Public Financing Advocates Seek To Shape Commission’s Work

From the Morning Memo:

Supporters of publicly financed campaigns are urging top state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to embrace a package of recommendations outlined in a letter sent this week that would guide how an election law panel would function.

The panel, named earlier this month by Cuomo and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate, is being tased with developing the framework of a system of publicly financed campaigns as well as additional election law changes, including a potential end to fusion voting.

The coalition that comprises Fair Elections for New York in the letter called for the commission to act with independence and to listen to outside experts on the issues at stake. At the same time, the coalition urged the commission to act in daylight and with transparency, while also giving the public opportunities to weigh in.

As for public financing itself, the coalition has a specific set of goals in mind: A 6-to-1 public matching system, attainable thresholds for candidates to qualify for public financing, the creation of an oversight unit outside the state Board of Elections and a cap on public funds.

And the group wants all state races covered, including state legislative, and district attorney races for primaries and general elections.

“The Public Financing Commission has lots of work to do, and less than five months to do it,” said Rosemary Rivera, the co-executive director of Citizen Action in a statement.

“We want a real public process without political interference, so that the People, statewide, can weigh in meaningfully on the creation of a system that will finally transform the way Albany works.”

Judge Denies Restraining Order Against Vaccine Exemption Law

A state Supreme Court justice in Albany on Friday denied an effort to temporarily block a law that ends the religious exemption for vaccinations, attorney Michael Sussman wrote in a post on Facebook.

Sussman, along with longtime anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, announced a lawsuit this week that challenged the law, approved last month amid a measles outbreak of more than 1,000 cases.

Many of the measles cases have been reported in Brooklyn and Rockland County and within the Orthodox Jewish community.

“This is not the decision I had hoped for, but I recognize that getting a TRO (temporary restraining order) against state legislation is very difficult,” Sussman said. “I hope that further development of all the issues will cause this or another Judge to preliminarily restrain the operation of this statute and I will be working on making that happen.”

Opponents of the measure argue the law violates constitutional rights. Public health officials roundly agree that vaccinations are essential for healthy people in order to create herd immunity and prevent the spread of diseases.

Coalition Launches Push For Wind Energy

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of environmental, labor and advocacy groups on Thursday will unveil a website that’s part of a broader push to expand wind energy in upstate New York.

The website, Friends of Upstate New York Wind, is meant to serve as a resource to promote the issue and for the groups to tout the energy source’s economic benefits.

“New Yorkers for Clean Power is thrilled to launch this new educational tool for supporters of clean energy across New York,” said New Yorkers For Clean Power Director Betta Broad. “We have been impressed with the broad support that exists for non-polluting energy across Upstate, but are concerned by the prevalence of misleading information. We are excited by this effort to share accurate information about the benefits of clean power with our families, friends and neighbors.”

The website will highlight a cross-section of issues surrounding wind energy: security in diversifying energy resources, construction jobs that would pay the prevailing wage, tax revenue, farmland preservation and public health.

“We want people to know how great wind power can be for Upstate New York,” said Anne Reynolds, the executive director of ACE NY.

“This new portal provides accurate information on wind power and stories about wind farms already operating in New York State. We do not want misleading information about wind energy to cost residents, especially farmers and construction workers, the opportunity to prosper and thrive in the state’s new clean energy economy.”

All told, more than 20 groups representing business, environmental advocacy and labor are backing the new effort.

RFK Jr. And Sussman File Lawsuit Challenging End To Religious Exemption For Vaccinations

A lawsuit challenging the state’s end to the religious exemption for vaccinations was announced on Wednesday by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., along with longtime legal activist Michael Sussman.

Kennedy and Sussman said the suit was filed on behalf off parents who opposed the measure, approved last month in the state Legislature amid a measles outbreak in Brooklyn and Rockland County with more than 1,000 reported cases.

“To deprive families of the rights to freedom of religious expression, parental rights, and the right to either a public or private education, the state must demonstrate a ‘compelling state interest’ that the state has failed to prove here,” Sussman said in a statement.

The law was approved after an extraordinarily close vote in the Democratic-led Assembly, which was followed by an angry, profanity-laced protest from opponents of the legislation.

Kennedy, a former brother-in-law of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has been a prominent figure in the anti-vaccine movement, which has questioned the health effects of vaccinations. Public health officials broadly agree that healthy people should be vaccinated in order to create herd immunity against illnesses like the measles.

Kennedy shaped his argument, however, against the bill around religious expression.

“Religious rights are fundamental,” Kennedy said. “It is unconstitutional for the state to deprive people of such important rights when religious animus has played a key role. To enact such harsh legislation without any legislative fact-finding, and with the legislators’ open display of prejudice towards religious beliefs different than their own, is simply un-American; it is essential that we fight this.”

Reclaim New York Reduces Staff, Scales Back

From the Morning Memo:

Reclaim New York, an advocacy group backed by conservative investor Robert Mercer, is reducing its footprint and staff, the group announced on Tuesday in a statement.

The group in its statement said it was going through a “period of re-evaluation” of its activities.

“Given the scale of the challenges, and our own commitment to fiscal responsibility, we are reevaluating Reclaim’s role in the engagement of citizens and our staff in holding government accountable,” Reclaim New York said in a statement.

“To that end, we have determined to pause daily programming and to reduce our workforce. We intend to migrate to more of a web-based operation rather than a fully staffed field operation.”

Reclaim New York had been linked to Mercer, a computer scientist and hedge investor who has been linked to a variety of conservative causes along with his daughter, Rebecca Mercer. The group also had ties to Steve Bannon, the former advisor to President Donald Trump.

The group had sought to forge a niche for itself as something of a center-right good-government organization, pushing for local and state government transparency and criticized what it saw as wasteful spending.

But in the process it raised the ire of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, which was quick to seize on its connection to Mercer.

A Democratic insider reacted to the news by saying, “Trump acolytes Steve Bannon and the Mercers went to war with Gov Cuomo and the Democratic Party for years — and lost. God only knows how much money they spent on this pathetic AstroTurf group, and they didn’t know New Yorkers are too smart to buy what they were selling.”

Cuomo, Legislative Leaders Name Public Campaign Finance Commission

The future of the state’s campaign finance laws will be in the hands of nine people, including the state Democratic Committee chairman, a top former attorney for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Bronx civil court judge and a longtime election law lawyer.

Cuomo, along with the top lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate named the bipartisan commission that will determine how to implement a system of publicly financed campaigns, with a report due by Dec. 1. The report has the force of law unless lawmakers return to Albany within 20 days of the report being issued to alter it.

In addition to considering the contours of a public financing system, the panel can also shape election law, such as whether to continue fusion voting — a key concern for the Working Families Party.

The commission includes state Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs as well as Mylan Denerstein, an attorney in private practice who served as counsel to Cuomo during his first time and worked in the attorney genera’s office during his time there. Both are appointees of the governor.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins appointed DeNora Getachew, the executive director of the group Generation Citizen and a former legislative counsel and campaign manager for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. She also appointed John Nonna, a longtime Westchester County attorney and former county lawmaker and mayor.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s appointees include Bronx County Civil Court Judge Rosanna Vargas and Buffalo State College official Crystal Rodriguez.

Henry Berger, an election law attorney who worked for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as special counsel was selected as a joint at-large appointment by Cuomo, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins.

Republican Senate leader John Flanagan appointed David Previte, a former chief counsel for their conference and an attorney with Hinman Straub. Kimberly Galvin, the co-director of the state Board of Elections Campaign Finance Compliance Unit is the appointee of Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

The commission was formed as part of an an agreement in the state budget amid a push for the creation of a system of publicly financed campaigns. Assembly Democrats had raised concerns with aspects of public financing and the effect super PACs contiue to play in elections, and the compromise to create the commission was forged out of that.

Still, the commission’s formation is the latest example of lawmakers ceding authority to an appointed panel on thorny issues, including how congestion pricing in New York City would work as well as a pay raise for the Legislature.

Siena Poll Finds Most New Yorkers Patriotic, But Also Back Dissent

More than two-thirds of New Yorkers say they are patriotic and 80 percent are proud to be Americans, a Siena College poll released on Wednesday found.

The poll released a day before the nation celebrates Independence Day found New Yorkers across the state are generally proud of the country, with 75 percent saying the national anthem makes them feel proud. Just over half, or 55 percent, say they wear red, white and blue on July 4.

Forty-five percent believe America is the best country in the world, according to the survey.

And yet, New Yorkers are also on board with dissent, the poll found.

But New Yorkers by a majority, 67 percent, do not believe it is un-American to protest the actions of the government. A combined 53 percent said it was inaccurate to say someone who believes is socialism is not a good American.

And 88 percent believe freedom of speech applies to all, including those who criticize the country.

Still, burning the flag is too far for 68 percent of New Yorkers, the poll found.

Only just over half, or 52 percent, say they vote in every election.

“New Yorkers of every political party, age and region strongly support complete freedom of speech even for those that criticize the country, but a small majority, 52 percent say it is either somewhat or completely descriptive of them that it makes them angry to see anyone that does not stand for the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem,” Levy said.

“Still, only 26 percent think it is un-American to protest against the actions of our government while 67 percent think it is not.”

The poll of 804 state residents was conducted from June 11 to June 18 and has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

ICS0619 7419 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman on Scribd

McCall Plans Memoir With Rockefeller Institute

Carl McCall, the former state comptroller and SUNY Board of Trustees chairman, will write his memoir as an author in residence, the Rockefeller Institute of Government announced on Thursday.

McCall this month is stepping down from the chairman post, which he’s held for the last eight years. He will be writing the memoir with Paul Grondahl, the director of the New York State Writers Institute and a journalist for the Times Union.

“Chairman McCall’s 50 years of public service have been outstanding and laden with many accomplishments, and what inspires me the most is hearing him share his own personal narrative about what access to high-quality education has meant to him and his career,” said SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson. “Through this memoir project, the masses will be able to learn more about one of New York’s finest advocates, leaders, and mentors, inspiring future generations for years to come.”

McCall’s memoir is expected to focus on politics, social justice and education issues. McCall, the first black statewide elected official in New York, ran for governor in 2002, facing Andrew Cuomo in a bruising Democratic primary. He lost the general election to Gov. George Pataki.

“Chairman McCall has had an extraordinary career and his memoir will serve as required reading for those looking to enter public service,” said Jim Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute. “The Rockefeller Institute of Government is thrilled to welcome the chairman while he works with the talented Paul Grondahl and the NYS Writers Institute to share his story with others.”

McCall officially retires from the SUNY Board of Trustees on Sunday.

Limo Crash Victim Families Upset With Lack Of Action

Family members of those who have been killed in limousine crashes in New York are upset the state legislative session concluded without a larger package of safety measures for stretch limos.

“The reality is that NYS Government failed us,” the families said in a statement on Tuesday. “They failed the Cutchogue families in Long Island. They’ve failed the next limousine victims that will perish needlessly because the State failed to act.”

Lawmakers conclude the session last week. The state Senate approved a series of 10 limousine safety measures, but the Assembly only approved two that have “same-as” or matching versions in the state Senate.

The bills that could become law, pending Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature, would require seat belts in limos built after Jan. 1, 2020. Another bill strengthens insurance requirements for stretch limos.

The measures were proposed after a crash last October killed 20 people in Schoharie, including 18 people in an altered stretch limousine. It is the deadliest transportation crash in a decade. Lawmakers and Cuomo in the state budget approved additional insurance and inspection requirements.

“The NYS Legislative session has now ended with little substantive legislative action that would address limousine safety,” the families said. “Limousine safety measures that could very well have saved the lives of the 20 members of our collective families. To say we are disappointed is an understatement. Our disappointment now turns to anger as legislators’ finger point and play the blame game – The Senate blaming the Assembly and the Assembly blaming the Senate.”

Cuomo had said in a radio interview earlier this month the state was potentially limited in what it could do for limo safety given the federal government’s regulatory role.

“The limitation is what we can do is that vehicles that are certified by the federal government we are pre-empted from regulating,” he said. “That’s the limitation.”

State Open Government Expert Fired Following Sexual Misconduct Investigation

Robert Freeman, a leading expert on the state’s open government and freed of information laws, was fired Monday from his post at the Committee on Open Government following a sexual misconduct complaint.

His firing was first reported by the Albany Bureau of the USA Today Network.

The complaint, made by a Journal News reporter, alleged Freeman “sexually assaulted her while meeting with her in his official capacity,” according to a letter by state the inspector general’s office to the New York secretary of state, Rosanna Rosado.

The letter from Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro determined an investigation “found compelling evidence that Freeman acted in a sexually inappropriate manner with the complainant while engaged in a meeting in his official capacity.”

The investigation also found Freeman kept sexually suggestive material on his office computer as well as another exchange with a young woman.

Freeman founded the Committee on Open Government in 1974, turning the office into a major resource for New York journalists navigating open records and meetings laws in the state. He also traveled the state to speak with college students and with reporters about open government laws and how to file Freedom of Information Law requests.

New York lawmakers this month agreed to changes to the state’s sexual harassment laws, broadening the definition from the “severe or pervasive” standard advocates believed is too narrow to fit a wider range of behavior.