Erie County

EC Dems Could Potentially Endorse In SD-60 And NY-27 Thursday

The Erie County Democratic Committee executive committee is meeting Thursday evening with several high profile 2020 races potentially on the agenda.

Sources said the committee plans to interview current Assemblyman Sean Ryan about his run for New York’s 60th State Senate District. They expect the committee will vote and announce Ryan’s endorsement shortly afterward.

Republican state Senator Chris Jacobs currently holds the seat but isn’t expected to run for re-election. He is instead campaigning for the open 27th Congressional District, vacated by convicted Republican Chris Collins.

ECDC could also make a decision on NY-27 special election Thursday. The governor has not called the election yet but 2018 candidate Nate McMurray’s campaign has already announced seven of eight county chairs in the district support him.

Those chairs account for roughly 51 percent of a weighted vote to designate a candidate for the special. However, Erie County Chair Jeremy Zellner accounts for the other 49 percent of the vote and has indicated he will not rush his decision just because the other chairs said they support McMurray.

He said he has to work through the endorsement process with members of the committee. McMurray confirmed he plans to attend the executive committee meeting Thursday evening.

Sources said he could potentially be endorsed afterward, as well, if the committee takes a vote. Health and education advocate Melodie Baker has also expressed interest in the Democratic designation.

Erie County Clerk’s Green Light Battle Wages On

The legal battle between the Erie County Clerk’s office and New York state over granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants will continue.

Last week, a federal judge determined Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, D, did not have standing to challenge the state’s Green Light Law. Kearns had previously predicted this suit could go all the way to the Supreme Court but was not prepared the day of the decision to talk about the appeals process.

After consulting with county attorneys, He said he filed a notice of appeal Wednesday.

“It’s a high standard,” Kearns said. “We know that, so you’re right, the second circuit, it’s a high standard. They would have to reverse the Western District circuit.”

But Kearns said he has a few things that are going for him. He said another pending federal court case could influence whether he does, in fact, have standing.

He also believes the case deserves to be judged on its constitutionality rather than who brought the lawsuit. Although Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz issued a statement suggesting it was time to move on, Kearns said the County Attorney’s office represents him too and continues to cooperate.

In the meantime, the clerk is preparing for Green Light to go into effect on December 14. He said clerks across the state have received little guidance from the Department of Motor Vehicles about implementation.

As a result, he expects to need to hire 11 new part-time positions. He said the office needs experts to interpret foreign documents and asked the county Legislature Wednesday for roughly $670,000 more in next year’s budget.

The request seems a bit odd as Kearns has maintained he won’t allow his staff to implement the new law, regardless of how litigation plays out.

“If we don’t have to process those licenses (then) we don’t need that money but I wanted, as they’re budgeting overall, I want them to at least have a number in their mind on what the impacts could be of this law,” he said.

Kearns pointed out the governor still has the power to remove him from office. There’s been no indication that will happen, but Kearns said it’s his responsibility to prepare for all possibilities and the request is essentially a contingency if the office is forced to process licenses.

At the same time, the clerk said he doesn’t expect the County Legislature to approve the request. Members of the Democratic majority were not available for comment Wednesday.

As for proponents of Green Light who suggest the law will actually bring in more revenue to counties because there will be a new customer base, Kearns admitted theoretically that might be the case. However, he said there is not enough information about how many undocumented immigrants there are in the state to plan.

“All we know is obviously people who are here illegally, they’re not letting themselves (be) known and they’re anticipating, the state of New York, there’s between 750,000 and 1 million people here illegally,” he said.

December 14 is a Saturday and Kearns is expecting a showdown between immigration advocates and his office. He said he believes Erie County is the only county upstate with Saturday auto bureau hours.

Judge Hopes To Make Decision By Mid-November On Green Light Lawsuit

The state and Erie County attorneys made oral arguments in federal court Wednesday in Buffalo regarding a challenge to New York’s new Green Light Law.

The law, passed by the State Legislature earlier this year, would grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns brought the lawsuit, arguing it’s unconstitutional because it would force him to break federal immigration law.

Judge Elizabeth Wolford acknowledged she was presiding over an important case and said she hoped to make a decision by mid-November. Kearns would like the judge to implement an injunction to stop the state from implementing the law until it’s fully-litigated.

It is supposed to go into effect in December.

“It’s much better to preserve the status quo, we believe, not only for the sake of the parties involved but also, quite frankly, for the safety of the community while this issue is fully litigated,” Assistant Erie County Attorney Ken Kirby said.

The AG’s office meanwhile would like the case thrown out entirely. They spent much of Wednesday’s proceedings arguing Kearns did not have “standing” to bring the lawsuit because he did not prove he is injured by the law.

The state said, counter to Kearns’s claim, processing licenses for undocumented immigrants would not constitute the federal definition of harboring an illegal alien and therefore he is not at risk of prosecution.

“They don’t want to get to the facts of the case,” Kearns said. “They want this dismissed on a technicality. If they were so confident in their case they wouldn’t let us go to that next step.”

Activist in support of the Green Light law were in the courtroom for the hearing. They said they’re confident in the attorney general to defend the case and argued Kearns is trying to divide the community.

“We understand that today Mickey Kearns continued to make his frivolous and politically motivated arguments and we know that this law will stand up as constitutional,” Meghan Maloney de Zaldivar of the New York Immigration Coalition said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in Western New York on Wednesday, seemed content to let the issue play out in court. He said the lawsuit was not unexpected and the AG said the Green Light Law would stand up.

Meanwhile, the federal government has asked to get involved as a plaintiff and has a November 12 deadline to submit its papers. It’s unclear if the judge will wait for those arguments before making her decision.

Erie County And Nassau County AIM Payments In Jeopardy

What appears to be a legislative oversight could have serious impact on the budgets of dozens of towns and villages in Erie County and Nassau County.

The Office of the State Comptroller sent a letter to municipal leaders late last week, warning them they may not get payments they have customarily received from the state in past years. During this year’s budget process, the state elimated Aid and Incentives for Municipalities for 1,326 towns and villages it deemed did not rely on the funding.

It cut the program for any of those municipalities where AIM funding represented less than 2 percent of 2017 total expenditures. Under the new law, all cities and 137 towns and villages in New York continued to get the funding.

In a compromise, the state said it would restore that funding for the rest of municipalities with additional revenue from the new internet sales tax. The state comptroller’s office is now responsible for withholding county sales tax and distributing the amount of lost AIM funding, now called AIM-related funding, to the towns and villages.

However, the Comptroller’s Office said the new law did not take into account that Erie and Nassau Counties have fiscal control and stability boards in place. A conflicting law requires that those boards receive all collected sales tax in the county, leaving no mechanism for the money to be distributed to the towns and villages.

“The New York State Division of the Budget is currently working with Erie County and Nassau County to explore option to remedy this situation prior to the December 15 statutory payment deadline for towns and villages with a fiscal year end of December 31 or February 28,” the comptroller’s letter said.

“Because it is unclear when a workable solution will be identified, you should consider the impact on your current and upcoming budget. We will keep you informed of any new developments.”

In a letter, to the governor and the comptroller, state Senator Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, said the money needs to be made available for municipalities’ upcoming budgets.

“Any lack of AIM related funding would ultimately have a deleterious effect on the residents of these municipalities,” he wrote.

According to data from OSC, the state has a $4.4 million responsibility to Erie County and an $11.4 million responsibility to Nassau County for the 2020 Fiscal Year. The state Division of Budget appeared to be confident the issue will be resolved.

“We will ensure that every locality receives AIM-related funding and every county gets its share of the $210 million in additional new revenues including those generated by capturing Internet sales that have previously avoided taxes,” spokesperson Freeman Klopott said.

Judge Denies Involvement Of Several Outside Parties In “Green Light” Lawsuit

A federal judge has denied several parties attempts to get involved in ongoing litigation regarding the legality of New York’s new Green Light Law.

A coalition of immigrant groups from New York, Western New York activist Dan Warren and the New York State Conservative Party will not be allowed to get involved in the lawsuit. Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns challenged the law, which grants driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, in July.

It is scheduled to go into effect on December 14 unless Judge Elizabeth Wolford imposes a temporary injunction.

“Since the filing of this lawsuit, numerous third parties have sought leave of the court to become involved in various ways,” Wolford wrote in a decision and order filed Wednesday.

The judge acknowledged the court has already allowed multiple parties to submit amicus briefs as “friends of the court.”  A coalition of eight states and the District of Columbia filed a brief in support of the defendants, New York State, as did the New York Civil Liberties Union last month.

Wolford also let the Immigration Reform Institute formally put its support in writing for the plaintiff.

“The Court acknowledges that notwithstanding its authority to demand a stringent test for status as amicus curiae, it has been somewhat flexible in allowing the submissions of briefs from amici curiae to date,” she wrote.

However, in the case of the state Conservative Party, the judge ruled it failed to submit a timely brief, making its request more than two weeks after a deadline set by the court with no explanation of justification as to why it was late. Wolford also concluded the party’s argument did not seem to add anything the original complaint had not already addressed.

Warren’s request to intervene as a defendant was actually opposed by both the plaintiff and defendants. The judge said said his concerns about the impact on Erie County taxpayers was speculative and could unnecessarily delay resolution.

Finally, Wolford wrote that a motion to intervene filed by the Rural and Migrant Ministry, New York Immigration Coalition, Hispanic Federal and Intervenors, and four unnamed individuals, was also denied. While she conceded the parties may have different motives to protect the Green Light Law than state leaders, their ultimate objective of protecting it is the same.

The United State Justice Department has indicated it intends to intervene although the judge has not made a ruling with regards to that yet. Oral arguments are scheduled for October 23 in federal court in Buffalo.

Immigrant Organizations Ask To Join State As Defendants In Green Light Lawsuit

A coalition of immigrant organizations and individuals has filed a motion to intervene as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging New York’s new Green Light Law.

The law, which is set to go into effect in December, will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The challenge was filed by Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns who argued the state law conflicts with federal statute.

Kearns named Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Attorney General Letitia James and Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark Schroeder as defendants. However, the coalition said immigrants would be impacted directly and differently than the state and therefore should be allowed to participate in the litigation.

“They are uniquely situated to provide factual information that would significantly contribute to a full understanding of the impact an adverse determination could have on beneficiaries of the law. They are intimately familiar with the need to protect individuals who seek to engage in an everyday activity — here, driving — without fear of deportation,” attorney Jorge Luis Vasquez, Jr. wrote. “Collectively, Intervenors can describe the interests of immigrants in securing a license so that necessities of daily living, such as driving to the grocery store to shop for food or the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions, doctor’s offices for examinations and treatments, the ease of which many others take for granted, can be accomplished without fear and trepidation. The State is simply ill-suited to provide that perspective.”

The prospective intervenors include the Rural and Migrant Ministry, the New York Immigration Coalition and the Hispanic Federation, as well as a migrant farm worker in Niagara County, a Westchester County mother who is caring for two children with disabilities, a domestic violence survivor in Dutchess County and another young mother in Nassau County. They say they do not seek a delay of proceedings and, in fact, request they move quickly.

Kearns is seeking a preliminary injunction to to prevent the law from going into effect prior to a final decision from the courts. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for later this month.

Erie County Executive Candidate Launches Television Ad

The political season is shifting into another gear post Labor Day with county races at the top of the ballot this year.

Independent Erie County Executive Candidate Lynne Dixon has released her first television advertisement. The commercial portrays the current county legislator as a “different kind of leader.”

“I’m a single working mom with four kids,” Dixon said. “I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I’m an Independent who does not care about partisan politics. I only care about the right ideas and doing the right things.”

While Dixon is registered to the minor Independence Party, she is endorsed by the Erie County Republican Committee, which circulated the campaign email Tuesday. She is running against incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz.

“The campaign for CE offers a clear choice – an independent in Lynne Dixon who’s running to take politics out of government or a partisan bully in Mark Poloncarz who brags about being Erie County’s progressive version of Bill DeBlasio. The more voters hear from Lynne the easier that choice is for them,” campaign consultant Chris Grant said.

According to Federal Communications Commission files, the campaign spent more than $13,000 to air the ad on local broadcast networks through September 8. Dixon’s campaign said there are also additional cable and digital buys which are not yet noted in the FCC reports.

In July, the candidate reported having more than $216,000 in campaign funds available. Poloncarz had north of $637,000.

We’ve reached out to the county executive’s campaign for a statement.

Erie County Moving Quickly To Implement Procedures, Find Money For New Early Voting

From the Morning Memo:

The Erie County Board of Elections is scrambling to prepare for New York State’s new early voting period.

The state Legislature passed a series of election reforms in January, including early voting. Lawmakers pushed to have the laws effective this year, in order to establish the systems before the presidential election this year.

However, the rush has been taxing on county boards of elections who received only a few months to get plans in order. Early voting was not required for the primary elections, which were moved up to June, but is required before the general election on November 5.

In Erie County, it will take place from October 26 until November 3 this year.

“What we have to do is implement a procedure and that really involves a change in a lot of our procedures and our software,” Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr said.

Mohr said there are a number of obstacles that the new law presents. It is establishing 37 voting sites that will need things like new electronic poll books, printers and staff.

The inspectors also need to be trained on the new technology and the county needs to establish protocol to make sure people can’t cast multiple votes, and the early votes are held until election day to be counted with the rest.

“We estimate the total cost to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about $3 million,” Mohr said.

Since the law was passed in January, after Erie County had already passed its budget, there is no money specifically allocated for early voting. The state is picking up some of the tab with a roughly $1.1 million dollar grant for Erie County, reimbursable after the county fronts the cost.

Because there is no budget line, the county budget office needs to at least approve that funding and the county Legislature, which is currently on break, may need to take a vote sometime in early September as well.

The Board of Elections says state lawmakers also approved another grant worth $874,000 but the state budget director hasn’t signed off on it yet.

“We’re working very rapidly to try to make sure that we don’t lose any funding and continue along the procedures and the plans that we have in place,” he said.

The quick turnaround has put most counties in the same position of trying to find money for which it hasn’t budgeted. In Erie County, commissioners said they’ve worked extra hard to make sure early voting is available to everybody.

“If you look at counties in Upstate like Monroe and Onondaga, they only have one site in the city of Syracuse and one site in the city of Rochester,” Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner said. “We have ten sites in the city of Buffalo.”

Zellner said there will be sites in close proximity to every voter but also noted people will be allowed to vote at any site in the county.

Rep. Stefanik Helping GOP-Endorsed Candidate For Erie County Executive

North Country Republican Elise Stefanik will travel to the western side of the state next month as she lends a hand in the Erie County executive race.

The congresswoman will be the guest of honor at a September 4 luncheon fundraiser for GOP-endorsed county executive candidate Lynne Dixon who is running against the Democratic incumbent Mark Poloncarz.

Dixon said it was very humbling to get the endorsement from a “rising star” in the party. In 2014, at the age of 30, Stefanik became the youngest Republican woman ever elected to Congress.

The tickets for the luncheon are $125 per person and $1000 for the VIP reception. It’s being held at Templeton Landing in Buffalo.

State To Ask For Rensselaer ‘Green Light’ Challenge Be Put On Hold

From the Morning Memo:

There are several new developments involving lawsuits challenging New York’s Green Light Law which allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

The state plans to file a motion asking for Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola’s federal suit to be transferred to the Western District court or be put on hold until a judge makes a decision on a similar action in Erie County.

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns filed his challenge before Merola and is asking for an injunction on implementation of the law.

The state has also asked for dismissal of the Kearns suit and suggested it wouldn’t make sense for the courts to pursue any other litigation until a judge makes a decision on those matters. That motion will be made September 19 with the oral arguments for the Erie County suit scheduled for Sept. 25.

At the same time, the state of Connecticut said it intends to file court documents in support of New York in the Kearns case.

“In an amicus brief, Connecticut will offer the perspective of a neighboring state with more than four years of experience granting driver’s licenses to undocumented residents,” Joshua Perry, Special Counsel for Civil Rights wrote.

“Our example – along with those of 11 other states and the District of Columbia – shows that granting these licenses is not only well within each state’s prerogative but is also a wise policy decision that improves public health and safety.”

Perry said New York’s decision is an “appropriate and well-considered exercise of police power.” He asked for the court’s permission to file the brief no later than August 23.