Cuomo Opponents Pounce On Moreland

Political opponents of Governor Andrew Cuomo were quick to pounce on an exhaustive New York Times story revealing how a top aide played a key role in directing and blocking subpoenas from the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, created last year.

The story that chronicled the governor’s involvement in the commission, as well as his secretary Larry Schwartz, provided new ammunition to the candidates running against Cuomo this elections season.

Zephyr Teachout, a Democratic candidate for governor and Fordham law professor, previously blasted Cuomo for his handling of ethics in Albany.

Gov, Andrew Cuomo should resign if he directed or even knew what his top aide was doing obstructing with the anti-corruption commission.

Teachout said the governor needs to explain his role in the Moreland Commission’s investigation.

“The people of New York deserve to know. Governor Cuomo needs to come clean immediately about what he knew his top aide was doing,” Teachout said.

While the Times story is a black eye for the governor, it remains to be seen whether his opponents can gain any traction off it. Cuomo leads Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino by 37 percentage points, according to a Siena college poll released this week.

Astorino on Wednesday blasted Cuomo’s apparent hypocrisy of campaigning in 2010 on reforming Albany’s often murky ethics and failing to do so.

“It’s galling that a man who rode in to be a white knight is actually knee deep in scandal right now. Mr. Cuomo needs to come clean and he needs to do that right now,” said Astorino.

In response to the Westchester County Republican, the Cuomo campaign said it takes nerve for Astorino to criticize Cuomo on ethics, citing his $30,000 paycheck for an outside consulting job.

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, who registered six percent in that poll, says it could turn the election’s focus to ethics.

“This just corroborates what we already had an inkling was going on. I came out here saying we need a debate on jobs, but after reading that we need a debate on ethics and campaign finance reform,” Hawkins said.

Astorino, meanwhile, traveled to the Republican Governors Association meeting in Aspen to meet with donors and RGA Chairman Chris Christie.

The meeting with Astorino and Christie would come two days after Christie declared the GOP candidate in New York was unlikely to defeat Cuomo. Astorino told reporters he plans to bring a copy of the day’s New York Times.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule. (This changed late last night, he was supposed to be in NYC).

At 10 a.m., State Comptroller Tom 10 a.m. DiNapoli announces a fiscal profile, City Hall, 42 Ridge St., Glens Falls.

At 10:15 a.m., Westchester County Executive and GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino will be a guest on “Live from the State Capitol” with host Fred Dicker.

At 10:30 a.m., NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, joined by community officials and others, discusses the release of his office’s audit of the New York City Housing Authority; Raymond V. Ingersoll Houses, 120 Navy Walk, Brooklyn.

Also at 10:30 a.m., the Rev. Al Sharpton and Eric Garner’s family meet with the U.S. Attorney of the Civil Rights Division for the Eastern District, at Camdan Plaza, Brooklyn.

At 11 a.m., FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro presides over promotion ceremony for 106 FDNY members; Christian Cultural Center, 120-20 Flatlands Ave., Brooklyn.

Also at 11 a.m., Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell will formally endorse Dr. Terrence Murphy of Yorktown for SD-40, 39 Mt. Ebo Road South, Brewster.

At 11:20 a.m., Astorino will be a guest on AM970 The Answer with host John Gambling.

At 1 p.m., opponents of horse-drawn carriages participate in a demonstration sponsored by the animal rights organization NYCLASS; steps, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 1:06 p.m., Astorino will be a guest on WXXI with host Evan Dawson.

At 1:30 p.m., the NYC Council holds its Stated Meeting, Council Chambers, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 2:30 p.m. (Italian time), NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will speak at a public ceremony with the Mayor of Grassano Francesco Sanseverino, Palazzo Materi.

At 4:30 p.m., Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout and her running mate, Tim Wu, hold a press conference calling on Cuomo to “come clean” on interference in the Moreland Commission corruption investigations, outside Cuomo’s NYC office, 633 3rd Ave., Manhattan.

Headlines…

Good government activists called on Cuomo to address the NYT bombshell on his administration’s interference with his now-defunct corruption-busting Moreland Commission, but he declined to say anything beyond the 13-page response he provided to the paper.

The story threatens to turn what was a “sleepy” re-election campaign for Cuomo into an effort dominated by the touchy subject of corruption – which Cuomo himself said he was targeting by creating the commission in the first place.

The NYT followed up its report with an editorial on Cuomo’s “broken promises.”

“While the governor has the legal right to involve himself in the workings of a Moreland panel, do he or his staffers face steeper legal peril because this panel was also empowered as deputy attorneys general?”

The governor made no public appearances yesterday and released no statements in response to the Moreland Commission story, but he did sign a bill into law that cracks down on pet theft and mistreatment.

Phil Reisman, in a “Spaceballs” reference: “The Schwartz is definitely with Cuomo.”

Josh Benson says the NYT report should “permanently banish the idea that Cuomo will ever put any skin in the game when he talks about reform.”

LG Bob Duffy declined to give his thoughts on Cuomo’s handling of the commission, saying he did not have “any direct knowledge” of it workings.

New York’s credit rating was raised to AA+ from AA by Standard & Poor’s, which cited strong fiscal management after Cuomo won his fourth consecutive on-time budget. This is the highest rating for the state since 1972.

The Cuomo campaign is now challenging both the petitions and the residency of the governor’s Democratic primary challenger, Zephyr Teachout.

Some attendees at the funeral for Eric Garner, the man who died while in NYPD custody after being put in an apparent chokehold, were upset NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t cut his Italy vacation short to be there.

While in Italy, the mayor ate pizza with a knife and fork – again.

Speaking at the funeral, the Rev. Al Sharpton called for “justice” for Garner and peaceful protests in response to his death.

Sharpton said Team de Blasio is different, compared to how Bloomberg and his police commissioner handled emergencies, and vastly different from Giuliani.

A top de Blasio administration lawyer infuriated cops by tweeting about how the city failed Garner — even as the investigation into his death remains open.

More >

GOP Mayor Hoping to Replace Maziarz Gets Two More Endorsements

North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt picked up two more endorsements Wednesday night in his bid to replace retiring New York State Senator George Maziarz. Ortt was endorsed by the Conservative and the Independence Parties in the 62nd State Senate District.

“What Albany needs is someone who will bring the leadership of a veteran and experience of a chief executive to represent the people of Niagara, Orleans and Monroe Counties,” said Ortt.

Ortt has already received the backing of the Republican Party.  To appeal to conservatives Ortt has not only promoted his combat service in Afghanistan, he also pledged this week to repeal the New York SAFE Act.

Senator Maziarz, who voted against the SAFE Act, has been criticized by conservatives for not doing enough to repeal it.  Maziarz announced his retirement this month just days before it was revealed a federal investigation was launched into his campaign spending.

“As Senator, I will work toward a smaller, more common sense government that respects the rights of our citizens and the rights of my neighbors. That’s what we have done in North Tonawanda, together, and what we will work to do in Albany,” Ortt added.

Conservative Gia Arnold is challenging Ortt in a Republican Primary.  Niagara Falls resident Johnny Destino is running on the Democratic line.

New York’s 62nd Senate District includes all of Niagara and Orleans counties, as well as the towns of Sweden and Ogden.

Extras

Onondaga County DA Bill Fitzpatrick insists Larry Schwartz never directed him to stop any investigations or subpoenas when he chaired the Moreland Commission.

Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins defended the governor’s interference in the commission, echoing the administration’s “well, he created it” argument.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino expects “indictments and criminal charges” as a result of the NYT’s Moreland story.

Even after its disbandment in April, five staffers from the defunct commission remain on the state payroll - including its former executive director at a salary of $175,000 a year.

NY-19 Democratic candidate Sean Eldridge is wealthy now, but he once worked at a Taco Bell drive-through.

John Degnan has taken over as the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will be feted like a prodigal son returning home when he visits the small town in southern Italy where his grandfather was born.

Following Eric Garner’s death while in NYPD custody, NYCLU and labor groups are pushing Cuomo to veto a bill they say would hamstring the ability of local governments to discipline police for misconduct.

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito refused to say race was a factor in Garner’s death.

CBS’ “Late Show” will remain in New York City after David Letterman retires and Stephen Colbert takes over next year.

…that’s thanks to at least $16 million in state tax breaks and cash.

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg released details of his trip to Israel, which he made to show it’s safe to fly into and out of the country.

Jennifer Rubin suggests Bloomberg should challenge Hillary Clinton from the left in 2016.

Bloomberg had a tense interview with CNN host Wolf Blitzer, in which he accused Blitzer of “insulting” America.

The thirteen “best” New York restaurants NOT in NYC – agree or disagree?

Eight Queens Library trustees were booted thanks to their opposition to ousting their free-spending director.

State Education Commissioner John King will be releasing ”instructional reports” on this year’s Grade 3-8 English and math tests early.

Astorino Seeks Detente With Christie, Capitalize On Moreland Missteps

As he hopes to persuade New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to give his candidacy against Andrew Cuomo another look, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino joked he brought a copy of today’s New York Times with him to the meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Colorado.

Christie this week said he had no plans at the moment to aid Astorino’s campaign, which trails Cuomo in public opinion polls.

Astorino, in turn, responded that Christie should potentially step down as head of the RGA, especially if there’s a “handshake” agreement over potentially disclosing more damaging information in the controversy over the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

In conference call with reporters this afternoon, Astorino said he’ll be speaking with Christie while he’s in Aspen today for the RGA’s meeting, suggesting he’ll bring up today’s exhaustive New York Times report on Cuomo’s handling of the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.

“Same thing I said to him yesterday,” Astorino said when asked about talking to the likely presidential candidate, “but now I’ve brought a copy of The New York Times with me.”

Astorino added he expects Christie to campaign for him at some point. He also expects other Republican governors to come to New York and campaign for him (Astorino has spoken approvingly of Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker).

“You’ll be seeing that in the weeks to come,” he said when asked which governors will come. “They’ll be coming to New York.”

Astorino used the conference call to again blast Cuomo’s handling of the Moreland Commission as well as his office’s involvement, suggesting the governor’s office broke the law where to issue subpoenas from the panel.

“We’ve seen a govrnor resign over a personal indiscretion,” Astorino said in the conference call. “This is certainly a matter of public trust, of public law.”

Astorino pointed out the commission’s members were deputized by the state attorney general’s office.

“This was not an advisory board that reports to the governor. This was a separate independent commission that was looking into corruption wherever it led. And when it led to the governor’s office it was turned away. It was quashed,” he said. “That’s obstructionist of justice.”

The real test for Astorino though is whether the Moreland issue as any legs for voters, who have shown to care about economic and education issues.

Astorino suggested it could move voters, tying ethical wrongdoing to a “corruption tax.”

“If we can’t have honest officials, then everything else falls by the wayside,” he said.

Updated: Cuomo campaign spokesman Peter Kauffmann released this statement, pointing to the Westchester County executive’s outside consulting job.

“It takes a lot of nerve for Westchester’s king of cronyism to launch attacks on ethics. Rob Astorino should come clean on his outside income and the raises he’s given to political allies.”

Hawkins: Let’s Debate Ethics

Green Party candidate for governor Howie Hawkins on Wednesday said today’s Times story on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office’s role in shaping the Moreland Commission’s investigation of corruption should spur a debate on ethics.

“For me, I came out here to say we need a debate on jobs, but after reading that we need a debate on ethics and campaign finance reform,” Hawkins said in an interview.

Hawkins said he wasn’t surprised by the Times story, given previous accounts of the governor’s office’s efforts to direct subpoenas away from political sensitive areas for Cuomo.

But he added the story confirmed much of his skepticism over the panel.

“We had already reports that the Cuomo staff was putting the screws to the commission who they could appoint, who could write the report,” he said.

Hawkins, who is polling at 6 percentage points in a recent Siena College poll, has automatic ballot status this year after receiving more than 50,000 votes running for governor in 2010.

In criticizing Cuomo over the story, he joins two other gubernatorial candidates — Republican Rob Astorino and Democrat Zephyr Teachout — in blasting Cuomo’s handling of the now-defunct anti-corruption panel.

“We need some debate on these issues and we need Cuomo and Astorino in a public forum we they can be challenged on some of these things,” Hawkins said.

S&P Bumps State’s Bond Rating (Updated)

New York’s bond rating on Wednesday was upgraded a notch by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services to AA+ following similar improvements by Moody’s and Fitch.

The Moody’s upgrade is the highest the state has received in the last 50 years.

In its own ratings upgrade, S&P cited the state’s improving budget balance and spending plans that limit increases at 2 percent.

“This upgrade is based on our view of a strong state budget management framework as indicated by New York State’s recent history of improved structural budget balance with a strong focus on spending restraint and on-time budgets,” wrote S&P analyst David Hitchcock.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli praised the S&P rating improvement.

“The new AA+ rating for the state’s General Obligation bonds reflects our recent history of on-time budgets, a well-funded pension system and spending restraint,” DiNapoli said. “Over the past few years, much has been done to put New York on a more solid financial footing, but some budgetary challenges remain. The state still needs to do more to curtail future budget gaps by aligning recurring revenues and expenditures.

Updated: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also praising the bond rating improvement.

“S&P’s decision to upgrade New York’s credit rating is another resounding affirmation of the progress that we have made in the past four years. Before this administration took office, New York was losing jobs, consistently passing late budgets, and spending more money than the people of this state earned,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Now, government is working for the people – the budget process has gone from a three-ring circus to a sensible blueprint for growth, taxes are down across the board and we are a national leader in job creation since the recession. The facts are clear – the arrows are pointed in the right direction in New York State, and the best is yet to come.”

CBS To Receive Tax Credits, Grant To Keep ‘Late Show’ In NY

CBS Corp. will receive a combined $16 million package of tax credits and grants from the state over the next five years to keep the Late Show in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Wednesday announced.

The money to keep the late-night talk show in New York comes after the state lured NBC’s The Tonight Show franchise to the city.

Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert will be taking over as host from the retiring David Letterman next year.

The incentives for CBS include $11 million in Excelsior tax credits over the next five years to offset the company’s investment and “job commitment” in the show, and a $5 million grant to renovate the existing Ed Sullivan Theatre.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that the ‘LATE SHOW’ will stay in New York, where it belongs. New York has long been an international entertainment leader, and with this commitment from CBS we are beginning the next chapter in that proud history,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The television and film industries are thriving in the Empire State – creating jobs and fueling dozens of other sectors across the state. Les Moonves and CBS have made the right decision in choosing to continue investing in New York, and as David Letterman passes the baton to Stephen Colbert, I look forward to watching “The Late Show” from the historic Ed Sullivan Theatre for years to come.”

Critics of the state’s generous tax breaks for the entertainment industry have questioned whether the incentives actually create a lasting economic impact or if they’re needed in the first place. The Late Show with David Letterman is currently filmed in New York, as is Colbert’s Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report.

California made an aggressive play to push CBS to bring the new, Colbert-helmed version of The Late Show to Los Angeles.

But states have entered into an increasingly competitive contest to draw or retain TV and film productions close to home.

Cuomo’s office points to the entertainment industry spending more than $2 billion in the state, along with the hiring of 126,301 actors and crew for 181 projects.

Cuomo Not Attending Bronx Democratic Committee Fundraiser (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this evening is scheduled to appear at a dinner fundraiser for the Bronx Democratic Committee, according to an invitation sent out by the party.

Updated: I’m told Cuomo will not be attending the event this evening.

The event is also expected to include AFL-CIO Presdent Mario Cilento and NYC Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook.

The event begins at 7 p.m.

Tickets to the fundraiser range from $300 to platinum sponsors who can contribute or bundle up to $25,000.

The fundraiser is the only public event of the day for Cuomo, who is under fire for his office’s involvement in the now-defunct Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.

Did Anyone Break The Law?

Today’s New York Times story on the Cuomo administration’s extensive meddling in the now-defunct Moreland Commission is exhaustive and comprehensive, laying out in detail the (successful) effort by the governor’s top aide, Larry Schwartz, to derail any lines of investigation that might expose or embarrass the executive.

But while the piece notes that US Attorney Preet Bharara is now investigatig the commission’s demise – shut down by Cuomo in exchange for agreement on an ethics reform package by legislative leaders – it does not directly address the question of what laws may have been broken during this entire mess, and by whom.

The governor, both in interviews following the commission’s shuttering and in his 13-page response to the Times, has insisted that this body was never independent of the executive branch – despite his initial claims to the contrary – and therefore any interference by his office could not possibly be considered meddling. In late April, Cuomo told Crain’s New York Business:

“It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.”

But as former Assemblyman (and attorney) Richard Brodsky noted when the commission was first created last summer, a Moreland Commission – by its very definition – does not have the power to investigate anything other than the executive branch.

However, when the commission members are deputized by the state attorney general’s office, their powers are expanded and they are able to investigate the Legislature, which was, of course, the real reason Cuomo wanted to create this commission in the first place – no matter what he publicly claimed about it being independent and free to follow the money trail wherever it lead.

That model was employed by the governor’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, when he set up what came to be known as the Feerick Commission, created – ironically – to investigate the state’s campaign finance system, which was ultimately deemed to be “an embarrassment and a disgrace.”

Ultimately, the commission’s findings fell on deaf ears, however, since state lawmakers weren’t inclined to change the system that benefitted them. Hence, the need for what was ostensbily to be a robust and no-holds-barred probe into the loophole-riddled campaign finance system by the current Gov. Cuomo’s commission.

I spoke briefly with Brodsky this morning, and he reiterated that Schwartz – acting alone or at the governor’s direction – would have “every lgeal right” to interfere with a Moreland Commission – if that’s what this commission was. But, since all 25 commission members had been deputized by the AG’s office, Brodsky says that this commission was actually a more powerful hyrbid. And if Schwartz, or anyone else on the Capitol’s second floor, interfered with the deputy AGs, well, that appears to be a different legal story altogether.

Brodsky stressed that he won’t opine on whether the law was broken based on the NYT’s reporting, saying: “That’s for law enforcement to do.”

“What you can say without a doubt, however, is that it was the attempt to investigate the Legislature through a referral that raises the hard legal questions,” Brodsky said. “The governor has the unfettered power to investigate the executive branch in any way he wants – or doesn’t want to. The problem arises when the governor’s office interferes with the attorney general’s office.”

Presumably, Bharara knows this, too.

AG Eric Schneiderman has so far not commented on the NYT story, and he won’t be saying anything any time soon, according to his press office.

But he was asked back in May about the subpoena sent by Bharara’s office to the defunct Moreland Commission’s chief counsel, Kelly Donovan, who just so happens to also be the AG’s executive deputy for criminal justice.

“I’m not going to comment on this,” Schneiderman said at the time. “I can’t comment on investigations arising out of the Moreland Commission whether they’re being conducted by my office or other prosecutors.”

“…I deputized (commissioners) as special deputies so they would have authority to look into branches of government other than the executive branch, but the commissioners – none of them were employees of my office. None of the staff that was hired was hired by my office. The only people we had around were folks who had full-time jobs who were detailed to help the commission, and whatever directions there were for them to take actio – they were directed to stand down, essentially, on the subpoenas – and that’s it.”

Schneiderman’s GOP opponent, John Cahill, so far hasn’t issued any statements in response to the NYT story, but he is scheduled to hold a press conference outside Schneiderman’s Manhattan office at 2:30 p.m., at which he presumably will be addressing this issue.