Nolan Congratulates Heastie, Ends Speaker Bid

Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, the lone remaining challenger to Assemblyman Carl Heastie to succeed Assemblyman Sheldon Silver as speaker, issued a statement this afternoon congratulating her Bronx colleague on securring sufficient support to lay claim to the leadership post, but also said she would have “preferred” a vote on Feb. 10, as the Democratic conference originally agreed.

“I did not drop out of this process even as many reported various vote totals and withdrawn candidacies because I think, in this crisis, it is essential that all members of the state Legislature examine our rules and look closely at proposals for reform and openness,” Nolan said.

“We announced last week that we would have a more open discussion about who would lead our conference and I think, with the challenges we are facing, we needed to stick to that decisions. Indeed, I would have preferred a vote on February 10 which would have allowed for discussion and review of proposals for reform and perhaps have allowed some new rules to go forward in tandem with the election of a new Speaker.”

In her statement Nolan didn’t officially end her bid to be speaker, as three men before her – Manhattan Assemblyman Keith Wright; Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester – did last week in the face of Heastie’s seemingly unstoppable momentum.

But she admitted she does not have the votes to win this race, which would have made her the first woman speaker in New York history, and congratulated Heastie on the historic nature of his victory. (He’ll be the first African American to hold the position).

“I am as aware of the historic nature of Assemblyman Carl Heastie’s candidacy as I am of my own,” Nolan said. “I believe that I have put at least a scratch in the glass ceiling for women. I congratulate Assemblyman Heastie and I understand the joy that his election will bring to all communities of our state. I offer both Assemblyman Heastie and Majority Leader Morelle my support and willingness to work hard for the people of New York.”

In a subsequent conversation with reporters down at the state Capitol, Nolan officially announced she is dropping her challenge to Heastie, clearing the way for his election as speaker. She also informed the media that some of her Democratic colleagues are now pushing for an even earlier vote on Heastie that would take place at midnight tonight. Silver last Friday announced he would be resigning the position effective 11:59 p.m.

If that’s the case, then Morelle won’t even be able to claim the title of “interim speaker” for just a few hours.

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan statement on speaker bid. by liz_benjamin6490

NYLCV Taps Avella as Pre-Primary ‘Top Priority’

As he faces a tough primary challenge from former NYC Comptroller John Liu, Sen. Tony Avella has picked up the support of the New York League of Conservation Voters, which today will name the Queens senator its top priority candidate in advance of the Sept. 9 election.

In an email to its members, the NYLCV touted Avella’s “tireless work” on some of the organization’s key agenda items, like getting toxic chemicals out of children’s products, promoting clean energy and protecting clean drinking water.

“Whether he was leading the charge on the Child Safe Products Act, or making sure regulations are in place that will safeguard our drinking water from hydraulic fracturing, Tony has kept the environment a top issue in the Senate,” the email states.

“And that’s just what we need if we’re going to make New York safer and healthier for everyone.”

The NYLCV’s support comes with a “significant” five-figure independent expenditure on Avella’s behalf that will include phone banking, door knocking and a GOTV strategy.

Avella can certainly use the assistance. He has been trailing Liu in fundraising, and this primary fight has divided Queens Democrats and organized labor.

A few unions are sticking with Liu despite the deal for the IDC and regular Democrats to reunite after the general election – an agreement that grew out of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s endorsement battle with the labor-backed Working Families Party.

Avella, however, is being supported by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who helped broker Cuomo’s WFP endorsement deal, and the healthcare workers union SEIU 1199.

The WFP initially backed Liu, but is now neutral in this primary battle, along with one in the Bronx, where former NYC Councilman Oliver Koppell is trying to topple IDC Leader Jeff Klein.

A source familiar with the NYLCV endorsement process said both Liu and Avella filled out questionnaires and interviewed to receive the group’s nod.

But at the end of the day, the source said, Avella impressed the NYLCV board with his record and “political courage” on the organization’s issues – especially his push for the Child Safe Product Act, even though it never got to the Senate floor for a vote.

When he defected from the so-called “regular” Democrats to join the IDC this past February, Avella was bumped up to vice chair of the Senate’s Environmental Committee from the position of ranking member.

The NYLCV is also increasing its PAC budget this year from $350,000 in 2012 to $385,000 – in part due to greater independent expenditure spending.

Avella isn’t the only candidate the NYLCV is backing in advance of the September primaries. Its full list of endorsed candidates can be found here. There will be another round of endorsements – including in statewide races – in late September.

The pre-primary list includes GOP Sen. Jack Martins, whose support by the NYLCV has sparked a bit of a war between the NYC-based organization and a Long Island environmental group.

The Long Island Environmental Voters Forum protested Martins’ support by the “Manhattan-based” League.

The local group is particularly upset that the Senate never voted on the Long Island Water Quality Control Act, and has expressed support for Martins’ Democratic challenger, Adam Haber.

Ex-Councilman Halloran Guilty On All Five Counts

A jury today found ex-Queens Councilman Dan Halloran guilty on all five counts of the corruption charges he faced stemming in part from his role in a bribery scheme to sell the GOP line in the 2013 NYC mayoral primary.

US Attorney Preet Bharara issued the following statement:

“With today’s verdict of guilty reached by an impartial and independent jury, the clean-up of corruption in New York continues in courtrooms. As the jury unanimously found, Daniel Halloran played a key role in two distinct political corruption schemes: first, for $20,000, Halloran was willing and able to serve as a go-between to deliver bribes to political party officials, and second he also took nearly $25,000 in cash and illegal campaign contributions to steer $80,000 in City Council money to other bribe payers.”

“Dan Halloran was the lone defendant in the trial that just ended in his conviction, but he is unfortunately not alone in a crowded field of New York officials who are willing to sell out their offices for self-enrichment.”

“This Office will continue the vigorous prosecution of political corruption to secure for the people of New York – regardless of party affiliation – what they deserve: the honest labors of their elected representatives. And we will continue to partner with the FBI, whose outstanding investigative work in this case was instrumental to achieving a just result.”

Halloran, a Republican, was charged with taking more than $20,000 in payoffs from two undercover FBI operatives posing as corrupt developers in exchange for agreeing to funnel public cash to them and to help bribe Republican NYC county leaders to allow Democratic Sen. Malcolm Smith, also of Queens, to run Row B in the party’s mayoral primary.

(That race was eventually won by former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, who lost the general election in a landslide to the winner of the Democratic primary, current NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio).

Testifying in his own defense, Halloran admitted taking the cash, but said he considered the money payment for consulting services and never procured any public funds for the real estate developers/FBI agents.

Originally, Halloran and Smith were once co-defendants, along with former Queens GOP official Vince Tabone. But attorneys for Smith and Tabone opted to accept a mistrial due to a procedural error having to do with Yiddish phone recordings, while Halloran’s attorney decided to proceed as scheduled.

Smith and Tabone will be re-tried in January, and today’s verdict perhaps is not the best omen for them. In the meantime, Smith is seeking re-election, though he has been cast out from both the Democratic Senate conference (which he once led) and the IDC.

AQE, NY Communities For Change Target Avella

AQE and NY Communities for Change are taking advantage in this (hopefully brief) break in the budget action to target the IDC’s newest member, Queens Democratic Sen. Tony Avella, accusing him of “selling out” on charter school co-locations.

Email blasts from the two liberal organizations note that Avella used to be an outspoken opponent of charters – and co-location in particular – and yet voted “yes” on the Senate one-house budget that education advocates say pushes more of the controversial co-locations and hikes state aid to charters at the expense of traditional public schools.

This is a disaster, but it would not be on the table if Senator Avella had not voted for it when the Republican led coalition included this plan in their budget bill,” AQE’s email, signed by its advocacy director Zakiyah Ansari. “Now, Avella has to step up and stop it from happening.”

“…Negotiations are intense, and the State Assembly leadership is fighting hard, but they need our help,” the email continues. “It is difficult when the charter school lobbyists have spent more than $5 million on a TV and radio advertising campaign. These same lobbyist are funneling campaign money into the Senate leadership coalition that Senator Avella has joined.”

Both emails encourage their recipients to email Avella and express their disappointment. New York Communities for Change is also robocalling in Avella’s district. According to AQE’s Billy Easton, some 500 emails have already been sent to Avella’s office since these blasts were sent less than an hour ago.

When the Senate one-house budget was passed, Avella said he had not changed his mind about either charter schools or co-locations, but wanted to vote “yes” because he believed the plan would result in more money for NYC schools overall.

“I am voting for this resolution because of the more than half a billion dollars in new funding it asks our state to deliver to non-charter New York City publics schools,” Avella said at the time. “Any legislator stubborn enough to turn down that type of windfall for New York City students and teachers is forgetting about the families who elected them here in the first place.”

Cuomo Provides Soft Landing For Ex-Bloomberg Aides, Queens Councilman

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is again providing a professional home for former Bloomberg administration aides and an ex-NYC Councilman who was term limited out of office last year and lost his bid for another elected post.

The governor announced four new hires this afternoon, one of which is his fellow Queens native Peter Vallone Jr., who served as on the NYC Council from 2002 to 2013 and chaired the Public Safety Committee. Vallone, a member of a dynastic political family, lost the Democratic primary for Queens borough president last fall to his one-time Council colleague, Melinda Katz.

In his new post with the Cuomo administration, Vallone will serve as a special assistant assigned to the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. It’s not clear how long this new gig will last for Vallone, who has made no secret of his desire to one day return to public office – preferably to the Queens DA’s job.

Cuomo also hired two former Bloombeg administration staffers: Kevin Kelly, who had served as deputy commissioner of NYC Business under the former mayor, will be COO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal; and Jamal Othman, who was chief of staff in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs will now be deputy director of the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs.

Also, Nora Yates, who was an Empire State Fellow in the executive chamber, has been hired as deputy director of the Community, Opportunity & Reinvestment (“CORe”) initiative, which Cuomo launched in his 2013 State of the State address.

Salaries for these new hires were not immediately available.

This is hardly the first time Cuomo has hired former NYC Council members or former Bloomberg staffers. The most recent addition came in January, when Cuomo named former Councilman Jim Gennaro, also of Queens, to a new position at the DEC.

Crowley Blasts Avella’s IDC Move

Rep. Joe Crowley, the chairman of the Queens Democratic Committee, knocked the decision on Wednesday of Sen. Tony Avella to move to the Independent Democratic Conference.

“I am disappointed Senator Avella is deciding to join the Independent Democratic Conference in conjunction with the Republican minority,” said Rep. Joe Crowley, Chair of the Queens County Democrats. “It is my hope he won’t abandon the Democratic principles that are so important to our county.”

As Liz noted earlier, there is little love lost between Avella and Democrats in his home borough. Indeed, party officials there are already considering a potential primary challenge to Avella, a Democrat who flipped a seat for the party in 2010 when he unseated Republican Frank Padavan.

Asked about a potential primary earlier in the day, Avella said, “I honestly don’t believe it.”

A Primary For Avella?

Sen. Tony Avella caught the “regular” Democrats by surprise with his decision to defect to the IDC. Apparently, there was no warning – not for his (now former) conference members or his longtime consultants at The Parkside Group – which has left some pretty bruised feelings on the part of the people he left behind.

It might not be so bad if the conference – and especially Avella’s fellow Queens Democrat, DSCC Chairman Mike Gianaris – hadn’t worked hard to get Avella elected in a tough race against former GOP Sen. Frank Padavan back in 2010. The fact that Avella has given a win to Gianaris’ political rival, IDC Leader Jeff Klein, has got to sting, too.

What’s particularly surprising about this move is that Avella has never been much of a joiner. He’s neither a party guy, nor an institutional guy. And while the political world has been willing to chalk up his behavior to “Tony being Tony,” his maverick streak has not served him well in terms of making friends – not during his days on the NYC Council, and not in Albany, either.

According to Queens and Albany sources, the Senate Democrats had been working on Avella’s behalf to smooth feathers he ruffled with local Democrats thanks to his handling last year of a local NYC Council race and his short-lived run for borough president.

Avella refused to endorse the party’s nominee for the Conucil seat he once held, Paul Vallone, even after Vallone eked out a victory in the Democratic primary. Avella and the Vallones (a NYC political dynasty family) have never gotten along terribly well. Avella tangeled with his former Council colleague, Peter Vallone Jr., during the borough president race before dropping out of the running entirely.

According to several sources, the unhappiness with Avella on the party of some local Democrats was so high that there had been talk of a primary challenge. Now that he has thrown in his lot with the IDC, he may very well have increased his chances of getting challenged by a member of his own party this fall. A number of names have already been floated, including (but not limited to) Assemblyman Ed Braunstein and WFP legislative director Austin Shafran, a former Cuomo administration aide and Senate Democratic spokesman who lost a close Council primary to Paul Vallone last fall.

There’s also always the threat of a primary challenge from Sen. Toby Stavisky, whose home was redrawn into Avella’s district during the last round of redistricting. She ultimately chose to run in the 16th SD instead of the 11th, but could always change her mind, especially if she faces a third primary challenge challenge from John Messer.

“Everyone is talking now about primarying the guy,” a Queens Democratic source told me this afternoon. “He has a lot of enemies…Everyone hates Tony Avella; he fights with everyone.”

Everyone hates him, that is, except the people who matter: The voters. Avella remains very popular with his constituents, and, as Jimmy Vielkind noted, has maintained a hyper-local focus during his time in Albany, which certainly has helped to maintain his close connection with his constituents.

Despite his local strengths, it’s worth noting that Avella defeated Padavan with a campaign that focused largely on two key issues: Immigrants rights (the district has a lot of first and second generation immigrants), and women’s rights – specifically, abortion. The fact that Avella has now joined up with the IDC, which women’s rights groups blame for the failure of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act to come to the floor, will no doubt come up if someone does opt to challenge the senator.

Avella has never been one for raising campaign cash. As of mid-January, he had just $2,775 in his campaign account. Of course, now that he’s joined forces with the IDC, Avella will come under Klein’s protection. IDC spokesman Eric Soufer told me the conference is “fully behind” its newest member, politically speaking.

Upon learning the news about Avella’s switch, several observers wondered how long this new relationship might last, given the senator’s independent streak and his propensity for pissing people off.

“He’s whole brand is that he’s not that guy,” my Queens source said. “He’s the guy who rips up his parking placard every year and tells everyone to drop dead. He’s not the political guy who’s in bed with the other side and doing deals. And all of a sudden, he’s with the Republicans? I don’t see this thing lasting.”

Only time will tell.

Et Tu, Shirley?

ICYMI, this was today’s morning memo:

Et Tu, Shirley?

Since the revelation that former Bronx Assemblyman Nelson Castro had been working as a double agent for federal prosecutors for almost the entire duration of his four years in office, the most popular political parlor game in Albany has been trying to guess who else might be wearing a wire.

Queens Assemblyman David Weprin even joked to the New York Times that it had become de rigueur upon meeting colleagues to “feel them up and down” – in a joking sort of way, of course.

Little did he know.

Last week, we learned Castro was not alone in his undercover activities. Former state Sen. Shirley Huntley, also of Queens, had also been working for the feds after discovering she would be slapped with corruption charges.

It looks like prosecutors hit pay dirt with Huntley – netting a much bigger fish than the one Castro managed to reel in (freshman Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, who is scheduled to be indicted in federal court today).

Former Minority Leader John Sampson turned himself in this morning to the FBI to face corruption charges in connection with a bribery deal that also involved Huntley and his own embezzlement of some $440,000 from the foreclosure sales of four Brooklyn properties for which he was the court-appointed referee.

Court documents reveal that Huntley, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges in January, recorded meetings with nine different people, seven of whom were elected officials and two others who had previously worked as a consultant or staff member to a public official.

It turns out that Sampson is the lawmaker identified in those documents as “Senator #1,” who sought help from Huntley for a businessman who was offering bribes in exchange for help to expand his business at Kennedy International Airport, which is in Huntley’s district.

Sampson set up a meeting between Huntley and the businessman, and Huntley subsequently contacted airport authorities on his behalf over the next two months, receiving $1,000 for her efforts. The money was ill spent, however, because despite the bribe, the businessman did not receive a lease for additional space from the Port Authority.

This is not the only incident involving Sampson that has caught the interest of federal investigators. They’re also reportedly looking into the Brooklyn Democrat’s relationship with Edul Ahmad, a Queens real estate broker whom Sampson represented as a client through his legal practice.

Ahmad pleaded guilty in federal court in October to a mortgage fraud scheme and has been the focus of a loan scandal involving Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks.

It’s ironic that Huntley is the one to take Sampson down. Back in 2010, he defended her against LGBT advocates who were furious that he agreed to support her and other Democrats who voted “no” on the gay marriage bill.

At the time, Huntley was facing a primary challenge from gay-marriage supporter Lynn Nunes. Sampson gave Huntley $9,500 from his own campaign cash and tried unsuccessfully to prevent the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York’s largest LGBT organization, from endorsing Nunes.

Nunes was not successful at ousting Huntley in the September primary. She won roughly 70 percent of the vote in that race.

Unlike with Castro, whom the feds allowed to stand for election three times, knowing all the while he was 1) a crook, and 2) splitting his time between representing his constituents and trying to catch fellow crooked colleagues in the act; Huntley only ran for re-election once, and was defeated in a primary by former NYC Councilman-turned-Sen. James Sanders.

It’s unclear if there will be more charges stemming from Huntley’s work on behalf of the US attorney’s office, but most observers agree this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s certainly bad news for the Senate Democrats, who have been trying to argue since last year’s elections that they are no longer the dysfunctional and trouble-ridden conference of the past.

And it’s especially bad news for those who are close to Sampson and might have something to hide. Sen. Malcolm Smith, the Queens Democrat who replaced Sampson as conference leader during the infamous 2009 coup, is battling his own corruption charges.

But there are one or two others – elected officials and former Senate staffers – who must be pretty darn concerned these days.

Scandal-Scarred Queens Councilman Won’t Seek Re-Election

Queens Councilman Dan Halloran, who has been charged with participating in Sen. Malcolm Smith’s scheme to bribe his way into the NYC mayors race, announced this afternoon that he won’t seek re-election this fall so he can devote his time to “clearing my name and restoring my reputation.

“It has been the greatest honor to serve this beautiful district, in which I am proud to have lived my entire life,” Halloran said in a statement.

“For these last four years, our community has been fortunate to have had my incredible Council District 19 staff working hard to resolve issues between the citizenry and their City government. We owe them a great debt. They continue work diligently in the people’s interest, and it saddens me that these dedicated public servants have suffered along with me.”

“Regrettably, I must now focus my attention on clearing my name and restoring my reputation, while I continue to discharge my sworn duties as a member of the New York City Council. After much thought, I have concluded that it is impossible for me to properly do these things and take on the enormous demands of a political campaign, so I will not to pursue another term in the Council.”

Halloran said he looks forward to his day in court and remains confident that he will be vidicated. He thanked his supporters and said he’ll be “forever grateful” to them.

The corruption charges Halloran faces are not the only scandal he’s dealing with at the moment.

The embattled councilman was recently revealed to have had not one, but two extramarital affairs with young women –  one a Council intern and the other his former deputy chief of staff.  NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn has taken a zero tolerance approach with Halloran and has ordered an ethics probe into his conduct.

Another former Halloran employee, his ex-Chief of Staff Chrissy Voskerichian, has  filed with the city’s Campaign Finance Board to run for his seat this fall. She’s reportedly running as a Democrat. And the Queens GOP has already dumped Halloran from its line, backing attorney Dennis Saffran instead.

Also running as a Democrat is former Cuomo administration aide Austuin Shafran, who released the following statement on Halloran’s announcement:

“Councilman Halloran’s decision to not seek re-election is the right one for the people of our district. They deserve a full-time Councilman who is focused on working for the people of Queens, not his own legal defense. It’s time we put this stunning lack of integrity behind us and rebuild the public’s trust through effective, honest and dedicated service.”