Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/idc 2017-10-19T03:47:35+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Anger, Protests & Potential Bellwether in Democratic Senate Primary Already Underway 2017-06-01T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-01T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6966:anger-protests-potential-bellwether-in-democratic-senate-primary-already-underway Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/34199310524_c38faa4151_z.jpg" alt="protest alcantara IDC" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photos: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>“No fake Democrats! Take the New York Senate back!,” yelled the crowd of protestors huddled on the sidewalk outside 5030 Broadway in Inwood, near the northern tip of Manhattan. The demonstrators -- a cohort of about three dozen older New Yorkers, millennials, and one as young as 10 years old -- were one of a number of groups that had gathered at locations across the city on a recent Wednesday to protest at the offices of Democratic state Senators who the protesters believe have betrayed them. These senators are members of a breakaway faction called the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which leverages its numbers to help Republicans control the legislative chamber, at odds with the Democratically-controlled Assembly.</p> <p>The protest at 5030 Broadway, organized by True Blue NY, a four-month-old grassroots group, took aim at Sen. Marisol Alcántara of District 31, who was elected last year and joined the now eight-member IDC. Alcántara’s election has coincided with a groundswell awareness of state politics -- owing largely to the election of Donald Trump as president, a wake-up call to many Democrats -- and a growing movement by grassroots groups to make the bicameral New York Legislature entirely Democratic. Activists’ patience with the IDC has vanished, and with it much tolerance for the breakaway Democrats from other Democratic elected officials.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/34878999992_92750489d8_z.jpg" alt="protest IDC senate" width="300" height="200" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />Alcántara’s membership in the IDC is anathema to those hoping that New York Democrats can stand up to Trump administration policies, many of which Democrats believe will do significant harm to the state’s most vulnerable people. Democrats at the national, state and local level have increasingly come to call for IDC members to make their way back into the fold and caucus with the 23 mainline Democrats, as well as one other nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, who conferences with Republicans. After the recent election of Democrat Brian Benjamin to the state Senate, Democrats have 32 members, including Felder and the IDC, to 31 Republicans. But, they remain in the minority.</p> <p>Many leaders in the Democratic National Committee, the state Legislature, local county committees, and elsewhere have weighed in, urging the wayward Democrats to make their way back home. (Democrats like Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have largely stayed out of the discussion, however. Gillibrand recently <a href="http://thealt.com/2017/06/01/gillibrand-supports-mainline-senate-democrats/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated her disapproval</a> of the IDC and called for Democratic unity.)</p> <p>Alcántara’s opponents have declared their ultimatum to the senator: either join mainline Democrats or be replaced by someone who will. And those opponents see a clear path to deposing her in next year’s election by supporting former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who has already declared that he is challenging Alcántara though the primary is 16 months away.</p> <p>Jackson, a three-term Democratic Council member who left office in 2013, also ran for Senate District 31 last year, losing to Alcántara by a <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2016/Primary/2016StateLocalPrimaryElectionResults.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">margin</a> of just 533 votes in a four-way Democratic primary (He ran in 2014 as well but lost to Adriano Espaillat, who is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives). Jackson was a close third, after Micah Lasher, who was just 294 votes behind Alcántara but has thrown his weight behind Jackson’s campaign this time around.</p> <p>Jackson is confident that the numbers are in his favor. “The race is pretty simplistic,” he said in a phone interview, citing last year’s vote totals and touting the recent endorsement he received from Lasher, which he believes will be more than enough to put him past Alcántara in a 2018 primary. “Then you take into factor, after Trump’s election as president, all of the various groups that have basically risen up from the dirt as beautiful flowers,” he said, referring to grassroots organizations that have sprung up to protest the IDC, groups that can mobilize support for his campaign. “There are many groups that are basically now standing up and fighting the system that basically they feel is not in their best interest.”</p> <p>Democrats who backed Alcántara and other IDC members now find themselves in an awkward position of explaining their support while also calling for a unified Democratic conference. Public Advocate Letitia James endorsed Alcántara in last year’s race, but recently wrote in an editorial for <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/mainline-and-independent-democrats-in-the-senate-must-unite-behind-a-resistance-agenda.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City &amp; State</a> that “it’s time for Albany’s Democrats – mainline and Independent Democratic Conference – to come together. This is the only real way we will move forward on so many critical issues like reproductive choice, health care, education funding and the DREAM Act.”</p> <p>Gotham Gazette sought comment from James’ office on whether she would support Alcántara next year, but a spokesperson did not respond.</p> <p>Jackson cited the same policy issues, challenging Alcántara’s assertions, and those of her colleagues and supporters, that the IDC allows its members a place at the negotiating table and the ability to deliver resources to their communities. Instead, Jackson said, the IDC is simply “eating crumbs off the Republican plate,” while holding up the larger progressive Democratic agenda.</p> <p>But Alcántara’s victory resonated with residents of her district who are glad to see a Latina representative in the overwhelmingly white and male Senate. Some of those residents and local Democratic party functionaries showed up at the protest outside Alcántara’s office to stand up for her and drown out the voices of her critics. “Marisol! Latino power!,” they yelled in unison, inching forward and eventually circling the members of True Blue NY to, peacefully, drive them away. True Blue NY members slowly trickled away as police officers stepped in with barricades to cordon off the two groups and clear the sidewalk.</p> <p>“The IDC exists because of lack of leadership from the Democrats themselves,” said Alcántara supporter Manny De Los Santos, a state committee member and president of the Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change, at the protest. “At the end of the day, we need leaders that can not only represent the district where they live but also bring resources to this community, and Marisol has done just that. We had a senator who spent a lifetime in the Senate and wasn’t able to deliver resources to the community. As a rookie state senator, she has done that.” De Los Santos said Alcántara is a “pure Democrat” and vowed to fight back against those questioning her credentials. Alcántara has a history in labor unions and clearly progressive politics, which made her joining the IDC so shocking to some. The IDC pumped thousands of dollars into her primary, however, as she aligned with the breakaway faction.</p> <p>The fight is likely to be a long, drawn out battle -- both in the 31st Senate District and elsewhere -- as groups like True Blue NY and No IDC are vowing a sustained campaign of opposition to the entire IDC. Just recently, the Manhattan County Democratic Committee, headed by Chair Keith Wright, a former Assembly member, passed a resolution vowing not to support members of the IDC in next year’s elections, and the prominent progressive Working Families Party (WFP) rallied against the IDC once the Democrats gained the numerical majority.</p> <p>“Here in this very supposedly blue state, we have a state Senate controlled by the Republicans and propped up and enabled...by these eight Democrats,” said Bill Lipton, New York State Director of the WFP, in a May 25 <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/inside-city-hall/2017/05/26/bill-lipton-working-families-party.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NY1 interview</a>, “these IDC independent Democrats whose voters elected them under the auspices that they were going to stand up and caucus with the Democrats. So people are extremely frustrated, they’ve become woke to this idea that these folks are not doing what they’re supposed to and we’ve just seen an outpouring of support.”</p> <p>The WFP, with its considerable resources and strong grassroots following, could play a strong role in swaying voters away from reelecting IDC members. At the same time, the IDC will also be able to wield its own campaign finance machinery, which they employed in Alcantara’s favor last year, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6538-idc-housekeeping-account-raises-questions-but-may-not-be-challenged" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">spending</a> nearly $100,000 dollars in advertising and other support.</p> <p>As it stands, Alcántara seems the most vulnerable of the lot. “People are really surprised to learn about [the IDC] and dismayed and that’s why all these people are out here,” said Lisa DellAquila, a co-leader of True Blue NY, at the Wednesday protest. DellAquila said the group had signed up hundreds of people in the last three months alone and held a recent summit attended by representatives of about 50 community groups, nonprofits and advocacy organizations. “We’re gonna have a big push to primary all the members of the IDC and Simcha Felder,” she said, insisting that the IDC dynamic, propping up Senate Republicans, is increasingly becoming untenable. “[IDC Leader] Jeff Klein is severely wounded right now,” she said. “I think he needs to come back to the Democrats and bring the IDC with him. Let’s unify and pass progressive legislation in New York.”</p> <p>Alcántara was not made available to comment for this article. Instead, IDC spokesperson Candice Giove pushed back against the criticism, both of the senator and of the IDC at large. "Senator Alcántara was humbled to see so many Latina women come out to support her in the face of protesters from outside of the district attempting to distort her record, which includes securing $10 million in legal aid for immigrants in the face of bad policy coming from Washington,” said Giove, in a statement.</p> <p>That pushback, along with Alcantara’s statements on the Senate floor in response to criticism of the IDC, have invited accusations of race-baiting by critics. Jackson reiterated that line in the phone interview. “They’re playing the race card,” said Jackson, who is black. “All of those people out there [protesting] are from the community...they live in the district.”</p> <p>Giove also addressed the growing calls for Democratic unity, insisting that, "Thirty-two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump.”</p> <p>“Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership,” she said in the statement. “The Independent Democratic Conference has made its positions and its values clear. We are asking every other Senator to do the same. It's time to call the roll.” Giove’s comments are in reference to the fact that Felder continues to conference with Republicans and that at least one mainline Democratic senator, Ruben Diaz Sr., is not supportive of a variety of socially progressive measures.</p> <p>Jackson, however, sees it another way. If nine people in a room are holding up a ceiling, he said, and eight of them walk away, “What happens to that ceiling?” If the eight-member IDC abandons the Republicans, he’s confident the ninth holdout, Simcha Felder, will too. Otherwise, he thinks they will all see a backlash at the polls.</p> <p>“This is a movement that Jeff Klein and the IDC cannot stop,” he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This post has been updated to include a reference to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's recent comments on the IDC. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/34199310524_c38faa4151_z.jpg" alt="protest alcantara IDC" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photos: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>“No fake Democrats! Take the New York Senate back!,” yelled the crowd of protestors huddled on the sidewalk outside 5030 Broadway in Inwood, near the northern tip of Manhattan. The demonstrators -- a cohort of about three dozen older New Yorkers, millennials, and one as young as 10 years old -- were one of a number of groups that had gathered at locations across the city on a recent Wednesday to protest at the offices of Democratic state Senators who the protesters believe have betrayed them. These senators are members of a breakaway faction called the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which leverages its numbers to help Republicans control the legislative chamber, at odds with the Democratically-controlled Assembly.</p> <p>The protest at 5030 Broadway, organized by True Blue NY, a four-month-old grassroots group, took aim at Sen. Marisol Alcántara of District 31, who was elected last year and joined the now eight-member IDC. Alcántara’s election has coincided with a groundswell awareness of state politics -- owing largely to the election of Donald Trump as president, a wake-up call to many Democrats -- and a growing movement by grassroots groups to make the bicameral New York Legislature entirely Democratic. Activists’ patience with the IDC has vanished, and with it much tolerance for the breakaway Democrats from other Democratic elected officials.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/34878999992_92750489d8_z.jpg" alt="protest IDC senate" width="300" height="200" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />Alcántara’s membership in the IDC is anathema to those hoping that New York Democrats can stand up to Trump administration policies, many of which Democrats believe will do significant harm to the state’s most vulnerable people. Democrats at the national, state and local level have increasingly come to call for IDC members to make their way back into the fold and caucus with the 23 mainline Democrats, as well as one other nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, who conferences with Republicans. After the recent election of Democrat Brian Benjamin to the state Senate, Democrats have 32 members, including Felder and the IDC, to 31 Republicans. But, they remain in the minority.</p> <p>Many leaders in the Democratic National Committee, the state Legislature, local county committees, and elsewhere have weighed in, urging the wayward Democrats to make their way back home. (Democrats like Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have largely stayed out of the discussion, however. Gillibrand recently <a href="http://thealt.com/2017/06/01/gillibrand-supports-mainline-senate-democrats/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated her disapproval</a> of the IDC and called for Democratic unity.)</p> <p>Alcántara’s opponents have declared their ultimatum to the senator: either join mainline Democrats or be replaced by someone who will. And those opponents see a clear path to deposing her in next year’s election by supporting former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who has already declared that he is challenging Alcántara though the primary is 16 months away.</p> <p>Jackson, a three-term Democratic Council member who left office in 2013, also ran for Senate District 31 last year, losing to Alcántara by a <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2016/Primary/2016StateLocalPrimaryElectionResults.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">margin</a> of just 533 votes in a four-way Democratic primary (He ran in 2014 as well but lost to Adriano Espaillat, who is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives). Jackson was a close third, after Micah Lasher, who was just 294 votes behind Alcántara but has thrown his weight behind Jackson’s campaign this time around.</p> <p>Jackson is confident that the numbers are in his favor. “The race is pretty simplistic,” he said in a phone interview, citing last year’s vote totals and touting the recent endorsement he received from Lasher, which he believes will be more than enough to put him past Alcántara in a 2018 primary. “Then you take into factor, after Trump’s election as president, all of the various groups that have basically risen up from the dirt as beautiful flowers,” he said, referring to grassroots organizations that have sprung up to protest the IDC, groups that can mobilize support for his campaign. “There are many groups that are basically now standing up and fighting the system that basically they feel is not in their best interest.”</p> <p>Democrats who backed Alcántara and other IDC members now find themselves in an awkward position of explaining their support while also calling for a unified Democratic conference. Public Advocate Letitia James endorsed Alcántara in last year’s race, but recently wrote in an editorial for <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/mainline-and-independent-democrats-in-the-senate-must-unite-behind-a-resistance-agenda.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City &amp; State</a> that “it’s time for Albany’s Democrats – mainline and Independent Democratic Conference – to come together. This is the only real way we will move forward on so many critical issues like reproductive choice, health care, education funding and the DREAM Act.”</p> <p>Gotham Gazette sought comment from James’ office on whether she would support Alcántara next year, but a spokesperson did not respond.</p> <p>Jackson cited the same policy issues, challenging Alcántara’s assertions, and those of her colleagues and supporters, that the IDC allows its members a place at the negotiating table and the ability to deliver resources to their communities. Instead, Jackson said, the IDC is simply “eating crumbs off the Republican plate,” while holding up the larger progressive Democratic agenda.</p> <p>But Alcántara’s victory resonated with residents of her district who are glad to see a Latina representative in the overwhelmingly white and male Senate. Some of those residents and local Democratic party functionaries showed up at the protest outside Alcántara’s office to stand up for her and drown out the voices of her critics. “Marisol! Latino power!,” they yelled in unison, inching forward and eventually circling the members of True Blue NY to, peacefully, drive them away. True Blue NY members slowly trickled away as police officers stepped in with barricades to cordon off the two groups and clear the sidewalk.</p> <p>“The IDC exists because of lack of leadership from the Democrats themselves,” said Alcántara supporter Manny De Los Santos, a state committee member and president of the Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change, at the protest. “At the end of the day, we need leaders that can not only represent the district where they live but also bring resources to this community, and Marisol has done just that. We had a senator who spent a lifetime in the Senate and wasn’t able to deliver resources to the community. As a rookie state senator, she has done that.” De Los Santos said Alcántara is a “pure Democrat” and vowed to fight back against those questioning her credentials. Alcántara has a history in labor unions and clearly progressive politics, which made her joining the IDC so shocking to some. The IDC pumped thousands of dollars into her primary, however, as she aligned with the breakaway faction.</p> <p>The fight is likely to be a long, drawn out battle -- both in the 31st Senate District and elsewhere -- as groups like True Blue NY and No IDC are vowing a sustained campaign of opposition to the entire IDC. Just recently, the Manhattan County Democratic Committee, headed by Chair Keith Wright, a former Assembly member, passed a resolution vowing not to support members of the IDC in next year’s elections, and the prominent progressive Working Families Party (WFP) rallied against the IDC once the Democrats gained the numerical majority.</p> <p>“Here in this very supposedly blue state, we have a state Senate controlled by the Republicans and propped up and enabled...by these eight Democrats,” said Bill Lipton, New York State Director of the WFP, in a May 25 <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/inside-city-hall/2017/05/26/bill-lipton-working-families-party.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NY1 interview</a>, “these IDC independent Democrats whose voters elected them under the auspices that they were going to stand up and caucus with the Democrats. So people are extremely frustrated, they’ve become woke to this idea that these folks are not doing what they’re supposed to and we’ve just seen an outpouring of support.”</p> <p>The WFP, with its considerable resources and strong grassroots following, could play a strong role in swaying voters away from reelecting IDC members. At the same time, the IDC will also be able to wield its own campaign finance machinery, which they employed in Alcantara’s favor last year, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6538-idc-housekeeping-account-raises-questions-but-may-not-be-challenged" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">spending</a> nearly $100,000 dollars in advertising and other support.</p> <p>As it stands, Alcántara seems the most vulnerable of the lot. “People are really surprised to learn about [the IDC] and dismayed and that’s why all these people are out here,” said Lisa DellAquila, a co-leader of True Blue NY, at the Wednesday protest. DellAquila said the group had signed up hundreds of people in the last three months alone and held a recent summit attended by representatives of about 50 community groups, nonprofits and advocacy organizations. “We’re gonna have a big push to primary all the members of the IDC and Simcha Felder,” she said, insisting that the IDC dynamic, propping up Senate Republicans, is increasingly becoming untenable. “[IDC Leader] Jeff Klein is severely wounded right now,” she said. “I think he needs to come back to the Democrats and bring the IDC with him. Let’s unify and pass progressive legislation in New York.”</p> <p>Alcántara was not made available to comment for this article. Instead, IDC spokesperson Candice Giove pushed back against the criticism, both of the senator and of the IDC at large. "Senator Alcántara was humbled to see so many Latina women come out to support her in the face of protesters from outside of the district attempting to distort her record, which includes securing $10 million in legal aid for immigrants in the face of bad policy coming from Washington,” said Giove, in a statement.</p> <p>That pushback, along with Alcantara’s statements on the Senate floor in response to criticism of the IDC, have invited accusations of race-baiting by critics. Jackson reiterated that line in the phone interview. “They’re playing the race card,” said Jackson, who is black. “All of those people out there [protesting] are from the community...they live in the district.”</p> <p>Giove also addressed the growing calls for Democratic unity, insisting that, "Thirty-two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump.”</p> <p>“Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership,” she said in the statement. “The Independent Democratic Conference has made its positions and its values clear. We are asking every other Senator to do the same. It's time to call the roll.” Giove’s comments are in reference to the fact that Felder continues to conference with Republicans and that at least one mainline Democratic senator, Ruben Diaz Sr., is not supportive of a variety of socially progressive measures.</p> <p>Jackson, however, sees it another way. If nine people in a room are holding up a ceiling, he said, and eight of them walk away, “What happens to that ceiling?” If the eight-member IDC abandons the Republicans, he’s confident the ninth holdout, Simcha Felder, will too. Otherwise, he thinks they will all see a backlash at the polls.</p> <p>“This is a movement that Jeff Klein and the IDC cannot stop,” he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This post has been updated to include a reference to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's recent comments on the IDC. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
Potential Departure of Two Senate Democrats Poses Another Threat to Unity 2017-05-25T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6958:potential-departure-of-two-senate-democrats-poses-another-threat-to-unity Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rev_ruben_diaz_sr_town_hall_bdb_crop.jpg" alt="rev ruben diaz sr town hall bdb crop" width="600" height="345" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Sr. (photo: @NYPD43Pct)</p> <hr /> <p>While Democrats technically reclaimed a majority of state Senate seats through a special election Tuesday, a deeply fractured party picture remains. As different factions point fingers and call for unity, it seems likely that the headcount will drop down again by the end of the year.</p> <p>Two mainline Democratic senators have announced that they are running for other offices this year. Senator George Latimer, of Westchester County’s 37th District, is eying the county executive seat, while Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., representing the Bronx’s 32nd District, is a candidate for a City Council seat he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>On Tuesday, real estate developer Brian Benjamin replaced Bill Perkins, who left the Senate for the City Council in February, by winning a special election for Manhattan’s 30th Senate District, bringing the number of Democratic lawmakers in the 63-seat Senate to 32, a bare majority.</p> <p>Benjamin’s win (on top of Donald Trump’s presidential victory) has amplified deep-seated divisions among Senate Democrats. Currently, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) forms a ruling coalition with Republicans, while a ninth nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, conferences with the Republicans. This leaves 23 mainline Democrats in the chamber, including Benjamin. The dynamics have prompted New York progressive leaders to call for breakaway Democrats to return to the fold, form a Democratic majority conference, and pass legislation that is reflective of the heavily Democratic state.</p> <p>However, unity would not be possible under the current Senate rules, which list Republican Leader John Flanagan as the president of the chamber, as voted by Senate Republicans and Felder. And, before the next scheduled elections, in 2018, for all 63 Senate seats, there is a good chance that one or both of Diaz Sr. and Latimer will vacate their seat.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins sent letters to each IDC member, calling on them to realign with the Democrats. “As Donald Trump continues to propose devastating cuts to critical programs. it is more important than ever for progressive New Yorkers to unite. That is why we are asking you to join the now-23 members of the Democratic Conlèrence by pledging to only enter a coalition to lead the Senate with fellow Democrats and abandoning your coalition with Republicans,” wrote Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>Also calling for Democratic unity is the Working Families Party, which organized rallies outside the district offices of IDC members on Wednesday, top officials from the Democratic National Committee, and a variety of other Democratic elected officials and activists.</p> <p>But some political insiders say that these calls and letters are ultimately meaningless if the Democrats’ control of 32 seats is short lived. If Diaz Sr. and Latimer win their respective races, Democrats would control 30 seats, two short of a majority stake. A Diaz Sr. or Latimer vacancy would occur as of January, leaving one or two seats empty for at least 90 days, the required window before Governor Andrew Cuomo could call a special election -- if he chooses to call one at all.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, is unlikely to call a special election for April, which is when budget negotiations are finalized -- which, depending on unity negotiations, could easily leave Senate Democrats out of the discussion on the final spending agreement.</p> <p>Whether the governor calls a special election in May, after budget, or decides to wait out the rest of year until the regularly scheduled election, depends on a variety of factors and remains to be seen, according to veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.</p> <p>“It will depend on the state of play at the time,” said Sheinkopf. “Why should he call a special election in January if he’s got to get that budget done. What’s the best way for him to get it done? We don’t know yet.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s decision may also be influenced by how active the Democratic base is in lobbying him, especially given his own 2018 reelection bid on the horizon, not to mention his possible 2020 presidential ambitions.</p> <p>The odds are good for Diaz Sr. to win the City Council seat. While he faces <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6676-candidates-for-2017-city-elections-mayor-city-council-comptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a crowded primary</a>, Diaz is popular in the Bronx, where his son Ruben Diaz Jr. is the borough president. He is a beloved community leader and minister at a local Pentecostal church, and his standing among his constituents is reflected by the district’s Senate primary results for the last few years. In 2016, Diaz Sr. beat out his Democratic rival with <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/election_results/2016/20160913Primary%20Election/01202100032Bronx%20Democratic%20State%20Senator%2032nd%20Senatorial%20District%20Recap.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">8,557 votes out of 9,648 cast</a>, or 88.7 percent.</p> <p>“The Diaz name has magic in the Bronx, he’s going to be tough to beat, but in crowded primary, it’s hard to predict,” says Sheinkopf.</p> <p>For Latimer, who is challenging incumbent Rob Astorino, a Republican seeking his third term, the path to victory is less clear. While Westchester is heavily Democratic on paper, experts say it is a classic suburban 'bellwether' county, meaning it can be turned red or blue based on the winds of influence from Washington, D.C. Astorino, who challenged Gov. Cuomo in 2014, is popular in the county, and in a typical year, Latimer would be fighting an uphill battle. But with the GOP at risk almost everywhere due to President Trump’s unpopularity, Latimer's chances may continue to improve, according to insiders.</p> <p>“Latimer is unique in that he has a very significant following. He served the area as an Assemblyman and he’s highly regarded there. But could a Republican with the appropriate anti-Trump sentiment as part of his platform have an opportunity to make it a race? The answer is yes, it’s not impossible,” said Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Both Diaz Sr. and Latimer would leave the Senate for better paying jobs. The County Executive position pays $160,760, up from the long-stagnant $79,500 state legislators make. As a City Council member, Diaz Sr. would also see a significant salary bump, earning $148,500.</p> <p>The IDC, members of which receive financial and legislative perks as part of their partnership with the GOP, has little to gain from seeking a unity deal before November 2017, when the Diaz. Sr. and Latimer races will be decided.</p> <p>In anticipation of this week’s special election in Harlem, the IDC released a video, calling on all 32 Democrats -- the number required to pass legislation -- to join them in declaring their support for progressive measures like ethics and voting reform, codifying a woman’s right to choose, and more. The video implies that there are Democrats who don’t support the measures named, references to the socially conservative views of Diaz Sr. and Felder.</p> <p>"Thirty-two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump. Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership,” said IDC spokesperson Candice Giove in a statement.</p> <p>While Diaz Sr.’s more socially conservative views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage sometimes pose a problem for fellow Democrats, his district is one of the few heavily Democratic areas of New York City where these positions are not a liability. In 2010, Diaz Sr. was challenged by a Democrat backed by LGBT groups and still won 79.4% of the vote. The senator was not primaried in 2012 or 2014.</p> <p>While the Democratic Conference might welcome a more progressive replacement for Diaz Sr., the conference is at risk of losing the seat to a Democrat with loyalty to IDC leader Senator Jeffrey Klein, who also hails from the Bronx, noted Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, told Gotham Gazette Wednesday that he would be “very interested in renegotiating the priorities” of his district, provided that the IDC first commit themselves to rejoining with mainline Democrats.</p> <p>“The IDC represents 25 percent of the Democrats. I think it’s incumbent upon them to rejoin the Democrats to try to take back the majority and not play around, trying to make believe they are any different than the Republican conference,” he said, referencing a letter he sent to Senators Klein and Stewart-Cousins stating as much.</p> <p>The GOP conference, which does not have without a numerical majority without Felder, is also at risk of losing members this year, which could force them to rely on the IDC for a majority in 2018. Senator Rob Ortt, a Republican from Niagara County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wgrz.com/news/local/new-york/judge-upholds-charges-against-sen-rob-ortt/433766633">indicted on charges</a>&nbsp;of filing with a false instrument, and if found guilty, could eventually lose his seat. Senator Philip Boyle, of Suffolk County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/suffolk-republicans-choose-perini-for-da-boyle-for-sheriff-1.13662536">recently nominated&nbsp;</a>as the Republican candidate for county sheriff, though he may face a GOP primary.</p> <p>Even if the Democrats did unite, it is unclear what a coalition among mainline Democrats, the IDC, and Felder would look like, and who would lead the conference -- Klein, Stewart-Cousins, both, or someone else.</p> <p>Ultimately, the only way the party will reunite during this short window, is if the governor decides to use his influence to compel party loyalty, according to Richard Brodsky, a former Assemblymember from Westchester and now a Demos scholar.</p> <p>While Cuomo has signalled that he is comfortable with keeping the Senate GOP in power, Brodsky says the Working Families Party and other progressives have done a good job <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/pol-rips-cuomo-doubting-democratic-n-y-senate-article-1.3137747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at publicly pressuring him</a> to reunite the party, and may be more impactful if Cuomo pursues his rumored presidential aspirations.</p> <p>“In the end, until the governor uses his influence -- which is a strong influence -- there's not going to be a resolution here,” said Brodsky. "The WFP has found innovative ways to step up the pressure and the consequences for Governor Cuomo in 2020 are not, as we say in Italian, ‘chopped liver.’”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rev_ruben_diaz_sr_town_hall_bdb_crop.jpg" alt="rev ruben diaz sr town hall bdb crop" width="600" height="345" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Sr. (photo: @NYPD43Pct)</p> <hr /> <p>While Democrats technically reclaimed a majority of state Senate seats through a special election Tuesday, a deeply fractured party picture remains. As different factions point fingers and call for unity, it seems likely that the headcount will drop down again by the end of the year.</p> <p>Two mainline Democratic senators have announced that they are running for other offices this year. Senator George Latimer, of Westchester County’s 37th District, is eying the county executive seat, while Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., representing the Bronx’s 32nd District, is a candidate for a City Council seat he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>On Tuesday, real estate developer Brian Benjamin replaced Bill Perkins, who left the Senate for the City Council in February, by winning a special election for Manhattan’s 30th Senate District, bringing the number of Democratic lawmakers in the 63-seat Senate to 32, a bare majority.</p> <p>Benjamin’s win (on top of Donald Trump’s presidential victory) has amplified deep-seated divisions among Senate Democrats. Currently, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) forms a ruling coalition with Republicans, while a ninth nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, conferences with the Republicans. This leaves 23 mainline Democrats in the chamber, including Benjamin. The dynamics have prompted New York progressive leaders to call for breakaway Democrats to return to the fold, form a Democratic majority conference, and pass legislation that is reflective of the heavily Democratic state.</p> <p>However, unity would not be possible under the current Senate rules, which list Republican Leader John Flanagan as the president of the chamber, as voted by Senate Republicans and Felder. And, before the next scheduled elections, in 2018, for all 63 Senate seats, there is a good chance that one or both of Diaz Sr. and Latimer will vacate their seat.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins sent letters to each IDC member, calling on them to realign with the Democrats. “As Donald Trump continues to propose devastating cuts to critical programs. it is more important than ever for progressive New Yorkers to unite. That is why we are asking you to join the now-23 members of the Democratic Conlèrence by pledging to only enter a coalition to lead the Senate with fellow Democrats and abandoning your coalition with Republicans,” wrote Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>Also calling for Democratic unity is the Working Families Party, which organized rallies outside the district offices of IDC members on Wednesday, top officials from the Democratic National Committee, and a variety of other Democratic elected officials and activists.</p> <p>But some political insiders say that these calls and letters are ultimately meaningless if the Democrats’ control of 32 seats is short lived. If Diaz Sr. and Latimer win their respective races, Democrats would control 30 seats, two short of a majority stake. A Diaz Sr. or Latimer vacancy would occur as of January, leaving one or two seats empty for at least 90 days, the required window before Governor Andrew Cuomo could call a special election -- if he chooses to call one at all.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, is unlikely to call a special election for April, which is when budget negotiations are finalized -- which, depending on unity negotiations, could easily leave Senate Democrats out of the discussion on the final spending agreement.</p> <p>Whether the governor calls a special election in May, after budget, or decides to wait out the rest of year until the regularly scheduled election, depends on a variety of factors and remains to be seen, according to veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.</p> <p>“It will depend on the state of play at the time,” said Sheinkopf. “Why should he call a special election in January if he’s got to get that budget done. What’s the best way for him to get it done? We don’t know yet.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s decision may also be influenced by how active the Democratic base is in lobbying him, especially given his own 2018 reelection bid on the horizon, not to mention his possible 2020 presidential ambitions.</p> <p>The odds are good for Diaz Sr. to win the City Council seat. While he faces <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6676-candidates-for-2017-city-elections-mayor-city-council-comptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a crowded primary</a>, Diaz is popular in the Bronx, where his son Ruben Diaz Jr. is the borough president. He is a beloved community leader and minister at a local Pentecostal church, and his standing among his constituents is reflected by the district’s Senate primary results for the last few years. In 2016, Diaz Sr. beat out his Democratic rival with <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/election_results/2016/20160913Primary%20Election/01202100032Bronx%20Democratic%20State%20Senator%2032nd%20Senatorial%20District%20Recap.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">8,557 votes out of 9,648 cast</a>, or 88.7 percent.</p> <p>“The Diaz name has magic in the Bronx, he’s going to be tough to beat, but in crowded primary, it’s hard to predict,” says Sheinkopf.</p> <p>For Latimer, who is challenging incumbent Rob Astorino, a Republican seeking his third term, the path to victory is less clear. While Westchester is heavily Democratic on paper, experts say it is a classic suburban 'bellwether' county, meaning it can be turned red or blue based on the winds of influence from Washington, D.C. Astorino, who challenged Gov. Cuomo in 2014, is popular in the county, and in a typical year, Latimer would be fighting an uphill battle. But with the GOP at risk almost everywhere due to President Trump’s unpopularity, Latimer's chances may continue to improve, according to insiders.</p> <p>“Latimer is unique in that he has a very significant following. He served the area as an Assemblyman and he’s highly regarded there. But could a Republican with the appropriate anti-Trump sentiment as part of his platform have an opportunity to make it a race? The answer is yes, it’s not impossible,” said Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Both Diaz Sr. and Latimer would leave the Senate for better paying jobs. The County Executive position pays $160,760, up from the long-stagnant $79,500 state legislators make. As a City Council member, Diaz Sr. would also see a significant salary bump, earning $148,500.</p> <p>The IDC, members of which receive financial and legislative perks as part of their partnership with the GOP, has little to gain from seeking a unity deal before November 2017, when the Diaz. Sr. and Latimer races will be decided.</p> <p>In anticipation of this week’s special election in Harlem, the IDC released a video, calling on all 32 Democrats -- the number required to pass legislation -- to join them in declaring their support for progressive measures like ethics and voting reform, codifying a woman’s right to choose, and more. The video implies that there are Democrats who don’t support the measures named, references to the socially conservative views of Diaz Sr. and Felder.</p> <p>"Thirty-two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump. Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership,” said IDC spokesperson Candice Giove in a statement.</p> <p>While Diaz Sr.’s more socially conservative views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage sometimes pose a problem for fellow Democrats, his district is one of the few heavily Democratic areas of New York City where these positions are not a liability. In 2010, Diaz Sr. was challenged by a Democrat backed by LGBT groups and still won 79.4% of the vote. The senator was not primaried in 2012 or 2014.</p> <p>While the Democratic Conference might welcome a more progressive replacement for Diaz Sr., the conference is at risk of losing the seat to a Democrat with loyalty to IDC leader Senator Jeffrey Klein, who also hails from the Bronx, noted Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, told Gotham Gazette Wednesday that he would be “very interested in renegotiating the priorities” of his district, provided that the IDC first commit themselves to rejoining with mainline Democrats.</p> <p>“The IDC represents 25 percent of the Democrats. I think it’s incumbent upon them to rejoin the Democrats to try to take back the majority and not play around, trying to make believe they are any different than the Republican conference,” he said, referencing a letter he sent to Senators Klein and Stewart-Cousins stating as much.</p> <p>The GOP conference, which does not have without a numerical majority without Felder, is also at risk of losing members this year, which could force them to rely on the IDC for a majority in 2018. Senator Rob Ortt, a Republican from Niagara County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wgrz.com/news/local/new-york/judge-upholds-charges-against-sen-rob-ortt/433766633">indicted on charges</a>&nbsp;of filing with a false instrument, and if found guilty, could eventually lose his seat. Senator Philip Boyle, of Suffolk County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/suffolk-republicans-choose-perini-for-da-boyle-for-sheriff-1.13662536">recently nominated&nbsp;</a>as the Republican candidate for county sheriff, though he may face a GOP primary.</p> <p>Even if the Democrats did unite, it is unclear what a coalition among mainline Democrats, the IDC, and Felder would look like, and who would lead the conference -- Klein, Stewart-Cousins, both, or someone else.</p> <p>Ultimately, the only way the party will reunite during this short window, is if the governor decides to use his influence to compel party loyalty, according to Richard Brodsky, a former Assemblymember from Westchester and now a Demos scholar.</p> <p>While Cuomo has signalled that he is comfortable with keeping the Senate GOP in power, Brodsky says the Working Families Party and other progressives have done a good job <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/pol-rips-cuomo-doubting-democratic-n-y-senate-article-1.3137747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at publicly pressuring him</a> to reunite the party, and may be more impactful if Cuomo pursues his rumored presidential aspirations.</p> <p>“In the end, until the governor uses his influence -- which is a strong influence -- there's not going to be a resolution here,” said Brodsky. "The WFP has found innovative ways to step up the pressure and the consequences for Governor Cuomo in 2020 are not, as we say in Italian, ‘chopped liver.’”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Citing Trump Threat, Assembly Passes New Immigrant Protections Along With DREAM Act 2017-02-07T00:00:00+00:00 2017-02-07T00:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6749:citing-trump-threat-assembly-passes-new-immigrant-protections-along-with-dream-act Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/heastie.jpg" alt="heastie" width="600" height="396" /></p> <p><span style="color: #282723; font-size: 15px; background-color: #ffffff;">Assembly Speaker Heastie (photo: @CarlHeastie)</span>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>The New York State Assembly passed a slew of bills on Monday aimed at protecting immigrant New Yorkers in the wake of the federal government’s anti-immigrant crackdown which sparked protests at airports around the country last week.</p> <p>The <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A03049&amp;term=&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank">legislative package</a>, called the New York State Liberty Act, prohibits city and state law enforcement officials from unnecessarily questioning someone’s immigration status, decreases jail time for misdemeanor offenses, and protects the privacy of data collected through New York City’s municipal identification program. The Act, which was first announced at a news conference on Monday prior to the legislative session, was passed in conjunction with the Assembly’s fifth passage of the New York DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants attending higher education institutions.</p> <p>The first bill, which dictates how police and government agencies may interact with immigrant New Yorkers, was sponsored by Assemblymember Francisco Moya, a Democrat from Queens who also sponsored the DREAM Act bill. “Immigrants are a vital asset to our nation and their contributions are undeniable in New York's communities, work force, colleges and universities,” Moya said, in a statement. "Our conference has been championing the DREAM Act for years and the stakes have never been higher. We cannot stifle the potential of thousands of New York students in the name of moral high ground."</p> <p>The Liberty Act would also prohibit state and local agencies from expending resources to help the federal government create or maintain a database or registry based on race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national or ethnic origin -- a response to President Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban,” an executive order barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. The president’s order was suspended by a federal appeals court over the weekend.</p> <p>The second half of the Assembly’s legislation wades into a political tug-of-war between Mayor Bill de Blasio and a pair of Republican state lawmakers over New York City’s policy towards undocumented immigrants and what will become of the data associated with New York City’s municipal identification program (IDNYC).</p> <p>The IDNYC program, launched by de Blasio’s administration in 2015, aimed to remove barriers that some New Yorkers face in obtaining identification -- including undocumented immigrants, the homeless, transgendered individuals, and the formerly incarcerated -- granting them access to important city services. So far, the city has received more than 900,000 applications for IDNYC.</p> <p>The IDNYC law included a clause allowing the city to flush certain information from the records after two years, or before December 31, 2016, a clause the city was ready to invoke in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and his vow to deport all undocumented immigrants. Assembly Members Ron Castorina and Nicole Malliotakis, Republicans from Staten Island, argued that the city would pose a risk to national security by deleting that information, and sued the administration, making the case to a Richmond County Supreme Court judge that it would violate the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), which bars the destruction of city records. The lawmakers dispute privacy violation claims noting that FOIL law allows documents to be submitted with redacted information to protect individual privacy. A judge ruled in December that the city could not purge the data until the lawsuit was resolved.&nbsp;</p> <p>Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, a Bronx Democrat, and chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, the sponsor of the new bill, noted that New York City residents signed up for municipal IDs under the impression that records would be sealed, so any inquiry into the information should be denied under FOIL exemption. A second bill sponsored by Crespo reduces the maximum sentence for misdemeanor offenses by one day from one year to 364 days, an apparent technicality that could potentially spare thousands of immigrants from deportation under federal law over certain lesser offenses. Some misdemeanor offenses can result in automatic deportation because of New York State's current sentencing standards, a harsh mandatory consequence for misdemeanor conviction. This bill would allow judges to use discretion in whether deportation is warranted for each individual case.</p> <p>Citing the current anti-immigrant political climate, Crespo said, “Immigrants make substantial contributions to our communities and are being scapegoated by the White House. Now more than ever, we must take a stand against those who wish to cast millions of hardworking people to live in the shadows."</p> <p>In New York City, Mayor de Blasio has vowed to protect the identities of IDNYC cardholders at all costs. "We are not going to sacrifice half a million people who live among us and are part of our community," de Blasio told reporters days after Donald Trump won the presidency.</p> <p>Monday’s vote in Albany also marked the fifth time the New York DREAM Act has been passed by the state Assembly since 2010, when the federal version of the DREAM Act -- one that would put undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship -- died in the United States Senate. In 2014, a version of the New York DREAM Act was voted down in the state Senate by a tiny margin, despite having support of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) -- an increasingly powerful breakaway group of Democrats that aligns itself with Republicans. Two democratic senators, Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, who also caucuses with Senate Republicans, and Ted O’Brien of Rochester, voted against the act. The IDC leadership has indicated that the conference will continue to push for the DREAM Act. IDC member Senator Marisol Alcantara, who was recently elected to the Senate and became the sixth Democrat to join the conference, told <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/09/alcantara-lays-out-priorities-for-upcoming-session-105556" target="_blank">Politico New York</a> that passage of the DREAM Act is on the top of her agenda for 2017.</p> <p>At the Monday news conference, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said he hoped the Senate would once again take up the bill and pass the DREAM Act. “Let’s hope that this is the last time you have to come up to ask us to get the DREAM Act done,” Heastie told the crowd of activists and Dreamers who had gathered at the Capitol.</p> <p>When asked how the new legislation and the DREAM Act would interact with Cuomo’s Excelsior scholarship -- which provides tuition free college for middle class New Yorkers, and includes a provision for funding for Dreamers -- Heastie said the plan was a good one, but the Assembly would counter it with their own version of the scholarship.</p> <p>“Of course we support helping our Dreamers go to college; they’re interconnected issues for us, because we have an overall feeling that we like to see as much access as possible for our young people that are here in the state of New York,” Heastie said. “The premise of the governor's proposal...we’re OK with, but we are going to come out with our own vision.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/heastie.jpg" alt="heastie" width="600" height="396" /></p> <p><span style="color: #282723; font-size: 15px; background-color: #ffffff;">Assembly Speaker Heastie (photo: @CarlHeastie)</span>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>The New York State Assembly passed a slew of bills on Monday aimed at protecting immigrant New Yorkers in the wake of the federal government’s anti-immigrant crackdown which sparked protests at airports around the country last week.</p> <p>The <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A03049&amp;term=&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank">legislative package</a>, called the New York State Liberty Act, prohibits city and state law enforcement officials from unnecessarily questioning someone’s immigration status, decreases jail time for misdemeanor offenses, and protects the privacy of data collected through New York City’s municipal identification program. The Act, which was first announced at a news conference on Monday prior to the legislative session, was passed in conjunction with the Assembly’s fifth passage of the New York DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants attending higher education institutions.</p> <p>The first bill, which dictates how police and government agencies may interact with immigrant New Yorkers, was sponsored by Assemblymember Francisco Moya, a Democrat from Queens who also sponsored the DREAM Act bill. “Immigrants are a vital asset to our nation and their contributions are undeniable in New York's communities, work force, colleges and universities,” Moya said, in a statement. "Our conference has been championing the DREAM Act for years and the stakes have never been higher. We cannot stifle the potential of thousands of New York students in the name of moral high ground."</p> <p>The Liberty Act would also prohibit state and local agencies from expending resources to help the federal government create or maintain a database or registry based on race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national or ethnic origin -- a response to President Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban,” an executive order barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. The president’s order was suspended by a federal appeals court over the weekend.</p> <p>The second half of the Assembly’s legislation wades into a political tug-of-war between Mayor Bill de Blasio and a pair of Republican state lawmakers over New York City’s policy towards undocumented immigrants and what will become of the data associated with New York City’s municipal identification program (IDNYC).</p> <p>The IDNYC program, launched by de Blasio’s administration in 2015, aimed to remove barriers that some New Yorkers face in obtaining identification -- including undocumented immigrants, the homeless, transgendered individuals, and the formerly incarcerated -- granting them access to important city services. So far, the city has received more than 900,000 applications for IDNYC.</p> <p>The IDNYC law included a clause allowing the city to flush certain information from the records after two years, or before December 31, 2016, a clause the city was ready to invoke in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and his vow to deport all undocumented immigrants. Assembly Members Ron Castorina and Nicole Malliotakis, Republicans from Staten Island, argued that the city would pose a risk to national security by deleting that information, and sued the administration, making the case to a Richmond County Supreme Court judge that it would violate the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), which bars the destruction of city records. The lawmakers dispute privacy violation claims noting that FOIL law allows documents to be submitted with redacted information to protect individual privacy. A judge ruled in December that the city could not purge the data until the lawsuit was resolved.&nbsp;</p> <p>Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, a Bronx Democrat, and chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, the sponsor of the new bill, noted that New York City residents signed up for municipal IDs under the impression that records would be sealed, so any inquiry into the information should be denied under FOIL exemption. A second bill sponsored by Crespo reduces the maximum sentence for misdemeanor offenses by one day from one year to 364 days, an apparent technicality that could potentially spare thousands of immigrants from deportation under federal law over certain lesser offenses. Some misdemeanor offenses can result in automatic deportation because of New York State's current sentencing standards, a harsh mandatory consequence for misdemeanor conviction. This bill would allow judges to use discretion in whether deportation is warranted for each individual case.</p> <p>Citing the current anti-immigrant political climate, Crespo said, “Immigrants make substantial contributions to our communities and are being scapegoated by the White House. Now more than ever, we must take a stand against those who wish to cast millions of hardworking people to live in the shadows."</p> <p>In New York City, Mayor de Blasio has vowed to protect the identities of IDNYC cardholders at all costs. "We are not going to sacrifice half a million people who live among us and are part of our community," de Blasio told reporters days after Donald Trump won the presidency.</p> <p>Monday’s vote in Albany also marked the fifth time the New York DREAM Act has been passed by the state Assembly since 2010, when the federal version of the DREAM Act -- one that would put undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship -- died in the United States Senate. In 2014, a version of the New York DREAM Act was voted down in the state Senate by a tiny margin, despite having support of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) -- an increasingly powerful breakaway group of Democrats that aligns itself with Republicans. Two democratic senators, Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, who also caucuses with Senate Republicans, and Ted O’Brien of Rochester, voted against the act. The IDC leadership has indicated that the conference will continue to push for the DREAM Act. IDC member Senator Marisol Alcantara, who was recently elected to the Senate and became the sixth Democrat to join the conference, told <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/09/alcantara-lays-out-priorities-for-upcoming-session-105556" target="_blank">Politico New York</a> that passage of the DREAM Act is on the top of her agenda for 2017.</p> <p>At the Monday news conference, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said he hoped the Senate would once again take up the bill and pass the DREAM Act. “Let’s hope that this is the last time you have to come up to ask us to get the DREAM Act done,” Heastie told the crowd of activists and Dreamers who had gathered at the Capitol.</p> <p>When asked how the new legislation and the DREAM Act would interact with Cuomo’s Excelsior scholarship -- which provides tuition free college for middle class New Yorkers, and includes a provision for funding for Dreamers -- Heastie said the plan was a good one, but the Assembly would counter it with their own version of the scholarship.</p> <p>“Of course we support helping our Dreamers go to college; they’re interconnected issues for us, because we have an overall feeling that we like to see as much access as possible for our young people that are here in the state of New York,” Heastie said. “The premise of the governor's proposal...we’re OK with, but we are going to come out with our own vision.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
Tensions High as State Legislature Returns to Session 2017-01-05T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-05T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6700:tensions-high-as-state-legislature-returns-to-session Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18535307844_847c491fe0_z_1.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="cuomo heastie flanagan" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan</p> <hr /> <p>Several themes loomed as the New York State Legislature held its first day of its new session on Wednesday in Albany. The 2017 legislative calendar, and with it the 2017-2018 Legislature, began oaths of office and speeches by party leaders in both the state Senate and Assembly. The tone was set, priorities were announced or reaffirmed, tensions were evident, and the jog toward the next state budget -- due by April 1 -- began.</p> <p>The most important remarks were delivered by the two majority leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, and Senate President John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, who laid out their respective agendas for the coming year. Importantly, Flanagan in particular made clear that the Legislature has bones to pick with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was not in Albany Wednesday, but in New York City, where he was making yet another infrastructure announcement, the second plank of his 2017 State of the State Agenda.</p> <p>The prologue to Wednesday was a set of late 2016 dynamics that set the stage for what could be a volatile 2017: fraught negotiations between state lawmakers and Cuomo over a potential pay increase and special legislative session; the November election of President-elect Donald Trump; and news that the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) -- a breakaway group of Senate Democrats -- would continue to caucus with Republicans, who maintained their own slim majority in the chamber thanks to the elections and Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who caucuses with the GOP.</p> <p>On specific policy matters, higher education affordability became a central issue of the first session day following Cuomo’s surprise Tuesday announcement of a proposal to make public college tuition-free for students from New York families earning less than $125,000 per year. Cuomo launched the Excelsior Scholarship plan -- his first State of the State proposal -- in Queens with former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, garnering national headlines, and forcing legislators to respond. Many want to know more about the potential costs and funding plan -- Cuomo’s Executive Budget is due by January 17.</p> <p><strong>Leaders and Priorities</strong><br />In his opening remarks on the Assembly floor, Heastie, who was re-elected Speaker with 99 votes, over 41 for Minority Leader Brian Kolb, emphasized the importance of investing in education, such as fulfilling the state’s campaign for fiscal equity obligation, expanding President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, and the passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide college tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. “The sad truth is that public education is under attack across the country like never before,” Heastie said.</p> <p>Heastie hailed Cuomo’s plan to make city and state colleges tuition-free for middle- and low-income New Yorkers, noting that the Assembly had been pushing a similar education bill.</p> <p>“For those of you that have been here for some time, you know that the idea of college affordability started right here in this house,” said Heastie of the Assembly. “I am encouraged that the governor is making this a priority, and we look forward to working with him and the Senate to help make this a reality.”</p> <p>The Assembly speaker also focused on criminal justice reform, climate change, the importance of codifying Roe vs. Wade into New York law under a Trump administration, updating transportation options in Upstate New York, and New York City’s affordable housing crisis.</p> <p>Meanwhile, is it often is, the mood was more tense on the Senate floor. Flanagan won re-election as Senate president with 32 out of 63 votes, emblematic of the GOP’s slim majority.</p> <p>Mainline Democrats, still raw from the election results and caucus decisions by Felder and the seven-member IDC, addressed their Democratic colleagues bluntly and pushed back on two measures proposed by the majority, which they said were aimed at curtailing transparency in Senate proceedings. There was even a movement to make Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins temporary Senate president.</p> <p>Harsh criticism of Felder and the IDC continued from fellow Democrats and progressive groups, who argue that a unified Democratic Party is necessary to form a bulwark against the incoming federal administration.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, made the case for electing Stewart-Cousins as temporary president, noting her long record of accomplishments and her distinction as the first female state legislative leader in either chamber. “I ask my colleagues to consider making history today, and she already has done so by being the first female legislative leader in New York State,” Gianaris said. “Today, we have the opportunity to make her the first female majority leader in either chamber.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins called for unity among Democrats in her opening remarks. “I look at a chamber of 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans, yet once again we are denied our rightful place leading the Senate,” she said. “Democrats must be true to their values especially in the atmosphere we are going to be facing. Democrats should be united!”</p> <p>In other telling signs of Senate dynamics, IDC Deputy Leader David Valesky moved to nominate IDC Leader Jeff Klein as temporary president, and Republican Senator John DeFrancisco, in his endorsement of Flanagan for the role, compared Flanagan to Stewart-Cousins, saying that under the Republican lawmaker’s leadership, more women than ever have been brought into the Senate.</p> <p><strong>Transparency Attack</strong><br />Gianaris also took several jabs at the IDC as he peppered Senate Ethics Committee Chair Thomas D. Croci with questions over a proposed amendment that would have an equal number from each of the two major political parties appointed to the committee. Gianaris questioned how the bipartisan committee would be selected when IDC members have aligned themselves with Republicans.</p> <p>“Will the minority leader get to appoint the same amount as the majority coalition? Or is the language somehow imbalanced?” said Gianaris.</p> <p>Croci, a Republican from Long Island, responded that the committee would be split equally by party affiliation and that the rule was intended to clarify the role of the committee as it relates to a similar committee in the Assembly chamber.</p> <p>“There was some confusion last year about the role of our committee and that of the committee in the Assembly. What we are trying to do is create parity with the Assembly chamber,” Croci said, adding that “some things should transcend politics.”</p> <p>In another testy exchange, Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, challenged DeFrancisco on a resolution to ban cell phone usage on the Senate chamber floor (the ban would include prohibition on taking photos or filming without explicit permission, thus limiting members of the media from doing their jobs). DeFrancisco maintained that filming “upset the decorum in the chamber,” while Hoylman repeatedly challenged DeFrancisco to cite an example in which cell phone usage disrupted proceedings and called it infringement on free speech rights.</p> <p>Senator Felder stood up and started filming the exchange, prompting applause, and several legislators walked out, muttering things like “I can’t listen to this.” Senate Democratic Communications Director Mike Murphy slammed the “Trump-style” resolution, noting its similarities to a bill passed in Washington penalizing lawmakers who film or take photos on the U.S. Senate floor, <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/312578-house-gop-passes-rules-aimed-at-preventing-lawmaker-sit-ins-protests" target="_blank">which moved</a> after a Democratic sit-in over gun regulation.</p> <p>“Under the Republicans, the State Senate has repeatedly rushed important votes through in the middle of the night, away from public scrutiny,” Murphy said. “This new rule will continue the GOP pattern of avoiding transparency and concealing their actions from New Yorkers. The people have a right to know what is happening in their Senate Chamber.” The resolution was passed by voice vote.</p> <p>In her remarks, Stewart-Cousins laid out a wide-ranging progressive agenda for the coming year including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility and expanding universal pre-kindergarten. She addressed Klein and Flanagan directly, saying, “Senator Flanagan and Senator Klein, the Democratic Conference stands ready to work with you when we agree and we will not be shy when we disagree.”</p> <p>Flanagan, in a somewhat more casual speech, emphasized economic development and job creation as way to address some of the social and economic policy issues raised by Stewart-Cousins. He also made a point to praise the Assembly speaker, calling Heastie a “gentleman” and a “class act.”</p> <p>Flanagan suggested that fed-up lawmakers step up their pressure on Cuomo this year, urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils. Cuomo’s record on job creation and use of government subsidies has been questioned, including with regard to a major corruption scandal in the governor’s signature economic development program.</p> <p>“It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.”</p> <p>The majority leader vowed to “stand up for the independence of this body,” suggesting that the Senate may act as a greater check on the governor’s power in the coming year. He was met with a standing applause.</p> <p><strong>Resisting A Trump Administration</strong><br />The uncertainty surrounding President-elect Donald Trump -- particularly his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, a move that could <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20161109/POLITICS/161109829/trump-presidency-may-jeopardize-the-health-coverage-of-2-8-million-new-yorkers" target="_blank">jeopardize insurance coverage</a> for 2.8 million New Yorkers -- loomed in both chambers, and both Democratic leaders vowed resistance to the incoming administration.</p> <p>“Last November’s election taught us many lessons. Among them, that the road to progress is never easy. But I promise New Yorkers that the Assembly Majority will never allow this state to go backward,” said Heastie.</p> <p>In the Senate, Stewart-Cousins said, “Many in this great progressive state of New York look to Washington and the new Trump administration with grave concern. The national Republican Party has made it clear that they are looking at rolling back so many hard-won victories for the working men and women of New York.”</p> <p>As he has mostly done over the past two years, Flanagan ignored Trump on Wednesday. Though he did express support for the president-elect around the time of the Republican National Convention, Flanagan has mostly steered away from promoting Trump or his policies.</p> <p><strong>IDC Priorities for 2017</strong><br />On the Senate floor Wednesday, Klein revealed the IDC’s priorities for the coming year, including “Raise the Age,” providing incentives aimed at keeping manufacturing in New York, and an education affordability plan. IDC priorities are often key to budget and legislative negotiations as Senate Republicans have to be willing to allow Klein’s crew space given its role in bolstering the GOP majority.</p> <p>In contrast to the governor’s proposal to provide scholarships to middle- to low-income New Yorkers at public universities, the IDC plan involves the expansion of the state’s tuition assistance program, raising income eligibility limits from $80,000 to $200,000, and making funding available to all, including undocumented immigrant students.</p> <p>In its agenda for 2017, the group also proposed $11.1 million in funding for immigrant legal services, and the creation of a Home Stability Support program in New York City, which would help keep homeless or near-homeless people in permanent housing.</p> <p><strong>New Members Sworn In</strong><br />Several new lawmakers were sworn in this week. The Senate Democrats welcomed Jamaal Bailey from Senate District 36, which includes Mount Vernon and parts of the Bronx, and John Brooks from Senate District 8 on Long Island. On the Republican side, new members include Christopher L. Jacobs of Erie County; Elaine Phillips of Long Island; former Assemblymember James Tedisco, representing Fulton and Hamilton counties and parts of Herkimer, Schenectady and Saratoga; and Ontario County’s Pam Helming.</p> <p>The 150-seat Assembly welcomed 18 new members in January, including several Democrats from the New York City area. Tremaine Wright now represents the 65th Assembly, representing Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, and Bobby Carroll, Brooklyn’s 44th District.</p> <p>From Lower Manhattan, Yuh-Line Niou accepted her 65th Assembly District seat, which had been occupied by former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver from 1977 to 2016. After losing to Silver ally Alice Cancel in a special election last year, Niou unseated the short-term incumbent by a narrow margin in a crowded field, becoming the first Asian-American to represent Chinatown or any part of Manhattan in the state Legislature.</p> <p>Brian Barnwell accepted the 30th Assembly District seat, Clyde Vanel assumed his seat representing the 33rd District, and Stacey C. Pheffer Amato assumed her 23rd Assembly District seat, all in Queens. Pheffer’s mother, Queens County Clerk Audrey Pheffer, previously held the same Assembly seat, making them the first mother and daughter to hold the same seat in the New York State Legislature.</p> <p>Representing parts of Upper Manhattan, former City Council Member from Harlem Inez Dickens took Keith Wright’s vacated 70th District seat, and Carmen De La Rosa, former chief of staff to City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, assumed the 72nd District seat.</p> <p>The Legislature is gone from Albany until next week, when session will resume Monday and Tuesday, just as Cuomo tours the state Monday through Wednesday to give six State of the State addresses.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18535307844_847c491fe0_z_1.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="cuomo heastie flanagan" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan</p> <hr /> <p>Several themes loomed as the New York State Legislature held its first day of its new session on Wednesday in Albany. The 2017 legislative calendar, and with it the 2017-2018 Legislature, began oaths of office and speeches by party leaders in both the state Senate and Assembly. The tone was set, priorities were announced or reaffirmed, tensions were evident, and the jog toward the next state budget -- due by April 1 -- began.</p> <p>The most important remarks were delivered by the two majority leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, and Senate President John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, who laid out their respective agendas for the coming year. Importantly, Flanagan in particular made clear that the Legislature has bones to pick with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was not in Albany Wednesday, but in New York City, where he was making yet another infrastructure announcement, the second plank of his 2017 State of the State Agenda.</p> <p>The prologue to Wednesday was a set of late 2016 dynamics that set the stage for what could be a volatile 2017: fraught negotiations between state lawmakers and Cuomo over a potential pay increase and special legislative session; the November election of President-elect Donald Trump; and news that the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) -- a breakaway group of Senate Democrats -- would continue to caucus with Republicans, who maintained their own slim majority in the chamber thanks to the elections and Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who caucuses with the GOP.</p> <p>On specific policy matters, higher education affordability became a central issue of the first session day following Cuomo’s surprise Tuesday announcement of a proposal to make public college tuition-free for students from New York families earning less than $125,000 per year. Cuomo launched the Excelsior Scholarship plan -- his first State of the State proposal -- in Queens with former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, garnering national headlines, and forcing legislators to respond. Many want to know more about the potential costs and funding plan -- Cuomo’s Executive Budget is due by January 17.</p> <p><strong>Leaders and Priorities</strong><br />In his opening remarks on the Assembly floor, Heastie, who was re-elected Speaker with 99 votes, over 41 for Minority Leader Brian Kolb, emphasized the importance of investing in education, such as fulfilling the state’s campaign for fiscal equity obligation, expanding President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, and the passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide college tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. “The sad truth is that public education is under attack across the country like never before,” Heastie said.</p> <p>Heastie hailed Cuomo’s plan to make city and state colleges tuition-free for middle- and low-income New Yorkers, noting that the Assembly had been pushing a similar education bill.</p> <p>“For those of you that have been here for some time, you know that the idea of college affordability started right here in this house,” said Heastie of the Assembly. “I am encouraged that the governor is making this a priority, and we look forward to working with him and the Senate to help make this a reality.”</p> <p>The Assembly speaker also focused on criminal justice reform, climate change, the importance of codifying Roe vs. Wade into New York law under a Trump administration, updating transportation options in Upstate New York, and New York City’s affordable housing crisis.</p> <p>Meanwhile, is it often is, the mood was more tense on the Senate floor. Flanagan won re-election as Senate president with 32 out of 63 votes, emblematic of the GOP’s slim majority.</p> <p>Mainline Democrats, still raw from the election results and caucus decisions by Felder and the seven-member IDC, addressed their Democratic colleagues bluntly and pushed back on two measures proposed by the majority, which they said were aimed at curtailing transparency in Senate proceedings. There was even a movement to make Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins temporary Senate president.</p> <p>Harsh criticism of Felder and the IDC continued from fellow Democrats and progressive groups, who argue that a unified Democratic Party is necessary to form a bulwark against the incoming federal administration.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, made the case for electing Stewart-Cousins as temporary president, noting her long record of accomplishments and her distinction as the first female state legislative leader in either chamber. “I ask my colleagues to consider making history today, and she already has done so by being the first female legislative leader in New York State,” Gianaris said. “Today, we have the opportunity to make her the first female majority leader in either chamber.”</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins called for unity among Democrats in her opening remarks. “I look at a chamber of 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans, yet once again we are denied our rightful place leading the Senate,” she said. “Democrats must be true to their values especially in the atmosphere we are going to be facing. Democrats should be united!”</p> <p>In other telling signs of Senate dynamics, IDC Deputy Leader David Valesky moved to nominate IDC Leader Jeff Klein as temporary president, and Republican Senator John DeFrancisco, in his endorsement of Flanagan for the role, compared Flanagan to Stewart-Cousins, saying that under the Republican lawmaker’s leadership, more women than ever have been brought into the Senate.</p> <p><strong>Transparency Attack</strong><br />Gianaris also took several jabs at the IDC as he peppered Senate Ethics Committee Chair Thomas D. Croci with questions over a proposed amendment that would have an equal number from each of the two major political parties appointed to the committee. Gianaris questioned how the bipartisan committee would be selected when IDC members have aligned themselves with Republicans.</p> <p>“Will the minority leader get to appoint the same amount as the majority coalition? Or is the language somehow imbalanced?” said Gianaris.</p> <p>Croci, a Republican from Long Island, responded that the committee would be split equally by party affiliation and that the rule was intended to clarify the role of the committee as it relates to a similar committee in the Assembly chamber.</p> <p>“There was some confusion last year about the role of our committee and that of the committee in the Assembly. What we are trying to do is create parity with the Assembly chamber,” Croci said, adding that “some things should transcend politics.”</p> <p>In another testy exchange, Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, challenged DeFrancisco on a resolution to ban cell phone usage on the Senate chamber floor (the ban would include prohibition on taking photos or filming without explicit permission, thus limiting members of the media from doing their jobs). DeFrancisco maintained that filming “upset the decorum in the chamber,” while Hoylman repeatedly challenged DeFrancisco to cite an example in which cell phone usage disrupted proceedings and called it infringement on free speech rights.</p> <p>Senator Felder stood up and started filming the exchange, prompting applause, and several legislators walked out, muttering things like “I can’t listen to this.” Senate Democratic Communications Director Mike Murphy slammed the “Trump-style” resolution, noting its similarities to a bill passed in Washington penalizing lawmakers who film or take photos on the U.S. Senate floor, <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/312578-house-gop-passes-rules-aimed-at-preventing-lawmaker-sit-ins-protests" target="_blank">which moved</a> after a Democratic sit-in over gun regulation.</p> <p>“Under the Republicans, the State Senate has repeatedly rushed important votes through in the middle of the night, away from public scrutiny,” Murphy said. “This new rule will continue the GOP pattern of avoiding transparency and concealing their actions from New Yorkers. The people have a right to know what is happening in their Senate Chamber.” The resolution was passed by voice vote.</p> <p>In her remarks, Stewart-Cousins laid out a wide-ranging progressive agenda for the coming year including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility and expanding universal pre-kindergarten. She addressed Klein and Flanagan directly, saying, “Senator Flanagan and Senator Klein, the Democratic Conference stands ready to work with you when we agree and we will not be shy when we disagree.”</p> <p>Flanagan, in a somewhat more casual speech, emphasized economic development and job creation as way to address some of the social and economic policy issues raised by Stewart-Cousins. He also made a point to praise the Assembly speaker, calling Heastie a “gentleman” and a “class act.”</p> <p>Flanagan suggested that fed-up lawmakers step up their pressure on Cuomo this year, urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils. Cuomo’s record on job creation and use of government subsidies has been questioned, including with regard to a major corruption scandal in the governor’s signature economic development program.</p> <p>“It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.”</p> <p>The majority leader vowed to “stand up for the independence of this body,” suggesting that the Senate may act as a greater check on the governor’s power in the coming year. He was met with a standing applause.</p> <p><strong>Resisting A Trump Administration</strong><br />The uncertainty surrounding President-elect Donald Trump -- particularly his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, a move that could <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20161109/POLITICS/161109829/trump-presidency-may-jeopardize-the-health-coverage-of-2-8-million-new-yorkers" target="_blank">jeopardize insurance coverage</a> for 2.8 million New Yorkers -- loomed in both chambers, and both Democratic leaders vowed resistance to the incoming administration.</p> <p>“Last November’s election taught us many lessons. Among them, that the road to progress is never easy. But I promise New Yorkers that the Assembly Majority will never allow this state to go backward,” said Heastie.</p> <p>In the Senate, Stewart-Cousins said, “Many in this great progressive state of New York look to Washington and the new Trump administration with grave concern. The national Republican Party has made it clear that they are looking at rolling back so many hard-won victories for the working men and women of New York.”</p> <p>As he has mostly done over the past two years, Flanagan ignored Trump on Wednesday. Though he did express support for the president-elect around the time of the Republican National Convention, Flanagan has mostly steered away from promoting Trump or his policies.</p> <p><strong>IDC Priorities for 2017</strong><br />On the Senate floor Wednesday, Klein revealed the IDC’s priorities for the coming year, including “Raise the Age,” providing incentives aimed at keeping manufacturing in New York, and an education affordability plan. IDC priorities are often key to budget and legislative negotiations as Senate Republicans have to be willing to allow Klein’s crew space given its role in bolstering the GOP majority.</p> <p>In contrast to the governor’s proposal to provide scholarships to middle- to low-income New Yorkers at public universities, the IDC plan involves the expansion of the state’s tuition assistance program, raising income eligibility limits from $80,000 to $200,000, and making funding available to all, including undocumented immigrant students.</p> <p>In its agenda for 2017, the group also proposed $11.1 million in funding for immigrant legal services, and the creation of a Home Stability Support program in New York City, which would help keep homeless or near-homeless people in permanent housing.</p> <p><strong>New Members Sworn In</strong><br />Several new lawmakers were sworn in this week. The Senate Democrats welcomed Jamaal Bailey from Senate District 36, which includes Mount Vernon and parts of the Bronx, and John Brooks from Senate District 8 on Long Island. On the Republican side, new members include Christopher L. Jacobs of Erie County; Elaine Phillips of Long Island; former Assemblymember James Tedisco, representing Fulton and Hamilton counties and parts of Herkimer, Schenectady and Saratoga; and Ontario County’s Pam Helming.</p> <p>The 150-seat Assembly welcomed 18 new members in January, including several Democrats from the New York City area. Tremaine Wright now represents the 65th Assembly, representing Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, and Bobby Carroll, Brooklyn’s 44th District.</p> <p>From Lower Manhattan, Yuh-Line Niou accepted her 65th Assembly District seat, which had been occupied by former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver from 1977 to 2016. After losing to Silver ally Alice Cancel in a special election last year, Niou unseated the short-term incumbent by a narrow margin in a crowded field, becoming the first Asian-American to represent Chinatown or any part of Manhattan in the state Legislature.</p> <p>Brian Barnwell accepted the 30th Assembly District seat, Clyde Vanel assumed his seat representing the 33rd District, and Stacey C. Pheffer Amato assumed her 23rd Assembly District seat, all in Queens. Pheffer’s mother, Queens County Clerk Audrey Pheffer, previously held the same Assembly seat, making them the first mother and daughter to hold the same seat in the New York State Legislature.</p> <p>Representing parts of Upper Manhattan, former City Council Member from Harlem Inez Dickens took Keith Wright’s vacated 70th District seat, and Carmen De La Rosa, former chief of staff to City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, assumed the 72nd District seat.</p> <p>The Legislature is gone from Albany until next week, when session will resume Monday and Tuesday, just as Cuomo tours the state Monday through Wednesday to give six State of the State addresses.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
How Jeff Klein Became New York’s New Power Broker 2016-09-27T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6552:how-jeff-klein-became-new-york-s-new-power-broker Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Klein_and_co.jpg" alt="Klein and co" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>State Sen. Jeff Klein, center-right &amp; other Bronx electeds (@RepEliotEngle)</p> <hr /> <p>In January 2011, State Senator Jeff Klein declared himself leader of a group of four breakaway Democrats who were united in their dissatisfaction with the recent dysfunction of their conference&rsquo;s leadership. They created the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, despite the fact that Klein had been deputy leader of the Senate Democrats and was in control of the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee during the 2010 elections, all through the now legendary strife and controversy that was part of Democrats&rsquo; brief control of the Senate.</p> <p>Since then, Klein has allied IDC with Senate Republicans, thereby winning himself a seat at the budget negotiating table, larger offices and increased staff funding for his members, and a political forcefield that protects him and his allies from criticism hurled by Republicans or Democrats, lest he side decide to ally with the other side.</p> <p>This year, Klein has increased the IDC&rsquo;s power with new fundraising and campaign spending tools and an incoming member, Marisol Alcantara, who won a crowded Uptown primary in some part thanks to the financial support of the IDC. When the dust settles after November&rsquo;s elections, Klein is likely to be in prime bargaining position as mainline Democrats and Senate Republicans seek a ruling coalition deal with the IDC.</p> <p>Lost in the shuffle of these power dynamics, which can have immense consequence for the people of New York, is the story of how Klein managed to turn a disastrous run at the top of the Senate Democrats&rsquo; power structure into a position that has allowed him to play kingmaker every two years and become, after overcoming a serious primary challenger in 2014, virtually untouchable politically.</p> <p>&ldquo;Breaking away from this dysfunctional conference gave him a voice,&rdquo; said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, who added that the move appears to have indefinitely altered power dynamics in state government. &ldquo;He can use corruption and dysfunction as much as he likes but it doesn&rsquo;t mask the fact that it was a bald face power move. He can couch it in principle, but it was still about power,&rdquo; said Muzzio.</p> <p>In 2009, after winning a majority for the first time in decades, a number of Democrats including Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. and then Sens. Carl Kruger and Pedro Espada agreed only to vote for then Sen. Malcolm Smith as leader in exchange for certain perks and leadership positions. Only a few months after the year&rsquo;s legislative session started, the fragile agreement was destroyed as Espada and then Sen. Hiram Monserrate bolted to join Senate Republicans, launching a hostile coup on the Senate floor.</p> <p>The Senate was paralyzed for months until Espada and Monserrate were lured back to the Democratic fold. After the incident, then Sen. John Sampson took over as Senate leader. (Most of the players involved - Krueger, Espada, Smith, Monserrate, and Sampson - are no longer in the Senate, having been removed from office on corruption charges unrelated to the Senate coup.)</p> <p>Republicans won back the majority through the 2010 elections. In 2012 their fortunes took a turn with Democrats picking up seats, but Klein struck a deal alternating the title of temporary President of the Senate with Skelos. In 2014, Senate Republicans won a number of seats and Klein again pledged to work with them. He did so after undercutting his Democratic primary opponent by pledging to work with Democrats if they picked up enough seats to form a governing coalition.</p> <p>To many, Klein looked like a voice of reason when he created and fortified the IDC. &ldquo;Who would want to go back to chaotic Democratic control?&rdquo; asked his supporters. This is a line of reasoning Klein and his allies have used repeatedly as they have continued to ally themselves with Republicans. This year Klein is set to determine who controls the Senate again.</p> <p>&ldquo;Jeff was so above it all,&rdquo; laughed one Democratic Senator. &ldquo;No, Jeff was one of the guys calling the shots at the time. In fact he was the guy in charge of calling all the shots for the DSCC.&rdquo;</p> <p>Candice GIove, spokesperson for Klein and the IDC, declined to make Klein available for an interview. She also refused to take questions from Gotham Gazette about the history of the IDC.</p> <p>Klein, from the Bronx, was first elected to the Senate in 2005 after serving nearly nine years in the Assembly. He maintains the IDC&rsquo;s power thanks to years of legislative redistricting that has helped Senate Republicans draw lines that favor their incumbents. The 2010 redistricting process saw the creation of a 63rd Senate seat that benefited Republicans and further concentrated Democratic voters in urban districts.</p> <p>The Senate is now nearly split down the middle in terms of party control. Republicans currently hold 31 seats - one shy of an outright majority - and Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn, conferences with them. Republicans also have a deal with the IDC, which currently holds five seats. Alcantara is expected to join them in the fall, making six in the IDC and taking one seat away from mainline Democrats, who currently have 26 members (there is one vacant seat, likely to be filled by a Democrat). Democrats are expected to pick up seats this year, as they have in every modern presidential election year - though the questions are if they do and how many.</p> <p>The Assembly is made up of a Democratic super-majority. The Governorship has been controlled by Democrats since former Gov. Eliot Spitzer won in a landslide in 2006, replacing Republican Gov. George Pataki, who had served three terms. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought to strike a balance between progressive social policy and conservative fiscal ideas. Many believe Cuomo has blessed the IDC&rsquo;s alliance with Senate Republicans.</p> <p>After the 2008 elections Klein became a major figure in the Senate Democratic Conference, serving as deputy majority leader and head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Klein not only had say in policy-making, but was responsible for deciding which candidates and races to back with Democratic cash.</p> <p>Klein certainly wasn&rsquo;t above jockeying for power and influence during the 2009 coup. He met with various Democrats and Republicans in an attempt to create an alternate governing structure in the Senate; one that would do away with the need for Espada and put Klein at the helm. Those negotiations failed. Klein floated the idea of a new bipartisan governing coalition in a press release at the time and has previously <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/258490-jeff-klein-bronx-democrat-keeping-gop-power/" target="_blank">discussed</a> those attempts with members of the media.</p> <p>In 2010 Klein faced an uphill battle in maintaining his power and influence with the Democratic Conference - his ties with many members were frayed. Things were so bad during the coup that at more than one point conference meetings nearly broke into physical altercations. On top of the distrust and dislike Klein faced from fellow Democrats, as head of the DSCC, he was also entrusted with building the Democratic majority.</p> <p>Many Democrats and political observers believe Klein used his position as head of the DSCC to try to marshal enough supporters to make himself Democratic Leader. The DSCC spent heavily on a number of races in 2010, far more than many Democrats thought was reasonable. Money poured into districts held by entrenched Republican incumbents many believed unwinnable for Democrats. In perhaps the most extreme example, the DSCC spent over $500,000 supporting Sue Savage&rsquo;s unsuccessful attempt to unseat Sen. Hugh Farley.</p> <p>Spending was also increased in districts where the DSCC was playing defense, futilely trying to protect vulnerable suburban Democrats from Republican challengers. They lost seats on Long Island held by more moderate Klein-minded Democrats and one belonging to former Sen. Darrel Aubertine in the North Country. The DSCC spent over $1 million on the Aubertine race.</p> <p>Democrats lost control of the Senate and the DSCC was left nearly $3 million in debt. It took them <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-state-senate-democrats-debt-free-prepare-elections-article-1.1577381" target="_blank">until 2014</a> to pay it off.</p> <p>&ldquo;Jeff left us at the bottom of a pit of debt,&rdquo; another Democratic Senator told Gotham Gazette, speaking on the condition of anonymity. &ldquo;He was spending like crazy on races we had no chance of winning. All those expenditures were approved by Jeff.&rdquo;</p> <p>After Klein left the conference, Democrats put the erratic spending on his shoulders. However, it appears to many that Sampson was also able to authorize expenditures. Klein <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/These-party-ties-don-t-bind-961939.php" target="_blank">told The TImes Union</a> in January 2011 that the Democratic caucus was distracting from the issues by focusing on who was to blame for the DSCC spending. &ldquo;This is exactly why I formed an independent caucus," he said. "They continue to talk trash about me as an attempt to distract from the real issues."</p> <p>Eventually, more than a dozen Democrats <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/democratic-senators-hook-party-2010-election-debt-article-1.1392022" target="_blank">signed</a> promissory notes, personally agreeing to make good on portions of the debt wracked up by the DSCC, in order to secure $2 million in loans to restore the organization&rsquo;s solvency. Klein wasn&rsquo;t one of them.</p> <p>While 2010 was a generally terrible year for Klein and Senate Democrats, it had some silver linings. Espada was defeated in a primary by Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who ran on a reform platform (and did not have the support of the DSCC). Sen. Eric Schneiderman, now attorney general, successfully led a movement <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/449-after-heated-closed-door-debate-senate-expels-monserrate" target="_blank">to oust </a>Monserrate from the chamber after Monserrate was convicted of a misdemeanor for dragging his girlfriend down a hallway. Her face had been slashed in an earlier altercation.</p> <p>Democrats had slowly begun to deal with their corruption and dysfunction problems, even as Sampson, who would later be be convicted on corruption charges, led the conference.</p> <p>On December 20, 2010, Sampson <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/jeff-klein-mike-gianaris-state-senate-democrats-top-political-strategist-article-1.473255" target="_blank">appointed</a> newly-elected Queens Sen. Mike Gianaris as head of the DSCC. Klein had lost his source of power in the conference to a younger rival.</p> <p>Less than a month later Klein announced the creation of the IDC.</p> <p>It began as Klein, Sens. Diane Savino, David Carlucci, and David Valesky.</p> <p>In December 2012, the group celebrated the addition of a new member. In some ways Klein was putting the band back together when he invited Malcolm Smith <a href="http://www.qchron.com/editions/eastern/make-way-for-malcolm-smith-joins-the-idc/article_942f58a4-3cb6-5e59-b31b-fd78084ec74b.html" target="_blank">to join the IDC</a>. Smith was the first member of color for the conference. Then Queens Assemblymember Tony Avella told The Queens Chronicle at the time that the move was a &ldquo;power grab&rdquo; and &ldquo;unfortunate because it defeats the will of the people who voted in favor of having the Democrats control the Senate.&rdquo;</p> <p>Avella joined the IDC in February 2014 - but not before Smith was charged with bribery and corruption for using state funds to buy his way onto the Republican ballot line in an attempt to run for Mayor of New York City. The IDC booted Smith <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130402/new-york-city/smith-halloran-arrested-for-rigging-mayoral-election-report-says" target="_blank">after the charges</a> became public in April 2013.</p> <p>In the Summer of 2014 Klein and Avella faced tough primaries backed by left-leaning and abor advocates and, at least initially, by Senate Democrats. Behind the scenes Mayor Bill de Blasio negotiated with Klein on conditions of a deal where Klein would co-lead the Democrats, assuming the party won enough seats to make the deal plausible. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Klein announced that the IDC would create such a governing coalition.</p> <p>&ldquo;We are not rejoining the Democratic Conference because clearly the IDC will live on and the IDC will remain intact, but what we are saying is the IDC is going into the next legislative session six months from now ready to fight for the core Democratic policies that are left undone,&rdquo; Klein <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/senate-independent-democratic-conference-announces-alliance-republicans-blog-entry-1.1844227" target="_blank">told the Daily News</a> on June 24, 2014.</p> <p>Democrats and advocates pulled back their support for the challengers to Klein and Avella - former City Council Member Oliver Koppell and former City Comptroller John Liu, respectively. The coast was clear for the IDC.</p> <p>In November, Republicans gained the backing of newly elected Sen. Felder, a nominal Democrat, while picking up Republican seats, and the IDC-Democratic alliance became a moot point.</p> <p>There were major issues at play. For example, over the past few years Democrats unsuccessfully tried to pass through the Senate the entire <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5120-failure-new-york-state-legislature-womens-equality-act-cuomo" target="_blank">10-point Women&rsquo;s Equality Agenda</a> and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5448-legislators-advocates-dream-act-on-cuomos-shoulders-now" target="_blank">a version of the DREAM Act</a>. They blamed Klein for empowering Republicans who oppose codifying abortion rights and who have campaigned for years against the DREAM Act. Klein and his allies repeatedly pointed to members of the Democratic Conference who are not pro-choice and who don&rsquo;t support the DREAM Act.</p> <p>It is during issue fights like these when advocates have complained that the IDC is subverting the will of hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters from across New York City by empowering Republicans and stifling the influence of nearly 30 elected Democrats for the empowerment of five members, all of whom are white. Short of the impending addition of Alcantara, who is Hispanic and will represent Washington Heights and other Uptown neighborhoods, all IDC members have been from more suburban areas of the city or its outskirts.</p> <p>&ldquo;The IDC going with the Republicans counters the demography of the state, it nullifies the power of the Democrats in the Assembly, but Albany remains dysfunctional,&rdquo; said Muzzio, summarizing results of the IDC and its power-sharing agreements.</p> <p>In May 2015, then Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, the man Klein repeatedly cut deals with to form a governing coalition, was indicted on multiple corruption counts. The trial that followed contained a series of wiretapped phone conversations between Skelos and his son, the contents of which were enough to make even the hardened denizens of the Capitol blush.</p> <p>&ldquo;I heard you left a handprint on somebody&rsquo;s ass,&rdquo; Adam Skelos said to his father over the phone on December 22, 2014, the same day the elder Skelos informed Klein that he wanted to continue their working relationship. Dean Skelos paused, seeming to process the comment. After realizing his son was talking about Klein and that Republicans had more leverage over him, the elder Skelos told his son that Klein would retain the title of co-leader despite Republican victories in 2014 that made <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-local/article/Could-Skelos-trial-fracture-GOP-IDC-bond-6645019.php" target="_blank">the alliance technically unnecessary</a>, and pointed to how useful the IDC could prove to be in 2016. The younger Skelos scoffed at the idea, but Dean assured him: &ldquo;I&rsquo;m going to control everything,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;He&rsquo;s going to get very little. Believe me. Very little. Everybody&rsquo;s going to know.&rdquo;</p> <p>The elder Skelos then went on to explain how he would use Klein to &ldquo;Keep them separate and fighting and hating each other. That&rsquo;s what&rsquo;s worked for the last six years.&rdquo;</p> <p>Despite the turmoil in both houses following the 2016 convictions of Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, on multiple corruption charges, it would prove to be the most important year in the IDC&rsquo;s brief history.</p> <p>The IDC continued to push Cuomo and Senate Republicans on paid family leave through 2015 and into 2016. This year, Cuomo picked up the issue despite having previously dismissed it while also suddenly championing a $15 minimum wage. By the end of session the IDC was able to claim they were instrumental in passing major progressive legislation. This summer, Klein paired with the Independence Party to create a campaign committee that allowed the IDC to pour nearly $100,000 into the Democratic primary to replace Sen. Adriano Espaillat.</p> <p>That investment paid off as the IDC&rsquo;s candidate, Alcantara, won a narrow victory over former City Council Member Robert Jackson and Micah Lasher, former chief of staff to Attorney General Schneiderman.</p> <p>Alcantara <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/09/alcantara-lays-out-priorities-for-upcoming-session-105556" target="_blank">told Politico New York</a> that her main focus will be passing the DREAM Act. She&rsquo;s also indicated that she didn&rsquo;t review the politics involved in the creation of the IDC before she said she would join it. The IDC has faced significant blame for effectively blocking the DREAM Act by allying with Republicans. The bill was brought to a vote in the Senate in 2014 -- it failed by two votes. At the time, Klein had say over which bills came to the floor and many saw the move as a way to neutralize the issue for the year.</p> <p>Meanwhile, many Senate Republicans have used the DREAM Act as a lightning rod against Democrats in their districts. It is unlikely the DREAM Act has a real chance of becoming law if Klein chooses to empower the Republican Conference next session. Alcantara, a former union organizer, has promised that she will continue to be progressive as a legislator.</p> <p>Many insiders wonder how Klein can possibly work with Senate Democrats come 2017. Over the last six years, by most accounts, Senate Democrats have cleaned up their act. Members like Kruger, Sampson, Espada, Monserrate, and Smith have all left the chamber one way or another. Sen. Gianaris, who still runs the SDCC, has been talking a lot lately about negotiating with Klein in anticipation of Democratic successes in November. The mainline Democrats also posed no primary challenger to Klein or any IDC member.</p> <p>Klein has toned down talk about Democrats being dysfunctional this past year, but he&rsquo;s given no strong indication he favors a reunion with them.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6454-2016-a-far-different-election-year-for-independent-democrats" target="_blank">In a July interview with Gotham Gazette</a>, Klein gave an indication of his allegiances, speaking highly of Republican Senate President John Flanagan. &ldquo;I worked extremely well this year with Senator John Flanagan and yes, this session we were able to work well with [Democratic Minority Leader] Andrea Stewart-Cousins - it is a much better relationship,&rdquo; <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6454-2016-a-far-different-election-year-for-independent-democrats" target="_blank">Klein said</a>, &ldquo;but I think the Republican Conference has been even better and a lot of credit has to go to the relationship with Senator Flanagan, again.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Klein_and_co.jpg" alt="Klein and co" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>State Sen. Jeff Klein, center-right &amp; other Bronx electeds (@RepEliotEngle)</p> <hr /> <p>In January 2011, State Senator Jeff Klein declared himself leader of a group of four breakaway Democrats who were united in their dissatisfaction with the recent dysfunction of their conference&rsquo;s leadership. They created the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, despite the fact that Klein had been deputy leader of the Senate Democrats and was in control of the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee during the 2010 elections, all through the now legendary strife and controversy that was part of Democrats&rsquo; brief control of the Senate.</p> <p>Since then, Klein has allied IDC with Senate Republicans, thereby winning himself a seat at the budget negotiating table, larger offices and increased staff funding for his members, and a political forcefield that protects him and his allies from criticism hurled by Republicans or Democrats, lest he side decide to ally with the other side.</p> <p>This year, Klein has increased the IDC&rsquo;s power with new fundraising and campaign spending tools and an incoming member, Marisol Alcantara, who won a crowded Uptown primary in some part thanks to the financial support of the IDC. When the dust settles after November&rsquo;s elections, Klein is likely to be in prime bargaining position as mainline Democrats and Senate Republicans seek a ruling coalition deal with the IDC.</p> <p>Lost in the shuffle of these power dynamics, which can have immense consequence for the people of New York, is the story of how Klein managed to turn a disastrous run at the top of the Senate Democrats&rsquo; power structure into a position that has allowed him to play kingmaker every two years and become, after overcoming a serious primary challenger in 2014, virtually untouchable politically.</p> <p>&ldquo;Breaking away from this dysfunctional conference gave him a voice,&rdquo; said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, who added that the move appears to have indefinitely altered power dynamics in state government. &ldquo;He can use corruption and dysfunction as much as he likes but it doesn&rsquo;t mask the fact that it was a bald face power move. He can couch it in principle, but it was still about power,&rdquo; said Muzzio.</p> <p>In 2009, after winning a majority for the first time in decades, a number of Democrats including Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. and then Sens. Carl Kruger and Pedro Espada agreed only to vote for then Sen. Malcolm Smith as leader in exchange for certain perks and leadership positions. Only a few months after the year&rsquo;s legislative session started, the fragile agreement was destroyed as Espada and then Sen. Hiram Monserrate bolted to join Senate Republicans, launching a hostile coup on the Senate floor.</p> <p>The Senate was paralyzed for months until Espada and Monserrate were lured back to the Democratic fold. After the incident, then Sen. John Sampson took over as Senate leader. (Most of the players involved - Krueger, Espada, Smith, Monserrate, and Sampson - are no longer in the Senate, having been removed from office on corruption charges unrelated to the Senate coup.)</p> <p>Republicans won back the majority through the 2010 elections. In 2012 their fortunes took a turn with Democrats picking up seats, but Klein struck a deal alternating the title of temporary President of the Senate with Skelos. In 2014, Senate Republicans won a number of seats and Klein again pledged to work with them. He did so after undercutting his Democratic primary opponent by pledging to work with Democrats if they picked up enough seats to form a governing coalition.</p> <p>To many, Klein looked like a voice of reason when he created and fortified the IDC. &ldquo;Who would want to go back to chaotic Democratic control?&rdquo; asked his supporters. This is a line of reasoning Klein and his allies have used repeatedly as they have continued to ally themselves with Republicans. This year Klein is set to determine who controls the Senate again.</p> <p>&ldquo;Jeff was so above it all,&rdquo; laughed one Democratic Senator. &ldquo;No, Jeff was one of the guys calling the shots at the time. In fact he was the guy in charge of calling all the shots for the DSCC.&rdquo;</p> <p>Candice GIove, spokesperson for Klein and the IDC, declined to make Klein available for an interview. She also refused to take questions from Gotham Gazette about the history of the IDC.</p> <p>Klein, from the Bronx, was first elected to the Senate in 2005 after serving nearly nine years in the Assembly. He maintains the IDC&rsquo;s power thanks to years of legislative redistricting that has helped Senate Republicans draw lines that favor their incumbents. The 2010 redistricting process saw the creation of a 63rd Senate seat that benefited Republicans and further concentrated Democratic voters in urban districts.</p> <p>The Senate is now nearly split down the middle in terms of party control. Republicans currently hold 31 seats - one shy of an outright majority - and Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn, conferences with them. Republicans also have a deal with the IDC, which currently holds five seats. Alcantara is expected to join them in the fall, making six in the IDC and taking one seat away from mainline Democrats, who currently have 26 members (there is one vacant seat, likely to be filled by a Democrat). Democrats are expected to pick up seats this year, as they have in every modern presidential election year - though the questions are if they do and how many.</p> <p>The Assembly is made up of a Democratic super-majority. The Governorship has been controlled by Democrats since former Gov. Eliot Spitzer won in a landslide in 2006, replacing Republican Gov. George Pataki, who had served three terms. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought to strike a balance between progressive social policy and conservative fiscal ideas. Many believe Cuomo has blessed the IDC&rsquo;s alliance with Senate Republicans.</p> <p>After the 2008 elections Klein became a major figure in the Senate Democratic Conference, serving as deputy majority leader and head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Klein not only had say in policy-making, but was responsible for deciding which candidates and races to back with Democratic cash.</p> <p>Klein certainly wasn&rsquo;t above jockeying for power and influence during the 2009 coup. He met with various Democrats and Republicans in an attempt to create an alternate governing structure in the Senate; one that would do away with the need for Espada and put Klein at the helm. Those negotiations failed. Klein floated the idea of a new bipartisan governing coalition in a press release at the time and has previously <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/258490-jeff-klein-bronx-democrat-keeping-gop-power/" target="_blank">discussed</a> those attempts with members of the media.</p> <p>In 2010 Klein faced an uphill battle in maintaining his power and influence with the Democratic Conference - his ties with many members were frayed. Things were so bad during the coup that at more than one point conference meetings nearly broke into physical altercations. On top of the distrust and dislike Klein faced from fellow Democrats, as head of the DSCC, he was also entrusted with building the Democratic majority.</p> <p>Many Democrats and political observers believe Klein used his position as head of the DSCC to try to marshal enough supporters to make himself Democratic Leader. The DSCC spent heavily on a number of races in 2010, far more than many Democrats thought was reasonable. Money poured into districts held by entrenched Republican incumbents many believed unwinnable for Democrats. In perhaps the most extreme example, the DSCC spent over $500,000 supporting Sue Savage&rsquo;s unsuccessful attempt to unseat Sen. Hugh Farley.</p> <p>Spending was also increased in districts where the DSCC was playing defense, futilely trying to protect vulnerable suburban Democrats from Republican challengers. They lost seats on Long Island held by more moderate Klein-minded Democrats and one belonging to former Sen. Darrel Aubertine in the North Country. The DSCC spent over $1 million on the Aubertine race.</p> <p>Democrats lost control of the Senate and the DSCC was left nearly $3 million in debt. It took them <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-state-senate-democrats-debt-free-prepare-elections-article-1.1577381" target="_blank">until 2014</a> to pay it off.</p> <p>&ldquo;Jeff left us at the bottom of a pit of debt,&rdquo; another Democratic Senator told Gotham Gazette, speaking on the condition of anonymity. &ldquo;He was spending like crazy on races we had no chance of winning. All those expenditures were approved by Jeff.&rdquo;</p> <p>After Klein left the conference, Democrats put the erratic spending on his shoulders. However, it appears to many that Sampson was also able to authorize expenditures. Klein <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/These-party-ties-don-t-bind-961939.php" target="_blank">told The TImes Union</a> in January 2011 that the Democratic caucus was distracting from the issues by focusing on who was to blame for the DSCC spending. &ldquo;This is exactly why I formed an independent caucus," he said. "They continue to talk trash about me as an attempt to distract from the real issues."</p> <p>Eventually, more than a dozen Democrats <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/democratic-senators-hook-party-2010-election-debt-article-1.1392022" target="_blank">signed</a> promissory notes, personally agreeing to make good on portions of the debt wracked up by the DSCC, in order to secure $2 million in loans to restore the organization&rsquo;s solvency. Klein wasn&rsquo;t one of them.</p> <p>While 2010 was a generally terrible year for Klein and Senate Democrats, it had some silver linings. Espada was defeated in a primary by Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who ran on a reform platform (and did not have the support of the DSCC). Sen. Eric Schneiderman, now attorney general, successfully led a movement <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/449-after-heated-closed-door-debate-senate-expels-monserrate" target="_blank">to oust </a>Monserrate from the chamber after Monserrate was convicted of a misdemeanor for dragging his girlfriend down a hallway. Her face had been slashed in an earlier altercation.</p> <p>Democrats had slowly begun to deal with their corruption and dysfunction problems, even as Sampson, who would later be be convicted on corruption charges, led the conference.</p> <p>On December 20, 2010, Sampson <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/jeff-klein-mike-gianaris-state-senate-democrats-top-political-strategist-article-1.473255" target="_blank">appointed</a> newly-elected Queens Sen. Mike Gianaris as head of the DSCC. Klein had lost his source of power in the conference to a younger rival.</p> <p>Less than a month later Klein announced the creation of the IDC.</p> <p>It began as Klein, Sens. Diane Savino, David Carlucci, and David Valesky.</p> <p>In December 2012, the group celebrated the addition of a new member. In some ways Klein was putting the band back together when he invited Malcolm Smith <a href="http://www.qchron.com/editions/eastern/make-way-for-malcolm-smith-joins-the-idc/article_942f58a4-3cb6-5e59-b31b-fd78084ec74b.html" target="_blank">to join the IDC</a>. Smith was the first member of color for the conference. Then Queens Assemblymember Tony Avella told The Queens Chronicle at the time that the move was a &ldquo;power grab&rdquo; and &ldquo;unfortunate because it defeats the will of the people who voted in favor of having the Democrats control the Senate.&rdquo;</p> <p>Avella joined the IDC in February 2014 - but not before Smith was charged with bribery and corruption for using state funds to buy his way onto the Republican ballot line in an attempt to run for Mayor of New York City. The IDC booted Smith <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130402/new-york-city/smith-halloran-arrested-for-rigging-mayoral-election-report-says" target="_blank">after the charges</a> became public in April 2013.</p> <p>In the Summer of 2014 Klein and Avella faced tough primaries backed by left-leaning and abor advocates and, at least initially, by Senate Democrats. Behind the scenes Mayor Bill de Blasio negotiated with Klein on conditions of a deal where Klein would co-lead the Democrats, assuming the party won enough seats to make the deal plausible. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Klein announced that the IDC would create such a governing coalition.</p> <p>&ldquo;We are not rejoining the Democratic Conference because clearly the IDC will live on and the IDC will remain intact, but what we are saying is the IDC is going into the next legislative session six months from now ready to fight for the core Democratic policies that are left undone,&rdquo; Klein <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/senate-independent-democratic-conference-announces-alliance-republicans-blog-entry-1.1844227" target="_blank">told the Daily News</a> on June 24, 2014.</p> <p>Democrats and advocates pulled back their support for the challengers to Klein and Avella - former City Council Member Oliver Koppell and former City Comptroller John Liu, respectively. The coast was clear for the IDC.</p> <p>In November, Republicans gained the backing of newly elected Sen. Felder, a nominal Democrat, while picking up Republican seats, and the IDC-Democratic alliance became a moot point.</p> <p>There were major issues at play. For example, over the past few years Democrats unsuccessfully tried to pass through the Senate the entire <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5120-failure-new-york-state-legislature-womens-equality-act-cuomo" target="_blank">10-point Women&rsquo;s Equality Agenda</a> and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5448-legislators-advocates-dream-act-on-cuomos-shoulders-now" target="_blank">a version of the DREAM Act</a>. They blamed Klein for empowering Republicans who oppose codifying abortion rights and who have campaigned for years against the DREAM Act. Klein and his allies repeatedly pointed to members of the Democratic Conference who are not pro-choice and who don&rsquo;t support the DREAM Act.</p> <p>It is during issue fights like these when advocates have complained that the IDC is subverting the will of hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters from across New York City by empowering Republicans and stifling the influence of nearly 30 elected Democrats for the empowerment of five members, all of whom are white. Short of the impending addition of Alcantara, who is Hispanic and will represent Washington Heights and other Uptown neighborhoods, all IDC members have been from more suburban areas of the city or its outskirts.</p> <p>&ldquo;The IDC going with the Republicans counters the demography of the state, it nullifies the power of the Democrats in the Assembly, but Albany remains dysfunctional,&rdquo; said Muzzio, summarizing results of the IDC and its power-sharing agreements.</p> <p>In May 2015, then Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, the man Klein repeatedly cut deals with to form a governing coalition, was indicted on multiple corruption counts. The trial that followed contained a series of wiretapped phone conversations between Skelos and his son, the contents of which were enough to make even the hardened denizens of the Capitol blush.</p> <p>&ldquo;I heard you left a handprint on somebody&rsquo;s ass,&rdquo; Adam Skelos said to his father over the phone on December 22, 2014, the same day the elder Skelos informed Klein that he wanted to continue their working relationship. Dean Skelos paused, seeming to process the comment. After realizing his son was talking about Klein and that Republicans had more leverage over him, the elder Skelos told his son that Klein would retain the title of co-leader despite Republican victories in 2014 that made <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-local/article/Could-Skelos-trial-fracture-GOP-IDC-bond-6645019.php" target="_blank">the alliance technically unnecessary</a>, and pointed to how useful the IDC could prove to be in 2016. The younger Skelos scoffed at the idea, but Dean assured him: &ldquo;I&rsquo;m going to control everything,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;He&rsquo;s going to get very little. Believe me. Very little. Everybody&rsquo;s going to know.&rdquo;</p> <p>The elder Skelos then went on to explain how he would use Klein to &ldquo;Keep them separate and fighting and hating each other. That&rsquo;s what&rsquo;s worked for the last six years.&rdquo;</p> <p>Despite the turmoil in both houses following the 2016 convictions of Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, on multiple corruption charges, it would prove to be the most important year in the IDC&rsquo;s brief history.</p> <p>The IDC continued to push Cuomo and Senate Republicans on paid family leave through 2015 and into 2016. This year, Cuomo picked up the issue despite having previously dismissed it while also suddenly championing a $15 minimum wage. By the end of session the IDC was able to claim they were instrumental in passing major progressive legislation. This summer, Klein paired with the Independence Party to create a campaign committee that allowed the IDC to pour nearly $100,000 into the Democratic primary to replace Sen. Adriano Espaillat.</p> <p>That investment paid off as the IDC&rsquo;s candidate, Alcantara, won a narrow victory over former City Council Member Robert Jackson and Micah Lasher, former chief of staff to Attorney General Schneiderman.</p> <p>Alcantara <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/09/alcantara-lays-out-priorities-for-upcoming-session-105556" target="_blank">told Politico New York</a> that her main focus will be passing the DREAM Act. She&rsquo;s also indicated that she didn&rsquo;t review the politics involved in the creation of the IDC before she said she would join it. The IDC has faced significant blame for effectively blocking the DREAM Act by allying with Republicans. The bill was brought to a vote in the Senate in 2014 -- it failed by two votes. At the time, Klein had say over which bills came to the floor and many saw the move as a way to neutralize the issue for the year.</p> <p>Meanwhile, many Senate Republicans have used the DREAM Act as a lightning rod against Democrats in their districts. It is unlikely the DREAM Act has a real chance of becoming law if Klein chooses to empower the Republican Conference next session. Alcantara, a former union organizer, has promised that she will continue to be progressive as a legislator.</p> <p>Many insiders wonder how Klein can possibly work with Senate Democrats come 2017. Over the last six years, by most accounts, Senate Democrats have cleaned up their act. Members like Kruger, Sampson, Espada, Monserrate, and Smith have all left the chamber one way or another. Sen. Gianaris, who still runs the SDCC, has been talking a lot lately about negotiating with Klein in anticipation of Democratic successes in November. The mainline Democrats also posed no primary challenger to Klein or any IDC member.</p> <p>Klein has toned down talk about Democrats being dysfunctional this past year, but he&rsquo;s given no strong indication he favors a reunion with them.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6454-2016-a-far-different-election-year-for-independent-democrats" target="_blank">In a July interview with Gotham Gazette</a>, Klein gave an indication of his allegiances, speaking highly of Republican Senate President John Flanagan. &ldquo;I worked extremely well this year with Senator John Flanagan and yes, this session we were able to work well with [Democratic Minority Leader] Andrea Stewart-Cousins - it is a much better relationship,&rdquo; <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6454-2016-a-far-different-election-year-for-independent-democrats" target="_blank">Klein said</a>, &ldquo;but I think the Republican Conference has been even better and a lot of credit has to go to the relationship with Senator Flanagan, again.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Everyone's Talking About Paid Family Leave, Only Compromise Will Yield a Deal 2016-02-05T21:47:14+00:00 2016-02-05T21:47:14+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6150:everyones-talking-about-paid-family-leave-only-compromise-will-yield-a-deal kfan <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24668398606_9f09080ece_z.jpg" alt="cuomo biden paid family leave" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p>Cuomo's paid family leave rally (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week, the New York State Assembly passed a one-house bill creating a program that would allow workers to take time off to care for a new child or sick loved one while receiving a portion of their usual pay. It is the fifth year in a row the Assembly has done so. "It's appropriate we're here on Groundhog Day, since we've been coming back year after year for paid family leave," said Donna Dolan, head of the New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition, at a press conference announcing the vote.</p> <p>Just a few days earlier Gov. Andrew Cuomo rallied with Vice President Joe Biden in Manhattan to push his newly-unveiled paid family leave bill. Both detailed their experiences of being torn between work and being at the side of a dying loved one.</p> <p>"My friends, paid family leave has been an important issue for a long time, but it is an issue whose time has come because things happen," Cuomo told the crowd. "When the planets line up and the political will and the body politic develops, and the body politic says enough is enough – now is the time to pass paid family leave."</p> <p>It was only last session that Cuomo insisted the legislature had no "appetite" for paid family leave. But now with major attention from media, elected officials, and advocates across the nation focused on whether New York will become the fourth state to pass a paid family leave bill, Cuomo is whipping up support for his plan. As are Assembly Democrats, whose plan is different, while all look to get the blessing of Senate Republicans, who control that chamber.</p> <p>While Cuomo seeks to thread some middle ground with his plan, Assembly Democrats insist theirs, which includes higher benefits, is the way to go, and Senate Republicans indicate there may be room for compromise while saying they're wary of any additional burdens on businesses.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration is proposing a plan that would pay benefits through contributions from employee paychecks and reimburse workers starting at the rate of 35 percent of earnings. The Assembly plan would expand the scope of the state Temporary Disability Insurance program to cover paid family leave and would also take contributions from employee paychecks, but would reimburse at a rate of two-thirds of a worker's pay for individuals on leave.</p> <p>One central point of conflict is whether to connect the paid family leave program to the TDI--a move Senate Republicans appear to be sensitive to because of concerns that increasing the benefit for workers who take off time for their own disabilities would be a cost born by employers as well as workers. TDI is paid for by employers.</p> <p>The state has kept the TDI reimbursement rate steady at $170 a week for decades. Legislators expect that increasing the rate will take immense political capital as it will almost certainly require contributions from employers.</p> <p>However, there are also signs there may be room for compromise as the Cuomo administration has said it will introduce amendments to its leave proposal. Advocates expect the administration to increase the amount employees are reimbursed to bring it into line with the Assembly proposal.</p> <p>"I think it is a very positive thing that everyone is talking about paid family leave," said Sen. Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference, who joined Cuomo and Biden for their rally last month, delivering opening remarks. "Serious discussions haven't started yet, but I'm hopeful."</p> <p>Soon after speaking with Gotham Gazette, Klein introduced a new version of his paid family leave bill to the state Senate. Klein and the IDC jolted discussion of family leave <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/exclusive-state-sen-gop-adding-paid-family-leave-program-article-1.2144732" target="_blank">last year</a> when they successfully advocated for Senate Republicans, whom they have a coalition with and control the chamber, to include a paid family leave plan in their budget.</p> <p>Before introducing his new compromise bill, Klein told Gotham Gazette that he believes negotiations should focus on Cuomo's proposal rather than the Assembly's because it is "more palatable" to Senate Republicans.</p> <p>The dynamics around paid family leave have changed since last legislative session. Cuomo appears to have stepped into the role Klein's IDC was playing as they backed paid family leave supported in part by state funds and by deductions from employee paychecks. The Assembly Democrats' plan would use deductions from employee paychecks to expand the TDI, which currently provides partial pay for workers who are disabled and have to take off work.</p> <p>Last year Cuomo <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/03/8564207/cuomo-rejects-state-funded-family-leave-proposal" target="_blank">rejected</a> the Senate's family leave proposal put forward by the Independent Democratic Conference. "We need a paid family leave policy that is sustainable and would provide real protections to employees. What we should not accept is the Senate proposal, which is a half-loaf that does not provide sustainable funding or a workable framework for employees and employers," Cuomo spokesperson Melissa DeRosa said in a statement in March in response to the IDC's plan.</p> <p>Klein's <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/jeffrey-d-klein/senator-klein-introduces-new-paid-family-leave-legislation" target="_blank">new plan</a> would provide 12 weeks of paid leave starting at two-thirds of a worker's average weekly pay, or 35 percent of the state's average weekly wage by 2017. It would eventually offer 80 percent of a worker's salary, or 50 percent of the statewide average weekly by April 1, 2021. It would be paid for through a 27-cent-a-week contribution from employee paychecks and be distributed through a newly created paid leave system. It would not expand the TDI, but Klein has advocated doing so separately, to raise the TDI benefit after so many years of it staying flat.</p> <p>Cuomo's plan, presented in conjunction with his State of the State and budget address in January, would create a paid family leave system that would offer up to 12 weeks leave paid for by a weekly, 60 cent payroll deduction. Workers would be able to take leave while earning 35 percent of their pay in 2018, rising to 66 percent by 2021. Leave pay would be capped at a weekly average of statewide pay - the 2014 average according to the state Department of Labor was $1,266.44.</p> <p>The Assembly <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A03870&amp;term=2015&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Votes=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank">plan</a> would expand TDI and provide workers with 12 weeks of paid leave at two thirds of their average weekly wage. It would be paid for with a weekly deduction from an employee's paycheck that would start at 45 cents. The plan would become effective July of 2017.</p> <p>Advocates have leaned towards the Assembly plan as it provides workers with what they consider the minimum amount of pay to make taking leave feasible, as well as expanding the TDI, and requiring a smaller worker contribution.</p> <p>Blue Carreker, head of Citizen Action of NY's paid family leave campaign said that her organization thinks any paid leave bill has to cover all workers and all businesses, provide 12 weeks leave, and increase the rates paid by TDI to bring it into parity with what will be paid by the family leave program.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has indicated he is open to negotiations. Following a speech he gave at an Association for a Better New York breakfast last month, Flanagan indicated he was moved by Cuomo's State of the State speech in which the governor described regretting not being at his father's side during his final days.</p> <p>Flanagan tempered that openness with concerns he has about how a paid leave policy might impact small business. "If you're a business with four employees and someone is going to be gone for three or four months, that's a legitimate consideration," said Flanagan. "So a threshold on what's the size of the business, who pays for it, how are kids paid for, those are all absolutely important components and worthy of discussion, and I think those discussions are already taking place. Where it adds up, I don't have a crystal ball on that, but I think there's a lot more discussion about paid family leave now than there was even six months ago."</p> <p>Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb told Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;"A lot of business owners are saying 'Are you kidding me? Another thing that is telling me what to do and costing me time and money.'" He added that "there really aren't that many details except in that bill" from the Assembly Democrats, which "almost certainly won't become law."</p> <p>A number of business groups stand against paid family leave. "Small employers are currently able to accommodate employees and provide flexibility in terms of scheduling," said Michael Durant, New York State director of The National Federation of Independent Businesses. "Those that can afford to offer paid time off already do and to require those that cannot afford the added expense will be dangerous to the small business sector. This is simply a solution in search of a problem and would be yet another government mandate on small business."</p> <p>A recent DEMOS <a href="http://www.demos.org/publication/lagging-leave-while-businesses-fall-short-new-york-state-can-become-leader-paid-family-l" target="_blank">policy brief</a> showed that 9 out of 10, or 6.4 million, working people in New York don't have paid family leave.</p> <p>Increasing the TDI is an extremely sensitive issue for businesses and many legislators believe that including it with paid family leave will continue to be a poison pill. Most legislators are convinced by Cuomo's efforts on paid family leave and they see the inclusion of it in his budget and the way he rolled out the issue in the State of the State as a sign of steadfast commitment. They expect he will be willing to increase how much the leave program pays out and perhaps speed the implementation timeline, but not touch the TDI given his relationship with the business community. Increasing the TDI would be an immense victory for labor interests.</p> <p>Carreker, who was waiting for a meeting with Cuomo administration representatives about paid leave when she spoke with Gotham Gazette, said she is confident a compromise can be reached and stressed she feels that advocates need to focus on educating legislators and small businesses on the impact paid family leave would actually have.</p> <p>"It's about getting over that initial hurdle of the fear of change, of something different," said Carreker. "The more people that hear the details, the more they'll see it makes sense. This isn't a burden, it's an insurance program that covers the salaries so businesses can figure out coverage while an employee is away so that they don't have to lose good employees."</p> <p>Klein agrees: "This is not something that puts a burden on business, but something that lends stability to the workforce. I think we're getting it done this year."</p> <div> <table style="width: 100%;" border="1" bordercolor="#000000" cellpadding="5px" cellspacing="3"> <tbody> <tr style="font-weight: bold;"> <td style="background-color: #5cacee; width: 15%;" align="center"><b>Paid Family Leave Proposals</b></td> <td style="background-color: #b9d3ee; width: 21.25%;" align="center"><b>Gov. Cuomo</b></td> <td style="background-color: #b9d3ee; width: 21.25%;" align="center"><b>Assembly Democrats</b></td> <td style="background-color: #b9d3ee; width: 21.25%;" align="center"><b>Senate Independent Democratic Conference</b></td> </tr> <tr> <td style="background-color: #cae1ff; font-weight: bold;" align="center"><b>Funding Method</b></td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>60 cent weekly deduction from employees' paychecks</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>State TDI program and 45 cent weekly deduction from employees' paychecks</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>27 cent weekly deduction from employees’ paychecks</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td style="background-color: #cae1ff; font-weight: bold;" align="center"><b>Time Off &amp; Payout</b></td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>12 weeks of paid leave starting at 35% of worker’s pay starting in 2018, rising to 66% by 2021.</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>12 weeks of paid leave starting at two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wage, effective July 2017</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>12 weeks of paid leave starting at two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly pay, or 35% of the state’s average weekly wage by 2017. Will eventually offer 80% of a worker’s salary, or 50% of the statewide average weekly by April 1, 2021</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td style="background-color: #cae1ff; font-weight: bold;" align="center"><b>TDI Expansion?</b></td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>Does not expand TDI</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>Plan would expand the scope of the state Temporary Disability Insurance program to cover paid family leave</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>Does not expand TDI</p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24668398606_9f09080ece_z.jpg" alt="cuomo biden paid family leave" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p>Cuomo's paid family leave rally (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week, the New York State Assembly passed a one-house bill creating a program that would allow workers to take time off to care for a new child or sick loved one while receiving a portion of their usual pay. It is the fifth year in a row the Assembly has done so. "It's appropriate we're here on Groundhog Day, since we've been coming back year after year for paid family leave," said Donna Dolan, head of the New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition, at a press conference announcing the vote.</p> <p>Just a few days earlier Gov. Andrew Cuomo rallied with Vice President Joe Biden in Manhattan to push his newly-unveiled paid family leave bill. Both detailed their experiences of being torn between work and being at the side of a dying loved one.</p> <p>"My friends, paid family leave has been an important issue for a long time, but it is an issue whose time has come because things happen," Cuomo told the crowd. "When the planets line up and the political will and the body politic develops, and the body politic says enough is enough – now is the time to pass paid family leave."</p> <p>It was only last session that Cuomo insisted the legislature had no "appetite" for paid family leave. But now with major attention from media, elected officials, and advocates across the nation focused on whether New York will become the fourth state to pass a paid family leave bill, Cuomo is whipping up support for his plan. As are Assembly Democrats, whose plan is different, while all look to get the blessing of Senate Republicans, who control that chamber.</p> <p>While Cuomo seeks to thread some middle ground with his plan, Assembly Democrats insist theirs, which includes higher benefits, is the way to go, and Senate Republicans indicate there may be room for compromise while saying they're wary of any additional burdens on businesses.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration is proposing a plan that would pay benefits through contributions from employee paychecks and reimburse workers starting at the rate of 35 percent of earnings. The Assembly plan would expand the scope of the state Temporary Disability Insurance program to cover paid family leave and would also take contributions from employee paychecks, but would reimburse at a rate of two-thirds of a worker's pay for individuals on leave.</p> <p>One central point of conflict is whether to connect the paid family leave program to the TDI--a move Senate Republicans appear to be sensitive to because of concerns that increasing the benefit for workers who take off time for their own disabilities would be a cost born by employers as well as workers. TDI is paid for by employers.</p> <p>The state has kept the TDI reimbursement rate steady at $170 a week for decades. Legislators expect that increasing the rate will take immense political capital as it will almost certainly require contributions from employers.</p> <p>However, there are also signs there may be room for compromise as the Cuomo administration has said it will introduce amendments to its leave proposal. Advocates expect the administration to increase the amount employees are reimbursed to bring it into line with the Assembly proposal.</p> <p>"I think it is a very positive thing that everyone is talking about paid family leave," said Sen. Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference, who joined Cuomo and Biden for their rally last month, delivering opening remarks. "Serious discussions haven't started yet, but I'm hopeful."</p> <p>Soon after speaking with Gotham Gazette, Klein introduced a new version of his paid family leave bill to the state Senate. Klein and the IDC jolted discussion of family leave <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/exclusive-state-sen-gop-adding-paid-family-leave-program-article-1.2144732" target="_blank">last year</a> when they successfully advocated for Senate Republicans, whom they have a coalition with and control the chamber, to include a paid family leave plan in their budget.</p> <p>Before introducing his new compromise bill, Klein told Gotham Gazette that he believes negotiations should focus on Cuomo's proposal rather than the Assembly's because it is "more palatable" to Senate Republicans.</p> <p>The dynamics around paid family leave have changed since last legislative session. Cuomo appears to have stepped into the role Klein's IDC was playing as they backed paid family leave supported in part by state funds and by deductions from employee paychecks. The Assembly Democrats' plan would use deductions from employee paychecks to expand the TDI, which currently provides partial pay for workers who are disabled and have to take off work.</p> <p>Last year Cuomo <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/03/8564207/cuomo-rejects-state-funded-family-leave-proposal" target="_blank">rejected</a> the Senate's family leave proposal put forward by the Independent Democratic Conference. "We need a paid family leave policy that is sustainable and would provide real protections to employees. What we should not accept is the Senate proposal, which is a half-loaf that does not provide sustainable funding or a workable framework for employees and employers," Cuomo spokesperson Melissa DeRosa said in a statement in March in response to the IDC's plan.</p> <p>Klein's <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/jeffrey-d-klein/senator-klein-introduces-new-paid-family-leave-legislation" target="_blank">new plan</a> would provide 12 weeks of paid leave starting at two-thirds of a worker's average weekly pay, or 35 percent of the state's average weekly wage by 2017. It would eventually offer 80 percent of a worker's salary, or 50 percent of the statewide average weekly by April 1, 2021. It would be paid for through a 27-cent-a-week contribution from employee paychecks and be distributed through a newly created paid leave system. It would not expand the TDI, but Klein has advocated doing so separately, to raise the TDI benefit after so many years of it staying flat.</p> <p>Cuomo's plan, presented in conjunction with his State of the State and budget address in January, would create a paid family leave system that would offer up to 12 weeks leave paid for by a weekly, 60 cent payroll deduction. Workers would be able to take leave while earning 35 percent of their pay in 2018, rising to 66 percent by 2021. Leave pay would be capped at a weekly average of statewide pay - the 2014 average according to the state Department of Labor was $1,266.44.</p> <p>The Assembly <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A03870&amp;term=2015&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Votes=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank">plan</a> would expand TDI and provide workers with 12 weeks of paid leave at two thirds of their average weekly wage. It would be paid for with a weekly deduction from an employee's paycheck that would start at 45 cents. The plan would become effective July of 2017.</p> <p>Advocates have leaned towards the Assembly plan as it provides workers with what they consider the minimum amount of pay to make taking leave feasible, as well as expanding the TDI, and requiring a smaller worker contribution.</p> <p>Blue Carreker, head of Citizen Action of NY's paid family leave campaign said that her organization thinks any paid leave bill has to cover all workers and all businesses, provide 12 weeks leave, and increase the rates paid by TDI to bring it into parity with what will be paid by the family leave program.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has indicated he is open to negotiations. Following a speech he gave at an Association for a Better New York breakfast last month, Flanagan indicated he was moved by Cuomo's State of the State speech in which the governor described regretting not being at his father's side during his final days.</p> <p>Flanagan tempered that openness with concerns he has about how a paid leave policy might impact small business. "If you're a business with four employees and someone is going to be gone for three or four months, that's a legitimate consideration," said Flanagan. "So a threshold on what's the size of the business, who pays for it, how are kids paid for, those are all absolutely important components and worthy of discussion, and I think those discussions are already taking place. Where it adds up, I don't have a crystal ball on that, but I think there's a lot more discussion about paid family leave now than there was even six months ago."</p> <p>Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb told Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;"A lot of business owners are saying 'Are you kidding me? Another thing that is telling me what to do and costing me time and money.'" He added that "there really aren't that many details except in that bill" from the Assembly Democrats, which "almost certainly won't become law."</p> <p>A number of business groups stand against paid family leave. "Small employers are currently able to accommodate employees and provide flexibility in terms of scheduling," said Michael Durant, New York State director of The National Federation of Independent Businesses. "Those that can afford to offer paid time off already do and to require those that cannot afford the added expense will be dangerous to the small business sector. This is simply a solution in search of a problem and would be yet another government mandate on small business."</p> <p>A recent DEMOS <a href="http://www.demos.org/publication/lagging-leave-while-businesses-fall-short-new-york-state-can-become-leader-paid-family-l" target="_blank">policy brief</a> showed that 9 out of 10, or 6.4 million, working people in New York don't have paid family leave.</p> <p>Increasing the TDI is an extremely sensitive issue for businesses and many legislators believe that including it with paid family leave will continue to be a poison pill. Most legislators are convinced by Cuomo's efforts on paid family leave and they see the inclusion of it in his budget and the way he rolled out the issue in the State of the State as a sign of steadfast commitment. They expect he will be willing to increase how much the leave program pays out and perhaps speed the implementation timeline, but not touch the TDI given his relationship with the business community. Increasing the TDI would be an immense victory for labor interests.</p> <p>Carreker, who was waiting for a meeting with Cuomo administration representatives about paid leave when she spoke with Gotham Gazette, said she is confident a compromise can be reached and stressed she feels that advocates need to focus on educating legislators and small businesses on the impact paid family leave would actually have.</p> <p>"It's about getting over that initial hurdle of the fear of change, of something different," said Carreker. "The more people that hear the details, the more they'll see it makes sense. This isn't a burden, it's an insurance program that covers the salaries so businesses can figure out coverage while an employee is away so that they don't have to lose good employees."</p> <p>Klein agrees: "This is not something that puts a burden on business, but something that lends stability to the workforce. I think we're getting it done this year."</p> <div> <table style="width: 100%;" border="1" bordercolor="#000000" cellpadding="5px" cellspacing="3"> <tbody> <tr style="font-weight: bold;"> <td style="background-color: #5cacee; width: 15%;" align="center"><b>Paid Family Leave Proposals</b></td> <td style="background-color: #b9d3ee; width: 21.25%;" align="center"><b>Gov. Cuomo</b></td> <td style="background-color: #b9d3ee; width: 21.25%;" align="center"><b>Assembly Democrats</b></td> <td style="background-color: #b9d3ee; width: 21.25%;" align="center"><b>Senate Independent Democratic Conference</b></td> </tr> <tr> <td style="background-color: #cae1ff; font-weight: bold;" align="center"><b>Funding Method</b></td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>60 cent weekly deduction from employees' paychecks</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>State TDI program and 45 cent weekly deduction from employees' paychecks</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>27 cent weekly deduction from employees’ paychecks</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td style="background-color: #cae1ff; font-weight: bold;" align="center"><b>Time Off &amp; Payout</b></td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>12 weeks of paid leave starting at 35% of worker’s pay starting in 2018, rising to 66% by 2021.</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>12 weeks of paid leave starting at two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wage, effective July 2017</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>12 weeks of paid leave starting at two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly pay, or 35% of the state’s average weekly wage by 2017. Will eventually offer 80% of a worker’s salary, or 50% of the statewide average weekly by April 1, 2021</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td style="background-color: #cae1ff; font-weight: bold;" align="center"><b>TDI Expansion?</b></td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>Does not expand TDI</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>Plan would expand the scope of the state Temporary Disability Insurance program to cover paid family leave</p> </td> <td style="background-color: #f0f8ff;"> <p>Does not expand TDI</p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York One Signature Away from Calling for Overturn of Citizens United 2016-01-11T18:11:32+00:00 2016-01-11T18:11:32+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6080:new-york-one-signature-away-from-calling-for-overturn-of-citizens-united kfan <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/nys.jpg" alt="nys" height="298" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo: nysenate.gov)</p> <hr /> <p>In a landmark year for corruption in the state legislature, 2015 saw the arrest and conviction of two of the most powerful political leaders in New York. A crescendo of voices across the state -- from good government watchdogs to lawmakers -- expressed outrage and demanded stronger ethics laws and campaign finance reforms. In one sense, Albany now has the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is -- and all it needs is one signature. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">New York is one signatory away from becoming the 17th state in the country to call for a constitutional amendment to negate the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which gave entities such as corporations and unions the same rights as individuals in contributing to electoral campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">A successful bipartisan appeal for a federal constitutional amendment in the State Assembly has yet to be replicated by the State Senate, where 31 senators -- one short of a majority -- support overturning Citizens United to minimize the role of money in politics. While agreement by a majority of each house from New York would only be advisory, like the other states that have reached consensus, a groundswell for negating Citizens United could influence Congress.</p> <p dir="ltr">"As we've seen again and again, Citizens United has opened the floodgate to unchecked and often opaque corporate political contributions, muscling real people out of the political process,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Brooklyn Democrat, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Squadron is leading the effort among the Senate Democratic Conference and has 23 co-signers on <a href="http://www.ny4democracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/NY-Senate-Citizens-United-Constitutional-Amendment-Letter-to-Congress.pdf" target="_blank">a letter</a> addressed to the United States Congress which calls for the constitutional amendment.</p> <p dir="ltr">(Squadron also said that the state legislature should support his Corporate Political Activity Accountability to Shareholders Act, which would increase transparency and accountability.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Senators Ruben Diaz Sr. and Simcha Felder are the only Democrats who have not joined their colleagues on the letter. The five members of the Independent Democratic Conference together signed an identical version of Squadron’s letter while Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins independently wrote to members of Congress. (Felder is elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans in the Senate, and Diaz Sr. is often difficult to pin down ideologically.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Stewart-Cousins, in her missive, said that the independent contributions made possible by Citizens United “represent a deliberate effort to unfairly influence the electorate and empower a small group of individuals and corporations. Elected officials are becoming more beholden to the interests facilitating these outside funds while the public’s trust in our democracy erodes.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Stewart-Cousins is adamant about reforming the state’s campaign finance system and believes that Senate Democrats have led the fight on many fronts. She lays blame with the members on the other side of the aisle. “We need to restore the public’s trust in state government and that will only happen when the Senate Republicans agree to listen to the voters and take meaningful steps to clean up Albany,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the Democrats who support overturning Citizens United total 29 votes, only 2 Republican state senators have supported the effort -- Senators Phil Boyle and Kemp Hannon, albeit in language different from the Democrats’ letters (it, for example, <a href="http://www.citizen.org/documents/citizens-united-senator-boyle-sign-on-letter.pdf" target="_blank">decries</a> the massive potential outside spending to support Hillary Clinton's presidential bid). Sen. Boyle, who circulated his letter among his colleagues, refused to comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reluctance of New York Republicans to join the effort comes as a growing number of voters, including Republicans, oppose Citizens United. In a <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-28/bloomberg-poll-americans-want-supreme-court-to-turn-off-political-spending-spigot">Bloomberg poll</a> from September, 78 percent of respondents said they wanted the decision overturned.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re at a crossroads in the movement where Democrats who hadn’t signed on are signing on, and where Republican voters are strongly in favor of a constitutional amendment, but we’re working to make that transition with Republican legislators,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been garnering a coalition to lobby state legislators for their support in the matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senior attorney Gene Russianoff, from the New York Public Interest Research Group, is not surprised by the Republican legislators’ lack of support. Some of these state senators, he said, “feel teflon-proofed” and he applauded those who signed the petition. “Citizens United is the right target to fight the influence of money and political interests,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">For good government groups like NYPIRG and Citizens Union of the City of New York, the Supreme Court’s decision to treat corporations as individuals in campaign finance has wreaked untold havoc on elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">“New York State is severely hampered by federal court decisions in terms of how it can address the corrosive role of money in politics,” said Rachael Fauss, director of public policy, Citizens Union. “Action by the New York State Legislature would help drive attention to this national problem, and put New York on the record as being against campaign money being considered free speech.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom many reformers look to be more of a leader on campaign finance reform in New York, recently made clear he thinks that as long Citizens United is around, his hands are largely tied. In an <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/governor-cuomo-says-its-time-pardon-one-time-youth-offenders/">interview</a> with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Dec. 21, the governor promised that he will advocate for campaign finance reform in 2016, but conceded that he could only do so much.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you say, 'Well, money influences,' then forget it, because [with] Citizens United you're not going to get the money out of the system until the federal government changes the court or the law or both,” he said. He was also dismissive of New York City’s public campaign financing system, calling it a “mockery” that independent committees can donate large sums of money to candidates as a result of Citizens United.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates and reform-minded legislators continue to push Cuomo to call for a statewide public campaign finance system, which he has given lukewarm support for in the past.</p> <p dir="ltr">Just a few hours after Cuomo’s Dec. 21 WNYC remarks, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/966-15/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-hosts-media-roundtable-discuss-mid-term-accomplishments" target="_blank">roundtable</a> with members &nbsp;of the news media at which he also said passing a constitutional amendment was an “imperative” without which “we’re in an environment where a lot of very wealthy, powerful people will use their money to reinforce the status quo.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In an <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/opinion/who-will-heed-the-call/34136/" target="_blank">editorial</a> on Dec. 22, a day after Cuomo’s remarks on WNYC, the Albany Times Union called on the remaining state senators to take the bold step and join the growing call for an amendment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">On the surface, New York calling for a constitutional amendment may be symbolic in the absence of Congressional action. But, according to Common Cause NY executive director Susan Lerner, “In this instance, symbolism is especially potent.” She believes that owing to New York’s large congressional delegation, even symbolic measures carry significant weight.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Remember, New York is a donor state,” she said, referring to New York’s influence on elections all over the country. “Everybody running for office comes to New York for campaign contributions. When New York elected officials say the system has gotten out of control, it’s particularly applicable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a> &nbsp; &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/nys.jpg" alt="nys" height="298" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo: nysenate.gov)</p> <hr /> <p>In a landmark year for corruption in the state legislature, 2015 saw the arrest and conviction of two of the most powerful political leaders in New York. A crescendo of voices across the state -- from good government watchdogs to lawmakers -- expressed outrage and demanded stronger ethics laws and campaign finance reforms. In one sense, Albany now has the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is -- and all it needs is one signature. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">New York is one signatory away from becoming the 17th state in the country to call for a constitutional amendment to negate the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which gave entities such as corporations and unions the same rights as individuals in contributing to electoral campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">A successful bipartisan appeal for a federal constitutional amendment in the State Assembly has yet to be replicated by the State Senate, where 31 senators -- one short of a majority -- support overturning Citizens United to minimize the role of money in politics. While agreement by a majority of each house from New York would only be advisory, like the other states that have reached consensus, a groundswell for negating Citizens United could influence Congress.</p> <p dir="ltr">"As we've seen again and again, Citizens United has opened the floodgate to unchecked and often opaque corporate political contributions, muscling real people out of the political process,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Brooklyn Democrat, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Squadron is leading the effort among the Senate Democratic Conference and has 23 co-signers on <a href="http://www.ny4democracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/NY-Senate-Citizens-United-Constitutional-Amendment-Letter-to-Congress.pdf" target="_blank">a letter</a> addressed to the United States Congress which calls for the constitutional amendment.</p> <p dir="ltr">(Squadron also said that the state legislature should support his Corporate Political Activity Accountability to Shareholders Act, which would increase transparency and accountability.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Senators Ruben Diaz Sr. and Simcha Felder are the only Democrats who have not joined their colleagues on the letter. The five members of the Independent Democratic Conference together signed an identical version of Squadron’s letter while Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins independently wrote to members of Congress. (Felder is elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans in the Senate, and Diaz Sr. is often difficult to pin down ideologically.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Stewart-Cousins, in her missive, said that the independent contributions made possible by Citizens United “represent a deliberate effort to unfairly influence the electorate and empower a small group of individuals and corporations. Elected officials are becoming more beholden to the interests facilitating these outside funds while the public’s trust in our democracy erodes.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Stewart-Cousins is adamant about reforming the state’s campaign finance system and believes that Senate Democrats have led the fight on many fronts. She lays blame with the members on the other side of the aisle. “We need to restore the public’s trust in state government and that will only happen when the Senate Republicans agree to listen to the voters and take meaningful steps to clean up Albany,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the Democrats who support overturning Citizens United total 29 votes, only 2 Republican state senators have supported the effort -- Senators Phil Boyle and Kemp Hannon, albeit in language different from the Democrats’ letters (it, for example, <a href="http://www.citizen.org/documents/citizens-united-senator-boyle-sign-on-letter.pdf" target="_blank">decries</a> the massive potential outside spending to support Hillary Clinton's presidential bid). Sen. Boyle, who circulated his letter among his colleagues, refused to comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reluctance of New York Republicans to join the effort comes as a growing number of voters, including Republicans, oppose Citizens United. In a <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-28/bloomberg-poll-americans-want-supreme-court-to-turn-off-political-spending-spigot">Bloomberg poll</a> from September, 78 percent of respondents said they wanted the decision overturned.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re at a crossroads in the movement where Democrats who hadn’t signed on are signing on, and where Republican voters are strongly in favor of a constitutional amendment, but we’re working to make that transition with Republican legislators,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been garnering a coalition to lobby state legislators for their support in the matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senior attorney Gene Russianoff, from the New York Public Interest Research Group, is not surprised by the Republican legislators’ lack of support. Some of these state senators, he said, “feel teflon-proofed” and he applauded those who signed the petition. “Citizens United is the right target to fight the influence of money and political interests,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">For good government groups like NYPIRG and Citizens Union of the City of New York, the Supreme Court’s decision to treat corporations as individuals in campaign finance has wreaked untold havoc on elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">“New York State is severely hampered by federal court decisions in terms of how it can address the corrosive role of money in politics,” said Rachael Fauss, director of public policy, Citizens Union. “Action by the New York State Legislature would help drive attention to this national problem, and put New York on the record as being against campaign money being considered free speech.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom many reformers look to be more of a leader on campaign finance reform in New York, recently made clear he thinks that as long Citizens United is around, his hands are largely tied. In an <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/governor-cuomo-says-its-time-pardon-one-time-youth-offenders/">interview</a> with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Dec. 21, the governor promised that he will advocate for campaign finance reform in 2016, but conceded that he could only do so much.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you say, 'Well, money influences,' then forget it, because [with] Citizens United you're not going to get the money out of the system until the federal government changes the court or the law or both,” he said. He was also dismissive of New York City’s public campaign financing system, calling it a “mockery” that independent committees can donate large sums of money to candidates as a result of Citizens United.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates and reform-minded legislators continue to push Cuomo to call for a statewide public campaign finance system, which he has given lukewarm support for in the past.</p> <p dir="ltr">Just a few hours after Cuomo’s Dec. 21 WNYC remarks, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/966-15/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-hosts-media-roundtable-discuss-mid-term-accomplishments" target="_blank">roundtable</a> with members &nbsp;of the news media at which he also said passing a constitutional amendment was an “imperative” without which “we’re in an environment where a lot of very wealthy, powerful people will use their money to reinforce the status quo.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In an <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/opinion/who-will-heed-the-call/34136/" target="_blank">editorial</a> on Dec. 22, a day after Cuomo’s remarks on WNYC, the Albany Times Union called on the remaining state senators to take the bold step and join the growing call for an amendment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">On the surface, New York calling for a constitutional amendment may be symbolic in the absence of Congressional action. But, according to Common Cause NY executive director Susan Lerner, “In this instance, symbolism is especially potent.” She believes that owing to New York’s large congressional delegation, even symbolic measures carry significant weight.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Remember, New York is a donor state,” she said, referring to New York’s influence on elections all over the country. “Everybody running for office comes to New York for campaign contributions. When New York elected officials say the system has gotten out of control, it’s particularly applicable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a> &nbsp; &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p> Corruption, Elections Loom Over Lengthy 2016 Legislative Agenda 2016-01-06T22:17:26+00:00 2016-01-06T22:17:26+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6067:corruption-elections-loom-over-2016-legislative-agenda Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24195066305_18221d13db_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo announcement infrastructure" height="393" width="600" /></p> <p>Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)</p> <hr /> <p>Lawmakers returning to Albany this week to kick off the 2016 legislative session are faced with a litany of unresolved issues from last year and the spectre of the recent convictions of two former legislative leaders.</p> <p>Add to that impending elections for all 213 legislative seats, some of which will be critical for the future of state Senate control and the prospect of future indictments hinted at by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and you have a recipe for potential paralysis.</p> <p>Familiar issues like raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, juvenile justice and criminal justice reforms are all on the table. Newer issues like regulating fantasy sports gambling and tweaks to the state's health insurance marketplace will also be up for discussion.</p> <p>Complicating some issues will be Gov. Andrew Cuomo's repeated 2015 use of executive action, which irked some legislators and, according to some advocates, let the air out of pushes for major legislation. But the elephant in the room remains how to deal with the plague of corruption that has dogged the capitol for years.</p> <p>There is a little extra motivation for the legislature to move on more comprehensive ethics fixes - when session ended in June, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Majority Leader Dean Skelos had merely been indicted on federal corruption charges, six months later both men have been convicted and will soon face sentencing. Further, their trials exposed how major donors are able to exploit the state's campaign finance system and how both Silver and Skelos were able to use their influence to pressure entities with business before the state to provide them and their associates with financial benefit.</p> <p>Cuomo has promised that ethics reform will be at the top of his 2016 agenda.</p> <p>Aside from the unprecedented legislative scandal, both houses of the legislature will also be preparing for an election season that many see as do or die for control of the state Senate, currently led by Republicans. Upcoming electoral contests could motivate leaders from both houses to compromise, or it could create more strife, legislative paralysis, and a blame game that will play out in the elections.</p> <p>Still, there are a variety of major policy issues at play as 2016 session begins, including:</p> <p><strong>Full-Time Legislature</strong><br />A number of good government groups, as well as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and even U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, have posited that a better paid, full-time legislature might reduce certain kinds of corruption. Better pay might reduce the temptation to take bribes and with outside income banned it would be much harder for legislators to hide any ill-gotten gains.</p> <p>A number of Assembly Democrats say their conference has seriously discussed the possibility of advocating for a full-time legislative body. In a Dec. 7 <a href="http://www.bronxnet.org/tv/bronxtalk/viewvideo/6546/bronxtalk/bronxtalk--dec-7th-2015" target="_blank">interview</a> with Gary Axelbank of BronxTalk, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he wanted to see how stricter income disclosure rules passed last year work before he advocates a total ban on outside income.</p> <p>Heastie told Axelbank a full-time legislature would have to be paid considerably more. "Is the public ready to pay legislators $150,000-$160,000 a year?" Heastie asked. "If you're going to have people go full time, there's going to have to be a hefty pay raise from $79,500." Legislators haven't had a raise in 15 years, though a new commission is examining the rates and will issue recommendations.</p> <p>Majority Leader John Flanagan has repeatedly said he is steadfastly opposed to a full-time legislature. He said it on Wednesday's first session day, and last month he <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2015/12/flanagan-remains-opposed-to-full-time-legislature/" target="_blank">told reporters</a>, "We are ostensibly supposed to have, or legally supposed to have, a citizen Legislature or a part-time Legislature. I want the people with a depth of background. I think it's useful to have people from varying walks of life."</p> <p>Still, upon replacing Skelos, Flanagan gave up his second job, a move he explained Wednesday as important because of his time commitment as Senate leader, which comes with a stipend.</p> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo has noted that the constitution calls for a part-time legislature and Republican opposition to going full-time, but called the idea "something worth talking about." It's more likely that legislators compromise on a significant cap on outside income and additional rules.</p> <p><strong>LLC Loophole</strong><br />The now-infamous LLC loophole was featured during the Silver and Skelos corruption trials, but has been a cause of consternation among reformers for quite some time. In practice, the loophole allows anyone to game the campaign finance system by setting up multiple LLCs, or limited liability corporations, from which to donate to candidates for office.</p> <p>Cries to close the loophole reached fever pitch last session, but in the wake of the Silver and Skelos trials have become even louder. Glenwood Management, a Manhattan real estate firm at the center of the Silver and Skelos cases, used the loophole to subvert the state's campaign donation limits by creating a number of front companies. The firm has been the largest contributor in the state for years. The Assembly moved to close the loophole last year but the Senate refused to vote on the issue. The Assembly is poised to move again on the issue but it appears that they might face opposition not only from Senate Republicans but from Cuomo as well.</p> <p>Speaking with reporters in Manhattan on Dec. 13, Cuomo said that closing the LLC Loophole was "a priority." However, on Dec. 21, Cuomo said in a WNYC radio interview that closing the loophole would be ineffective because of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates.</p> <p>"You need people in office who are going to use their best judgment in office," Cuomo said on WNYC, "because you're not going to change the campaign finance system because of Citizens United."</p> <p>Cuomo also refused to return over a million dollars in donations from Glenwood Management. "If I believed that I could be influenced by a million dollars, or a thousand dollars, or fifty dollars, then I'm in the wrong place and I should resign immediately," <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/cuomo-plans-ethics-bills-but-won-t-close-llc-loophole-1.11251226" target="_blank">he explained</a>.</p> <p><strong>Minimum Wage Hike</strong><br />Cuomo kicked off the rollout of his 2016 agenda with another rally for an eventual $15 hourly statewide minimum wage and by extending a path toward $15 per hour to 28,000 SUNY employees. Cuomo has promised to push the legislature to adopt his plan to get all workers across the state to at least $15 per hour over the next several years.</p> <p>Cuomo rapidly evolved his position on the minimum wage last year after opposing a hike to $13 per hour proposed by Democratic legislators. But, he utilized the state's wage board provision to boost the minimum wage plan for fast food workers to an eventual $15 per hour and has rallied across the state to push the legislature to support the same figure.</p> <p>The Assembly pushed for an eventual $15 minimum wage for New York City in its single-house budget last year and is expected to support Cuomo's push. There are some Democratic members from Upstate and Western New York who are concerned about backlash from business groups. Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has not written off the possibility of a path toward a $15 minimum wage and there are some who think he will look to compromise with Cuomo on the timeline for full implementation of the raise as a way to take the debate off the table before election season.</p> <p>Cuomo has already begun outlining tax reform, especially to reduce the burden on small businesses, which many see as part of the plan to get the minimum wage hike passed. A heightened minimum wage is popular around the state and has endeared the governor with many of his erstwhile liberal friends.</p> <p><strong>Tax on the Rich</strong><br />With one sentence of his remarks on the opening day of session, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie changed the expected dynamics of negotiations to come. "We will fight for a tax structure that promotes fairness, equity, common sense," Heastie said, adding that he wanted tax cuts for the working class and to ask "wealthy New Yorkers" to pay their "fair share."</p> <p>Cuomo has repeatedly rejected calls for a tax on the highest earners over the last few years - especially when the calls came from Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014. It isn't clear how hard Heastie will push on the issue but if it takes off it could eventually be used as leverage toward enacting a full minimum wage increase.</p> <p><strong>Criminal Justice Reform</strong><br />Last month the Cuomo administration made good on a promised executive action when it unveiled a plan to move 16- and 17-year-old inmates with medium and minimum security classifications to a juvenile facility in Hudson. The move is expected to impact up to 100 inmates. However, advocates are not satisfied. New York is still one of two states to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults upon arrest.</p> <p>Criminal justice experts want the entire process changed in state law, something Cuomo has backed and tried to enact last year to no avail.</p> <p>While advocates plan to continue to push, and held a press conference on the first day of session to resume doing so, Cuomo's executive action may have reduced the legislature's appetite to act. A number of Senate Republicans were concerned about housing teens in adult prisons but are not convinced the entire criminal justice process should be altered. Meanwhile, Cuomo and Democrats from the Senate and Assembly have disagreed on exactly how the 16- and 17-year-olds should be processed by the courts.</p> <p>Meanwhile, having failed to build a consensus with the legislature on how to revamp the criminal justice system to address concerns about how police shootings of citizens are investigated, Cuomo issued an executive order last summer allowing the Attorney General to name a special prosecutor in such cases.</p> <p>The move angered some district attorneys and members of law enforcement but gave the governor a boost with progressive activists. However, Cuomo promised to evaluate how the order worked and return to the legislature with a plan to change the law.</p> <p>Members of the Assembly Majority are anxious to tackle the issue but Senate Republicans are unlikely to want to touch it - especially in an election year. A good gauge of where the issue stands in the pecking order will be to see what kind of mention it gets, if any, in Cuomo's State of the State address. A number of legislators say they expect Cuomo to declare victory on both of these criminal justice issues by pointing to his executive actions and thereby avoid any major legislative battles.</p> <p><strong>Car Service Apps</strong><br />In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided he wanted to limit the expansion of Uber, the most popular car-service app, citing concerns about congestion. It was as if the mayor stepped on a landmine. Uber quickly mobilized its drivers and users and rolled out an effective public relations campaign, even enlisting Cuomo - who may not have needed much prodding to contradict de Blasio.</p> <p>The mayor walked away limping but with plans to return to the issue. Now the state has to decide how to handle Uber and Lyft's push to be allowed in New York, including in upstate cities. In late October, Cuomo indicated that he thinks the state should issue regulations as a whole. "You can't do Uber city by city," <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8580407/cuomo-hints-new-de-blasio-fight-time-over-uber" target="_blank">Cuomo said</a>. Cuomo's former top advisor Matt Wing is now in charge of communications for Uber in the Northeast.</p> <p>Localities would need to give up oversight of transportation insurance and allow Uber to pool insurance for its drivers. The taxi industry, which is steadfastly opposed to Uber, is currently regulated city by city.</p> <p><strong>Fantasy Sports Gambling</strong><br />A number of Assembly Democrats are chomping at the bit to address the issue of fantasy sports betting sites like Draftkings and FanDuel, which were recently sued by AG Schneiderman for being illegal gambling in violation of New York law. Schneiderman then amended the suit to ask the companies to return all money it made from New Yorkers. Democratic Assemblymember Gary Pretlow told Gotham Gazette that he plans to come up with regulations, oversight, and consumer protections that could keep the sites alive should they be found illegal in the court battle.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a number of Senate Republicans are interested in ending any ambiguity about the legality of the sites by passing a bill stating that it is a game of skill and not of chance. Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer introduced such a bill in December. He told The Buffalo News in November that he hadn't spoken to representatives of the sites but was motivated by what he saw as Schneiderman's "overreach."</p> <p>"It's just once again. New York shouldn't have Uber, shouldn't have mixed martial arts, or sports betting. When all this commerce and activities is allowed in many other states, it just seems like one issue after another in New York," Ranzenhofer <a href="http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/state/ranzenhofer-bill-would-make-fantasy-sports-legal-in-new-york-20151116" target="_blank">told the Buffalo News</a>.</p> <p><strong>A Variety of Others</strong><br />Expect a major push from both houses of the legislature to restore education funding cuts.</p> <p>The Ultimate Fighting Championship is advancing a court case to force New York to allow them to hold events in the state and has even booked a spring date at Madison Square Garden to hold its mixed martial arts bouts (MMA). The legislature could intercede before the case is settled.</p> <p>Cuomo has already revealed a number of infrastructure related plans. Senate Republicans are looking to increase investment in the state's roads and bridges upstate while a number of city-based Democrats want to see the governor better invest in the MTA and do more to relieve congestion.</p> <p>A number of Assembly Democrats are looking for partners in the Senate Majority for <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5950-as-cuomo-pushes-for-federal-action-on-guns-new-york-measures-await-his-support" target="_blank">bills that would encourage guns are stored safely</a>. There are several other bills that address implementing employee training and stricter checks and balances for gun stores as well as ones that would allow police to take away guns belonging to perpetrators of domestic violence.</p> <p>Cuomo has been focused on national solutions to gun violence as of late but some Assembly Democrats think there is room <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5950-as-cuomo-pushes-for-federal-action-on-guns-new-york-measures-await-his-support" target="_blank">to pass smaller pieces of legislation</a> this year.</p> <p>The Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act, or GENDA, appears to have lost a great deal of momentum after Cuomo enacted a number of its tenets through executive order earlier this fall. The Empire State Pride Agenda, which had been backing the bill, announced it is closing its policy operations because it feels it has completed much of its work, but some advocates point out that Cuomo's GENDA order could quickly be undone by the next governor.</p> <p>The DREAM Act is another long-standing Democratic priority that many are unsure of its place in this year's agenda, which may be determined by whether Cuomo features it in his State of the State and budget.</p> <p>The Assembly and Senate majorities and the Independent Democratic Conference will have to settle their differences over how to implement paid family leave before they look to negotiate a final bill with the governor. "I'm always optimistic," IDC head Sen. Jeff Klein said of a resolution on paid family leave in November. "It is an extremely important issue resonates with residents across the state." Klein brought the policy up again in his opening remarks on the Senate floor, and Flanagan said a conversation would happen, but that the details must be determined. Heastie said the Assembly would again bass a paid family leave bill this year, as it has several years in a row.</p> <p>Generally speaking, Flanagan succinctly summed up his conference's priorities with his opening remarks on Wednesday, saying its focus will be "jobs, jobs, and jobs."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24195066305_18221d13db_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo announcement infrastructure" height="393" width="600" /></p> <p>Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)</p> <hr /> <p>Lawmakers returning to Albany this week to kick off the 2016 legislative session are faced with a litany of unresolved issues from last year and the spectre of the recent convictions of two former legislative leaders.</p> <p>Add to that impending elections for all 213 legislative seats, some of which will be critical for the future of state Senate control and the prospect of future indictments hinted at by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and you have a recipe for potential paralysis.</p> <p>Familiar issues like raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, juvenile justice and criminal justice reforms are all on the table. Newer issues like regulating fantasy sports gambling and tweaks to the state's health insurance marketplace will also be up for discussion.</p> <p>Complicating some issues will be Gov. Andrew Cuomo's repeated 2015 use of executive action, which irked some legislators and, according to some advocates, let the air out of pushes for major legislation. But the elephant in the room remains how to deal with the plague of corruption that has dogged the capitol for years.</p> <p>There is a little extra motivation for the legislature to move on more comprehensive ethics fixes - when session ended in June, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Majority Leader Dean Skelos had merely been indicted on federal corruption charges, six months later both men have been convicted and will soon face sentencing. Further, their trials exposed how major donors are able to exploit the state's campaign finance system and how both Silver and Skelos were able to use their influence to pressure entities with business before the state to provide them and their associates with financial benefit.</p> <p>Cuomo has promised that ethics reform will be at the top of his 2016 agenda.</p> <p>Aside from the unprecedented legislative scandal, both houses of the legislature will also be preparing for an election season that many see as do or die for control of the state Senate, currently led by Republicans. Upcoming electoral contests could motivate leaders from both houses to compromise, or it could create more strife, legislative paralysis, and a blame game that will play out in the elections.</p> <p>Still, there are a variety of major policy issues at play as 2016 session begins, including:</p> <p><strong>Full-Time Legislature</strong><br />A number of good government groups, as well as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and even U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, have posited that a better paid, full-time legislature might reduce certain kinds of corruption. Better pay might reduce the temptation to take bribes and with outside income banned it would be much harder for legislators to hide any ill-gotten gains.</p> <p>A number of Assembly Democrats say their conference has seriously discussed the possibility of advocating for a full-time legislative body. In a Dec. 7 <a href="http://www.bronxnet.org/tv/bronxtalk/viewvideo/6546/bronxtalk/bronxtalk--dec-7th-2015" target="_blank">interview</a> with Gary Axelbank of BronxTalk, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he wanted to see how stricter income disclosure rules passed last year work before he advocates a total ban on outside income.</p> <p>Heastie told Axelbank a full-time legislature would have to be paid considerably more. "Is the public ready to pay legislators $150,000-$160,000 a year?" Heastie asked. "If you're going to have people go full time, there's going to have to be a hefty pay raise from $79,500." Legislators haven't had a raise in 15 years, though a new commission is examining the rates and will issue recommendations.</p> <p>Majority Leader John Flanagan has repeatedly said he is steadfastly opposed to a full-time legislature. He said it on Wednesday's first session day, and last month he <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2015/12/flanagan-remains-opposed-to-full-time-legislature/" target="_blank">told reporters</a>, "We are ostensibly supposed to have, or legally supposed to have, a citizen Legislature or a part-time Legislature. I want the people with a depth of background. I think it's useful to have people from varying walks of life."</p> <p>Still, upon replacing Skelos, Flanagan gave up his second job, a move he explained Wednesday as important because of his time commitment as Senate leader, which comes with a stipend.</p> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo has noted that the constitution calls for a part-time legislature and Republican opposition to going full-time, but called the idea "something worth talking about." It's more likely that legislators compromise on a significant cap on outside income and additional rules.</p> <p><strong>LLC Loophole</strong><br />The now-infamous LLC loophole was featured during the Silver and Skelos corruption trials, but has been a cause of consternation among reformers for quite some time. In practice, the loophole allows anyone to game the campaign finance system by setting up multiple LLCs, or limited liability corporations, from which to donate to candidates for office.</p> <p>Cries to close the loophole reached fever pitch last session, but in the wake of the Silver and Skelos trials have become even louder. Glenwood Management, a Manhattan real estate firm at the center of the Silver and Skelos cases, used the loophole to subvert the state's campaign donation limits by creating a number of front companies. The firm has been the largest contributor in the state for years. The Assembly moved to close the loophole last year but the Senate refused to vote on the issue. The Assembly is poised to move again on the issue but it appears that they might face opposition not only from Senate Republicans but from Cuomo as well.</p> <p>Speaking with reporters in Manhattan on Dec. 13, Cuomo said that closing the LLC Loophole was "a priority." However, on Dec. 21, Cuomo said in a WNYC radio interview that closing the loophole would be ineffective because of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates.</p> <p>"You need people in office who are going to use their best judgment in office," Cuomo said on WNYC, "because you're not going to change the campaign finance system because of Citizens United."</p> <p>Cuomo also refused to return over a million dollars in donations from Glenwood Management. "If I believed that I could be influenced by a million dollars, or a thousand dollars, or fifty dollars, then I'm in the wrong place and I should resign immediately," <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/cuomo-plans-ethics-bills-but-won-t-close-llc-loophole-1.11251226" target="_blank">he explained</a>.</p> <p><strong>Minimum Wage Hike</strong><br />Cuomo kicked off the rollout of his 2016 agenda with another rally for an eventual $15 hourly statewide minimum wage and by extending a path toward $15 per hour to 28,000 SUNY employees. Cuomo has promised to push the legislature to adopt his plan to get all workers across the state to at least $15 per hour over the next several years.</p> <p>Cuomo rapidly evolved his position on the minimum wage last year after opposing a hike to $13 per hour proposed by Democratic legislators. But, he utilized the state's wage board provision to boost the minimum wage plan for fast food workers to an eventual $15 per hour and has rallied across the state to push the legislature to support the same figure.</p> <p>The Assembly pushed for an eventual $15 minimum wage for New York City in its single-house budget last year and is expected to support Cuomo's push. There are some Democratic members from Upstate and Western New York who are concerned about backlash from business groups. Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has not written off the possibility of a path toward a $15 minimum wage and there are some who think he will look to compromise with Cuomo on the timeline for full implementation of the raise as a way to take the debate off the table before election season.</p> <p>Cuomo has already begun outlining tax reform, especially to reduce the burden on small businesses, which many see as part of the plan to get the minimum wage hike passed. A heightened minimum wage is popular around the state and has endeared the governor with many of his erstwhile liberal friends.</p> <p><strong>Tax on the Rich</strong><br />With one sentence of his remarks on the opening day of session, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie changed the expected dynamics of negotiations to come. "We will fight for a tax structure that promotes fairness, equity, common sense," Heastie said, adding that he wanted tax cuts for the working class and to ask "wealthy New Yorkers" to pay their "fair share."</p> <p>Cuomo has repeatedly rejected calls for a tax on the highest earners over the last few years - especially when the calls came from Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014. It isn't clear how hard Heastie will push on the issue but if it takes off it could eventually be used as leverage toward enacting a full minimum wage increase.</p> <p><strong>Criminal Justice Reform</strong><br />Last month the Cuomo administration made good on a promised executive action when it unveiled a plan to move 16- and 17-year-old inmates with medium and minimum security classifications to a juvenile facility in Hudson. The move is expected to impact up to 100 inmates. However, advocates are not satisfied. New York is still one of two states to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults upon arrest.</p> <p>Criminal justice experts want the entire process changed in state law, something Cuomo has backed and tried to enact last year to no avail.</p> <p>While advocates plan to continue to push, and held a press conference on the first day of session to resume doing so, Cuomo's executive action may have reduced the legislature's appetite to act. A number of Senate Republicans were concerned about housing teens in adult prisons but are not convinced the entire criminal justice process should be altered. Meanwhile, Cuomo and Democrats from the Senate and Assembly have disagreed on exactly how the 16- and 17-year-olds should be processed by the courts.</p> <p>Meanwhile, having failed to build a consensus with the legislature on how to revamp the criminal justice system to address concerns about how police shootings of citizens are investigated, Cuomo issued an executive order last summer allowing the Attorney General to name a special prosecutor in such cases.</p> <p>The move angered some district attorneys and members of law enforcement but gave the governor a boost with progressive activists. However, Cuomo promised to evaluate how the order worked and return to the legislature with a plan to change the law.</p> <p>Members of the Assembly Majority are anxious to tackle the issue but Senate Republicans are unlikely to want to touch it - especially in an election year. A good gauge of where the issue stands in the pecking order will be to see what kind of mention it gets, if any, in Cuomo's State of the State address. A number of legislators say they expect Cuomo to declare victory on both of these criminal justice issues by pointing to his executive actions and thereby avoid any major legislative battles.</p> <p><strong>Car Service Apps</strong><br />In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided he wanted to limit the expansion of Uber, the most popular car-service app, citing concerns about congestion. It was as if the mayor stepped on a landmine. Uber quickly mobilized its drivers and users and rolled out an effective public relations campaign, even enlisting Cuomo - who may not have needed much prodding to contradict de Blasio.</p> <p>The mayor walked away limping but with plans to return to the issue. Now the state has to decide how to handle Uber and Lyft's push to be allowed in New York, including in upstate cities. In late October, Cuomo indicated that he thinks the state should issue regulations as a whole. "You can't do Uber city by city," <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8580407/cuomo-hints-new-de-blasio-fight-time-over-uber" target="_blank">Cuomo said</a>. Cuomo's former top advisor Matt Wing is now in charge of communications for Uber in the Northeast.</p> <p>Localities would need to give up oversight of transportation insurance and allow Uber to pool insurance for its drivers. The taxi industry, which is steadfastly opposed to Uber, is currently regulated city by city.</p> <p><strong>Fantasy Sports Gambling</strong><br />A number of Assembly Democrats are chomping at the bit to address the issue of fantasy sports betting sites like Draftkings and FanDuel, which were recently sued by AG Schneiderman for being illegal gambling in violation of New York law. Schneiderman then amended the suit to ask the companies to return all money it made from New Yorkers. Democratic Assemblymember Gary Pretlow told Gotham Gazette that he plans to come up with regulations, oversight, and consumer protections that could keep the sites alive should they be found illegal in the court battle.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a number of Senate Republicans are interested in ending any ambiguity about the legality of the sites by passing a bill stating that it is a game of skill and not of chance. Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer introduced such a bill in December. He told The Buffalo News in November that he hadn't spoken to representatives of the sites but was motivated by what he saw as Schneiderman's "overreach."</p> <p>"It's just once again. New York shouldn't have Uber, shouldn't have mixed martial arts, or sports betting. When all this commerce and activities is allowed in many other states, it just seems like one issue after another in New York," Ranzenhofer <a href="http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/state/ranzenhofer-bill-would-make-fantasy-sports-legal-in-new-york-20151116" target="_blank">told the Buffalo News</a>.</p> <p><strong>A Variety of Others</strong><br />Expect a major push from both houses of the legislature to restore education funding cuts.</p> <p>The Ultimate Fighting Championship is advancing a court case to force New York to allow them to hold events in the state and has even booked a spring date at Madison Square Garden to hold its mixed martial arts bouts (MMA). The legislature could intercede before the case is settled.</p> <p>Cuomo has already revealed a number of infrastructure related plans. Senate Republicans are looking to increase investment in the state's roads and bridges upstate while a number of city-based Democrats want to see the governor better invest in the MTA and do more to relieve congestion.</p> <p>A number of Assembly Democrats are looking for partners in the Senate Majority for <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5950-as-cuomo-pushes-for-federal-action-on-guns-new-york-measures-await-his-support" target="_blank">bills that would encourage guns are stored safely</a>. There are several other bills that address implementing employee training and stricter checks and balances for gun stores as well as ones that would allow police to take away guns belonging to perpetrators of domestic violence.</p> <p>Cuomo has been focused on national solutions to gun violence as of late but some Assembly Democrats think there is room <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5950-as-cuomo-pushes-for-federal-action-on-guns-new-york-measures-await-his-support" target="_blank">to pass smaller pieces of legislation</a> this year.</p> <p>The Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act, or GENDA, appears to have lost a great deal of momentum after Cuomo enacted a number of its tenets through executive order earlier this fall. The Empire State Pride Agenda, which had been backing the bill, announced it is closing its policy operations because it feels it has completed much of its work, but some advocates point out that Cuomo's GENDA order could quickly be undone by the next governor.</p> <p>The DREAM Act is another long-standing Democratic priority that many are unsure of its place in this year's agenda, which may be determined by whether Cuomo features it in his State of the State and budget.</p> <p>The Assembly and Senate majorities and the Independent Democratic Conference will have to settle their differences over how to implement paid family leave before they look to negotiate a final bill with the governor. "I'm always optimistic," IDC head Sen. Jeff Klein said of a resolution on paid family leave in November. "It is an extremely important issue resonates with residents across the state." Klein brought the policy up again in his opening remarks on the Senate floor, and Flanagan said a conversation would happen, but that the details must be determined. Heastie said the Assembly would again bass a paid family leave bill this year, as it has several years in a row.</p> <p>Generally speaking, Flanagan succinctly summed up his conference's priorities with his opening remarks on Wednesday, saying its focus will be "jobs, jobs, and jobs."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> Klein's 'Newspaper' Touts His Ability to Bring Home the Bacon 2015-10-07T23:32:21+00:00 2015-10-07T23:32:21+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5926:kleins-newspaper-touts-his-ability-to-bring-home-the-bacon Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/klein-new-width-600-black-background.jpg" alt="klein riverdale record" width="600" height="510" /></p> <p>Sen. Klein's "newspaper"</p> <hr /> <p>The latest edition of the "newspaper" being published by state Senator Jeff Klein features frontpage news celebrating his ability to bring cash home to his Bronx district.</p> <p>"UFT, educators herald Klein's $1.5M support for community schools," reads one frontpage headline.</p> <p>Another: "Community applauds Klein for securing $250K for Hudson River Greenway study."</p> <p>The timing is interesting given that the latest edition of "Riverdale Record" - circulation 37,000 - hit mailboxes just as Klein and the large sums of funding he secured have come under scrutiny by the press and good government groups.</p> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo once railed against member items and pushed to abolish them but this year they <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-capital-projects-include-8m-pork-5-ex-senators-article-1.2386484" target="_blank">returned</a> with a vengeance, given <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8578951/once-harsh-critic-cuomo-now-signs-legislative-earmarks" target="_blank">Cuomo's approval</a>, and Klein, an ally to both Cuomo and Senate Republicans, appears to be the biggest beneficiary by far.</p> <p>The leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, Klein has been in a unique bargaining position over the last several years. Klein has brought home over $11.7 million in earmarks from the State and Municipal Projects Fund over the last three years, more than three times that of any other Senator, Politico New York <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8578822/klein-takes-home-more-11-million-earmarks" target="_blank">reported on Monday</a>. That funding is allocated through the Dormitory Authority to projects like building basketball courts, improving parks, and installing security systems in public places.</p> <p>The funding Klein touts on his new front page do not appear to be from that allotment of cash, nevertheless it fuels Bronx-based critics who say Klein has been leveraging his largesse to combat or silence local media outlets. Those critics say Klein's "newspaper" is just another weapon that <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5883-in-battle-with-local-bronx-media-klein-publishes-own-newspaper" target="_blank">allows him to avoid scrutiny and damage the legitimate Bronx press</a>.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/klein-1.jpg" alt="klein paper" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="350" height="467" /></p> <p>Klein's Democratic critics say his take home in pork projects is a reward from Senate Republicans for helping them keep their thin majority instead of enabling Democrats to seize the chamber.</p> <p>Good government groups say the current member item system is ripe for corruption and political abuse. "It is stunning that the process of handing out legislative pork was restarted during the most disastrous session in history after the two most powerful Senators and the most powerful Assemblyman were toppled by corruption inquiries," said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, referring to Tom Libous, Dean Skelos, and Sheldon Silver. "To restart the process now shows utter obtuseness to the corruption that is going on."</p> <p>Klein broke from Senate Democrats in 2011 after Republicans won the majority, creating the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). Klein said the move was motivated by dysfunction in the mainstream Democratic caucus, but Democrats and advocates have since accused Klein of creating the party simply to increase his power and ability to bargain with Senate Republicans.</p> <p>Klein did in fact partner with Senate Republicans to give them a majority in 2012 when Democrats won a numerical majority. The IDC has enjoyed increased staff funding and more legislative input. Even after Republicans won an outright majority, they have continued to try to keep Klein happy as an insurance policy against future Democratic victories.</p> <p>Now critics have even more ammunition against Klein's motives as the cold hard numbers are available. To put Klein's State and Municipal Projects Fund awards in perspective you just have to look at what the most senior members of the Senate Republicans were awarded. Former Majority Leader Dean Skelos won $3.6 million, Sen. George Martins, $3.5 million, and former Sen. Tom Libous, nearly $3 million.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Klein defended the member items <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8578822/klein-takes-home-more-11-million-earmarks" target="_blank">to Politico New York</a>, saying it "funds important government projects throughout New York State."</p> <p>Many legislators argue member items are important because they allow politicians to deliver for the most worthy causes in their districts. The Bronx has traditionally been underserved by state government, but Klein is not the only representative of the area and according to the list of member items released by Senate Republicans, only Republicans and members of the IDC were able to deliver this type of funding for their districts.</p> <p>Good government groups note that the process has been abused many times and has led to embezzlement and corruption. Some groups call for depoliticizing the process by giving members discretionary funding based on the population of their districts.</p> <p>Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany, said he believes if the state insists on giving out member items it should follow the model created by the New York City Council under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>In 2014, the Council overhauled its member item process after a number of members were caught directing funds to projects that benefited them or their friends and family. The old process was also routinely criticized because it allowed the council speaker to punish and reward Council members. Now members bring home nearly equal funding to their districts, with some variance based on poverty levels.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5883-in-battle-with-local-bronx-media-klein-publishes-own-newspaper" target="_blank">In Battle with Local Bronx Media, Klein Starts Own 'Newspaper'</a>]</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/klein-new-width-600-black-background.jpg" alt="klein riverdale record" width="600" height="510" /></p> <p>Sen. Klein's "newspaper"</p> <hr /> <p>The latest edition of the "newspaper" being published by state Senator Jeff Klein features frontpage news celebrating his ability to bring cash home to his Bronx district.</p> <p>"UFT, educators herald Klein's $1.5M support for community schools," reads one frontpage headline.</p> <p>Another: "Community applauds Klein for securing $250K for Hudson River Greenway study."</p> <p>The timing is interesting given that the latest edition of "Riverdale Record" - circulation 37,000 - hit mailboxes just as Klein and the large sums of funding he secured have come under scrutiny by the press and good government groups.</p> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo once railed against member items and pushed to abolish them but this year they <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-capital-projects-include-8m-pork-5-ex-senators-article-1.2386484" target="_blank">returned</a> with a vengeance, given <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8578951/once-harsh-critic-cuomo-now-signs-legislative-earmarks" target="_blank">Cuomo's approval</a>, and Klein, an ally to both Cuomo and Senate Republicans, appears to be the biggest beneficiary by far.</p> <p>The leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, Klein has been in a unique bargaining position over the last several years. Klein has brought home over $11.7 million in earmarks from the State and Municipal Projects Fund over the last three years, more than three times that of any other Senator, Politico New York <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8578822/klein-takes-home-more-11-million-earmarks" target="_blank">reported on Monday</a>. That funding is allocated through the Dormitory Authority to projects like building basketball courts, improving parks, and installing security systems in public places.</p> <p>The funding Klein touts on his new front page do not appear to be from that allotment of cash, nevertheless it fuels Bronx-based critics who say Klein has been leveraging his largesse to combat or silence local media outlets. Those critics say Klein's "newspaper" is just another weapon that <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5883-in-battle-with-local-bronx-media-klein-publishes-own-newspaper" target="_blank">allows him to avoid scrutiny and damage the legitimate Bronx press</a>.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/klein-1.jpg" alt="klein paper" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="350" height="467" /></p> <p>Klein's Democratic critics say his take home in pork projects is a reward from Senate Republicans for helping them keep their thin majority instead of enabling Democrats to seize the chamber.</p> <p>Good government groups say the current member item system is ripe for corruption and political abuse. "It is stunning that the process of handing out legislative pork was restarted during the most disastrous session in history after the two most powerful Senators and the most powerful Assemblyman were toppled by corruption inquiries," said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, referring to Tom Libous, Dean Skelos, and Sheldon Silver. "To restart the process now shows utter obtuseness to the corruption that is going on."</p> <p>Klein broke from Senate Democrats in 2011 after Republicans won the majority, creating the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). Klein said the move was motivated by dysfunction in the mainstream Democratic caucus, but Democrats and advocates have since accused Klein of creating the party simply to increase his power and ability to bargain with Senate Republicans.</p> <p>Klein did in fact partner with Senate Republicans to give them a majority in 2012 when Democrats won a numerical majority. The IDC has enjoyed increased staff funding and more legislative input. Even after Republicans won an outright majority, they have continued to try to keep Klein happy as an insurance policy against future Democratic victories.</p> <p>Now critics have even more ammunition against Klein's motives as the cold hard numbers are available. To put Klein's State and Municipal Projects Fund awards in perspective you just have to look at what the most senior members of the Senate Republicans were awarded. Former Majority Leader Dean Skelos won $3.6 million, Sen. George Martins, $3.5 million, and former Sen. Tom Libous, nearly $3 million.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Klein defended the member items <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8578822/klein-takes-home-more-11-million-earmarks" target="_blank">to Politico New York</a>, saying it "funds important government projects throughout New York State."</p> <p>Many legislators argue member items are important because they allow politicians to deliver for the most worthy causes in their districts. The Bronx has traditionally been underserved by state government, but Klein is not the only representative of the area and according to the list of member items released by Senate Republicans, only Republicans and members of the IDC were able to deliver this type of funding for their districts.</p> <p>Good government groups note that the process has been abused many times and has led to embezzlement and corruption. Some groups call for depoliticizing the process by giving members discretionary funding based on the population of their districts.</p> <p>Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany, said he believes if the state insists on giving out member items it should follow the model created by the New York City Council under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>In 2014, the Council overhauled its member item process after a number of members were caught directing funds to projects that benefited them or their friends and family. The old process was also routinely criticized because it allowed the council speaker to punish and reward Council members. Now members bring home nearly equal funding to their districts, with some variance based on poverty levels.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5883-in-battle-with-local-bronx-media-klein-publishes-own-newspaper" target="_blank">In Battle with Local Bronx Media, Klein Starts Own 'Newspaper'</a>]</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> Dean Skelos Thwarted Reform and Maintained Power, Despite the Odds 2015-05-05T15:59:40+00:00 2015-05-05T15:59:40+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5710:dean-skelos-thwarted-reform-and-maintained-power-despite-the-odds Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/7030330743_91185c603e_z.jpg" alt="Skelos Silver Cuomo" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo: The Governor's Office <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/governorandrewcuomo/7030330743/in/photostream/" target="_blank">via flickr</a>)</span></p> <hr /> <p>In June 2008, after serving 23 years as the State Senator from Nassau County, Dean Skelos inherited the troubled Republican conference from retiring Majority Leader Joe Bruno. It wasn't exactly the most enviable position.</p> <p>Facing an aging conference and with Democrats enjoying a huge enrollment advantage across the state, 2009 saw Republicans enter the Senate minority for the first time in decades. The same month Skelos began his stint as minority leader his predecessor was indicted on eight counts of corruption. It began Skelos' long but successful fight to keep his conference not only relevant but in charge when it mattered the most in terms of decision-making for the future of his party.</p> <p>Now, seven years later, Skelos faces <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/May15/SkelosChargesPR.php" target="_blank">a federal complaint</a> with several charges, including <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/05/8567262/skelos-accused-monetizing-office-through-his-son" target="_blank">monetizing his office</a> by arranging payments to him and his son through a developer who sought favorable legislation. The case involves many elements of state government that have been attacked as corrupt and unethical - from the LLC loophole that allows donors to pump the lifeblood of campaign cash into the Republican conference, or the 421-A tax break for developers that has been attacked as a giveaway to corporate donors, major issues at play in the indictment are parts of how Skelos managed to keep himself and the Senate Republicans in power in Albany.</p> <p>"I'm going to be president of the Senate, I'm going to be majority leader," Skelos allegedly told his son during a phone conversation about their deal with a developer - a call being recorded <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/May15/SkelosChargesPR.php" target="_blank">by federal agents</a>. "I'm going to control everything, I'm going to control who gets on what committees, what legislation goes to the floor, what legislation comes through committees, the budget, everything."</p> <p>On Monday Skelos issued a statement claiming his innocence and worked to maintain his role as leader of the Senate Majority.</p> <p>Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, an organization that has advocated many major reforms that Skelos directly opposes, said that Skelos' power can be directly traced back to the policy he delivers and the reforms he opposes.</p> <p>"It was never more clear than in last year's Senate elections how much the system helped keep the Republicans in power," said Scharff. "They raised vast amounts of money from hedge funds that were interested in very specific policy points and had them spend massive amounts of money in independent expenditures to deliver the policy that keeps them in power."</p> <p>During his time as Majority Leader Skelos won battles on redistricting, not only pushing back efforts to create independently drawn lines but even succeeding in the creation of the 63rd Senate seat upstate. He publicly derided campaign finance reform, public financing of campaigns, and efforts to have lawyers disclose their clients. And behind the scenes he was mostly successful in holding back the tide of government and campaign finance reform. He's appointed members to the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, and fought successfully to kill the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. As the federal charges against him and much political history show, Skelos has not been alone in any of this.</p> <p>The indictment against Skelos alleges he monetized his office by abusing the same systems and loopholes that he protected from reform. The charges against Skelos say that the developer involved in the kickback scheme <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/05/8567261/skelos-complaint-details-glenwood-connection" target="_blank">used the LLC loophole</a> to subvert campaign finance limits. Only last month, Skelos' new appointee to the Board of Elections <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/17/nyregion/new-york-state-elections-board-retains-a-corporate-donation-loophole.html" target="_blank">thwarted efforts</a> to eliminate the same loophole.</p> <p>Skelos maintained this power by cutting deals with Democrats like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Independent Democratic Conference head Sen. Jeff Klein who both share some of Skelos' economic concerns and larger donors.</p> <p>"Skelos' indictment gets to the core problem," Scharff told Gotham Gazette. " Those who raise the most money are the ones who have the most power and they have gone out of their way to make sure reform doesn't happen. They have made sure it is built into how Albany works."</p> <p><strong>How He Got Here: The Coup</strong><br />In 2009, Senate Democrats reveled in their new-found power. Exposing Bruno's largess - personal, customized vans for his use, private printing facilities, and television studios, Democrats were riding high as they took control of the chamber. But Democrats only enjoyed a few seat margin over Republicans.</p> <p>The "Three Amigos" including Pedro Espada, Carl Kruger and Ruben Diaz pushed for more power within the conference in exchange for their loyalty. Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith appeared weak and scattered. Meanwhile Buffalo billionaire Thomas Golisano, who had helped Democrats win the majority, felt ignored by Smith. He and his political fixer Steve Pigeon met with Skelos and Republican Sens. Tom Libous and George Maziarz in an Albany rock club and began devising a Senate takeover.</p> <p>They recruited the dissatisfied and particularly-ambitious freshman Espada and Espada recruited Sen. Hiram Monserrate. On June 8, 2009, with only days left in session, facing the expiration of mayoral control of schools and the rent laws, Republicans lept into action. Republicans moved for a surprising leadership vote and although it was disputed by Democrats soon Skelos was standing in the chamber shaking hands with Espada - the two split Smith's positions as Majority Leader Espada and Senate President Skelos.</p> <p>Control of the Senate was disputed for months. Eventually Espada and Monserrate rejoined the Democratic conference but the damage had been done - rifts in the Senate Democrats were made public, and they were painted as dysfunctional during their first shot at the majority in decades.</p> <p>Worth noting is that at the time both Monserrate and Espada faced ethical questions beyond just conniving for Senate power. Espada was eventually convicted of stealing from his own health clinics, in one case using cash for HIV victims to fund his campaigns, and Monserrate was eventually expelled from the Senate for slashing his girlfriend's face with a bottle. And yet, Skelos partnered with both men for a tenuous shot to regain control of the Senate.</p> <p><strong>Keeping Power Through Redistricting</strong><br />In 2011 Skelos regained the title of Senate Majority Leader thanks to major donations from real estate, developers, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and it wasn't a moment too soon. A coalition of reform groups led by former Mayor Ed Koch were pushing for legislators to deliver a redistricting plan that better reflected the actual enrollment and population of the state. For decades Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats engaged in a redistricting process that allowed them to draw districts that would assure their incumbents had the best chance of being reelected, disregarding the actual makeup of communities. Skelos played hardball, slamming Koch's efforts as "partisan."</p> <p>Eventually Cuomo gave up his pledge to veto any district lines that were gerrymandered and agreed to new lines that drastically favored Senate Republicans, even creating a 63rd district upstate that suspiciously carved its way around major population centers and incorporated rural towns populated by more voters who were more likely Republican.</p> <p>During this time Skelos proved to be a valuable ally to Cuomo as he helped the governor pass some of his more conservative fiscal plans, including a tax cap, while also delivering Cuomo the votes he needed on same-sex marriage. Although Cuomo also delivered a highly-touted ethics package that year, advocates insist that major issues were ignored because Skelos and Senate Republicans refused to cede any ground on campaign finance reform as they believed the current system was essential to keeping them in the majority.</p> <p><strong>2013-2014 Deals and The Death of Moreland</strong><br />Democrats technically held enough seats for a majority after the 2012 elections but Skelos cut a deal with the IDC and newly-elected Sen. Simcha Felder to create a coalition government which saw Skelos rotate control of the chamber with Klein. During this time a number of legislators were indicted on corruption charges and advocates began a major push for public financing of campaigns. Skelos stood steadfast against campaign finance reform, even holding a hearing against the policy featuring national anti-public finance advocates.</p> <p>"Public financing of elections would not have stopped any one of those crooks and idiots from doing what they did," Skelos <a href="http://polhudson.lohudblogs.com/2013/04/23/skelos-public-campaign-financing-wont-stop-crooks-and-idiots/" target="_blank">told reporters</a> on April 23, 2013. Skelos directly referenced Smith who had been indicted that day on counts that he tried to bribe his way onto the Republican ticket in the race for New York City mayor.</p> <p>As pressure mounted in 2013 Skelos obstinately opposed a series of reforms proposed by Cuomo - a package of reforms most advocates actually considered insignificant. Finally Cuomo made good on his longtime threat to empanel a Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption. For months, as Moreland held hearings, Skelos and now-indicted then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver waged a court battle against Moreland and publicly decried it as a "witch hunt."</p> <p>"These actions amount to an attempt to coerce or threaten the Legislature and upset the separation of powers that exists between the executive and legislative branches, and cannot be accepted," Skelos <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/silver-skelos-harshly-criticize-moreland-commission-1.6483467" target="_blank">wrote</a> to Senate Republicans in November 2013.</p> <p>It was in 2013 that reports of possible influence by Cuomo's office into the commission began. Some Moreland insiders insisted Cuomo's office was particularly deadset on stopping subpoenas to the Real Estate Board of New York, whose members are key Cuomo donors, but also major backers of Skelos and Senate Republicans. Cuomo began facing increasing pushback from Skelos and Silver during 2014 budget negotiations.</p> <p>Moreland was reportedly closing in on ties between donations from the real estate industry and policy and it was making everyone in charge antsy. In March, Cuomo quietly announced he had killed Moreland in exchange for his proposed slate of reforms. "Skelos killed the commission just as it was starting to expose the quid-pro-quo system that is built into Albany," said Scharff.</p> <p>As the 2014 election season kicked into high gear Cuomo felt increasing pressure to support a Democratic Senate and align himself with liberal policy. The governor promised the Working Families Party he would help elect Democrats to the Senate and the IDC promised it would caucus with Democrats.</p> <p>Senate Republicans mobilized their major donors, reminding them of the coming sunset of the rent laws, the push to expand charter schools in the state, and of the "Democratic dysfunction of 2009." Not only did the real estate industry pour record amounts of cash into Senate Republican coffers, but it marshalled a number of independent expenditures to boost candidates in important districts.</p> <p><strong>This Year</strong><br />Republicans started 2015 with the wind in their sails. They had won complete control of the Senate and soon after the year began Silver, longtime Democratic Assembly majority leader, was indicted. But quickly word came that Skelos was also a target of US Attorney Preet Bharara. Still, Skelos rejected just about any Democratic policy proposed in the state budget: tossed out were proposals on campaign finance reform, renewing mayoral control of schools, criminal justice reform, raising the minimum wage, and a host of other issues.</p> <p>After returning from the budget break in mid-April, Republicans largely ignored the major outstanding issues. Session became a parade of small-time legislation having to do with vanity license plates and honoring local sports teams. Last week as more chatter picked up around Skelos' possible indictment, session slowed even further with Republicans spending more time in conference.</p> <p>Finally on Friday the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported federal prosecutors might arrest Skelos on Monday. Skelos and his son faced charges in court and the Senate Majority leader proclaimed his innocence. Senate session went on as planned Monday afternoon, with little of substance being discussed and many Republican Senators expressing <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/05/8567325/republicans-stick-skelos-after-deliberation" target="_blank">solidarity with Skelos</a>, the man who kept them in power against the odds. But signs exist of a possible break in the solidarity. Some, like Sens. John DeFrancisco and John Flanagan jockeyed to replace Skelos while others like Sen. John Bonacic said Skelos had to resign with an indictment over his head.</p> <p>Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris said he was "troubled" by the allegations against Skelos, adding: "Senator Skelos should now step down as Majority Leader for the good of our state and in the interest of allowing the remaining weeks of our legislative session to proceed without distraction. There are too many important issues which remain unresolved, ironically including several long overdue ethics reforms and expiring housing laws."</p> <p>Saying that&nbsp;"Legislative leaders must be held to a higher ethical standard of conduct and his actions violate that standard," good government group Citizens Union called for Skelos to step down from his leadership post on Tuesday.</p> <p>Klein, who maintains a deal with Senate Republicans, did not call for Skelos to resign. "The burden now falls on the Republican Conference to determine if new Republican Leadership is warranted," Klein said in a statement.</p> <p>Cuomo, who has remained mostly in New York City of late, was in Albany Monday, but his only public event was an announcement that he participated in by phone. He did not comment on the Skelos matter.</p> <p>Scharff and Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Group both said it is now up to Cuomo to push through the reforms he could not achieve earlier this year. "At the top of that list of legislative "must dos" are initiatives to overhaul ethics enforcement, limit outside income, and reign in the influence of New York's powerful special interests," said Horner. "The governor must take up the unfinished Moreland Commission agenda to restore the public's confidence in state government; specifically closing the LLC loophole."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/7030330743_91185c603e_z.jpg" alt="Skelos Silver Cuomo" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo: The Governor's Office <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/governorandrewcuomo/7030330743/in/photostream/" target="_blank">via flickr</a>)</span></p> <hr /> <p>In June 2008, after serving 23 years as the State Senator from Nassau County, Dean Skelos inherited the troubled Republican conference from retiring Majority Leader Joe Bruno. It wasn't exactly the most enviable position.</p> <p>Facing an aging conference and with Democrats enjoying a huge enrollment advantage across the state, 2009 saw Republicans enter the Senate minority for the first time in decades. The same month Skelos began his stint as minority leader his predecessor was indicted on eight counts of corruption. It began Skelos' long but successful fight to keep his conference not only relevant but in charge when it mattered the most in terms of decision-making for the future of his party.</p> <p>Now, seven years later, Skelos faces <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/May15/SkelosChargesPR.php" target="_blank">a federal complaint</a> with several charges, including <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/05/8567262/skelos-accused-monetizing-office-through-his-son" target="_blank">monetizing his office</a> by arranging payments to him and his son through a developer who sought favorable legislation. The case involves many elements of state government that have been attacked as corrupt and unethical - from the LLC loophole that allows donors to pump the lifeblood of campaign cash into the Republican conference, or the 421-A tax break for developers that has been attacked as a giveaway to corporate donors, major issues at play in the indictment are parts of how Skelos managed to keep himself and the Senate Republicans in power in Albany.</p> <p>"I'm going to be president of the Senate, I'm going to be majority leader," Skelos allegedly told his son during a phone conversation about their deal with a developer - a call being recorded <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/May15/SkelosChargesPR.php" target="_blank">by federal agents</a>. "I'm going to control everything, I'm going to control who gets on what committees, what legislation goes to the floor, what legislation comes through committees, the budget, everything."</p> <p>On Monday Skelos issued a statement claiming his innocence and worked to maintain his role as leader of the Senate Majority.</p> <p>Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, an organization that has advocated many major reforms that Skelos directly opposes, said that Skelos' power can be directly traced back to the policy he delivers and the reforms he opposes.</p> <p>"It was never more clear than in last year's Senate elections how much the system helped keep the Republicans in power," said Scharff. "They raised vast amounts of money from hedge funds that were interested in very specific policy points and had them spend massive amounts of money in independent expenditures to deliver the policy that keeps them in power."</p> <p>During his time as Majority Leader Skelos won battles on redistricting, not only pushing back efforts to create independently drawn lines but even succeeding in the creation of the 63rd Senate seat upstate. He publicly derided campaign finance reform, public financing of campaigns, and efforts to have lawyers disclose their clients. And behind the scenes he was mostly successful in holding back the tide of government and campaign finance reform. He's appointed members to the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, and fought successfully to kill the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. As the federal charges against him and much political history show, Skelos has not been alone in any of this.</p> <p>The indictment against Skelos alleges he monetized his office by abusing the same systems and loopholes that he protected from reform. The charges against Skelos say that the developer involved in the kickback scheme <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/05/8567261/skelos-complaint-details-glenwood-connection" target="_blank">used the LLC loophole</a> to subvert campaign finance limits. Only last month, Skelos' new appointee to the Board of Elections <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/17/nyregion/new-york-state-elections-board-retains-a-corporate-donation-loophole.html" target="_blank">thwarted efforts</a> to eliminate the same loophole.</p> <p>Skelos maintained this power by cutting deals with Democrats like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Independent Democratic Conference head Sen. Jeff Klein who both share some of Skelos' economic concerns and larger donors.</p> <p>"Skelos' indictment gets to the core problem," Scharff told Gotham Gazette. " Those who raise the most money are the ones who have the most power and they have gone out of their way to make sure reform doesn't happen. They have made sure it is built into how Albany works."</p> <p><strong>How He Got Here: The Coup</strong><br />In 2009, Senate Democrats reveled in their new-found power. Exposing Bruno's largess - personal, customized vans for his use, private printing facilities, and television studios, Democrats were riding high as they took control of the chamber. But Democrats only enjoyed a few seat margin over Republicans.</p> <p>The "Three Amigos" including Pedro Espada, Carl Kruger and Ruben Diaz pushed for more power within the conference in exchange for their loyalty. Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith appeared weak and scattered. Meanwhile Buffalo billionaire Thomas Golisano, who had helped Democrats win the majority, felt ignored by Smith. He and his political fixer Steve Pigeon met with Skelos and Republican Sens. Tom Libous and George Maziarz in an Albany rock club and began devising a Senate takeover.</p> <p>They recruited the dissatisfied and particularly-ambitious freshman Espada and Espada recruited Sen. Hiram Monserrate. On June 8, 2009, with only days left in session, facing the expiration of mayoral control of schools and the rent laws, Republicans lept into action. Republicans moved for a surprising leadership vote and although it was disputed by Democrats soon Skelos was standing in the chamber shaking hands with Espada - the two split Smith's positions as Majority Leader Espada and Senate President Skelos.</p> <p>Control of the Senate was disputed for months. Eventually Espada and Monserrate rejoined the Democratic conference but the damage had been done - rifts in the Senate Democrats were made public, and they were painted as dysfunctional during their first shot at the majority in decades.</p> <p>Worth noting is that at the time both Monserrate and Espada faced ethical questions beyond just conniving for Senate power. Espada was eventually convicted of stealing from his own health clinics, in one case using cash for HIV victims to fund his campaigns, and Monserrate was eventually expelled from the Senate for slashing his girlfriend's face with a bottle. And yet, Skelos partnered with both men for a tenuous shot to regain control of the Senate.</p> <p><strong>Keeping Power Through Redistricting</strong><br />In 2011 Skelos regained the title of Senate Majority Leader thanks to major donations from real estate, developers, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and it wasn't a moment too soon. A coalition of reform groups led by former Mayor Ed Koch were pushing for legislators to deliver a redistricting plan that better reflected the actual enrollment and population of the state. For decades Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats engaged in a redistricting process that allowed them to draw districts that would assure their incumbents had the best chance of being reelected, disregarding the actual makeup of communities. Skelos played hardball, slamming Koch's efforts as "partisan."</p> <p>Eventually Cuomo gave up his pledge to veto any district lines that were gerrymandered and agreed to new lines that drastically favored Senate Republicans, even creating a 63rd district upstate that suspiciously carved its way around major population centers and incorporated rural towns populated by more voters who were more likely Republican.</p> <p>During this time Skelos proved to be a valuable ally to Cuomo as he helped the governor pass some of his more conservative fiscal plans, including a tax cap, while also delivering Cuomo the votes he needed on same-sex marriage. Although Cuomo also delivered a highly-touted ethics package that year, advocates insist that major issues were ignored because Skelos and Senate Republicans refused to cede any ground on campaign finance reform as they believed the current system was essential to keeping them in the majority.</p> <p><strong>2013-2014 Deals and The Death of Moreland</strong><br />Democrats technically held enough seats for a majority after the 2012 elections but Skelos cut a deal with the IDC and newly-elected Sen. Simcha Felder to create a coalition government which saw Skelos rotate control of the chamber with Klein. During this time a number of legislators were indicted on corruption charges and advocates began a major push for public financing of campaigns. Skelos stood steadfast against campaign finance reform, even holding a hearing against the policy featuring national anti-public finance advocates.</p> <p>"Public financing of elections would not have stopped any one of those crooks and idiots from doing what they did," Skelos <a href="http://polhudson.lohudblogs.com/2013/04/23/skelos-public-campaign-financing-wont-stop-crooks-and-idiots/" target="_blank">told reporters</a> on April 23, 2013. Skelos directly referenced Smith who had been indicted that day on counts that he tried to bribe his way onto the Republican ticket in the race for New York City mayor.</p> <p>As pressure mounted in 2013 Skelos obstinately opposed a series of reforms proposed by Cuomo - a package of reforms most advocates actually considered insignificant. Finally Cuomo made good on his longtime threat to empanel a Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption. For months, as Moreland held hearings, Skelos and now-indicted then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver waged a court battle against Moreland and publicly decried it as a "witch hunt."</p> <p>"These actions amount to an attempt to coerce or threaten the Legislature and upset the separation of powers that exists between the executive and legislative branches, and cannot be accepted," Skelos <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/silver-skelos-harshly-criticize-moreland-commission-1.6483467" target="_blank">wrote</a> to Senate Republicans in November 2013.</p> <p>It was in 2013 that reports of possible influence by Cuomo's office into the commission began. Some Moreland insiders insisted Cuomo's office was particularly deadset on stopping subpoenas to the Real Estate Board of New York, whose members are key Cuomo donors, but also major backers of Skelos and Senate Republicans. Cuomo began facing increasing pushback from Skelos and Silver during 2014 budget negotiations.</p> <p>Moreland was reportedly closing in on ties between donations from the real estate industry and policy and it was making everyone in charge antsy. In March, Cuomo quietly announced he had killed Moreland in exchange for his proposed slate of reforms. "Skelos killed the commission just as it was starting to expose the quid-pro-quo system that is built into Albany," said Scharff.</p> <p>As the 2014 election season kicked into high gear Cuomo felt increasing pressure to support a Democratic Senate and align himself with liberal policy. The governor promised the Working Families Party he would help elect Democrats to the Senate and the IDC promised it would caucus with Democrats.</p> <p>Senate Republicans mobilized their major donors, reminding them of the coming sunset of the rent laws, the push to expand charter schools in the state, and of the "Democratic dysfunction of 2009." Not only did the real estate industry pour record amounts of cash into Senate Republican coffers, but it marshalled a number of independent expenditures to boost candidates in important districts.</p> <p><strong>This Year</strong><br />Republicans started 2015 with the wind in their sails. They had won complete control of the Senate and soon after the year began Silver, longtime Democratic Assembly majority leader, was indicted. But quickly word came that Skelos was also a target of US Attorney Preet Bharara. Still, Skelos rejected just about any Democratic policy proposed in the state budget: tossed out were proposals on campaign finance reform, renewing mayoral control of schools, criminal justice reform, raising the minimum wage, and a host of other issues.</p> <p>After returning from the budget break in mid-April, Republicans largely ignored the major outstanding issues. Session became a parade of small-time legislation having to do with vanity license plates and honoring local sports teams. Last week as more chatter picked up around Skelos' possible indictment, session slowed even further with Republicans spending more time in conference.</p> <p>Finally on Friday the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported federal prosecutors might arrest Skelos on Monday. Skelos and his son faced charges in court and the Senate Majority leader proclaimed his innocence. Senate session went on as planned Monday afternoon, with little of substance being discussed and many Republican Senators expressing <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/05/8567325/republicans-stick-skelos-after-deliberation" target="_blank">solidarity with Skelos</a>, the man who kept them in power against the odds. But signs exist of a possible break in the solidarity. Some, like Sens. John DeFrancisco and John Flanagan jockeyed to replace Skelos while others like Sen. John Bonacic said Skelos had to resign with an indictment over his head.</p> <p>Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris said he was "troubled" by the allegations against Skelos, adding: "Senator Skelos should now step down as Majority Leader for the good of our state and in the interest of allowing the remaining weeks of our legislative session to proceed without distraction. There are too many important issues which remain unresolved, ironically including several long overdue ethics reforms and expiring housing laws."</p> <p>Saying that&nbsp;"Legislative leaders must be held to a higher ethical standard of conduct and his actions violate that standard," good government group Citizens Union called for Skelos to step down from his leadership post on Tuesday.</p> <p>Klein, who maintains a deal with Senate Republicans, did not call for Skelos to resign. "The burden now falls on the Republican Conference to determine if new Republican Leadership is warranted," Klein said in a statement.</p> <p>Cuomo, who has remained mostly in New York City of late, was in Albany Monday, but his only public event was an announcement that he participated in by phone. He did not comment on the Skelos matter.</p> <p>Scharff and Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Group both said it is now up to Cuomo to push through the reforms he could not achieve earlier this year. "At the top of that list of legislative "must dos" are initiatives to overhaul ethics enforcement, limit outside income, and reign in the influence of New York's powerful special interests," said Horner. "The governor must take up the unfinished Moreland Commission agenda to restore the public's confidence in state government; specifically closing the LLC loophole."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union</p>