Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/35 Tue, 19 Jun 2018 19:41:46 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Democratic Unity and the ‘Value’ of Primaries http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7745:andrea-stewart-cousins-on-democratic-unity-and-the-value-of-primaries http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7745:andrea-stewart-cousins-on-democratic-unity-and-the-value-of-primaries andrea stewart cousins sk gg2

Andrea Stewart-Cousins at the state party convention (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


While policies to prevent and punish sexual harassment were being decided in Albany during state budget negotiations earlier this year, four men led the closed-door talks: Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and the leader of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference Jeff Klein. Even as female aides had some level of participation, there was a great deal of scrutiny of the absence of Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the Democratic minority in state Senate, especially given that Cuomo’s office had indicated she would be included.

“You would’ve thought you would’ve been able to get in a room and at least let her say something,” Stewart-Cousins said of her own situation during a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits. “Never happened.”

Stewart-Cousins called it a feature of “an institution that has institutionalized a lot of stuff,” and said that “breaking those norms are really, really difficult things to do.”

But breaking established ways of doing things is something of a pattern for Stewart-Cousins, who is both the first woman and the first African-American woman to be elected as the state Senate minority leader. Now, after post-budget reconciliation between the mainline Democrats she leads and Klein’s IDC, Stewart-Cousins is also in position to become the first woman and woman of color to be the majority leader of the Senate, depending on the results of the fall elections. They are elections she is becoming increasingly involved with, she indicated on the podcast, connecting the upcoming attempts to flip seats from Republican to Democrat as part of a “blue wave” sweeping the nation.

Stewart-Cousins’ frame for viewing the elections and potential Democratic majority in the Senate, and thus the Legislature given the party’s stranglehold on the Assembly, is the recent Senate reunification, pushing her, it seems, to be more forgiving, take the long-view, and look ahead, not back.

Exclusion from the anti-sexual harassment talks – and the state budget discussions in general – may be a thorny issue, but not one that poses a major point of contention between Stewart-Cousins and her colleagues.

“It goes back to the basic tenet: a house divided against itself can’t stand,” Stewart-Cousins said in response to a question of her possible frustrations with elements of the unity deal that was struck among her, Klein and Cuomo in April, and whether she trusts Klein. “How are we gonna do this?...I’m not gonna be sitting there having people somehow undermine the efforts that we have to be a team. That’s always been the case.”

There are still challenges to the notion of a unified Democratic front: each of the eight former members of the IDC is facing a primary challenge, and while the Democratic establishment has agreed to mutual support, a number of grassroots groups and a handful of elected officials are backing the challengers.

On the podcast, Stewart-Cousins emphasized that she has endorsed all incumbent Democratic senators, including those who were formerly part of the IDC, “so that people are very, very clear where I stand,” she said in response to a question of whether or not she would tell fellow party members to drop their support for the challengers. “I think that in and of itself sends a message.”

While she did not call primaries a bad thing, Stewart-Cousins further emphasized the importance of moving past former divisions in order for the party to function. “I think that’s over,” she said of the Senate Democratic division, “and it’s up to me...to give the kind of support and respect that I should be giving as the leader and as a colleague, and I believe that we set that tone,” she said. “There’s nobody coming in feeling less than, unworthy. There’s no recriminations.”

In response to a question of whether Cuomo – who has long been criticized for encouraging or at least tolerating the IDC’s existence – could have brokered such a unity deal earlier on, and thus possibly prevented the handicapped progress on key issues for the Democratic Party, Stewart-Cousins said, “Like I always say, he did make it happen....I don’t think he was terribly concerned about the situation because as far as we he was concerned, maybe it was manageable. I think it’s gotten to the point where it was looking unmanageable because of all the different factors, so he asserted himself.”

If the Democrats are able to obtain majority control of the state Senate in November, a policy agenda including action on immigration, climate change, voting and elections, campaign financing, reproductive rights, and more may move. Stewart-Cousins referenced pieces like the Child Victims Act and the Dream Act stagnating in the currently Republican-controlled state Senate. Additionally, Republican senators recently blocked Democrats’ attempts to see voting on the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Care Act – two pieces of legislation that would, respectively, enshrine in New York law the same reproductive rights under the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling and mandate accessibility to birth control medication – when Democrats attempted to push them through late last month.

“There’s so many things that we could do in addition to, obviously, the things that we’re bringing up today,” Stewart-Cousins said.

For their part, Senate Republicans often seek to ‘warn’ New Yorkers of what full Democratic control of state government could bring. “The New York City politicians who think it will be easy to flip the State Senate and impose their radical agenda on the people of New York should take heed,” said Senate spokesperson Scott Reif, in an April statement. “Our Majority represents the checks and balances, and the real accountability that hardworking taxpayers need and deserve.  Without us it’s one party rule, higher taxes, runaway spending and New Yorkers will be less safe.”

Democrats first need to contend with reconciling the different wings within their own party, a division apparent in the challengers to former IDC members and to Cuomo. Stewart-Cousins has unique perspective, representing Senate District 35, an area that includes towns like Yonkers, White Plains, and Scarsdale, with a wide variety of Democrats and plenty of Republicans and party unaffiliated voters.

Asked which wing of the party she identifies with, Stewart-Cousins deemphasized the ostensible differences in her party. “I’ve been able to, I think, gain a perspective that a lot of people don’t have as it relates to governing,” she said, referring to her unique position as the first Democratic leader representing a district outside New York City in a hundred years. “Everybody pretty much wants the same thing. It’s not different. It’s how you deliver these things or how you’re able to characterize these things or how you react is really where the differences lie.”

On the question of primaries, like that Governor Cuomo is facing, Stewart-Cousins took a different approach from some others, like Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “I certainly have no problem with the fact that there’s a primary going on,” she said, responding to a question of whether or not the gubernatorial candidacy of challenger Cynthia Nixon is emblematic of the Democratic Party being a ‘house divided.’ “The conversations about the vision for New York and who should lead it are valuable,” she added.

For now, at least, Stewart-Cousins maintains a face of smiling unity toward Klein, who serves as her deputy, and the rest of the Democratic Party.

Asked if there’s a chance that party members pull another IDC-esque ploy in the coming years, Stewart-Cousins said, “The environment has changed and that’s why I think this unity works, because we’ve been to the other side. We know what that looks like, and I don’t know if anybody needs or wants to go back there again.”

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins]

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Democratic Unity and the ‘Value’ of Primaries Mon, 18 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Citing Broken Cuomo Promises, Nixon Unveils Campaign Finance Reform Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7746:citing-broken-cuomo-promises-nixon-unveils-campaign-finance-reform-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7746:citing-broken-cuomo-promises-nixon-unveils-campaign-finance-reform-plan cyn nixon cam fin plan unveils

Cynthia Nixon outside Tweed Courthouse (photo: Gotham Gazette)


Standing on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan, a symbol of corruption in New York government, Andrew Cuomo launched his run for governor eight years ago last month, vowing to clean up the rot in Albany. On Monday -- as the corruption trial of a close ally to the two-term governor began in federal court -- Cynthia Nixon, the actor and activist and Democratic primary challenger to Cuomo, stood at the same spot to criticize the governor’s broken promise and to propose a far-reaching plan to fight the graft and corruption that she says has become further entrenched under Cuomo’s tenure.

“Instead of taking on corruption in the state capital, Andrew Cuomo’s administration has taken it to new heights,” Nixon said at an afternoon news conference. “Cuomo’s two terms in office have been a greatest-hits reel of dysfunction, corruption, and pay-to-play politics. If Washington is a swamp, then Albany under Andrew Cuomo is a cesspool.”

Taking aim at the “legalized bribery” rampant in the state’s election system, Nixon proposed “Government by the People,” a 15-page plan to promote public financing of elections, close loopholes in state campaign finance laws, reduce pay-to-play in state contracting, and shore up independent ethics oversight of state government.

The plan also details many conflicts and corruption scandals that have emerged from Cuomo’s administration and political campaigns in recent years, while the announcement coincided with the start of the corruption trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the former SUNY Polytechnic Institute president who was charged with rigging state contracts under Cuomo’s signature Buffalo Billion economic revitalization program. Prominent real estate developers who are major Cuomo campaign donors are also charged in the scheme.

Nixon critiqued the “networks of vast wealth” and power that she said are necessary to run for office in New York and that historically shut out women and people of color. “Too many of the people in power, and the donors who keep them there, don’t want things to change,” she said, insisting that she can herald reforms as an “outsider” to Albany. New York is known to have porous campaign finance laws, which allow large individual and corporate contributions to candidates, alongside loopholes that effectively do away with those limits for entities that created multiple limited liability companies, each of which can give up to the individual corporate limit. There are also no “doing business” limits that would place restrictions on entities with or seeking government contracts.

By exploiting the current rules, Cuomo has raised many tens of millions of dollars over his handful of statewide campaigns, including his now third consecutive gubernatorial run. At the same time, the governor has expressed support for campaign finance reform, but seen almost no changes move through the Legislature. A pilot campaign finance program with public matching was passed in 2014, but quickly fizzled. In a statement, Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for Cuomo's campaign, claimed credit for the reforms that Nixon proposed. "We thank Ms. Nixon for her support for our reforms. Unlike others who claim to be good Democrats, the governor is 100 percent focused on flipping the State Senate to pass these important reforms to increase government transparency and accountability,” Fashouer said.  

Nixon’s plan envisions phasing in a voluntary statewide public financing system for elections, largely resembling the current program administered in New York City by the Campaign Finance Board, where small-dollar donations are incentivized with public matching funds. Some of Nixon’s ideas are nearly identical, proposing a 6-to-1 match for campaign donations up to $175 or a greater match of 9-to-1 for donations below $50.

Nixon proposed similar thresholds to qualify for public funds as those used in the city, including a minimum amount raised from a minimum number of contributors. Under her plan, for instance, a candidate for governor would have to raise at least $500,000 from a minimum of 5,000 contributors who gave at least $10. The plan proposes similar thresholds, with lower amounts, for the posts of lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, state Senate, and Assembly.

The plan also brings individual contribution limits for all state offices in line with the $2,700 limit for members of Congress, for each of the primary and general elections. It would also require candidates to participate in a debate and return unspent public funds after satisfying a campaign’s liabilities.

Nixon proposes creating a new agency called the “Fair Elections Board,” with enforcement powers, to administer the program, with a seven-member board appointed by the governor, comptroller, attorney general, and each of the four legislative major-party conference leaders. The entire program would cost between $100 and $160 million for each four-year cycle, the plan estimates, and would be paid for by a “New York State Fair Elections Fund” with several funding sources.

Nixon also reiterated proposals that she has voiced over the last few months while pitching herself as the progressive alternative to Cuomo’s centrist politics. She said she would ban campaign contributions from companies or individuals who hold or are actively seeking state contracts. She has insisted that the state should do away with the so-called LLC loophole that allows limited liability companies with opaque ownership to donate virtually unlimited funds to candidates. She also said she would ban donations from political appointees, an apparent reference to a New York Times expose showing that Cuomo has loosely interpreted an executive order limiting donations that the governor can receive from appointees or their family members.

Throughout her campaign, Nixon has derided Cuomo’s reliance on wealthy donors -- over years the governor has raised more than $30 million in campaign cash available to his current campaign while Nixon has raised a little more than $1 million during her few months in the race -- and insists that his policies on everything from affordable housing to criminal justice are driven by fealty to those contributors. “When candidates have to start their campaigns from day one by asking the wealthy for contributions...the culture of pay-to-play becomes inescapable,” she said.

The upstart candidate’s plan would give more teeth to state watchdogs to fight corruption. Nixon promised to dissolve the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics -- which many have criticized for being beholden to the governor and generally ineffective -- and said she would empanel a new independent Moreland Commission to tackle corruption unlike the one convened and abruptly disbanded by Cuomo in his first term.

She also proposed giving the attorney general a “standing referral” to investigate corruption on an ongoing basis, something Cuomo called for during his time as AG but has not granted his successors in the post -- and said she would restore the comptroller’s oversight powers over various state contracts that was stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2011. She said she would sign a “database of deals” bill that was recently passed by the Republican-led state Senate but has been held up by the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

Recent polls have shown that New Yorkers have jaded views of their state government, but also that Cuomo is in relatively strong position with less than three months until the Democratic primary. Nixon argued Monday that voters do care about honest government, though corruption is not generally seen as a winning focus issue, taking a back seat to “kitchen table” or “pocketbook” issues like jobs, education, and health care. Nixon did recently release her campaign platform on education, her top issue area of focus.

She also presented her campaign finance reform platform the same day that former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, announced she would run for governor this year as an independent, creating her own ballot line. Asked about Miner's candidacy, Nixon said that she is focused on winning the Democratic primary and understands Miner is running in the general election. She also called Miner "more of a moderate" and referred to herself as "definitely part of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party."

Nixon wasn’t the only candidate to use the Kaloyeros trial as the backdrop to pounce on the governor’s record. On Monday morning, outside federal district court just around the corner, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, and his lieutenant governor running mate, Julie Killian, called out the governor for enabling Kaloyeros’ corruption.

“Every instance of corruption and corruption charges being brought against individuals around New York’s corrupted government is about enabling and benefitting a governor who has consumed an obscene amount of campaign contributions,” Molinaro said.

Zephyr Teachout, who unsuccessfully challenged Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary and is now running for attorney general, also held a separate news conference outside the court. The Kaloyeros trial, she said, highlights the need for an independent attorney general willing to challenge the state’s top elected official and root out graft. “When people break the law in New York state, even if they are powerful people, it is the job of the attorney general to make sure that justice is done,” she said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from a Cuomo campaign spokesperson. 

]]>
Citing Broken Cuomo Promises, Nixon Unveils Campaign Finance Reform Plan Mon, 18 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Buffalo Billion Trial Begins with Differing Portraits of Former SUNY Poly Mastermind http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7747:buffalo-billion-trial-begins-with-differing-portraits-of-former-suny-poly-mastermind http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7747:buffalo-billion-trial-begins-with-differing-portraits-of-former-suny-poly-mastermind cuomo and kaloyeros walking

Gov. Cuomo & Alain Kaloyeros (photo: The Governor's Office)


Lawyers presented starkly different portraits of Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, in opening statements of his corruption trial at federal court in Manhattan on Monday. Critics say the case -- and the related trial of Joseph Percoco, a longtime aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo found guilty in March of taking bribes -- show the governor’s multimillion-dollar economic development projects were fundamentally corrupt.

Kaloyeros rigged bids for development projects to avoid losing his job, expand his influence, and gain a promotion, Assistant U.S Attorney David Zhou argued.

“Kaloyeros decided that the rules didn’t apply to him, so he cheated and he lied to get the results he wanted,” the prosecutor said as Kaloyeros, sporting a blue suit and stubbly beard, sat at the front of the courtroom.

On the contrary, defense lawyer Reid Weingarten sought to depict Kaloyeros as a visionary who had personal flaws but committed no crimes.

“In truth, he’s not a saint. He’s a very, very complicated guy,” Weingarten said, adding that Kaloyeros, a physicist, had “wrought miracles” launching major tech projects in Albany. “What this case is about is the desire of Governor Cuomo to bring [Kaloyeros’] miracle to upstate New York.”

Federal prosecutors say Kaloyeros schemed to make sure a nonprofit charged with overseeing a huge swath of Cuomo’s development projects favored companies run by major Cuomo donors -- Louis Ciminelli of Buffalo-based LPCiminelli, along with Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi of Syracuse-based COR Development. The executives, who are on trial alongside Kaloyeros, have also pleaded not guilty to fraud charges; Gerardi is also accused of lying to FBI agents. Cuomo is not accused of criminal wrongdoing, but critics say that the Democratic governor knowingly presided over programs with insufficient checks and transparency, pushing through state funding, stripping the Comptroller of audit powers, and empowering Kaloyeros and others to run wild while his campaign coffers filled.

The prosecution’s case appears to hinge in large part on emails between Kaloyeros and the developers that allegedly show they conspired to rig the bids starting in 2013. LPCiminelli won a contract for a solar panel factory in Buffalo, as part of the governor’s Buffalo Billion program, the cost of which eventually rose to $750 million; while COR Development won contracts for a $90 million manufacturing plant and $15 million film studio, the latter of which the state recently sold for $1 after years of floundering.

Prosecutors say Kaloyeros ensured inclusion of measures like requiring the winner of the Buffalo request-for-proposals (RFP) to have 50 years of experience in an effort to ensure LPCiminelli would be the only company to even qualify to bid. In one email, he allegedly promised to “fine tune the development requirements” to guarantee only LPCiminelli could win, Zhou said on Monday.

However, Weingarten argued that emails between Kaloyeros and his client were perfectly legal.

He said for a nonprofit like the one doling out the upstate development grants, called Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, “the procurements can be any way you want them to be.” Weinstein added that the RFPs in the Kaloyeros case followed all procurement rules set by the federal government, Albany, and SUNY, which helped oversee the projects.

While Zhou highlighted Kaloyeros’ use of his personal email address instead of his SUNY account -- instructing one of his alleged collaborators, “please gmail, not email” -- Weinstein seemed to shrug off the matter.

It's "almost a sport in New York State government to put things on your private email so reporters can't get them,” the defense lawyer said.

Monday’s opening statements suggested the role of Todd Howe will be another turning point in the case.

Kaloyeros hired Howe, an Albany lobbyist and longtime member of Cuomo’s inner circle, to help work on the development projects -- and, prosecutors say, maintain friendly ties with Cuomo. Howe made a plea deal with the government, but is not expected to testify in the Kaloyeros case after he was arrested on new charges in the middle of the Percoco trial, where he was the government’s star witness.

Prosecutors say Howe helped Kaloyeros transform a SUNY college for nanotechnology into the sprawling SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, where Kaloyeros launched an array of ambitious public-private tech partnerships in addition to the LPCiminelli and COR Development projects.

“Kaloyeros developed a strong relationship with the governor’s office after he hired a lobbyist named Todd Howe for SUNY,” Zhou said. “Howe was the key to the governor’s office.”

Weingarten and the other defendants’ lawyers assailed Howe’s credibility. “He was a master criminal,” Weingarten said of Howe. “He deceived virtually every relevant person in this courtroom.”

Lawyers for Aiello, Ciminelli and Gerardi echoed Weingarten’s lines of reasoning. Discussing Aiello and Ciminelli, Aiello’s attorney Steve Coffey said they “hardly knew each other in 2013.”

“What they have in common is they’re developers. And they’re Italian,” though he said no more about their heritage.

Cuomo previously said Percoco, who was found guilty of taking bribes in exchange for preferential treatment for developers, was like a brother. And the Kaloyeros trial centers on the governor’s most vaunted development programs -- Cuomo regularly heaped praise on Kaloyeros and ensured that he had a great deal of power. But prosecutors have not implicated Cuomo in any of the alleged crimes.

However, his political opponents were quick to link him with the Kaloyeros trial on Monday.

Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, referenced the trial repeatedly as she unveiled a campaign finance reform agenda from the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, where Cuomo had promised eight years ago to clean up state government.

“Despite others’ attempts to politicize, the US Attorney and Judge have repeatedly said that campaign contributions were not unlawful and were not part of the alleged criminality,” Cuomo campaign spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in an emailed statement.

“Cuomo has enabled individuals who think that they must peddle influence and peddle resources and sell out New Yorkers to the highest bidder,” Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, said outside the federal courthouse during a morning press conference.

Zephyr Teachout, who previously ran against Cuomo for governor and is now running for attorney general, spoke to reporters just ahead of Molinaro.

“This trial illustrates that we have an underlying corruption and ethics emergency in New York State,” she said. “This trial shows the ways in which corruption impacts people’s lives.”

Asked for comment on the trial, the campaign of New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who is also running for state attorney general but is aligned with Cuomo, issued a statement touting James’ past anti-corruption work.

“Any act of corruption in government betrays the people of the state of New York and cannot be tolerated,” James spokesperson Delaney Kempner said in the statement. “As Attorney General, Tish will deploy the full arsenal of weapons at her disposal to fight corruption and will never shy away from tackling illegal behavior in government.” The statement did not directly address the Kaloyeros case.

***
by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Buffalo Billion Trial Begins with Differing Portraits of Former SUNY Poly Mastermind Mon, 18 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
On Taxes, the MTA and More, Molinaro Discusses Developing Campaign Platform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7740:on-taxes-the-mta-and-more-molinaro-discusses-developing-campaign-platform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7740:on-taxes-the-mta-and-more-molinaro-discusses-developing-campaign-platform marc molinaro launch

Marc Molinaro (photo: Ben Max/Gotham Gazette)


Ask Marc Molinaro about nearly anything, and the Republican nominee for governor will likely bring the conversation back to property taxes and affordability.

“My focus, ultimately, will be to drive down costs on middle class New Yorkers,” he said in a Wednesday interview with Gotham Gazette. “That focus, again, has to be on property taxes because New York, unlike every other state in America, forces more of its state spending on property taxpayers. Property taxpayers -- small tax base; large, acute burden on individuals with no respect to their ability to pay.”

Molinaro, currently Dutchess county executive, has repeatedly sounded the theme since formally launching his bid for governor April 2. While he has largely spoken in sweeping generalities -- promising “bold” proposals to come during his nomination acceptance speech at the May 23 state GOP convention -- details are starting to emerge.

Molinaro said that in addition to making the state’s 2-percent cap on annual property tax increases permanent, he would seek to phase out the so-called “millionaires tax” if elected. The income tax rate for the top bracket -- which includes individuals making $1 million or more and couples earning $2 million or more per year -- went from 6.85 to 8.82 percent in 2009, and has been extended by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and a Legislature where each house is controlled by one of the two major parties.

“I would seek to have it expire over time,” Molinaro said of the millionaires tax. “I do think that there’s a way to make taxation in the state a bit more respectful of those who can’t afford it.”

He said he will release a detailed tax plan in the coming months. While Molinaro, like many other New York Republicans, has opposed the new, GOP-led federal tax overhaul because of its cap on local deductions, he has said New York must now work even harder to bring down the tax burden on its residents. He has also stressed that the state must reduce its burdens on localities -- often in the form of unfunded mandates -- so that counties, cities, towns, and villages can lower their taxes.

Molinaro, 42, has spent his entire career in politics, including terms as a member of the state Assembly and as mayor of Tivoli, where he became the youngest mayor in the country at age 19. He’s claiming the mantle of a regular New Yorker who gets the working and middle classes, comparing himself favorably to Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon, each of whom has much more wealth and fame. Molinaro’s tendency to talk at length about poor and struggling families in personal terms occasionally makes him sound more like a progressive Democrat than a fiscally conservative Republican.

“As a kid, I grew up on food stamps. I’m very sensitive to how the state treats those who are on the lower end of the income scale, living maybe in poverty or subsidized housing,” he said. During his nomination acceptance speech he raised his voice in declaring the he would “not concede compassion to anyone.”

He has made the state’s struggling dairy industry something of a focus. He allocated $651,781 of Dutchess County’s 2017 budget to protecting two farms there. He has been photographed hanging out in stables and often tweets about dairy. “Dairy day. I love dairy day. I miss dairy day. I should come back to Albany for dairy day,” he posted on Twitter earlier this month, in lighthearted fashion, while he has also tweeted about serious policy to help dairy farmers survive, such as through reducing regulations and taxes.

On the state’s minimum wage law, Molinaro voiced opposition to the recent increases. In 2016, Cuomo and state legislators reached a deal raising New York City’s minimum wage to $15 by the end of this year, with slower hikes in other parts of the state.

The Republican candidate, who also has the Conservative and Reform Party nominations, said he opposed the deal at the time and thinks the minimum wage “should be indexed to ebb and flow with the cost of living.”

“I also don’t necessarily agree that an unelected board of individuals should be able to establish statewide policy,” he added, in reference to the wage board that Cuomo had empaneled to help him craft the policy before he pushed it through the legislative process. “Those are decisions that ought to be made by citizens and their representatives.”

Asked whether he thought the state’s minimum wage should be lowered given broad economic growth, Molinaro replied with a laugh, “I’m not going to go there.”

The MTA is another area where Molinaro said he will roll out detailed proposals.

He said his priorities would be “depoliticizing” the authority’s board by giving members the power to fire the chair, currently Joe Lhota, along with conducting a thorough review of the MTA’s assets and creating a “road map” to improve service.

“Like Joe Lhota or not, the governor has too much influence,” Molinaro said, nodding to the fact that the governor nominates the MTA board chair, as Cuomo did with Lhota. “Far too many decisions are made without input from the MTA board…I would absolutely want to empower the MTA board to be able to fire the head of the MTA.”

Molinaro’s county includes the far reaches of the MTA transit system, and he is one of the executives empowered to jointly appoint an MTA board member. He often says that Dutchess is where “upstate meets downstate” and has joined the chorus of candidates and others criticizing Cuomo’s management of the MTA, especially the New York City subway system.

Molinaro did not comment, when asked, on MTA NYC Transit President Andy Byford’s new plan to fix service. He mostly spoke in broad terms about the MTA’s problems -- decrying its “ineffectiveness and erosion” -- but singled out service for people with disabilities as a priority.

“The fact is that if you are living with a disability or particular challenges -- special needs -- we don’t have adequate access, and that needs to be a priority regardless of where you live,” Molinaro said.

That belief connects to an initiative Molinaro launched in Dutchess -- which he made a point to again emphasize during the interview -- to improve services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program, called ThinkDIFFERENTLY, has featured events connecting people with disabilities with service providers and aims to help them develop job and life skills.

Molinaro said the program -- which has caught on in dozens of other localities -- would provide a paradigm for how he approaches disabilities as governor. Molinaro, whose daughter is autistic, often cites his experience as a father when discussing the issue.

“Whether it’s making the investments necessary to break down physical barriers -- making subway stops and platforms accessible -- or it’s saying to job creators, you need to do more to encourage employment for those living with disabilities or welcome those with special needs as consumers,” he said, “we need to educate and then we need to ensure that the system is easier to navigate.”

As might be expected for a relatively unknown Republican challenging a two-term Democratic governor in New York, Molinaro has trailed Cuomo in early polls. A Siena College poll released Wednesday, about five-and-a-half months before Election Day, showed Cuomo ahead of Molinaro 56-37, though the numbers showed an improving trend for Molinaro in the hypothetical matchup and the poll was celebrated by his campaign, which noted he is in better position than Republican challenger Rob Astorino was four years ago at the same time.

Like Democratic primary challenger Nixon, who also trails Cuomo in the polls, Molinaro has tried to put a dent in the governor’s numbers by tying him to corruption. Both challengers have pointed to the recent conviction of longtime Cuomo lieutenant Joseph Percoco and the upcoming federal trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute who oversaw some of Cuomo’s most ambitious development projects.

Those cases center upon proven and alleged abuses within the governor’s multimillion-dollar economic development programs, and the Percoco trial showed the former Cuomo government aide and campaign manager regularly using his executive chamber office while on leave to run the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign. Molinaro has put forth a variety of government ethics and campaign finance reform proposals thus far, some of which Cuomo has professed support for but not passed. The GOP nominee has said he would seek pay-for-play, or doing-business, campaign finance restrictions on entities seeking or holding state contracts, term limits for statewide elected officials and state legislators, and other changes to make government more honest and open.

Molinaro said the trials not only show issues of corruption under Cuomo’s nose, but that the governor’s approach to economic development is fundamentally flawed.

“I don’t believe the government should take taxpayer money and give it to private interests,” he said. “I don’t believe in cutting checks as if New Yorkers are [Cuomo’s] personal ATM. It’s not fair, it’s not appropriate and he doesn’t seem to know the difference between right and wrong.”

Asked how he would encourage statewide economic growth if he ended Cuomo’s development programs, Molinaro again pointed to tax cuts and lowering the cost of living.

“Drive down costs, make it easier for businesses to thrive,” he said. “That’s how you grow an environment that people can achieve greater success -- not by pickpocketing New Yorkers and giving it to political contributors.” Molinaro did not offer specifics.

He said that if elected, he would take a selective approach to Cuomo’s legacy, though he shied away from detailing what he would seek to undo. “My perspective is everything gets evaluated -- everything,” he said.

Molinaro did not answer a question about Cuomo’s gun control measures, including an expanded ban of assault weapons, known as the SAFE Act. While the governor has frequently touted the legislation as one of his main achievements, and New York City residents largely support it, it is considered highly unpopular upstate.

In a January interview, more than a month before the school massacre in Parkland, Florida and the movement it spurred, Molinaro had told Gotham Gazette, “Frankly, I do have concerns with how aggressive this governor has been. I think in some ways irresponsibly ignoring those that do support, as I do, the Second Amendment and forcing legislation without having the kind of local robust conversation necessary. I believe the constitution is as it’s written.”

The Cuomo campaign has seized on some of Molinaro’s more conservative positions, like on gun rights and his 2011 vote against marriage equality as a member of the Assembly, the passage of which is a top Cuomo resume item. Molinaro has said he has evolved on the issue. The governor’s campaign has branded him a Trump mini-me, though Molinaro has said he did not vote for the Republican president in the 2016 election.

In the Wednesday interview with Gotham Gazette, Molinaro did not list any other issue areas where he plans to roll out policy plans, though during his convention speech he appeared to promise a series.

Asked how, if elected governor, he would work with the state Legislature -- this fall, Democrats are likely to maintain their Assembly majority and Republicans are fighting against losing the Senate -- Molinaro said he would try to make the lawmaking process more inclusive.

He promised to end Albany’s “three men in a room” culture in which the governor and legislative leaders decide the budget and other important issues behind closed doors.

“I think the government can reach into the legislature and local communities to identify great thinkers, people who are engaged in trying to solve problems irrespective of party, and engage them,” Molinaro said. “That breaks down the power structure that has paralyzed state government.”

***
by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

]]>
On Taxes, the MTA and More, Molinaro Discusses Developing Campaign Platform Thu, 14 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7737:max-murphy-podcast-lieutenant-governor-kathy-hochul http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7737:max-murphy-podcast-lieutenant-governor-kathy-hochul

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette


June 14, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul

kathy hochul 277

Kathy Hochul is in the fourth year of her first term as lieutenant governor, and, running alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo, seeking another term this fall. She's facing a primary challenge, however, from City Council Member Jumaane Williams. As she runs for reelection (the lieutenant governor and governor run separately in the primary but as a ticket in the general election), Hochul is touting the strength of her record as part of the Cuomo administration. She joined the podcast to discuss her background, the administration's work, especially in economic development, which she has a significant role in, the revitalization of Buffalo, which is in the congressional district she briefly represented in the House of Representatives, and much more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Thu, 14 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Why Cynthia Nixon Will Lose http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7738:why-cynthia-nixon-will-lose http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7738:why-cynthia-nixon-will-lose govcu 5million

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


One thing is evident when considering the electoral dynamics in New York, and when taking into account recent polling on the gubernatorial race: the path to victory leads through black and Latino communities and Governor Andrew Cuomo has a major leg up.

The most recent Siena College poll indicates that among Latinos and African-Americans Cuomo is winning by significant margins. Among African-Americans polled, the governor receives a whopping 74% of the vote and among Latinos he’s at a significant 69% (support among both groups has increased since Siena’s last poll). Together, black and Latino New Yorkers account for 42% of the entire Democratic primary electorate, according to my calculations. Given these numbers, it is no wonder that Cynthia Nixon is attempting to make inroads into these communities, though seemingly less so in Latino communities than black communities.

Unfortunately for Nixon, the numbers are just not there. While Siena’s polling shows the governor above the 70% mark among communities of color, the reality is that the governor’s support is likely to be higher than that.

Here’s why: Siena’s own numbers indicate that 9% of the statewide overall electorate is African-American and 8% is Latino -- the poll is of likely general election voters, with Democrats asked to weigh in on the primary. But that is a significant undercount of the actual reality in a Democratic primary. According to data provided by L2, a national voter data company, 18% of the New York Democratic primary electorate is Latino and 22% black. So, the 74% support among African-Americans in Siena’s polling, and 69% support among Latinos for Cuomo, will be a bigger deal than anticipated when factoring in actual turnout in the primary.

Beyond the numbers, the governor can lay claim to a host of accomplishments that he can say have positively impacted communities of color. From paid family leave to an increase in the minimum wage; a tuition-free college program to the allocation of $10 million to a defense fund for immigrants facing the Trump administration’s backlash, Cuomo has made a mark for himself particularly among people of color. And the governor a couple of months ago issued an executive order that will help grant the right to vote to most parolees, another constituency dominated by African-Americans and Latinos. Black and Latino communities will ultimately judge whether the governor’s actions have truly benefited them.

When considering these accomplishments, it is no wonder why Governor Cuomo’s favorability remains high among Latino and black New Yorkers. With more than 40% of the primary vote coming from these two key voting blocs, and considering his high favorability ratings among them, Cuomo should move to the general election fairly easily.

***
Eli Valentin is a Democratic consultant and pastor of the Iglesia Evangelica Bautista in New York City. On Twitter @EliValentinNY.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Why Cynthia Nixon Will Lose Thu, 14 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State-Backed, Scandal-Plagued Entities Seek New Chapter http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7732:state-backed-scandal-plagued-entities-seek-new-chapter http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7732:state-backed-scandal-plagued-entities-seek-new-chapter govcuomo roswell

Howard Zemsky, of ESD, in Buffalo (photo via the Governor's office)


Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute heading to trial this month for alleged corruption, was known for his luxury sports cars, self-aggrandizing boasts, and awkward social media posts.

The new face of the state’s tech development projects, Doug Grose, strikes a different image: subdued, old-school business executive.

Coming after Kaloyeros’ fall from grace and amid twin corruption trials, Grose’s appointment seems aimed at assuring taxpayers that state government is turning a new page when it comes to investing public funds in ambitious research and business ventures.

Last month, Grose became president of the Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road management corporations -- the state entities at the center of the Kaloyeros bid-rigging and bribery case. The two nonprofits have doled out state grants and overseen projects spearheaded by Kaloyeros, who was empowered by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and will be merged to form a new organization, called NY CREATES. Grose will be president of that nonprofit body once the ongoing process is complete.

Empire State Development, the state’s main economic development agency, partnered with SUNY to form NY CREATES -- or New York Center for Research, Economic Advancement, Technology, Engineering and Science. The new organization filed its certificate of incorporation with the state last month and plans to file for 501(c)3 status, according to an ESD spokesperson. Since shortly after the indictments of Kaloyeros and other top Cuomo aides, associates, and donors, ESD was charged with overseeing the nonprofits associated with SUNY and the governor’s extensive economic development programming. It was a move announced by the governor in response to the scandals involving some of his signature projects.

After the November 2016 indictments of Kaloyeros, former Cuomo top aide and campaign manager Joseph Percoco, and others, Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road became synonymous with corruption, leading to the effort to rebrand and reorganize.

Fort Schuyler awarded multimillion-dollar contracts that Kaloyeros allegedly helped rig in 2013 so they went to major Cuomo campaign donors. Along with Fuller Road, which was not named in the Kaloyeros indictment, Fort Schuyler has overseen hundreds of millions of dollars in state investment in the governor’s economic development programs, namely the Buffalo Billion. Some of them have been associated with SUNY Polytechnic, an advanced science research institution founded by Kaloyeros, a physicist.

As NY CREATES launches and seeks to attract both trust and partners, Grose is seen at ESD and elsewhere as the right person for the job. He insists NY CREATES will bring transparency to the economic development programs under its umbrella. Those range from a $1.5-billion computer chip center in Utica to a sprawling $24-billion nanotechnology complex at SUNY Polytechnic in Albany.

“How I want to run this has the elements of a business, with sound fiscal and legal controls and a focus on return on investment,” Grose told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

Grose’s long resume includes a stint as executive vice president of NanoTech Resources in 2004. Kaloyeros, who oversaw growth in the nanotech complex at SUNY Polytechnic, was Grose’s boss at the time.

“My leadership style is quite different,” Grose said of Kaloyeros. “It’s much more, I’ll say, business-based, and you got rewarded or you got in trouble if you didn’t provide the return on investment made.”

Grose, 68, came out of retirement to helm NY CREATES, which he said will pay him $280,000 a year. ESD and SUNY leaders and the former president of Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road, Bob Megna, worked to draft Grose. His job will have a tighter focus than that of Kaloyeros, who made nearly $1 million per year helming all of SUNY Polytechnic.

“I didn’t come here, honestly, for financial reasons. I came here because of an allegiance that I have to New York State,” said Grose, who was raised in the Mohawk Valley and earned multiple degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

He previously held numerous roles in the upstate tech industry, often overseeing public-private partnerships.

In 1979, he began a more than 20-year-long run at IBM, where he was in charge of chip production at labs in East Fishkill and Vermont, according to the Times Union. He came back to the company in 2004, helping lay the groundwork for a public-private partnership that has seen IBM establish a large lab at SUNY Polytechnic.

Grose is also a former CEO of GlobalFoundries, one of the biggest semiconductor makers in the world. It began receiving state funds and tax breaks in 2006, under then-Governor George Pataki.

Empire State Development touts GlobalFoundries as a success story. The company, which runs a computer chip lab called Fab 8 in Saratoga County, has created 3,500 jobs, according to the Albany-based Center for Economic Growth.

Grose has kept a low profile throughout his career. That marks a strong contrast with Kaloyeros, who was was known to speed around Albany in a Ferrari Spider. “Dr. Nano,” as his license plate said, made immature Facebook posts and was known for braggadocio, as the New York Times pointed out in 2002. After a Gotham Gazette profile in 2015, spurred by reports that SUNY Polytechnic had been subpoenaed, Kaloyeros offered, then rescinded an interview, citing the “threat of jail.”

While Grose sought to distinguish his style from that of Kaloyeros, he also had praise for SUNY Polytechnic’s former leader.

“He was a visionary in terms of what he wanted to create and he had big ideas,” Grose said of Kaloyeros. “Many of them came true.”

Asked about improving transparency into Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road (and, soon, NY CREATES) projects, Grose noted steps that boards of those organizations took before he came on about a month ago.

They voted to voluntarily conform to the state’s Freedom of Information Law in 2016 and 2017. A bill ensuring that FOIL applies to agencies like Fort Schuyler has been introduced in the state Assembly, though it is currently stalled in the Governmental Operations Committee.

Cuomo, a Democrat, appoints the head of ESD, currently Howard Zemsky. The governor in the past pushed both more funding through Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road and resisted calls to increase transparency and oversight of their projects. He also appears to have a fairly tight grip over what legislation moves through the Democrat-led Assembly. A variety of accountability measures that have passed the Republican-controlled Senate are currently stalled in the Assembly.

Recent months have seen Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road open their meetings to the public, and they have begun posting recordings of their sessions to YouTube.

However, hard numbers about Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road projects remain difficult to come by. Their websites do not detail how much money the state has actually invested in their projects so far, and they don’t show proof of job growth -- the stated goal of the those investments. One bill in the accountability agenda that has not moved through the Assembly is for a “database of deals” that would catalog such spending and its results across all state economic development programming.

Grose said NY CREATES will dispel the mystery. He said his approach is to make sure “there is no doubt about what an investment may be for and who’s involved and what the result is.” He did not provide specifics for what that will look like.

Asked how much debt projects under Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road have accumulated, Grose said, "I can't give you a sense. I have no context where I would say I've seen it all added up." Asked whether it would be fair to say the projects were facing hundreds of millions in debt, Grose replied, "I think that's an accurate portrayal." He added, "It’s related to building facilities in Albany. It’s basically paying back loans to build Albany campus facilities."

Cuomo has been keeping his distance from Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road and is yet to comment on NY CREATES. His office did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Shortly after the criminal complaint against Kaloyeros became public, the governor announced that Empire State Development would assume oversight of all the projects under SUNY Polytechnic’s aegis.

"I want the taxpayers of New York to know that every dollar is guarded and guarded professionally,” Cuomo said in announcing the move in September of 2016.

However, government watchdogs have decried that change -- and the creation of NY CREATES -- as inadequate. To groups like Reinvent Albany, Cuomo is doing too little, too late.

“Ultimately, we would look at NY CREATES as shuffling around the deck chairs on the titanically confusing and corruption-prone apparatus that the state has created to hand out tax dollars,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, which closely tracks state economic development efforts.

He noted that Cuomo has blocked the reform legislation that includes a bill to restore the state comptroller’s power to pre-audit state contracts over $250,000 that flow through SUNY-affiliated nonprofits -- a power that was stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in the governor’s first year in office, 2011. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has repeatedly said it should be brought back.

“Whatever marginal gain comes out of this is going to be so tiny as not to warrant the pixels on the press release that will come from it,” Kaehny said of NY CREATES.

ESD argues that NY CREATES is not just a rebrand, but that it represents a new way of doing business that will be more transparent and less conducive to exploitation.

Government watchdogs say irrespective of the bureaucracy surrounding development projects, under the status quo, Cuomo ultimately calls the shots.

Grose said he will be answerable to the boards of Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road and, later, the board of NY CREATES; ESD is getting a say in who joins the board of the new organization, and Zemsky will serve as an “ex-officio” member. “I also report to the chancellor of SUNY as a direct boss,” Grose said.

Grose indicated his vision is at least as ambitious as Kaloyeros’ was -- even if it comes without the boasting.

Grose plans to expand the scope of the state’s public-private tech partnerships to include educational institutions outside SUNY Polytechnic -- and even in other states.

He said he will continue Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road’s focus on nanotechnology, and seek to further develop its work in photonics, tech dealing with data transfer through light waves.

“I haven’t really focused on what’s happened in the last 10 to 12 years,” he said, alluding to the scandals. “My view going forward is to focus on core objectives and develop strong partnerships that have the right agreements that back them up.”

***
by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

]]>
State-Backed, Scandal-Plagued Entities Seek New Chapter Tue, 12 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Created in Budget, State Pay Commission Off to Slow, Rocky Start http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7723:created-in-budget-state-pay-commission-off-to-slow-rocky-start http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7723:created-in-budget-state-pay-commission-off-to-slow-rocky-start Carl McCall Cuomo

Carl McCall (photo: Governor's Office)


The pay commission tasked with proposing salary adjustments of New York State legislators, statewide elected officials, and top executive branch employees, created in this year’s enacted budget, appears to be in a state of disarray.

The appointed chair of the commission, New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, announced in May that she could not serve on the commission, citing what she believed to be the unconstitutionality of a judge determining matters that could end up before her in court. She has not been replaced, and the commission has not held a meeting.

The commission, as laid out in the budget document passed in late March, is to be made up of five individuals: DiFiore, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller Carl McCall, and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson. McCall and Thompson are now chairs of the Boards of Trustees at SUNY and CUNY, respectively.

The commissioners have until December to submit recommendations for whether legislators in the Assembly and Senate, statewide officials (governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general), and certain executive branch officials should receive a pay increase, and if so, by how much. Legislators, who are elected every two years, have not had a base salary increase in nearly 20 years. A different effort at a pay commission went off the rails in 2016 when Cuomo, through his appointees, insisted on ethics reforms in conjunction with salary increases. The governor has said he supports higher salaries for lawmakers but that he also wants to see accompanying changes, and he has insisted that it is essential to raise the pay the state offers agency commissioners and top gubernatorial aides in order to attract top talent.

Along with salary, the new commission can also make other recommendations, such as the prohibition of outside income that Cuomo says is necessary, and its recommendations will automatically go into effect if legislators don’t act to prevent it before January 1, 2019.

The commission, in the midst of the ongoing drama, has not held a meeting in the more than two months since its creation.

A spokesperson for DiNapoli, Jennifer Freeman, said that there are no firm dates yet decided on for the first meeting, but that “dates being discussed are currently in July.” This would give commissioners approximately five months to deliberate and draw up recommendations. It is unclear what will happen with the position intended for DiFiore, and whether legislators may need to pass a bill to name a new commissioner before their session ends later this month.

State legislators receive a base salary of $79,500 per year, unchanged since 1999. Legislators are allowed to earn outside income, opening the door to conflicts of interest. Majority conferences also award stipends, colloquially known as “lulus,” to committees chairs, a practice that has been abused.

The system, as it stands, has been alleged to help foster a culture of corruption and limit the pool of individuals who will consider working in state government.

When the 2016 commission fell apart, good government groups criticized it and state leaders for failing to raise lawmakers’ salaries. Reinvent Albany, one reform group, is among those in favor of a pay raise, saying that the cost of living has risen substantially since the 1999 wage was set, and that the salary not keeping up with the cost of living leads to more lawmakers taking outside income.

“I think most people recognize that, in particular for the New York City members, that it’s awfully hard to make a living off the salary they make if they’re not holding outside jobs,” said Alex Camarda, Reinvent Albany’s senior policy advisor. “And there’s certainly been a desire by the good government community to see elected officials have their outside income curtailed so that they don’t have conflicts of interest when they are considering policy before the state.”

Citizens Union, another government reform group, said the prior commission should recommend pay increases but not tie them to other legislation, including ethics reform, to avoid any exchange of policies that have merit on their own and the typical Albany horse-trading. Though a deal that largely involves aspects of legislators’ jobs would be less transparently questionable than the 1999 trade that saw pay increase tied to legislation establishing charter schools in New York.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Ethan Geringer-Sameth, public policy and program manager at Citizens Union, said that CU’s position remains unchanged: that legislators should get a pay raise, that the pay raise should be decoupled from other legislation, and that the increase should be even higher if outside income is banned. The organization also wants to see a wide range of ethics and campaign finance reform enacted separately.

The U.S. Congress and the New York City Council both pay members substantially more than the State Legislature: members of Congress make $174,000 while members of the City Council make $148,500. The City Council, in 2016, voted to raise salaries substantially, from $112,500 to $148,500, while also banning almost all forms of outside income.

“Outside income was severely limited and the Council Members here in New York City got a substantial pay raise,” Camarda said. “And I think it serves as a model for the state as well as the U.S. Congress. And it would be good to put it to bed finally.”

Cuomo, as of two months ago, conditionally supports pay raises for legislators; the governor said in March that he would support pay raises for legislators if the budget was passed on time, which it was. The governor’s office appears to have reverted to a neutral stance on the issue.

“There is now an independent commission that will review legislative pay that has not increased for 18 years. We’ll leave it to the commission to decide – that is what is in the law,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens in an email to Gotham Gazette. Stevens declined to comment about what will happen with the commission post DiFiore has declined.

Through a spokesperson, DiNapoli declined to comment on the commission or his positions on the matters at hand. A representative for Stringer did not respond to requests for comment. McCall also declined to comment; a representative said that the commissioners are refraining from public comment before the meeting takes place. Thompson could not be reached for comment.

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Created in Budget, State Pay Commission Off to Slow, Rocky Start Thu, 07 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Attention Shifts to Assembly Hesitation on Accountability Bills Opposed by Cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7718:attention-shifts-to-assembly-hesitation-on-accountability-bills-opposed-by-cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7718:attention-shifts-to-assembly-hesitation-on-accountability-bills-opposed-by-cuomo govcuomo speakerheastie

Speaker Heastie, left, and Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)


Amid open conflict with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, the Republican-controlled state Senate recently passed a package of bills aimed at shedding light on taxpayer-funded economic development projects, among other reform measures. The move helped reignite attention on the legislation and put pressure on the Democrat-led Assembly to pass bills it has previously supported.

The legislation includes the Procurement Integrity Act, which would restore the state comptroller’s power to review contracts before they are officially awarded, and the “database of deals” bill, which would create a public catalogue of economic development awards and their results. Such grants run into hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, though they are often largely hidden from the public and have been at the center of recent corruption charges.

Assembly support for the measures was strong enough that earlier this year they were included in the chamber’s one-house budget, as they were in the Senate’s, though they were not included in the enacted state budget after negotiations among the Assembly, Senate, and governor.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie praised the Procurement Integrity Act last year, saying, “Another set of eyes will make people feel better that, yes, things are done correctly.”

However, the bill hasn’t made it out of the Assembly’s Government Operations Committee -- even though the committee’s chair, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, is the very lawmaker sponsoring the legislation. The bill has 37 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly.

And as the June 20 scheduled end of legislative session approaches, the “database of deals” bill is stalled in the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Democrat Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn. That bill has 34 co-sponsors.

The reason for the hold-up? Advocates for the legislation are pointing at Cuomo, and his influence over Heastie.

“The speaker is jamming the bills because the governor wants him to,” said John Kaehny, executive director of government watchdog Reinvent Albany. “If those bills went to the floor of the Assembly, they would pass overwhelmingly.”

Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, a Democrat and main sponsor of the “database of deals” bill, echoed Kaehny’s comments.

“The governor does not want this bill moved,” the Buffalo-area representative told Gotham Gazette. “The question is, do Chair Weinstein and Speaker Heastie -- are they going to do the right thing or are they going to roll over and not move?”

Weinstein’s, Peoples-Stokes’, and Heastie’s offices did not respond to requests for comment. Questions around the bills, and whether Heastie and Assembly Democrats are willing to cross Cuomo, come as Democrats have a relatively recent “unity” pledge and coordinated campaign effort ahead of the fall elections.

The economic transparency legislation is seen by many as essential after corruption indictments centering on some of the governor’s most vaunted development programs.

Federal indictments in 2016 depicted a “pay-to-play” culture in which members of Cuomo’s inner circle received bribes or other perks in exchange for lucrative state contracts and special treatment meted out to developers in secret. Longtime Cuomo government aide and campaign manager Joseph Percoco was convicted of fraud and soliciting bribes in March. Former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros heads to trial later this month for allegedly helping rig multimillion-dollar contracts.

Both the Procurement Integrity Act (S.3984/A.6355) and “database of deals” bill (S.6613/A.8175) aim to address perceived flaws in how Cuomo has overseen funding allocations. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Cuomo has in the past dismissed calls to restore the comptroller’s pre-clearance authority on the applicable state-funded contracts, which was stripped from the office during Cuomo’s first years as governor.

The projects Kaloyeros helped oversee, including a $750-million solar panel factory in Buffalo, were tied to SUNY Polytechnic. While Kaloyeros was allegedly scheming to reward developers who had donated to Cuomo’s re-election campaign, the state comptroller had no insight into the process; the governor and legislative leaders took away his power to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, including for SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated non-profits, in 2011 and 2012.

The Procurement Integrity Act, introduced by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, would restore that power.

"One of the reasons why folks thought they could get away with something is that they knew nobody was really looking, other than the people on the inside who turned out to be benefiting from this," DiNapoli told Syracuse.com last month.

The bill would also authorize the comptroller to approve SUNY Research Foundation contracts valued at over $1 million and would bar state-affiliated nonprofits from doling out contracts unless explicitly authorized by law. Such non-profits are at the center of the Percoco and Kaloyeros cases, with an entity called the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation awarding allegedly rigged bids.

Last year, Cuomo’s counsel told Gotham Gazette the clean-contracting legislation “does not address the issue.”

“The proposed legislation…is both burdensome and duplicative,” Alphonso David said. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”

Still, basic information about the taxpayer-funded programs that Kaloyeros helped oversee, along with numerous other public-private projects, is not available to the public. The governor’s office publishes vague information about projects like the Computer Chip Commercialization Center in Utica, which has been variously described as generating 300 to 1,500 jobs and entailing investments from $100 million to $1.5 billion.

The “database of deals” would aim to fill in holes in public knowledge of such projects. It would list every taxpayer subsidy that corporations receive along with the number of jobs created and cost per job to taxpayers.

The Senate passed the “database” bill and the Procurement Integrity Act by votes of 62-0 and 60-2, respectively, on May 9. They were part of 11 total reform bills widely viewed as a snub to Cuomo, who fell out with the Senate’s Republican leadership amid political maneuvering in April.

“Because [Cuomo] went to war with the the Senate GOP, [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan put them up for a vote and -- no surprise to anybody -- they passed overwhelmingly,” Kaehny observed.

“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” Flanagan, of Long Island, said in a statement after the reform bills were approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds.” While pressure from the Senate GOP is unlikely to sway Cuomo, recent weeks have seen the governor change his stance on a variety of issues in the face of the Democratic primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. Observers have noted she’s pushed him left on policy like legalizing marijuana.

But while the actor and activist-turned-candidate has slammed Cuomo on corruption scandals in general, she is yet to make a cause of transparency and accountability reform legislation in particular.

Speaking on The Capitol Pressroom radio show on Monday, DiNapoli, a Democrat, voiced skepticism that the bills will pass the Assembly this session. Even if the Assembly approves the legislation, one of them -- the “database of deals” bill -- varies slightly from the Senate version and would have to be reconciled in conference.

“I’m the forever optimist, but it seems that the end of session is getting very bogged down and work’s not happening,” DiNapoli told host Susan Arbetter.

“My optimism is somewhat tempered by the seeming stalemate,” the comptroller added, referring to drama in the Senate. “At least, that’s how we ended last week. Let’s hope this week turns out a little differently.”

A number of advocacy and watchdog groups are organizing a final push for the “database of deals” and clean-contracting legislation, including a rally calling on Heastie to advance the bills on Thursday in Albany. Participants include Reinvent Albany, as well as Citizens Union, Common Cause NY,  League of Women Voters NYS, New York Public Interest Group (NYPRIG), and a variety of progressive advocacy organizations, such as Fiscal Policy Institute.

“There are many steps we should be taking, but the time is running out,” Assemblymember Schimminger said.

***
by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Attention Shifts to Assembly Hesitation on Accountability Bills Opposed by Cuomo Wed, 06 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Little Appetite in Albany to Address State Budget Flaws Identified by Comptroller http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7709:little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7709:little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller comptroller tom finger lakes economic

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (photo via the Comptroller's office)


In March, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature once again passed a budget in the middle of the night with little public review. Keeping form with past years, elected members of the Assembly and Senate voted through major budget and policy decisions that they did not know the details of, while there was also no time for feedback from outside watchdogs. The State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, did release a budget report a few weeks later excoriating not only the process as secretive and unaccountable, but also the budget itself as spending billions of public dollars in an unaccountable way.

A few weeks after that, the State Senate passed a package of reform bills aimed, at least in part, at making the spending of public monies more transparent. The package of legislation has stalled in the Assembly, and the governor is largely unsupportive of the measures, which would add oversight and insight into how state economic development funds are spent, among other changes largely aimed at reining in the governor’s power.

DiNapoli’s annual budget analysis, released in April, gave the budget high marks for its augmentations to the state tax system in response to federal tax reform, with the state attempting to blunt the impact of a new federal cap on how much of their local and state taxes taxpayers can deduct from their federal taxes. Through budget legislation, the state created a new voluntary payroll tax that employers can opt into and state-funded charitable organizations that taxpayers can contribute to in lieu of paying taxes. Despite generalized praise for the attempted workarounds, DiNapoli did not say unequivocally that the measures would be good for New Yorkers, and it is still too early to tell how successful they will be.

“The extent of any federal, state, or local tax savings these new mechanisms may generate for New Yorkers is unclear,” the comptroller said in a statement.

At the same time, DiNapoli sharply criticized the extensive lump sum appropriations in the budget, where funds are earmarked to agencies and organizations without a specifically delineated purpose, allowing the money to be spent throughout the year in unaccountable ways. The comptroller’s office has, year after year, criticized the state budget for excessive usage of these funds, as have non-governmental watchdogs like Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, and Citizens Budget Commission.

This year, $475 million of lump sum funds were appropriated in the budget for the “State and Municipal Facilities,” or SAM, program. SAM is ostensibly a fund for local capital projects statewide. In an appearance on the Capitol Pressroom radio program, however, DiNapoli described SAM as a new way of saying “member items,” itself a way of saying pork barrel spending on localized projects often disbursed for political reasons.

When Susan Arbetter, the host of the program, described SAM as a “slush fund” tapped into by legislators for anything from art projects to golf tournaments in their districts, DiNapoli said that she had described SAM “harshly but properly.” To illustrate the lack of accountability with SAM, DiNapoli noted in the report that, despite the authorization of over $2 billion in SAM funds since the fund’s inception in 2014, only about 20 percent of the total has actually been spent.

The comptroller also criticized the lack of transparency in procurement, a perennially thorny issue in New York politics.

“The Budget builds on previous years’ actions to bypass statutory provisions that are intended to promote oversight and integrity in State procurement, including eliminating competitive bidding and independent review of contracts in certain cases,” he said in the report.

The state’s problem-plagued procurement process has come under heightened criticism this year, with the conviction of former Cuomo aide and friend Joe Percoco in a bribery scandal involving the governor’s economic development projects. Percoco was convicted of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from contractors in return for a bid-rigging scheme ensuring they received lucrative contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.

Another trial involving larger Cuomo economic development programs, including the Buffalo Billion, and alleged abuses of the procurement process is set to start later this month. The centerpiece of the trial will be former SUNY Polytechnic Institute head Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo empowered over the course of several years, and is alleged to have been part of bid-rigging on contracts that did not have the type of review and oversight such deals require, according to DiNapoli and others.

The state Senate’s reform package includes a publicly searchable “database of deals,” listing economic development awards, project statuses, and outcomes. The measure was included in the one-house budgets of both the Assembly and the Senate but died in closed-door negotiations; the governor was not in support of it. The Senate’s passage of the measure post-budget puts responsibility on the Assembly to pass it and send it to the governor’s desk for approval or veto.

Senate Republicans who hold the majority passed the bills on May 9. Most were either unanimously or near-unanimously with bipartisan support, save for S5912C, concerning prevention of “regulatory steamrolling,” and S7781, which prevents interim department heads from serving without Senate confirmation for more than 90 days during the legislative session and 30 days outside the session. Assembly Democrats who lead that chamber appear less likely to cross the incumbent Democratic governor at this time.

Also passed by the Senate were measures restoring budgetary oversight powers to the comptroller’s office, known as the Procurement Integrity Act. The legislation was proposed by Comptroller DiNapoli himself in 2016. Since 2011, Cuomo’s first year in office, the comptroller’s power of contract pre-clearance in several key areas, such as SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated nonprofits, was eliminated; DiNapoli’s budget report estimated that $31 billion of contracts had been approved without review by the comptroller’s office “for the largest areas where oversight has been eliminated” since April 2011.

The Senate also passed a bill creating a nonpartisan Independent Budget Office to review revenues and spending. Whereas the Office of the Comptroller conducts audits after-the-fact, an IBO would provide analysis before a piece of legislation becomes law. Further, the comptroller is a partisan elected official (DiNapoli is a Democrat) while an IBO would be nonpartisan.

Another bill passed in the Senate banned executive appointees from donating to the campaigns of the executive who appointed them. This was clearly directed at Cuomo; a New York Times story from February revealed that, despite banning the practice in a 2011 executive order, the governor had raised almost $900,000 in donations from his executive appointees, apparently after interpreting the order loosely.

With just a few weeks left in session, the Assembly has not signaled an intent to pass any of the bills. A spokesperson for the Assembly majority did not respond to a request for comment from Gotham Gazette.

The governor’s office, when asked about the reform package, said that the Senate Republicans were not serious about ethics reform, noting their opposition to Cuomo-supported measures such as a ban on outside income for legislators, closing the LLC loophole, and a statewide public campaign finance system.

"We proposed many items in the Sen. Dean Skelos Corruption Reform Act, so it's funny that his crony, Sen. Flanagan, only proposed them when he is facing political oblivion,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens, referencing former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, currently awaiting retrial for public corruption, and current Majority Leader John Flanagan. The governor’s office did not signal support for the Senate-passed measures.

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Little Appetite in Albany to Address State Budget Flaws Identified by Comptroller Sun, 03 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000