Heastie: No Need To Be Socialist To Back Health Care, College For All

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie does not consider himself to be a democratic socialist — a term that’s been embraced by insurgent candidates on the left like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon.

But Heastie in an interview Tuesday pointed to policies embraced by Assembly Democrats — universal health care and reductions in public college tuition — as being out front on issues that are being pushed by a movement that is having its moment during a tumultuous and uncertain election cycle.

“We passed bills on single-payer. We want to see college tuition be more affordable. We’d like it to be free,” Heastie said during a stop in Washington County as part of his upstate summer tour on Tuesday. “I don’t think you need to be a socialist to believe in those.”

The universal health care legislation, in particular, has been a longtime issue for Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the chamber’s Health Committee chairman and his bill to create a program has been approved multiple times by the Assembly.

“We don’t feel you have to support those things to be identified as a socialist,” Heastie said. “We believe the state and this country should guarantee people an education and health care.”

But the issues have been thrust to the forefront of the national political conversation following the Democratic presidential primary campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, whose supporters have sought to gain steam this cycle with an embrace of both the label and those policies.

Passing these bills in the Democratic-dominated Assembly, where the party controls more than 100 seats in the 150-member chamber, has been an easier sell than in the Republican-led state Senate, where the GOP controls a narrow majority.

That could change in November should Democrats win enough swing districts in target seats on Long Island and the Hudson Valley. Nevertheless, passing an agenda that includes universal health care could still be a complicated and expensive proposition for Democrats representing more moderate districts in the Senate.

NYC’s Speed Camera Program Likely To Lapse

A program that has set up speed cameras near schools in New York City in order to curtail pedestrian deaths and crashes is likely to lapse on Wednesday as no agreement is in place to have it extended.

The Democratic-led Assembly has approved bills extending the program, but the state Senate left town without doing so.

“We wanted to cover every issue before we left,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in an interview on Tuesday. “So, there really is no need for the Assembly to come back. The Senate can just come back and act.”

The Assembly, he said, has no reason to return to Albany for a special session.

“God forbid there’s some emergency in the state, I don’t think the Assembly will be coming back,” Heastie said.

The ball is in essence in the court of the Republican-controlled state Senate and Majority Leader John Flanagan for not taking up either an expansion or a straightforward extension at the conclusion of the legislative session in June.

“It’s really up to John Flanagan to tell the children of the city of New York that he cares about them,” Heastie said.

In a statement, Flanagan blamed both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Democrats.

“Tomorrow, 120 of 140 speed cameras in New York City schools zones will go dark as a result of Governor Cuomo and the Assembly’s unwillingness to engage senators with a larger vision for street safety to protect children,” Flanagan said. “Instead, these politicians shamelessly mug for the press as they blame others. They should look no further than within.”

One of Flanagan’s own GOP conference members, Sen. Marty Golden, a Brooklyn lawmaker, had called for the Senate to return to Albany to resolve the issue.

But it was unlikely the Legislature, or one chamber for that matter, was truly going to meet in the middle of a summer at the height of an election year, making the issue especially nettlesome.

Cuomo has called for a special session, but has not used his power as governor to force lawmakers to return. He cannot force them to take a vote on a specific bill, however.

“This is not an ideological issue — Senator Golden and his conference are playing politics with the lives of children, and it’s transparent,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I have said for weeks, there is no need for me to call a special session as the Assembly has already passed the bill during session — all that is left is for the Senate Republicans to act.”

Citizen Action Endorses Cruz For Assembly

Citizen Action of New York on Tuesday endorsed Democratic Assembly candidate Catalina Cruz.

Cruz is running for the 39th Assembly district in Queens.

“Catalina is smart, focused on the issues that people in her community care about, and ready to lead. We’re proud to endorse her,” said Jesse Laymon, Citizen Action Board Member. “We are confident she will be a powerful advocate for working people in the New York State Assembly.”

Cruz is from Colombia and moved to the United States when she was nine. She would be the first DREAMer elected to office in New York should she win.

“I’m thrilled to earn the endorsement of Citizen Action of New York, a grassroots organization committed to progressive, transformative change,” Cruz said.

“Our campaign is a people-powered campaign built from the bottom-up. I’m running for the Assembly to create a fairer and more just city for the people of Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights. That means a reliable mass transit system, adequately funded public schools, and quality universal health care. Together, I’m confident we can achieve these goals and level the playing field for all New Yorkers.”

Morelle Endorsed By Equality New York PAC

Democratic congressional candidate Joe Morelle on Thursday was endorsed by the Equality New York PAC in his bid for the 25th congressional district.

Morelle, the number two Democrat in the state Assembly, is running to replace the late Rep. Louise Slaughter who died earlier this year.

In its endorsement, Morelle was praised for his support of the LGBTQI community in New York.

“Far too many people across this nation are still living their lives in fear of prejudice and discrimination and that is why we need more leaders in Congress like Joe Morelle who will be a fierce champion for equality and a strong ally to the LGBTQI community,” said Chris Sardella of Equality New York PAC. “Joe has spent his career fighting for equality, opportunity, and dignity for all people, regardless of their race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or socioeconomic status. We know that a vote for Joe is a vote to keep advancing lived and legal equality for all.”

In particular, the group cited Morelle’s support for the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, as well as the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in New York.

“I am proud to stand as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community and I’m honored to have the support of Equality New York,” said Morelle. “New York has always been a leader in the fight for equality — but there is still so much work to be done, especially with leaders in Washington who are advancing a disturbing anti-equality agenda. In Congress, I will never stop fighting back against the politics of hate and I will work every day to continue tearing down barriers that stand in the way of equal rights and the promise of equality for all people.”

Assemblyman Files Ethics Complaint Against County Dem Chair

From the Morning Memo:

Western New York Assemblyman Erik Bohen has filed a complaint against the Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner with the county Board of Ethics.

In a letter to the board chairman, Bohen accused Zellner of using information he acquired in his official capacity to further his personal interest as the Erie County Democratic Committee chairman.

Specifically, the assemblyman accuses Zellner of filing a Freedom of Information Law request for Democratic Committee petitions, of which he was in a position to be aware in this role as party chairman, in order to damage Bohen’s image.

Over the weekend, Zellner called the assemblyman, a Democrat who won an April special election by running on the Republican and Conservative lines, a hypocrite on social media for choosing not to seek the party’s endorsement in the fall election, and then filing the necessary paperwork to become a Democratic committee member.

He also posted the petition with Bohen’s name and address on it.

The assemblyman said he did not carry petitions or file them, and also did not authorize anyone to do so on hie behalf. He said Zellner abused his position with the BOE to further his political agenda. 

The party is endorsing current Erie County Legislator Pat Burke, who was the Democrats’ candidate in the spring special election, and lost to Boehn.

“The commissioner of the Board of Elections has extraordinary privileges to view filed documents that challenge the Democratic Party, which he also controls, and I believe that Mr. Zellner violated the intent of Erie County ethics law by advancing his own interests,” Boehn said.

“Mr. Zellner FOILed his own Democratic petitions, he only disseminated the petition with my name and address on it to the public, and he used the petition to distort the truth. I have been a Democratic Committee member for 13 years. However, I had no intentions of running for that position again this year.”

Zellner has continually defended his dual roles against those claiming they pose a conflict of interest, pointing out that Republicans and Democrats unanimously supported his appointment to serve on the Board of Elections. He said Bohen’s complaint is meritless on its face.

“The social media post referred to by Mr. Bohen was made from my political account, and raised what I strongly believe are valid questions with respect to petitions filed on his behalf,” Zellner said.

“Mr. Bohen’s action is an attempt to distract attention from those questions and the answers that may result. At a time when faith in our democracy and electoral process is already being undermined for partisan purposes, Mr. Bohen’s attempt to do the same is particularly disturbing and utterly disingenuous.”

Zellner also strongly questioned Bohen’s claim that he knew nothing about the petitions he says were filed on his behalf to become a committee member. He pointed out the petition also included Bohen’s aunt Barbara Hart, with whom he has run in the past, and the party’s zone chair, Meg Corbett, who is the assemblyman’s cousin.

Assembly Economic Development Committee Chair Pushing For Reform

Western New York Legislator and Assembly Economic Development Committee Chairman Robin Schimminger, D, sees opportunity in yesterday’s Buffalo Billion bid-rigging convictions.

Schimminger said he agreed with the governor’s response that the state cannot tolerate anyone who tries to defraud the system but he believes that should be taken even further. He said the Legislature should not tolerate a system or person who enables a tainted system to exist.

Schimminger beat the drum last session for a number of measures to add transparency and oversight with regards to New York’s economic development polices. However, bills creating a searchable “database of deals” and giving the comptroller the power to assess state contracts before they were finalized, for instance, ultimately did not pass.

The Democrat said the trial and convictions ultimately could be the spark to push those measures through next session or sooner.

“There are already people who are saying that the Legislature should return to Albany to make these kinds of changes,” he said. “Certainly it has to make the likelihood of getting some change made, greater. It doesn’t lessen the likelihood.”

Schimminger, who has butted heads with the administration in the past, does not think the jury’s decisions will stop the Governor Andrew Cuomo’s aggressive economic development policies. He noted, not long after the defendants were indicted, the governor announced and began moving forward with a second phase of the Buffalo Billion.

The assemblyman said it will be up to legislators to make sure they’re enabling an atmosphere where more wrongdoing could take place.

“There’s a whole cast of characters beyond these who were part of this construct that, if you will, enabled this to happen, so that’s the next level of analysis which really has to be done here,” he said.

As for the projects, like the RiverBend manufacturing facility of which many of the allegations centered around, Schimminger said there will be a cloud over it but the businesses that have moved in since should be unaffected.

DACC To Report $3.2M In Cash On Hand

The chief fundraising arm of the Assembly Democrats next week report having more than $3.2 million in cash on hand, according to a source with knowledge of the filing.

That is a $1 million bump from January, when the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee report $2.2 million. And at this point in the previous election cycle, Assembly Democrats held $2.4 million in cash on hand.

The record-setting amount comes as Assembly Democrats have more than 100 members in the 150-seat chamber. The part has controlled the Assembly since the post-Watergate era.

Assembly Lawmakers Endorse Myrie Over Incumbent Hamilton

Four Democrats in the state Assembly on Thursday formally endorsed state Senate candidate Zellnor Myrie in his bid oust one of their fellow Democratic colleagues in Albany: Sen. Jesse Hamilton.

The endorsements from Assembly lawmakers Walter Mosley, Diana Richardson, Jo Anne Simon and Robert Carroll are eyebrow-raising: It’s unusual for sitting lawmakers to endorse a primary challenger to an incumbent.

But this is not a typical election year.

Hamilton is one of eight lawmakers who had comprised the Independent Democratic Conference, a faction of senators who had allied with Republicans in the state Senate. The IDC disbanded in April amid mounting political pressure and rejoined the mainline conference fold.

“Our community deserves public servants who lead with transparency, dedication, and a powerful vision for our families,” Richardson said. “I know without a doubt that Zellnor Myrie will be an effective advocate for Central Brooklyn, and I proudly endorse him for State Senate. I will do everything I can to support his candidacy and hope my neighbors will join me in casting their votes for him as well.”

Heastie: Assembly Won’t Return To Albany, But The Senate Should (Updated)

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a statement Thursday said his Democratic-led chamber won’t return to the state Capitol, but the Republican-controlled Senate must in order to extend a speed camera program for New York City that’s due to lapse at the end of this month.

In the statement, Heastie also called on the Senate to approved the Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would strengthen abortion rights in New York as called for by Gov. Andrew Cuomo amid the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Assembly previously approved both measures.

“Let me be clear – the Assembly will not accept a watered down version of the Reproductive Health Act and will not play political games with women’s health,” Heastie said.

“Senate Republicans should also stop playing politics with the safety of our children and pass the extension of the speed camera bill. The lives of our children are too important to be worried about preserving political power.”

Sen. Marty Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, said in a statement Wednesday he wants a special session of the Senate to extend the speed camera program, which would shut down cameras placed near schools should it expired by July 25.

It’s not clear if Senate Republicans would be willing to return; any bills that pass would likely need Democratic support, given the potential for absences of some lawmakers.

“Senate Republicans must stop standing in the way of progress here in New York,” Heastie said. “They need to stop trying to water down good bills in order to please their ever-shrinking political base.”

Updated: Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif in a statement ponited several measures lawmakers in the Assembly could take up, including extending mortgage recording taxes in upstate counties.

“They ignored our comprehensive school safety package that would have kept students safe and given parents peace of mind. They folded their arms and refused to discuss important education reforms, as well as legislation to extend New York City’s speed camera program” Reif said.

At the same time, he pointed to the package of transparency measures sought by government reformers for economic development.

“On top of that, they failed to pass common-sense procurement reform and the so-called “database of deals” that would have introduced much-needed transparency and accountability to the state’s economic development programs – – instead siding with the corrupt Cuomo administration. As for his statement that he won’t accept a ‘watered down’ RHA, it’s important for the public to know that passage of this bill would represent a radical policy shift that would allow non-doctors to perform abortions and allow them right up until the moment of birth,” Reif said.

“We are always open to having real and substantive discussions if they can lead to a positive result for the people of this state, but if anyone is playing politics it’s the Speaker and his Cuomo-controlled Assembly.”

Ortiz Makes Ice Abolition a State Issue

As the ongoing debate over whether to abolish ICE divides the Democratic Party, giving fuel to Republicans who – led by the president – are predicting the issue will prove decisive in the midterm elections, one Brooklyn assemblyman is seeking to get his colleagues on the record on the matter.

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, the chamber’s assistant speaker, announced this morning that he is introducing a resolution urging Congress to abolish ICE.

Ortiz said in a press release that the agency has “become a nightmare” and is “destroying families and creating havoc in our court system and in our society” by conducting raids, detaining illegal immigrants and enforcing the (now scuttled) Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy that separated children and their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Congress must abolish ICE and create an agency designed to protect our borders, ending ICE’s ability to conduct horrifying raids in our towns and cities,” said Ortiz, who moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico in 1980. “We need an immigration agency that works within the law and that recognizes that all people are created equal, deserve respect and must be treated with honor.”

The Legislature is not currently in session, which gives Assembly members some breathing room on this.

But there has been a call for lawmakers to return to Albany sooner rather than later to address issues left undone in the lackluster 2018 session – particularly the NYC speed camera program, which was not reauthorized and is set to expire next month.

It’s clear, however, the if the Legislature does come back to the state Capitol, there will be plenty of people anxious to push a wide variety of issues other than speed cameras, including this one, which no doubt is not something certain Democrats seeking re-election this fall are anxious to discuss.

In the wake of last week’s surprise victory by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over Queens Rep. Joe Crowley, the left has intensified its call for ICE to be abolished, or, at the very least, re-imgained, perhaps by splitting it into two separate entities – one focused on immigration, the other on law enforcement.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio have gotten on the abolish ICE train, Gov. Andrew Cuomo so far has not, though he has been critical of the agency created in the wake of 9/11. I don’t believe Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is on the record either way yet.