to the initial news of the contamination in Hoosick Falls.

“We can’t just shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Oh bad stuff happened,'” Schumer said. “We have an obligation to these people. So, a hearing is a good thing to find out what happened.”

Hearings on the federal level over water quality issues have been called for by GOP Rep. Chris Gibson of the Hudson Valley as well as Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice on Long Island.

At the moment, no state-level hearings have been called. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has formed a response team charged with handling water quality issues when they arise.

“I’d leave that up to them,” Schumer said of state hearings. “I’m a federal official. I think a federal hearing would be a good thing.”

Extras

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is leaving the campaign, following a tumultuous stretch marked by missteps and infighting.

Lewandowski’s dismissal has been in the works for weeks, and it marks the culmination of an intense lobbying campaign by Trump’s three oldest children — Ivanka, Eric, and Don Jr. — as well as allies of campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Broad support from women and minority voters has helped presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton open an early lead over Trump nationally, according to a new poll released today.

Trump’s presidency would “significantly” weaken the country, driving the U.S. into a “lengthy recession” with nearly 3.5 million job losses and a 7 percent unemployment rate, according to a Moody’s Analytics analysis.

Trump will pay back the amount of a middle-class property tax exemption (STAR) he had been receiving on his Trump Tower penthouse. (It’s about $350).

Republicans assailed the Justice Department’s decision to redact the Orlando shooter’s declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State in transcripts of 911 calls from the June 12 shooting as another example “of not focusing on the evil here,” as Florida Gov. Rick Scott said.

Three NYPD commanders, including a deputy chief, were arrested early today, along with a Brooklyn businessman, on federal corruption charges stemming from one of several continuing investigations into NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign fund-raising.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer today became the highest-ranking state Democrat to call for federal hearings into the Hoosick Falls water contamination crisis.

Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik expressed support for a block grant program of federal funding proposed by her Green Party opponent, Matt Funiciello.

With no discussion and in less than two minutes, the state’s Smart Schools Review Board approved the second round of funding allocations to 36 districts from the $2 billion Smart Schools bond act approved by voters in 2014.

The Buffalo Sabres will continue to have their games carried on the Madison Square Garden Network (MSG) for more than a decade in a wide-ranging deal announced today that will include carrying additional Sabres and Buffalo Bills programming.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is joining the investigation into gunfire – including at least one shot by a Syracuse police officer – Sunday night at Skiddy Park.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern has won the endorsement of the powerful SEIU Local 1199 United Health Care Workers East in his bid for retiring Rep. Steve Israel’s NY-3 seat.

In a victory for transgender New Yorkers, all single-occupant restrooms in New York City will have to be gender-neutral starting Jan. 1, thanks to a bill the New York City Council is expected to pass tomorrow.

Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc, with some proud grandparents in tow, took their new baby, Aidan, home from the hospital.

A federal judge opened the door to allowing Western New York Dr. Eugene Gosy to return to his pain management practice with the ability to recommend controlled substances for his patients

Schumer ‘Open To Compromise’ On Gun Control Proposals

This evening the U.S. Senate will consider several proposals aimed at addressing gun violence. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has openly supported Democratic bills including one that expands the background check requirement to gun shows and online purchases and another that would stop anyone who’s been on the federal terrorism watch list in the past five years from purchasing a gun.

“I’m hopeful we can get this passed tonight and there are some people working on a compromise. I’m open to a compromise. As long as it doesn’t let the terrorists get guns, I’m willing to look at any way to do it,” Schumer said in Rochester Monday.

The senator said while he has great respect for the “spectrum of views” on gun control, he believes it’s clear people under suspicion of terrorism should not be able to purchase firearms.

“We’re in a new world. We’ve seen that with Orlando. We’ve seen that with San Bernadino. These lone wolves, these are disaffected people and ISIS preys on their mind and then tells them on their own to just go out and kill people and the easiest quickest way for them to kill a lot of people is with guns,” he said.

Schumer also doesn’t believe the proposals are unconstitutional. He points out there are already restrictions for felons, people convicted of spousal abuse and the mentally ill.

“Every amendment has reasonable limitations and it seems the most reasonable of all is to say a terrorist shouldn’t get a gun, would-be terrorist,” he said.

The 2016 Session: Boom Or Bust?

Depending on who you ask, the legislative session was a productive six months in which a range of policy measures from an increase to the state’s minimum wage, paid family leave to new ethics reform and anti-heroin addiction legislation was accomplished.

Or, depending on who you ask, it was a monumental disappointment, a heap of compromises and half-measures in the state budget and later an anti-climatic finish that seemed more about sticking it to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and boozing it up at brunch than doing anything all that meaningful.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his only public comments on the conclusion of the legislative session, insisted to The New York Times it’s the former.

“Tell me what has been a more productive legislative session. Please,” Cuomo told the paper. “Tell me what session did more.”

Indeed, Cuomo could be a victim of his early and highly consequential successes — the history making legalization of same-sex marriage, a cap on property tax increases, a sweeping gun control law, an ongoing effort to restrain Medicaid growth — from his first term.

Cuomo has often implored reporters to look beyond the chunks of time that compose the session (January to March take up the budget, April to June take up everything else) and assess accomplishments from there.

A more useful tool might be to look back at what Cuomo proposed in the now amalgamated budget and State of the State presentation back in January, when the governor unspooled his proposals for 2016.

Cuomo at the start of the year unveiled few big surprises: He wanted to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15; a paid family leave program; sweeping ethics reform.

There were other initiatives, of course, that included strengthening the state’s infrastructure through major upgrades to airports, criminal justice measures including making permanent the attorney general’s power to oversee cases in which police kill civilians and a plan to combat homelessness.

But of the top line issues — the headline-grabbing ones — Cuomo largely got what he wanted in the budget.

The paid family leave proposal as initially proposed by Cuomo remained more or less intact. The $15 minimum wage plan was far more troublesome for Cuomo, with a phase-in to $15 for New York City and the suburban counties on Long Island and in Westchester County at different rates. Upstate, the minimum wage will hit $15 at some point beyond 2022.

That was March (or April 1, if you’re a stickler for the whole on-time-budget thing).

After that, not a lot happened policy-wise for weeks as attention turned not to post-budget issues, but to the growing corruption scandal surrounding the governor’s key upstate economic development program, the Buffalo Billion, which has focused on lobbyist Todd Howe and former Cuomo aide and confidant Joe Percoco.

The investigations in economic development and SUNY Polytechnic continue and no one has been charged with wrongdoing.

While the budget portion of the session is almost always dominated by the governor, the latter half of the Albany year was virtually given over to rank-and-file state lawmakers.

Policy issues such as limiting Airbnb advertising, regulating daily fantasy sports wagers and allowing Uber and Lyft to operate outside of New York City were left to Assembly and Senate committee chairs.

Cuomo ultimately did make some final Hail Mary passes on ethics: A “menu” of options for closing the LLC loophole in campaign finance law and a plan to curb coordination between campaigns and independent expenditure committees. The fight against Citizens United, disclosure for political consultants and lobbyists was able to stick the landing; the LLC loophole bills landed with a thud.

On ethics, Cuomo wasn’t able to get at some of the issues that forced, say, Sheldon Silver from power, namely the ability for lawmakers to earn as much money as they’d like at law firms or other entities with potential business before the state.

Instead, much of the reform measures adopted appeared not to curb corruption at the Capitol, but aimed at humiliating de Blasio and his political activities. It was de Blasio at the end of last year’s legislative session blasted the governor in an interview on NY1 for seemingly siding with Senate Republicans in Albany.

Cuomo himself took on an Wizard of Oz-like presence at the Capitol. He made few public appearances in June at the Capitol and in the final week of the session appeared only once in public, with Vice President Joe Biden at LaGuardia Airport.

Cuomo did not speak publicly on the end of the session once the agreement was announced on Friday night. He last held a Capitol news conference in March to announce the agreement on the budget.

Supreme Court Won’t Hear SAFE Act-Related Case

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a case challenging a package of gun control laws, dealing a victory to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his controversial SAFE Act signed into law more than three years ago.

The court’s decision, announced without comment on Monday, came in a case challenging the constitutionality of the New York ban on semi-automatic firearms with specific physical characteristics and modifications.

The decision to not hear the case came after a lower court upheld the constitutionality of the provision in the law, which was approved in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school shooting in late 2012.

A similar Connecticut provision was also upheld by the court on Monday.

“This decision is a victory for common sense gun control laws in New York and across the nation,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The decision to not hear the case comes just over a week after an attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando killed 49 people, with the gunman saying he was inspired by the Islamic State terrorist organization.

“From Orlando to San Bernardino to Sandy Hook and beyond – senseless acts of violence continue to claim the lives of far too many Americans,” Cuomo said.

“In 2013, New York rose to the occasion and passed the toughest gun control laws in the nation. We came together, both Democrats and Republicans, to enact strict gun control measures because we fundamentally believed that we could both protect our communities while safeguarding the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners in our state. We continue to hold this view, which was validated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s actions.”

The provision being upheld is a ban on semi-automatic weapons and as well as a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Cuomo pushed through the measure in January 2013 and has since touted the political hit he took in the wake of the law’s approval.

In recent months, Cuomo has decried illegal firearms coming into New York from states with looser gun control laws.

“New York set the example of what is possible – and now, Washington must act. How many more lives must be cut short? How many more mass shootings must this nation endure? The time for Congress’ silence and inaction is over,” Cuomo said. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough – they must show political will and muster the political courage to enact strong national gun safety laws for all Americans.”

1199 Rolls Out Congressional Endorsements

The powerful labor union 1199/SEIU on Monday rolled out a pair of endorsements in two key congressional primaries on Long Island, a week before voters head to the polls in battleground districts.

In the NY-3, the union is backing Democrat Steve Stern, who is in a crowded primary field to replace Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat who retires at the end of the year.

“Working families need Congress to start working for New Yorkers, again, and I’m thrilled that 1199SEIU has joined Rep. Steve Israel and so many others in supporting my campaign,” said Stern, a county legislator.

“For decades, 1199SEIU has been at the forefront, fighting for the issues that matter most to New Yorkers: affordable healthcare, raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, and immigration reform. These are the priorities I’ve fought for throughout my career and I look forward to working with 1199SEIU to make sure Congress focuses on middle class priorities and not the special interests.”

In the NY-1 on the eastern end of the island, the union is backing Anna Throne-Holst, who faces Dave Calone in a primary next Tuesday. Both are competing to run against freshman Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin.

“Throughout her life, Anna Throne-Holst has demonstrated a strong and deep understanding of the issues facing Long Island and New York’s working families. As a working mother of four children, a dedicated public servant, and as a candidate for New York’s 1st Congressional District, Anna is a living embodiment of what our union fights for on a daily basis,” said union president George Gresham.

“As a Member of Congress, we know that Anna will work to lead the way forward on our shared priorities. 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is proud to endorse Anna Throne-Holst for Congress.”

Both races are expected to be hotly contested general election battlegrounds later this fall.

Farm Bureau Wants To Defend Labor Lawsuit

The New York Farm Bureau wants to be named the defendant in a lawsuit pushing for collective bargaining rights for farm workers. In May, the NY Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit against the state.

The governor has been clear he has no plans to fight it, despite a letter earlier this month from the bureau asking him to reconsider. The bureau said the attorney general is also refusing to defend the case.

“New York Farm Bureau has a century long record of defending the state’s family farms, and today’s action is one of the most important in our long history. If we can’t count on our state leaders to do the right thing in this case, we are prepared to stand up for our members in court to protect their rights,” Dean Norton, New York Farm Bureau President, said.

NYFB is filing a motion in State Supreme Court in Albany for intervenor status. If granted, the organization will ask the case be dismissed altogether.

“Farm Bureau is uniquely situated to represent the varied perspectives of its member farms and to zealously defend the constitutionality of the challenged farm labor exemption,” the motion reads.

The organization believes traditional collective bargaining does not work in the farming industry because the weather dictates when employees can work. It believes the issue should be dealt with legislatively, not in court.

The Mayors And The End Of Session

From the Morning Memo:

Two mayors who Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been at odds with over the last several years released the seemingly usual perfunctory statements this weekend reacting to the end of the legislative session.

But the statements were notable for not mentioning one person: Cuomo himself.

In a statement from Mayor Bill de Blasio, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and his Democratic conference was praised for their stance on mayoral control, which at backing a three-year extension with no changes, was no different than Cuomo’s public stance.

“With the leadership and commitment of Speaker Heastie and his Assembly colleagues, New York City secured a series of important State commitments that will improve lives across our five boroughs,” de Blasio said in a statement.

“Preserving mayoral control of schools will ensure progress continues for 1.1 million students,” he continued. “While one-year extensions are no way to treat our children, families or educators, this action is a crucial acknowledgment by State lawmakers that the education progress we have made in New York City could not have happened without our accountable control of the school system.”

Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse was less sanguine when reacting to what she felt was lackluster ethics reform agreements at the Capitol.

The measures agreed to on Friday night included the first passage of a constitutional amendment for pension forfeiture of corrupt elected officials and policy makers, an effort to crack down on independent expenditure committees and new disclosure requirements for lobbyists and political constants.

For Miner, a former state Democratic Committee co-chair under Cuomo whose relationship with the governor has soured, the provisions do little to restore confidence of the voters in the wake of the convictions of both legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, on corruption charges.

“Few would argue that a crisis of corruption doesn’t grip our state capitol. Just weeks ago, a Siena College poll found that 96% of New York voters considered it “very important” or “somewhat important” to pass new laws addressing political corruption this year,” she said. “Yet when it came to important ethics reforms, a failure of leadership resulted in this year’s session ending with a whimper of cynical distractions and half measures.”

“Sadly, little was accomplished that would begin to restore a modicum of faith in Albany.”

Flanagan Praises ‘Cornerstone’ Transparency In Mayoral Control

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Sunday in a radio praised the conclusion of the legislative session in Albany, saying the effort to expand disclosure of school data in New York City is a “cornerstone” to helping students and parents.

The agreement to extend mayoral control of New York City schools included a provision that requires more data be released on how money is spent at schools.

Mayoral control itself was granted another year, meaning Mayor Bill de Blasio — an antagonist for both Senate Republicans and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo — will have to return for a third straight year to lobby for renewal, this time as he runs for re-election.

In the radio interview on John Catsimatidis’s radio show on AM 970, Flanagan suggested the disclosure push was a part of an internal battle with the de Blasio administration.

“They have fought us at every turn and opportunity to say they don’t want to be transparent about providing school by school data,” Flanagan said. “If you’re going to enhance parent engagement and do better for children, that should be a cornerstone you’re looking at.”

Flanagan, a former Senate Education Committee chairman before ascending to the majority leader post last year, insisted in the interview the effort was about enhancing transparency for a school district that is sent the lion’s share of state aid every year.

“Where’s the money going? Are we getting the bang for our buck?” he said.

As for granting more than a year in future renewal debates, Flanagan said, “If things get better, I think there’s an open opportunity to expand that.”