Nick Reisman

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3 New York Takeaways From The Mueller Report

The release of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has ties to New York and ramifications for the state’s politics.

Here are three key takeaways about how the report effects the Empire State’s political scene:

1. New Yorkers with bit roles.

The president, of course, is the first New Yorker to win the White House since Franklin Roosevelt. And that’s led to some ancillary characters from New York politics to play a role in the saga surrounding the 2016 election. Many of the redactions in the report are due to the upcoming perjury trial of Roger Stone, the colorful New York political operative who has an on-again, off-again relationship and advisory role with Trump.

Western New York political operative Michael Caputo, who had at one point sought a Trump gubernatorial campaign in 2014, is also briefly mentioned in the report. Caputo is said to have learned of a Russian business partner based in Florida named Henry Oknyansky that he had information on Hillary Clinton, and Caputo introduced him to Stone.

Another bit player is Randy Credico, a leftist comedian and activist who is a Bernie Sanders supporter, but also has ties to Stone. Credico, who has interviewed the now-jailed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on his radio show, had much of his role redacted in the report.

2. The Republican response.

At start of Trump’s campaign,. New York Republican Chairman Ed Cox didn’t embrace the populist candidate’s plan to upend the political system. That’s since changed. Cox in a statement on Thursday cheered the report for finding no evidence the Trump campaign sought to collude with Russian intelligence to sway the election’s outcome and claimed the report exonerated the president of obstruction of justice, though the report itself is rather murky on that point, choosing to ultimately not make a conclusion. Cox went as far as to echo the president’s own call for an investigation of intelligence officials who had raised alarms over Russia’s involvement in the election.

“Meanwhile, the investigation must now turn to the conduct of intelligence and other officials who abused their positions and the truth about the phony Steele dossier must be revealed to the public,” Cox said in a statement. “As President Trump said, this should never happen again.”

3. What will swing district Democrats do?

Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi last year won a seat in the House of Representatives the president won by 15 percentage points. He defeated Republican incumbent Claudia Tenney, a prominent supporter of the president who had Trump come to the district and raise money for her campaign. Tenney may not be as popular as Trump in that district, but the president in 2020 will again be at the top of the ticket and the central New York seat will be see as an opportunity for Republicans to pick up.

Brindisi on Thursday gave a careful answer when asked about the Mueller report.

“I want to read the report and see what’s in there,” he told Spectrum News. “But my concern is I don’t want to spend the next year and a half getting bogged down on the Mueller investigation and Russia. We’ve got to focus on the issues I’m hearing out of town hall meetings — lowering drug costs, infrastructure spending, doing something about this opioid epidemic. Those are the things we need to focus on in Congress and not get bogged down in endless investigations.”

Court Sides With Yeshivas, Private Schools In Standards Guidelines

A state judge in a ruling issued Thursday struck down new state guidelines that were aimed at boosting education standards and secular curricula at yeshivas and private schools.

The decision from State Supreme Court Judge Christina Ryba effects State Education Department guidelines released last year that would require school district-level review of education standards at private schools.

“We are reviewing the court’s decision and will determine the appropriate next steps,” said Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the department.

Ryba’s ruling “hereby nullified” those guidelines changes as applied by SED. The decision is a victory for yeshivas that had opposed the guidelines change and the potential of having them close.

“This stops in its tracks SED’s effort to radically transform the relationship between the state and its private schools,” said Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, a pro-yeshiva organization.

Advocates for boosting education standards, however, decried the sweeping decision.

“It is absolutely imperative for the Education Department to provide reasonable oversight to make sure every student in New York is receiving an education that complies with state standards. This is about educational equity, pure and simple and we have to start putting children ahead of politics,” said Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law school professor and prior candidate for attorney general and Congress.

“I sincerely hope that the Attorney General will appeal the judge’s ruling and that state and city leaders will take appropriate action to end this ongoing neglect of students regardless of religion.”

New York House Delegation Reacts To Mueller Report

The reactions on Thursday by the members of New York’s congressional delegation broke down on largely partisan lines as the report on Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election was released with redactions by the Department of Justice.

The report did not find evidence to conclude that President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government to sway the outcome of the election, but did not make a determination on whether Trump himself sought to obstruct the investigation.

“Today the Mueller report was released, but the result remains the same — no Russian collusion,” said Republican Rep. Tom Reed. “This should be celebrated. Now it is time for our country to heal because all politics all the time is tearing our country apart and hurting real people. We must end this culture of division and work together on policies to help people.”

Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko praised the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, pointing to the 30 indictments as the result of the investigation.

“This is the first time Special Counsel Mueller’s report has been made available to the public and members of Congress,” Tonko said. “At several hundred pages, it is far more detailed and rigorous than the four page reaction memo issued by Attorney General Barr. I will take the time necessary to review the report in detail and will share my views on its contents once I have had a chance to do so.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from the North Country, said the focus should continue to be placed on efforts by a hostile power to sway an election.

“AG Barr was clear that the process was completed with a high degree of transparency, no executive privilege, limited redactions, and resulted in a report of no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign,” she said. “I am proud of my record of calling for full transparency, and will continue to focus on what matters: interference in our elections by Russia and other foreign adversaries.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, meanwhile, has been authorized by his committee to subpoena for an unredacted version of the report. And he found concerns raised in the report about the president’s attempts to shut down the investigation.

“The report concluded there was ‘substantial evidence’ that President Trump attempted to prevent an investigation into his campaign and his own conduct,” Nadler said. “Contrary to the Attorney General’s statement this morning that the White House ‘fully cooperated’ with the investigation, the report makes clear that the President refused to be interviewed by the Special Counsel and refused to provide written answers to follow-up questions; and his associates destroyed evidence relevant to the Russia investigation.”

Parker Wants Good Friday To Be A Holiday

Sen. Kevin Parker is pushing a bill that would make Good Friday a public holiday in New York, following suit with a dozen states in the country.

Good Friday is observed by Christians as the day Jesus Christ died on the cross and is the lead up to the Easter holiday on Sunday.

“The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that New York State recognizes and celebrates the religious diversity of all its citizenry,” Parker said Thursday in a statement. “Currently, Good Friday is a state holiday in 12 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. It is time for New York State to stop lagging behind and recognize Good Friday as a public holiday on behalf of the many observers across our great State.”

Designating Good Friday a holiday would require the closure of non-essential government offices and amend the state’s education law to include Good Friday on the list of holidays for public schools to close in New York.

Population Loss Creeps Downstate

New York’s upstate population continued its slide over the last year, but the number of people moving out of the state accelerated at a faster rate in New York City, a Census report released this week found.

The Census found over a 12-month period ending last July 1, upstate counties north of the metropolitan region lost a combined 8,719 residents, a decline of 0.14 percent.

But New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley lost a combined total of 39,791 people, or 0.30 percent. Nearly all of that decline occurred in New York City, which has boomed economically over the last decade. The state’s net population decrease overall was 48,510 in the 2017-18 time period.

A portion of this decline may be due to the Census Bureau’s reclassification of documented immigration and how it can count toward population growth.

There are some bright spots upstate: Saratoga County gained 1,061 residents, ranking it second overall in population growth statewide.

New York’s population since 2010 has grown by 164,107 residents or 0.8 percent.

The state is likely to lose one, if not two, seats in the House of Representatives given it is not growing as fast as other states.

State Police To Triple Checkpoints At Capitol On Busy Days

The State Police will boost its presence at the state Capitol complex on busy days, Acting Superintendent Keith Corlett on Thursday announced.

The boosted presence by troopers, set to begin when state lawmakers return from their Easter-Passover break on April 29, will triple the number of security checkpoint lanes during legislative session days.

The move comes amid complaints the wait to get into the Capitol for lobbyists, activists and school groups on days lawmakers are in town has become longer amid new security requirements similar to airport screenings, such as removing a belt, before walking through a metal detector.

“Our priority will always be public safety. Our plan to streamline security will make for a quicker process, while making sure those who visit and work around the Capital are safe,” Corlett said.

Lawmakers, staff and beat reporters have access cards to bypass the security lines.

But on busy days at the Capitol, up to 7,000 people visit the Capitol during legislative session days, lobbying days and special events.

The State Police said about 63,100 bins were scanned at checkpoints in last month alone, an increase from 49,300 bins in March 2018.

The checkpoints have led to the seizure of thousands of items, including a pellet gun, needles, razor blades, scissors and knives, the State Police said. No weapons are allowed on state property.

Reed Slams Dems For Tax Return Push

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Rep. Tom Reed in a statement on Wednesday blasted Democrats for seeking to gain access to President Donald Trump’s tax returns, calling the move a “dangerous precedent” if successful.

The House Ways and Means Committee is using a little-known law in order to gain access to the president’s tax returns, seeking up a potentially protracted fight over executive power with the White House.

In New York, lawmakers have introduced legislation that would enable House Democrats to receive the president’s New York filing as well. State lawmakers have also introduced legislation that would force the release of Trump’s New York tax returns for the last several years.

But Reed, a Republican from the Southern Tier region, said such efforts undermine privacy rights.

“Many Democrats began thinking of impeachment the day after Donald Trump won the 2016 election, and this is just the next step in process,” Reed said. “If the Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee are successful, this will set a dangerous precedent. What will stop future Members of Congress from targeting future political foes, or even their neighbor down the street, and requesting their tax returns?”

Trump has broken with a modern political era of tradition dating back to Richard Nixon that an incumbent president’s taxes be made available for review.

Trump has pointed to an audit he’s undergoing by the IRS, but that does not preclude him from making the return public.

“Transparency in our government is enormously important,” Reed said. “So is privacy and freedom from the fear any American can be targeted by any political party for purely partisan reasons.”

Suffolk County Unveils 311 System

From the Morning Memo:

Suffolk County is creating a non-emergency 311 system meant to handle non-emergency calls from residents and visitors.

The new system, the first for any suburban county in the state, is designed after New York City’s 311 system and designed to alleviate the burden of non-emergency calls to 911 call centers.

“This new system incorporates the best elements of public safety, data management, and constituent satisfaction,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “By replicating both public and private sector best practices, Suffolk County is leading the state when it comes to bringing County government into the 21st century.”

The 311 number in New York City is meant to be used as a hub for residents to gain access to centralized services in different city departments to gain access to information or report problems to city officials.

The Suffolk County system was praised by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“311 has been a big success in New York City not only because residents and visitors use it to get information and report issues, but also because it gives government leaders data that can help them direct resources and solve problems,” Bloomberg said. “Congratulations to County Executive Bellone on making a smart investment in Suffolk’s future.”

Judith Clark, Getaway Driver In Deadly Brinks Robbery, Receives Parole

Judith Clark, sentenced to 75 years for her role as the getaway driver in a 1981 Brinks truck robbery that left two police officers and a guard dead, on Wednesday was granted parole.

Her parole, approved by a vote of 2-to-1 by the state Parole Board, was granted three years after Gov. Andrew Cuomo commuted her sentence, making her eligible to be released.

Advocates for the last several years had pushed for Clark’s release, pointing to her work as a mentor to inmates with AIDs, her work helping to train explosives-detecting dogs and her remorse she felt for her role in the robbery.

Clark has spent the last 38 years in prison and will turn 70 later this year.

Clark was a member of the militant leftist group Weather Underground. The robbery itself was staged by members of the Black Liberation Army as well as former Weather Underground members.

Clark was convicted of murder for her role in the deaths of Nyack Police Sgt. Edward O’Grady, Police Officer Waverly Brown and Peter Paige, a Brinks guard.

Her parole will likely be blasted by Republicans and law enforcement organizations. In 2017, Sen. Pat Gallivan, a western New York Republican, collected more than 10,000 petition signatures opposing her release.

“Today’s ruling by the parole board is a cruel and unjust slap in the face to the families of Sergeant Edward O’Grady, Officer Waverly “Chipper” Brown and Brinks guard Peter Paige,” said Rockland County Executive Ed Day.

“This perversion of justice is a sad continuation of the deadly assault on police officers happening across our Nation and signals to the criminal element that it is open season on cops. The parole board and the elected officials responsible for allowing this domestic terrorist to walk free should be ashamed.”

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan called the parole board’s decision “chilling.”

“This warped and tilted justice stems from a new and imbalanced approach pushed by Democrats who favor cop-killers and criminals over victims,” Flanagan said. “This egregious decision signals to killers and other criminals that if you do the crime, chances are you might not do all the time. Judith Clark should remain behind bars for the maximum amount of time her sentence allows, which is life.”

But advocates for her release praised the decision by the Parole Board.

“Justice has finally been served,” said Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, who has advocated for Clark’s release for several years. “We hope Judith’s release creates opportunities for other women and men who are rehabilitated. Let this be the start of real reform for the Parole Board.”

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, posted to Twitter that Clark’s release is an example of how other older inmates who have served time and are no longer dangerous should be considered for release.

“Where there has been ample punishment, proof of rehabilitation, acceptance of responsibility and genuine remorse, the door of mercy in our justice system must be opened,” he said. “Judith Clark transformed her life and the door of mercy opened to her today.”

Her daughter, Harriet Clark, also praised the decision.

“I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped take care of my mother and me over the past thirty-eight years and who has helped to bring my mother home,” she said. “My great hope is that the Parole Board continues to honor the work people do to transform their lives while in prison and lets more families’ loved ones come home.”

Lawmakers, Working Group Rally For More Sexual Harassment Hearings

It’s been two months since state lawmakers in Albany took testimony from survivors of sexual misconduct while working in state government as well as experts working in the field.

On Wednesday, state and New York City lawmakers, as well as the Sexual Harassment Working Group, called for at least two more hearings on the issue.

The group, which is composed of former legislative staffers who are victims and survivors of harassment, assault and misconduct, have for the last several weeks pushed for another public hearing in Albany and another in New York City.

Lawmakers have said they want the hearings to address wider concerns surrounding sexual harassment and how to address the issue for different fields and income levels.

“Every day that the Legislature does not announce dates for additional hearings is another day the voices of workers and survivors are silenced,” the group said in a joint statement.

“The hearing held in February shined a bright light on some of the barriers victims face, such as demonstrating the urgent need to eradicate the ‘severe or pervasive’ standard. But we cannot eradicate every hurdle until our elected officials hear from workers across all industries.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul have endorsed holding more public hearings on the issue, but a date is yet to be announced.