Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/319 Wed, 20 Jun 2018 02:03:34 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Republican Governors Association ‘Keeping Close Eye’ on New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7621:republican-governors-association-keeping-close-eye-on-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7621:republican-governors-association-keeping-close-eye-on-new-york Cuomo Christie

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)


In the 2014 race for governor, when Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic incumbent, was leading by 37 points over his Republican rival Rob Astorino with nearly four months till Election Day, the Republican Governors Association wrote off the loss.

Then-RGA chair Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey at the time, publicly refused to come to Astorino’s aid. “I will spend time in places where we have a chance to win — I said that right from the beginning,” Christie said in late-July 2014, according to NJ.com. When asked if he’d campaign in New York, he added, “We don’t pay for landslides and we don’t invest in lost causes.” Astorino went on to lose by about 14 points, receiving 40.6 percent of the vote to Cuomo’s 54 percent, with some saying that though he faced steep odds, he had virtually no chance without support from the RGA and other forces that sat it out. Cuomo and Christie had a good relationship, and appeared to have something of a non-aggression pact.

This time around, with resentment against Cuomo intensifying among Democrats on the left, the incumbent’s vulnerabilities showing on issues like the state-run New York City subway system and government corruption, and with Republicans eager to build on victories from 2016, the RGA is watching New York closely while state party leaders prepare to pitch the RGA for help in electing the party’s first statewide official in New York since 2002.     

“We are keeping a close eye on the New York governor’s race,” said Jon Thompson, RGA communications director, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “The RGA does not get involved in GOP primaries, but once voters choose a nominee, we will take a hard look at how we can make an impact. If Governor Cuomo’s approval ratings continue to drop, or he loses the primary to Cynthia Nixon, it could create an environment that is competitive for Republicans.”

The winds have changed since 2014 and a third-term for Cuomo no longer seems an absolute certainty. An enraged and engaged activist base is seeking to push the centrist governor further to his left, boosting the unlikely possibility that actor and activist Cynthia Nixon could prevail in her longshot Democratic primary challenge. The stink of corruption continues to linger over Cuomo’s administration, with one former top aide to the governor recently convicted of fraud and accepting bribes, and another headed to trial on corruption charges in June. And then there’s a degree of Cuomo fatigue, evident from recent polling that shows the governor’s favorability at one of the lowest points in the seven years he has held his seat and voters more interested in “someone else” than reelecting Cuomo.

For Republicans, the time seems ripe for a strong challenge, embodied most likely by Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the Republican candidate who has already locked up enough endorsements to secure the party’s nomination at its convention in late May. His main opponent, state Senator John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, even acknowledged that Molinaro has the leg up after the state Conservative Party chose last week to back Molinaro’s bid, (“It’s obvious that Molinaro has the momentum,” he said, according to The Buffalo News) but has not dropped out of the race. Both candidates have pledged that they will not contest a primary beyond the convention, keeping in line with the party’s plan of unifying behind a single candidate after the nomination is formally decided, giving that candidate from June until November to run with full GOP support.

But even though Cuomo may stand bloodied and bruised, whether from his own failings or after what is expected to be a scorched earth primary, he has a campaign warchest of $30 million and counting, far surpassing any candidate in the field on either side. That makes the intervention of the RGA a potentially game-changing factor for a Republican candidate’s campaign.

“They can’t coordinate but they certainly can have a huge impact,” said New York State Republican Committee Chair Ed Cox, in a phone interview. “And they know how to win gubernatorial elections.”

As opposed to 2014, Cox sees a clear path for a Republican victory this year -- with the governor’s mounting scandals, his second-term swing to the left that has created resentment upstate, and his use of the race as a springboard for a presidential bid, which Cox said would rub voters the wrong way. There’s also the possibility, he noted, that Cuomo will lose votes in the general to third party candidates -- Nixon won the endorsement of the Working Families Party, which would allow her to be on the general election ballot even if she loses the Democratic primary; and Howie Hawkins is running for governor for a third time on the Green Party line, on which he came in third with more than 180,000 votes in 2014.

In a race between a “governor who is a political thug” like Cuomo, and a “very impressive” candidate like Molinaro, Republicans stand a chance, Cox said. “New York may be a blue state, but it’s a blue-collar state, not a West Side Manhattan blue state,” Cox said.

“The money that the RGA could bring to any given gubernatorial race is massive,” said Heath Brown, associate professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and an expert in campaign finance. “The millions of dollars that they could bring into a race, specially on the advertising side, has in the past been very significant in many states...Where they spend that money is I think very debated, but it’s not debatable at all that if they decide to get involved in a race, that they, at the state level, can be one of the biggest players in any gubernatorial race.”

Just on Tuesday, the RGA announced that it had raised $87 million so far in the 2018 cycle, $23.6 millon of which was in the first quarter of this year alone.

With 36 governor seats on the ballot this year, those resources will be put to use in competitive races. The RGA has already booked $34 million in television ads in the closing weeks of the general election in ten states: Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Arizona, Alaska, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Some of that funding may be employed by RGA Right Direction PAC, an independent expenditure group entirely funded by the RGA, which had just under $1 million at its disposal at the end of March.

Brown noted, however, that New York may be far down the list of RGA priorities. The national politics around President Trump, which may in some ways boost Republican enthusiasm, have also by-and-large riled up Democrats, and observers widely believe a blue wave is going to crash across the country. “I think everyone expects New York to be solidly Democratic and if there weren’t so many other close races, I think the RGA might look at New York more seriously,” Brown said. “But I think they’ve got bigger fish to fry and many more pressing concerns about Republican-held seats losing, which would be much much more serious.”

According to The Cook Political Report, five Republican-held and three Democrat-held gubernatorial seats are toss-ups in this year’s election, and New York is in the “Solid D” column.

A Siena College poll out Tuesday showed Cuomo with his lowest favorability rating as governor, but also showed him ahead of Molinaro in a head-to-head 57-31 percent, though many voters don’t know Molinaro yet and Republicans are disputing the polling methodology.

Brown said that even if Christie had not publicly shot down the Astorino campaign in 2014, there was little chance of the RGA investing in that race. “I think that a competitive race among the Democrats is going to be something that national Republicans will enjoy. But the actual investment of resources is something that is too precious for national organizations to do anything other than place where they need to get wins...there is a question about the nationalization of gubernatorial races in 2018 and whether the national politics related to the president are going to be something that every governor running is going to have to confront. So I think that the nationalization that we’ve seen in other parts of the country is also likely to play out in New York.”

That hasn’t stopped the New York Republican Party from trying to woo the RGA. Next month, the Republican State Committee will honor RGA Chair Bill Haslam, governor of Tennessee, at its annual gala. The RGA is also expected to meet in New York around the same time.

DeFrancisco has already made his case before the RGA at a meeting in February. Michael Lawler, a spokesperson for DeFrancisco’s campaign, said in an email, “I think the Republican Governors Association is definitely interested in the race. Fortunately, they are in a position of defending a majority of seats, and so like with any race, they will evaluate it on the merits, but I would expect they would look to be more helpful than they were four years ago, not just financially, but publicly offering support.”

Molinaro campaign spokesperson Katherine Delgado said, “We remain in regular contact with the RGA and other outside groups that are encouraged by Marc's candidacy.”

Cox predicted of Molinaro, “I can see him getting together with them and really impressing the RGA people.”

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Republican Governors Association ‘Keeping Close Eye’ on New York Tue, 17 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7581:in-run-for-governor-marc-molinaro-will-make-a-character-argument http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7581:in-run-for-governor-marc-molinaro-will-make-a-character-argument molinaro w dollar unfundated mandates

Marc Molinaro (photo: @MarcMolinaro)


Marc Molinaro wants you to believe in government again. In order to do so, he will argue, you must elect him to be the next governor of New York, eschewing the cutthroat, divisive, corrupt politics of Andrew Cuomo and opting for unity, dignity, and bipartisan problem-solving.

The 42-year-old Republican is in his second term as Dutchess County Executive; on Monday he will officially launch his gubernatorial campaign from the town of Tivoli, where he grew up and was elected mayor at 18, in 1994. In part, he is going to run for governor on the concept that Andrew Cuomo is a bad guy and that he, Marc Molinaro, is a good guy -- a man with good values, good character, and the right approach to government. Many will vouch for him; and loud will be the chorus decrying Cuomo, who, despite not being particularly well-liked by people in politics, has many of his own advantages as he seeks a third term.

While Molinaro has been a declared gubernatorial candidate for weeks now -- appearing at candidate forums, racking up endorsements from party leaders across the state, and emerging as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination -- Monday will mark a new beginning, setting off a seven-month push to become the first Republican elected statewide since Gov. George Pataki won a third term in 2002.

“We’ve elected state leaders who don’t understand how government is supposed to function,” Molinaro said in an interview earlier this year, “who don’t think they are truly responsible and accountable and ought to be accessible to the voters. And I have done all of that.” In order to inspire more confidence in government, Molinaro will argue, leadership must be more worthy of respect, more attentive, and more competent.

“[W]hen you look to Albany and Washington, you realize all of a sudden that they have one thing in common: they’re divided,” Molinaro says in the campaign video he released last week. “[T[he politics of today seems to be focused on tearing others down instead of lifting up the people we serve. We seek to bring people together, to work together, to overcome our challenges, and I know that the people working together can solve any problem, confront any challenge, and overcome any obstacle."

Though there will be plenty of lofty rhetoric, Molinaro will not be running a purely positive campaign, as he has already fired off acerbic attacks on Cuomo, the Democratic incumbent who must survive his own primary challenge before worrying about the Republican nominee. Molinaro is the heavy favorite to leave his party’s May convention as the nominee -- Republicans are aiming to avoid a contentious primary, while Cuomo is likely to have to battle actor and activist Cynthia Nixon through the September 13 Democratic vote in what is shaping up to be a scorched-earth contest.

Part of the reason Molinaro is favored by many of his partymates is that he is something of an Albany outsider -- though he did spend five years in the state Assembly minority -- who is able to run on executive and legislative experience and a believable platform of changing the way business is done in a state capital known for secretive negotiations, pay-to-play politics, and other legal and illegal ethical breaches. Molinaro’s main competition for the nomination is state Senator John DeFrancisco, the deputy majority leader who has been in the Senate since 1992.

Molinaro is folksy but assertive. He is self-deprecating -- “my mom still thinks I should get a real job” -- with a honed sense of himself and ready ability to talk about what he sees as the strengths of his record, having spent virtually his entire adult life in elected office. He talks about his family a lot - he has three young children, including one with special needs, which has helped inform one of his focus areas as county executive. He talks about growing up with a single mother, eating free lunch at school -- “we struggled quite a bit” -- and is quick to show empathy. He is a people-person; Andrew Cuomo is not.

“I wasn’t born into politics,” Molinaro said in the interview, “nobody anointed me anything.”

There are a variety of clear reasons why Molinaro was recruited to run, even after he said in early January that he had decided against it, leading him to change his mind and answer the call from fellow Republicans. But, he’ll face some daunting challenges if he does indeed win his party nomination and face the incumbent in the general election: raising money, especially enough to compete with Cuomo, who has shown tremendous skill at exploiting New York’s porous campaign finance rules to accumulate a massive $30 million war chest; building name recognition across the state; and appealing to the more conservative Republican base as well as moderates from both major parties and independents.

“There are real people in the State of New York of all backgrounds who I think do want a competent, capable, caring leader, and who are willing to cross party lines to be supportive,” Molinaro said.

Alongside character, he’ll have to compete with Cuomo’s record, which boasts a number of high-profile accomplishments, and the support for the incumbent from the Democratic establishment, including many labor unions, and, perhaps, an activist base that decides Cuomo is preferable to anyone with an “R” next to their name, especially in the Donald Trump era.

New York is a blue state, with a significant Democratic enrollment advantage, and November is expected to usher in the full impact of a blue wave building across the country, including in New York. But, there are many parts of the state that lean Republican and some signs of Cuomo fatigue. Seeking a third term in 2018 may be like seeking a fourth term in earlier eras that didn’t have today’s news cycles and social media. Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father, lost his attempt at a fourth term to Pataki in 1994.

Andrew Cuomo is likely to be damaged by what is already a bruising primary challenge from Nixon, who, if she doesn’t win, is cutting powerful ads for use against the incumbent in the general. While Nixon is challenging Cuomo from the left flank, her criticisms of him as “corrupt Cuomo,” “Andrew the bully,” a poor steward of the MTA, and more, are all ones that will be tenets of any Republican campaign against the governor.

Though polls and campaign accounts show Cuomo in good position as the campaign season gets moving, and he is a famously crafty political operative, the amount of apparent vitriol from the governor’s left and right should not be underestimated. Nixon launched her campaign less than two weeks ago, many prominent Democrats have sidestepped questions about endorsing the party’s most powerful New York player, and anti-Trump and anti-Senate Independent Democratic Conference fervor may take major bites out of Cuomo’s margins in the primary.

As the calendar turns to April and Nixon throws haymakers, enter Molinaro.

The county executive will talk “purpose” and “service” a lot, he’ll talk about civic responsibility, shared values across political lines, family, and opportunity. He will continue to criticize Cuomo on ethical, management, and leadership lines. He will point to the struggling economies of upstate towns, the floundering New York City subway system, the high property taxes and unfunded mandates on localities, the corruption trials of top Cuomo aides, the secretive Albany budget negotiations, and the vengeful nature of an incumbent with few friends but many allies.

That will take him only so far.

Molinaro will need a clear platform, and his positions on a variety of issues will be vetted carefully. He’ll need to secure votes across upstate New York and break through in the suburban counties surrounding New York City, including the areas around his own home in Dutchess and onto Long Island. He’ll have to make himself exempt from the apparent suburban revolt against Trump’s Republican Party.

Votes from the five boroughs would also be helpful, if not essential -- can he secure the Giuliani and Bloomberg Democrats and independents and hit the “magic 30 percent” that Republicans believe they need in the city to win statewide?

How will Molinaro tailor his campaign in the different regions of the state? How will he talk about Trump? Who will be his lieutenant governor candidate running mate?

As he seeks to mostly take the high road, Molinaro has been critical of the tone and tenor of the 2016 presidential campaign, and said at a recent candidate forum in Manhattan that he will support Trump when he works to help the middle class, but speak up when he disagrees with the president. “You’ll always hear me say it the way I see it, just like I think many people admire the way he says it the way he sees it,” Molinaro said.

Molinaro has said he did not vote for Trump in 2016, instead writing in former Congressional Rep. Chris Gibson, who at one time was many New York Republicans’ hope to challenge Cuomo this year. Gibson decided against running. Molinaro’s opposition to Trump has not stopped many Republican leaders from supporting him.

While some Republicans throughout the state will want to hear Molinaro back Trump’s presidency, Democrats will surely use the president against whoever the GOP nominee is, especially in the state’s large cities and suburbs around New York City.

When asked by Gotham Gazette if he calls himself a moderate, Molinaro said no.

“I have some strongly held beliefs,” he said. “I have had to vote on them from time to time. You could consider me a communitarian. I know it’s not a real term, but it was one. Everyone who has a stake in the game, everyone who has something to win or lose deserves a seat at the table and the leader needs to set the tone. In this case, a governor, a mayor, or a county executive sets the tone that gets people who may be on opposite sides of the issue to find some commonality so that we solve the problem, confront the challenge, and provide the outcome.”

“We have to come to conclusions that don't divide people,” he added. “This governor is often too happy to divide people. If you're too far right, you don't deserve to live in the state of New York. If you’re too far left well then, he suggests, I don’t have to listen to you. The truth of the matter is, everybody who calls the state home has to know that their leader is listening to them.”

Molinaro said he has friends and colleagues who will vouch for him who are Democrats and Republicans. In Dutchess, he said with a laugh, “most of the Democratic leaders hate that they like me.” He said that he would work better with Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio than Cuomo has.

Molinaro is a fiscal conservative, promising job growth based on smart development, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and tighter government spending. “Driving down the costs of doing business and the cost of living is, I think, paramount,” he said.

He will have his record to run on. “Under Marc's leadership, [Dutchess] County saw a transformation into a community where businesses and families thrive,” said New York City Council Member Joe Borelli, a former Assembly colleague of Molinaro’s who lived in Dutchess for several years and knows Molinaro well. “He is a pragmatic executive, willing to work with all sides, and has a reputation as a problem-solver. Most importantly, he has good character and a strong moral compass that guides his decisions.”

In the interview with Gotham Gazette, Molinaro expressed concerns about the minimum wage hike that Cuomo orchestrated in 2016, which will see the wage hit $15 in many parts of the state over the course of several years. He said that especially outside of New York City, “I don't necessarily think it was a smart move and certainly hasn’t produced, I think, the outcomes outside of the city. I didn’t support it at the time. I’m all for indexing a minimum wage to growth, but I think that frankly it was a decision defined by political expediency. It is not necessarily defined by molding consensus and trying to come up with a policy that was in the best interest of taxpayers and employers and of people struggling to find any job.”

Molinaro believes in targeted support for industries or sectors to help encourage growth, saying that power has become too concentrated in Albany and he wants to return much of it to counties, cities, and towns. Molinaro noted his endorsement from The Sierra Club, saying he was one of the “few Republicans in the state Assembly” to earn the environmental group’s backing. He stressed that he’s not easily labeled.

He promises to make education a priority if elected governor. “I think a wholesale look and review as to how we fund education and how we distribute funding,” he said, adding, “it’s important that we look at the delivery of special education in the state.”

Molinaro may face challenges establishing broad-based appeal on social issues. He appears poised to run with a moderate, inclusive message on immigration, but on gun regulations, LGBT rights, and women’s reproductive freedoms he may struggle to find the constituency needed to win in New York, especially given the attacks that Cuomo would level against him on those issues.

“When I was in the Assembly I did vote against same-sex marriage,” he said of the 2011 vote that moved through what is perhaps Cuomo’s signature policy achievement of his tenure. “I think that we’ve moved along. Everyone now enjoys and has the right to enjoy marriage. To celebrate whoever, with whomever they love. I accept that and as an elected official it’s my job to uphold the laws of the state of New York. I don’t have any reservations about the vote. I also accept that time has passed. As a society we’ve moved forward.”

On abortion rights Molinaro said somewhat similarly. He believes in “preserving life,” he said, “but I accept that there are certain situations where individuals need to be able to make that decision, but I also accept that this is settled law in the state.”

“I’d like us to work as a society, as a community, to reduce the numbers and times that abortion is chosen,” he added. “It’s not something that I could support personally, and I don’t, but I acknowledge that as a society we need to do our very best to help people make as many responsible decisions as possible and there are certain situations, obviously, where women are put into a position having to make that decision. As a government we need to be sure that individuals have access to affordable healthcare to ensure that they’re as safe and healthy as possible.”

On gun regulations, Molinaro echoed what many Republicans across New York believe: “Frankly, I do have concerns with how aggressive this governor has been. I think in some ways irresponsibly ignoring those that do support, as I do, the Second Amendment and forcing legislation without having the kind of local robust conversation necessary. I believe the constitution is as it’s written.” Molinaro is a regular at Friends of NRA events, something Cuomo -- who pushed through the SAFE Act gun regulations in early 2013 -- would likely seek to use against him.

Molinaro has been a steady critic of Cuomo’s ethics, and been among many asking questions about a pay-to-play culture where campaign donors appear to be favored and massive amounts of cash flow into the governor’s coffers from entities that have or hope to win state business. These issues were brought into sharp relief during the recent corruption trial of Cuomo’s top former aide, Joseph Percoco, and others. They will again be on display during another trial set to begin in June that features Cuomo allies, projects, and donors.

The county executive said he’d “like to engage in a comprehensive reform of campaign finance.” He said he’s in favor of closing the LLC loophole, but only in combination with other reforms.

Calling for “wholesale review and reform of campaign finance in the state” that is informed by many perspectives, he said, “I’m one of the people that only thinks people should be able to contribute money.”

“[T]hose are individual rights, those rights extend to individuals,” he said, raising questions about donations from businesses and labor. “[U]nions have a great deal of influence, corporations have a great deal of influence; the state contribution limits are astronomically out of line to other states, independent expenditure opportunities are pretty broad in the state. There are a lot of those reforms that I think should go hand-in-hand,” he said.

The endorsements of Molinaro that have steadily flowed in over the past few weeks speak to faith in him as a leader and as a person.

J.C. Polanco, a Bronxite who works for the Assembly minority and has known Molinaro for over a decade, believes he is the type of candidate Republicans need to run more in New York. “His youth and moderate positions on immigration, criminal justice, taxes and widening the tent of our party is one of the main reasons I'm excited to support my friend Marc,” said Polanco, who unsuccessfully ran for New York City Public Advocate last year. “At a time when many moderate Republicans like me feel unwelcomed he's one of the few guys that has made it a point to include me and others like me into the conversation.”

Many of those offering their backing cite different reasons, namely reigning in state spending, improving the economy, lowering taxes, and leading a more ethical government.

In his endorsement of Molinaro, Suffolk County Republican Committee Chair John J. LaValle called him “a proven leader” who “has both the executive and legislative experience, together with the energy and enthusiasm to lead our ticket to victory this November.”

LaValle said that New Yorkers “are desperate for a Governor that is truly committed to cleaning up our government and fighting for our overburdened taxpayers. It's time to replace the Governor who has led New York to the bottom of virtually every economic category, while focusing on self-promotion.”

As he formally launches his campaign, Molinaro will have to start proving that he can raise the money to compete, and that he has a sense of the path to victory. Much will depend on who emerges from the Democratic primary, but Cuomo is the obvious favorite at this point, no matter the state of the New York City subways, the recent corruption conviction of his former top aide, or the upcoming trial of his former economic development czar.

Molinaro’s campaign believes that the stage is set for a competitive race, though, in large part because of those corruption trials, which have helped sink Cuomo’s standing in and around Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester, and the primary challenge from Nixon, which could damage Cuomo badly downstate.

“I’ve thought about what a roadmap looks like and how one as a Republican in this state can win,” Molinaro said. “We know it takes a lot of messaging and action in New York City to allay fear.” To find a Republican governor acceptable, he said, would mean building trust in and around the five boroughs, but that he would be aided by the fact that Cuomo has “eroded” a significant portion of the progressive base of the party.

“And frankly upstate it’s community by community,” Molinaro said. “It just is. You have to be willing to commit every day until Election Day to go to, to get to the VFWs and fire houses and the community organizations, and as many voters as possible and make that connection.”

“I'm not naive, I've worked on campaigns, I've run for office, it’s a lot of work,” he said. “[O]utside of the city it’s district by district. It’s neighborhood by neighborhood. Building the network to send your message over and over again so that we not only, not only earn the support but get the turnout.”

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument Fri, 30 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Molinaro Emerges on Top After Manhattan GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Forum http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7543:molinaro-emerges-on-top-after-manhattan-gop-gubernatorial-candidate-forum http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7543:molinaro-emerges-on-top-after-manhattan-gop-gubernatorial-candidate-forum molinaro mic

Marc Molinaro (photo via Facebook)


Weeks before he is set to officially launch his campaign for governor, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro has all but claimed the Republican nomination, and on Wednesday, he locked up another endorsement putting him closer to the goal.

At a gubernatorial candidate screening Wednesday night at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan, Molinaro emerged as the top choice of the Manhattan County Republicans over state Senator John DeFrancisco and Joseph Holland, a former aide to Governor George Pataki.

Over the course of about 90 minutes, one by one, the three candidates pitched their qualifications and their electability to a gathering of more than 100 Republicans. The crowd cheered, and jeered, as the three each took their jabs at Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both second-term Democrats, and presented their vision for governing New York State. Though few concrete policy prescriptions were aired, the gathering seemed pleased to hear each candidate variously criticize the Cuomo administration for how, as Holland said, it “over-taxes, over-spends, and over-regulates.”

Cuomo has said he is seeking a third term this year, and has more than $30 million in his campaign account. But, given several issues, including the upstate economy, the MTA subway crisis, and, on Tuesday, the corruption conviction of Cuomo’s former top aide and closest confidante, Joseph Percoco, Republicans see an opening to win the governorship for the first time since 2002.

On Wednesday night in Manhattan, each of the three candidates had roughly 20 minutes to demonstrate how they’d reach what Manhattan GOP Chair Andrea Catsimatidis called the “magic 30 percent number” of New York City voters who could give them enough votes to beat Cuomo. While the governor is less popular outside the city, he relies on the five boroughs for a significant portion of his ability to win statewide elections.

Molinaro, who spoke last, framed himself as a committed public servant who would work with his opponents across the aisle, and has no interest in political posturing. “I think that we are paralyzed in New York by elected officials all too often working to posture instead of trying to produce real results,” he said.

Speaking first was Holland, a Harlem minister who has previously served as state housing commissioner under the last Republican governor, George Pataki, has never been in elected office but pitched himself as the “most electable” of the three candidates. His appeal, he slowly and deliberately said, breaks down to three P’s: Profile. Proven. Power.

“It’s a profile that I have which is unique, it’s a proven track record as an experienced outsider, and then the power to win at the ballot box in November,” he told the audience. Holland spoke of his past -- which includes playing all-American football, founding and running a homeless shelter, a law degree, and a career in the real estate industry -- and recounted a previous failed run for state Senate. He mentioned his upstate roots in Auburn in Cayuga County, and his time working for both the executive chamber and the state Legislature in Albany.

“I’m an outsider with experience, and ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, that’s what the electorate wants right now,” he said, referring to the election of Donald Trump as president. Noting that the party had never before nominated an African-American for governor, he promised a “fresh, bold, dynamic approach” that can forge a winning coalition of upstate and downstate voters.

In each candidate’s Q&A after their individual presentations, moderator Frederic Umane (the Republican Board of Elections Commissioner from Manhattan) asked how they’d raise the necessary funds to go against Cuomo’s $30 million war chest “without having to cook ziti,” in a reference to the preferred term for bribes used by Percoco and co-conspirators, as revealed through the federal corruption trial that just concluded.     

Holland admitted it would be a challenge, but said he’d tap his varied networks from his time at Cornell University, Harvard Law School, and his ties to the real estate industry. He pointed out, though, that “it’s more difficult until you’re the actual nominee.”

But when questioned on specific issues such as homelessness, the MTA, school safety, infrastructure projects, and public housing, Holland had few proposals. In each instance, he said he would work with the necessary stakeholders while avoiding the public spats that Cuomo has resorted to with de Blasio and others, and the open defiance of President Trump.

While Holland has no experience with public office, DeFrancisco, a Syracuse native, has served in the Legislature for more than 20 years. Armed with an acerbic wit and disinterest in political correctness, DeFrancisco took his turn at convincing the audience to support his candidacy. “I’ve had leadership positions in everything I’ve ever done,” he said, listing everything he’s done from being top of his class in high school and captain of his college baseball team to now, serving as deputy majority leader of the Senate. (DeFrancisco sought the position of majority leader in 2015 but lost that bid to current Majority Leader John Flanagan, who is among those to endorse the senator for governor.)

“President Lincoln once said that ‘If I had six hours to chop a tree, I’d use the first four hours to sharpen the axe.’ And my axe is sharpened and it’s directly aimed at our current governor, Andrew Cuomo,” DeFrancisco said.

Touting the 17 electoral victories over the course of his career, DeFrancisco said he could easily remain in the Senate for the foreseeable future. “But I find, as a legislator, you can only make changes along the edges. The real fundamental changes that have to be made, in my mind, only can come from the governor’s office,” he said.

DeFrancisco insisted that an earnest campaign based on building trust with voters could be successful. “Whether you’re from the far left, the far right, or in between, people don’t like the manner in which this person does business...it’s a very personal campaign against Cuomo,” he said.

In response to queries from the audience, DeFrancisco did take some policy positions but did not advance many new ideas. He said he is in favor of fracking, against congestion pricing, and for a set-aside of a percentage of income taxes to fund the MTA. He opposes term limits for statewide elected officials and state legislators, and is against the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for victims of child abuse to make claims. He called for cuts to spending and streamlining bloat at state agencies.

DeFrancisco also expressed confidence that Cuomo’s campaign funds weren’t a threat to him but rather a liability for Cuomo himself, alluding to the governor’s heavy reliance on campaign finance loopholes that has allowed large sums of money to flow to him from entities doing business with the state (Yet another aspect of the Percoco trial.) The senator noted that he already has about $1.5 million for his campaign.

“You can’t just be Mr. Nice Guy and be able to compete with his money and the negative things he’s going to say about you or his surrogates are going to say about you without fighting back,” he said. Proudly referencing a New York Times article from last year which referred to him as an “irascible straight shooter,” DeFrancisco said, “You couldn’t have a better contrast with an irascible straight shooter and a lying sack of you-know-what. That’s the race that you should have and I’m ready, willing, and able to do that.”

molinaro manhattan gopLast to speak but far from least was Molinaro, who charismatically sped through an almost bulleted list of positions he’s held, his accomplishments, and his reasons for running. The latest entrant into the race, Molinaro had just two months ago said he would not run, but as he explained Wednesday, he changed his tune after he received a flood of solicitations and endorsements from more than two dozen Republican county leaders and officials following Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb’s early exit from the race.

Those endorsements, including from Kolb, also mean that, coming into Wednesday night, Molinaro had already secured roughly 45 percent of the necessary votes he needs for the nomination from the Republican convention in May. Manhattan put him over 50 percent in terms of county chairs or delegations that have endorsed him -- while Molinaro is the clear frontrunner, votes still have to be taken at the convention.

“I have admittedly spent every day of my adult life in public service because I believe deeply in the responsibility to contribute to one’s community,” Molinaro said, hearkening back to when he was first elected at the age of 18 to the board of trustees for the Village of Tivoli on the banks of the Hudson River in Dutchess County. “Where I come from, you hold elected office because its an honor, it’s a duty, it’s a dignified responsibility,” he said.

Molinaro criticized the “new normal” of a pay-to-play culture in Albany and a state government that continues to “spend more than it can, tax more than it should and borrow to make up the difference.”

Emphasizing that the Republican Party can “breathe new fresh air into Albany,” he said he would work to empower state legislators if elected. Molinaro is a former member of the Assembly himself. He also said a successful campaign would have to be based on strong messaging that touches at the heart of issues affecting everyday New Yorkers, and by creating an extensive presence on the ground in communities.

“I think that our party has to assemble a ticket that reflects the complexion of New York, the people of New York. There needs to be a New York City voice,” he said. There has been no indication who Molinaro might seek as a lieutenant governor running mate.

Molinaro was also confident that he’d be able to elevate the importance of the Republican ticket beyond the confines of New York to bring in the funds that he needs to challenge Cuomo. “I have run for office for a while. I’ve always had competition. I have always raised enough to be competitive...I do believe I have the ability to nationalize this election,” he said. “I do, because I believe that our party wants candidates like us, to stand up nationally and say, ‘The Republican Party cares about people.’”

Asked how he’d approach working with Mayor de Blasio if elected, Molinaro insisted he’d rise above petty squabbles and wouldn’t seek to politically “outmaneuver” the mayor, as Cuomo has often tended to do with his fellow Democrat. (He did, however, smile cheekily as he said he’d work with anyone who is “honest and earnest,” clearly alluding to de Blasio’s checkered ethics record).

On the inevitable Trump question, Molinaro made no bones about supporting the president when he champions hard-working, middle-class Americans. But, he was clear that he disagreed with using the bully pulpit to belittle his opponents.

“You’ll always hear me say it the way I see it just like I think many people admire the way he says it the way he sees it,” Molinaro said.

Molinaro’s charm offensive was clearly effective. Within an hour after the forum, the Manhattan GOP’s executive committee had “overwhelmingly endorsed” his candidacy.

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Molinaro Emerges on Top After Manhattan GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Forum Thu, 15 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Possible GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh Chances to Unseat Cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7329:possible-gop-gubernatorial-candidates-weigh-chances-to-unseat-cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7329:possible-gop-gubernatorial-candidates-weigh-chances-to-unseat-cuomo gop governor candidates

L-R: Harry Wilson, John DeFrancisco, Marc Molinaro, Brian Kolb


The Republican pool of candidates exploring an attempt to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2018 gubernatorial race appears to be shrinking. Now just four Republicans say they are exploring a run -- down from at least seven prior to this past Election Day -- with the potential candidates vowing to announce their decisions by Christmas.

Targeting the well-funded Democratic governor seeking his third term would typically be a bold but calculated bet. On one hand, Cuomo has significant vulnerabilities going into 2018, but the outcome of Election Day 2017, which many are interpreting as a “blue wave” of Democratic wins in reaction to the presidency of Donald Trump, may give some Republicans more pause.

A GOP gubernatorial win in New York, which has not happened since George Pataki won a third term in 2002, would require sizeable success in the New York City suburbs, but after voters handed GOP county executive seats in Westchester and Nassau to Democrats earlier this month, potential 2018 candidates must consider how the anti-Trump sentiment will play out next year.

"What looked to be a very deep pool suddenly got ankle-deep shallow, with the water still going down. That's what a mini-tsunami election will do to anyone rationally thinking of running against a political tide,” said William O’Reilly, a Republican strategist who runs the November Team. That wave seems to have both unseated and knocked from 2018 contention Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, an O’Reilly client who lost to Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Harry Wilson, a hedge fund manager from Westchester, is seen as a clear front-runner to become the GOP nominee next year, as he may be capable of coming closest to Cuomo’s immense fundraising capabilities and he performed well in his 2010 bid for state comptroller. The other three most-discussed potential GOP gubernatorial candidates are all current officeholders -- Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and state Senator John DeFrancisco -- who would begin a race with a solid local base of support and some name recognition.

“I would hope that Senator DeFrancisco or County Executive Molinaro will make the leap,” said O’Reilly, “but in the end the 2018 Republican candidate for governor may have to come down to a recruitment effort.”

For his part, Cuomo is heading toward his reelection year facing criticism from the right and the left for New York City’s subway crisis. Among other issues, he is also maligned for high property taxes around the state, not to mention corruption trials about to begin involving his economic development initiatives, which involve some of his closest associates. Cuomo is not especially popular outside of New York City, where his favorability remains fairly high, and the second-term Democrat may very well face a tough primary of his own, as he did in 2014, given that many in the left flank of his party see him as too centrist.

The New York State Republican Party has calculated that ideally it should avoid a primary to have a shot at victory -- assuming Cuomo is in the running -- so the four potential candidates are now courting GOP leadership for the nod. All four men say they are on good terms with each other and each is taking his own path to testing the waters. Molinaro and Kolb have discussed running on a ticket together for governor and lieutenant governor, but both say that no such decision has been made (and it is not clear which would run for what).

Publically, the party leadership is shrugging off the losses from Election Day, pointing to other victories like that of Republican Steve McLaughlin, an Assembly member elected county executive of Rensselaer. State Republican Party Chair Ed Cox, on Fred Dicker’s Focus on Albany radio show, chalked up Astorino’s loss to “third term-itis,” the same challenge now facing Cuomo, whereby it is notoriously difficult to win third terms in politics.

Regarding the election of Democrat Laura Curran to the historically-Republican Nassau county executive seat, Cox pointed to a Democratic voter base energized by opposition to the constitutional convention ballot question. Former County Executive Ed Mangano’s indictment last year on federal corruption charges also tainted the Republican Party and turned many independents, who make up a large segment of Nassau’s electorate, against GOP contender Jack Martins, he said.

Wilson, who did well in his 2010 run for state comptroller, losing to Democrat Tom DiNapoli 49.7 percent to 47.2 percent and has had private sector success, may be willing to put in $10 million or more of his own money. Molinaro, Kolb, and DeFrancisco would each be able to kick off fundraising from their local supporters.

With a governor that has $25 million and counting in the bank, and was recently in California courting major donors, Republican candidates might want to get an early start in fundraising, but that would require more commitment to exploring or declaring a run (on the Democratic side, for example, former state Senator Terry Gibson, considering a primary challenge to Cuomo, recently opened a campaign account so he could start raising money).

Prior to his run for comptroller, Wilson flexed his business acumen and negotiating chops when he helped President Barack Obama execute the auto industry bailout early in Obama’s first term. One “prominent Republican county chairman” told The Daily News that “If Harry Wilson says he wants to be the nominee, he’ll be the nominee.” Wilson’s bipartisanship could prove helpful in a general election against Cuomo, as could his New York City-focused criticisms of the governor.

On Dicker’s show, on November 15, Wilson suggested that his current priority is raising his four daughters, two of whom are teenagers, and said he would decide over the holidays whether the timing was right for his family.

“In four years from now two of our girls will be out of the house. In eight years from now, all our girls will be out of the house and I’ll still be a young man,” said Wilson, referring to the possibility of holding off this year and running in the future. “It’s a question of that tradeoff of where I can be most useful, most effective, and balancing my commitment to my family and helping others.”

Meanwhile, Molinaro, a suburban county executive who felt the Nassau and Westchester losses close to home, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that those outcomes would likely factor into his own decision-making.

“What occurred certainly in the suburbs of New York City in 2017 should weigh on us,” said Molinaro. “I think what happened [on Election Day] is the result of an energized [Democratic] base, which is upset with the national politics -- no question -- and organized opposition to the constitutional convention question; those two things combined, with a few other local variables.”

Molinaro, who has been a vocal critic of Cuomo on social media and elsewhere, is especially critical of the administration’s failure to accompany the state’s property tax cap with adequate mandate relief, the heroin crisis, and failing schools, and has a good reputation as a county manager. Like Wilson, he has emphasized city metro area interests like fixing the subway system. He has also cited his young family, including a 6-month-old son, as one reservation about running.

On the more conservative end of the spectrum are the two upstate legislators, DeFrancisco and Kolb, both of whom have extensive legislative experience and have not been shy about criticizing the governor and his policies.

DeFrancisco, who has been representing the Syracuse area since 1992, says he recognizes Cuomo’s fundraising advantage and name recognition, but also sees many similarities between today and 1994, the year Pataki beat Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, who was then seeking a third term amid buzz about presidential aspirations, like those that surround Andrew Cuomo now.

“Back then people were leaving the state, exactly like it it is now. There was a deficit back then -- I remember it vividly -- of $5 billion. The Democratic comptroller is estimating that the budget deficit going into January is going to be $4 to $6 billion. Almost an identical situation,” said DeFrancisco. “And there was a feeling out there -- the same thing I’m hearing now -- that it’s ‘anybody but Cuomo.’ An individual by the name of George Pataki that nobody knew, the former mayor of Peekskill, a first-term senator, ends up being the nominee and beats him.”

DeFrancisco regularly attacks Cuomo, and he hasn’t hid his frustration with the fact that much of his legislation, including a bill to restore procurement oversight powers to the state comptroller, has not reached the Senate floor, even as the chamber is controlled by Republicans. “I believe the best way to make change and the fastest way to make substantial change is by having a Republican governor,” he said.

Kolb, as leader of the minority conference in the Assembly, has had the liberty of taking principled stands, such as pushing for significant ethics reform and advocating for a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention. The Republican from Canandaigua has consistently voted against legislation that is controversial in upstate’s more conservative, rural areas, like Cuomo’s signature 2013 gun-control legislation, the SAFE Act.

Kolb, who prior to taking office in 2000 was an entrepreneur and ran two manufacturing companies, Refractron Technologies and North American Filter Corporation, said he believes he has “the best blend of private sector and public sector experience.”

“I’ve created jobs. I know the obstacles and how to fix them. I’m problem solver and I’ve done it in the public sector and the public sector and I’ve also shown I could work across the aisle,” he said.

The Republican contenders all say they would work to capture the disillusionment in Cuomo’s policies felt on both sides of the aisle. In 2014, Cuomo endured a bruising primary amid criticisms from progressives that he empowers the Senate GOP alliance with rouge Democrats, impeding the state from moving in a more progressive direction, a rallying cry that has since picked up steam. Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham’s law school, won a surprising 34 percent of the Democratic vote in that primary after running a truncated campaign that began with no name recognition or money. Another tough primary in 2018, which Cuomo has done some work to avoid by passing more progressive legislation, could hurt the governor in a general election, largely depending on the opponent.

The potential GOP candidates said they plan to hold Cuomo accountable on issues like the subways, upstate’s crumbling infrastructure and outmigration, rising property taxes, his failure to tackle corruption in state government, and what they see as his failing economic development initiatives.

A key initial step for those exploring the race and possibly seeking the GOP nomination is to appeal to Republican county chairs, who make up the party committee and meetings have been taking place, with candidates touring the state. A deal may be cut in advance in order to avoid a primary, but there have been years when the committee votes are split between two or three candidates and an open contest for the GOP nomination is held. Candidates unhappy with or outside the party establishment process can always petition themselves onto the ballot whether an intra-party deal is struck or not.

Some watchers of state politics say that regardless of the GOP nominee, the math just doesn’t work for the Republican Party. “When you break it down arithmetically, they have to crack 35 percent in New York City to have a chance to win, and carry 57 percent of the vote of the Suburban downstate counties -- Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland -- and then pass 60 percent upstate,” said Bruce Gyory, a former advisor to three Democratic governors and now a professor at Albany University. “That was the Pataki model for his three terms and particularly his third term, and boy-oh-boy the Republicans are nowhere close to meeting that challenge in any region.”

In 2014, the Republican Party made strides from 2010 with Astorino as their candidate, grabbing 41 percent of the vote compared to Cuomo’s 57 percent. Astorino took 42 of 50 upstate counties, compared to just 13 upstate counties won by 2010 GOP candidate Carl Paladino. In the suburbs, Astorino also gained ground, but ultimately did not crack 50 percent in the crucial Westchester, Nassau, and Rockland counties. He drew approximately 15 percent of the vote in the five boroughs.

Cuomo’s approval rating took a hit earlier this year, apparently due to New York City’s ongoing subway woes, but his popularity has appeared to be on the rebound, with a Quinnipiac University poll from October showing that 70 percent of city voters approved of the Democratic governor, including more than 50 percent of Republicans.

Another threat to party-affiliated GOP candidates may be coming from Paladino, the Buffalo-area businessman and Donald Trump supporter. Paladino was reported to be mulling another run, but went silent after his removal from the Buffalo school board for allegedly leaking confidential information from executive board meetings. He also drew negative attention last year for racist comments sent to a Buffalo publication about former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. A Paladino entrance into the race could drag a prefered Republican establishment candidate to the right or cause other problems for the GOP, including additional focus on Trump or requiring Paladino's opposition to raise and spend significant money to win the primary. Paladino did not return a request for comment about whether he will run.

“I could see him coming to the conclusion that the only way to regain public prestige is to run again for governor and he could complicate the primary field a great deal because he could change the regional balance of power if he continues to have that hold on western New York,” said Gyory. “He's a man who, if you study him, his public person, he has a thin skin and great pride.”

Correction: A previous version of this article mistated the totals for the 2010 New York Comptroller's race.

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Possible GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh Chances to Unseat Cuomo Sun, 19 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
With Session Ending and Trial Looming, No Legislative Response to Bid-rigging Scandal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7007:with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7007:with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal Cuomo Flanagan Heastie

Flanagan, Cuomo, Heastie (photo: The Governor's Office)


With just three scheduled days left in the legislative session and the corruption trial of several close associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo for their roles in a bid-rigging scandal scheduled to commence in October, the Legislature has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to prevent such abuses of the procurement process.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has introduced a comprehensive bill to address the issue, which is the basis for a Senate bill sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, and sister legislation by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat. The legislation would restore authority of the Comptroller to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, particularly for SUNY and CUNY affiliated non-profits, a power that was stripped in 2011.

That year, Cuomo and legislative leaders (who are now headed to jail) said that the scaling back of oversight was necessary in order to expedite approval for the governor’s signature economic development initiatives. The idea that the Comptroller’s contract review slows down projects is misguided, according to budget watchdogs. The Comptroller has up to 30 days to approve a contract, but on average approves contracts within six days, according to April figures provided by DiNapoli’s office.

The absence of an independent oversight body appears to have cleared the way for the massive $800 million bribery scheme that took down close Cuomo associate and friend Joe Percoco, as well as then-SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who Cuomo had heaped praise and responsibility on, and several major donors to Cuomo who were awarded large contracts. The alleged scheme was uncovered by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

More recently, Bart Schwartz, head of Guidepost Solutions LLC, who was hired by Cuomo to probe the contracting process and what might have gone wrong, found significant flaws. In his review of the $417 million awarded to vendors at Buffalo’s SolarCity project and other upstate initiatives, he found that at least $49 million was awarded using a “sloppy process.” The Buffalo News first reported the details of Schwartz’s report, which the Cuomo administration had failed to make public, but was obtained through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Schwartz was paid as much as $1 million for his investigative work and the Cuomo administration has indicated that it accepted his recommendations for cleaning up contracting processes.

While DeFrancisco’s bill has passed the Senate’s finance committee, and the Assembly on Wednesday tweaked its version of the bill to match the Senate’s, legislative leaders offered reserved endorsements of the legislation, and it has yet to be calendared for a floor vote in either house.

Both Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have said they support the restoration of pre-auditing powers to the comptroller’s office, but that they are working towards a “three-way agreement” with the governor before advancing the legislation, which is backed by good government groups and many rank-and-file lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the governor has been defiant, saying that the powers should not be returned to the Comptroller. Instead, Cuomo in his 2017 policy book proposed expanding the oversight powers of the state inspector general to include procurement at CUNY and SUNY nonprofits, as well as new inspectors general, appointed by and reporting to the executive branch. In the aftermath of the scandal, Cuomo also vowed to create a chief procurement officer in the executive branch.

“The proposed legislation does not address the issue and is both burdensome and duplicative,” said Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”

David’s statement highlights a key difference between the governor’s proposal and the “clean contracting” legislation backed by the comptroller and government reformers, which emphasizes prevention, making SUNY and CUNY projects subject to the same early scrutiny and standards as other state-funded projects, rather than after-the-fact oversight.

“The governor's proposal utterly and totally misses the point because it creates addition inspector generals who are appointed by the governor,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the government reform group ReInvent Albany. “The problem...was bid-rigging; the state contracts were rigged to favor one vendor over the others, and that could have been prevented by independent, pre-contract review.”

Representatives from the Reinvent Albany, New York Public Interest Group, League of Women Voters, and Citizens Budget Commission gathered at the Capitol this past Wednesday, with the blessing of other government reform groups, to call on Albany to pass the legislation -- with or without the governor’s support.

“If lawmakers are at all serious about addressing the problems that happened with last year’s bid-rigging scandal they need to support prevention of these crime -- and that means independent pre-contract review,” said Kaehny.

They noted that the Legislature is granted power to enact legislation without the governor’s support, first by passing it through both houses. If Cuomo does not then sign or veto the bill, it would automatically become law in 10 days. If the governor vetoes it, the Legislature could independently reconvene to override his veto. More than a majority, two-thirds of each house, must vote in favor in order pass legislation rejected by the governor. As a result, veto overrides are rare; the last time the Legislature successfully overrode a gubernatorial veto was in 2006, during a tumultuous budget negotiation that took place during the last year of Governor George Pataki’s final term, when legislative leaders went to bat over a property tax rebate and cuts to state university funding. 

Among those who floated the idea of the Legislature passing the bill without the governor’s support is Senator DeFrancisco, who expressed frustration the procurement reform legislation was not calendared earlier.

“I try to advocate for it all the time. I know the governor is apoplectic against it and he’d rather have an inspector general that he can control,” DeFrancisco told reporters at the Capitol on June 12. “Hopefully reason will prevail.”

When asked to elaborate on the problems with the governor’s proposal, DeFrancisco said, “What he wanted in the budget was to have an independent inspector general, appointed by him to review his contracts. I don’t think you have to be a lawyer, you just have to be somewhat sane to realize that that’s not a check and balance on anybody. He doesn’t want to lose that control and have that oversight. There’s no other logic why he wouldn’t do it.”

Speaker Heastie, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, remained coy about the possibility of passing the legislation and reconvening to override a potential gubernatorial veto.

"Those are always options, that are there but again you are asking me what you are going to do on failure, I don’t like to report on failure,“ he said, adding that there is always “the summer” and “next session” to pass legislation.

“The end of session is a deadline, but it’s not the end of the world if there is ever a need for us to do anything legislatively. We said we’ll come back if the actions in Washington dictate us to come back,” he said. “If we have to come back, the members will come back."

Majority Leader Flanagan expressed only slightly more enthusiasm about the idea of procurement reform. Calling the oversight measure “extraordinarily important,” Flanagan said, “I expect we will have procurement reform before the end of the session, whether it’s [legislation proposed by] Senator DeFrancisco or a variation of that bill, I expect we will move in that direction.”

The bill has widespread support in the Legislature; minority leaders say they also support the comptroller-backed proposal, which also ends contracting for non-academic purposes by state-controlled non-profit organizations, and transfers all economic development awards to the the Empire State Development Corporation.

However, Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) Leader Senator Jeff Klein struck a different tone Thursday, saying he opposed DeFrancisco’s legislation. The IDC and GOP have a power-sharing alliance in the Senate. Klein said he intends to introduce a new bill this week, which instead of restoring the comptroller’s powers would appoint an independent investigator to look at claims of misconduct. When pressed, he did not clarify how this proposal differed from the governor’s proposal.

“Right now the power of the comptroller is post-audit -- so what I would assume is if there is any problem in the procurement process, you’d be able to spot any problem post-audit. Then why would you need to have pre-audit ability?” said Klein. “I think what we need is a downright investigator -- someone who has the power to investigate the contracting process as it moves forward, to make sure there’s no favoritism, to make sure there’s no bribery.”

This past week, the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Peoples-Stokes, also expressed second thoughts about how the legislation could slow the approval for contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses that are awarded grants by the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, or impact healthcare organizations like Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a public not-for-profit that would be subject to increased scrutiny.

“The last thing we want is processes to slow down their ability to grow...At first blush, it seems like great legislation, when you delve in there’s some things that need to be tweaked,” said Peoples-Stokes. “I’m grateful there’s some lawyers and a team around here that can help me straighten something out. I think what happened in 2011, that maybe we should takes some looks at, but all these other things.”

Earlier this year, a month after talks of a long-awaited pay raise for lawmakers turned sour, legislative leaders seemed ready to take a different approach than they are now, vowing to stand up to the executive branch.

In January, during his remarks on opening day of the 2017 session, Flanagan urged his fellow lawmakers to stand up to the governor over the economic development programs, which were marred by the alleged bid-rigging scandal and other accountability problems. Urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils, Flanagan cited the Legislature’s power as a check on the governor.

“It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said in January. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.”

In the budget deal passed in April, Cuomo’s signature economic development and infrastructure programs were fully-funded and no new oversight measures were passed.

Another bill, sponsored by Senator Thomas Croci, a Long Island Republican, would create a searchable “database of deals,” cataloguing all businesses that have been awarded state subsidies -- a system in place in six other states -- has made no headway in the Senate or Assembly.

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
With Session Ending and Trial Looming, No Legislative Response to Bid-rigging Scandal Sun, 18 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
SAFE Act Haunts Movement on Gun Safety Legislation http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5728:safe-act-haunts-movement-on-gun-safety-legislation http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5728:safe-act-haunts-movement-on-gun-safety-legislation students NYAGV

Student activists in Albany (photo: @NYAGV1)


Earlier this month, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence brought 150 school children from the Bronx and Harlem to Albany to recite poetry, sing songs, and perform skits about the impact gun violence has on their daily lives.

They didn't get the warmest of welcomes. Kicked out of the space they had booked - the very public well of the legislative office building - they were forced into a hearing room. They were replaced in the well by a wine tasting.

]]>
SAFE Act Haunts Movement on Gun Safety Legislation Mon, 18 May 2015 01:42:51 +0000
Advocates: Cuomo, Legislature Squandered Moment for True Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5670:advocates-cuomo-legislature-squandered-moment-for-true-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5670:advocates-cuomo-legislature-squandered-moment-for-true-reform Cuomo Nolan

Gov. Cuomo & AM Nolan shake on an ethics deal (photo: the Governor's Office via flickr)


The arrest of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was supposed to spark the moment for true reform in Albany. It felt to many a simultaneously shocking and galvanizing event, strong enough to splinter, if not destroy the dam, allowing the flow of real discussion about regulating lawyer-legislators, loopholes allowing unlimited LLC donations to candidates, and conflicts of interest. It was a time for bold leadership.

"There was no appetite for incremental change," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, of good government groups, legislators, and others rejecting Governor Andrew Cuomo's ethics reforms as "tinkering around the edges."

"The governor could have challenged the Legislature by imposing on himself restrictions that would have bolstered his efforts and shamed them by leading by example," Dadey added, expressing the general sense of regret that many have around what is being called another missed opportunity to drastically reform the culture in state government.

Cuomo did come out swinging after Silver's arrest, loudly proposing a five-point ethics reform plan he said he was so committed to that he would hold up passage of the budget if necessary. But as the governor engaged in discussions with leaders of the state Legislature, the proposals that many had originally called too weak became even less bold and the final compromise included in the budget deal landed with less than a thud.

Reform-minded legislators and good government groups say that as ethics reforms were molded they were shut out by the Cuomo administration, which has become increasingly standoffish. It is said that good ideas went unused because Team Cuomo refuses to entertain anything it doesn't come up with first and in the end what could have been a transformative moment resulted in more of the same, Cuomo's third incremental ethics reform package in four years (see timeline below), revealed to most legislators with a heap of voluminous budget bills only hours before they came to a vote up against the final deadline.

A number of legislators were expecting much more drastic reform after Silver's arrest. They feel that the ethics discussion should focus on preventing legislators from earning any outside income, or at least disallowing lawmakers from practicing law in the private sector. Silver is charged with using his power as a legislature to advance the interests of a law firm that paid him for referring cases.

Some lawyer-legislators are leading by example.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat and non-practicing attorney, said that a new commission included in the budget to study legislative pay raises could answer some objections that legislators aren't paid enough not to have outside income. Legislators currently make a base salary of $79,500 a year, a rate that has not been increased in more than fifteen years.

Sen. Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference, broke with his Republican allies, saying the ethics plan doesn't go far enough because it fails to ban outside income. Klein divested himself from his law firm following Silver's indictment. "During this crisis we need to win back the voters' trust," Klein said. "I think the way we do this is to not have any potential conflicts at all moving forward. I think this is sort of a clarion call for all. If you want to earn outside income, you shouldn't be in public service," Klein told State of Politics in February.

Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos is reportedly under investigation related to his outside income. He is of counsel at Ruskin, Moscou & Faltischek. Senate Republicans appear to be steadfast against banning outside income and at least one Republican lawmaker was insulted by questions about conflicts of interest. As part of a sweeping set of reforms he unveiled in a speech at a Citizens Union event, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a former state senator himself, called for an all-out ban on legislators' earning outside income.

During the budget debate, Hoylman, insisted that lawyers should not be allowed to be legislators, citing their loyalty to clients that comes from cash retainers. He advocated banning outside income completely. Republican State Sen. John DeFrancisco, chair of the finance committee, objected, calling Hoylman's comments "out of line" and "discrimination" against lawyers.

DeFrancisco also challenged Democrats' characterization of the law that allows donors to use LLCs to donate unlimited funds as a "loophole." Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Democrat, introduced a hostile amendment to end the LLC loophole, and quoted a series of newspaper editorials that suppot its end in his argument that the amendment was germane to the budget discussion. He and his amendment were shot down. Then, DeFrancisco challenged Squadron's use of the word "loophole" and said it was simply part of the law.

The new ethics package - being hailed as transformative by the governor and some legislative leaders - includes increased financial disclosure requirements for legislators, gives the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) much-needed funding, and forces legislators to use a swipe card to check in at the Capitol to get their travel reimbursements. As Capital New York reported, the changes do not address the types of corruption Albany has seen most over the years. There is one other reform in the works that could take legislators' pensions away if they are convicted of corruption.

The changes come with loopholes. Lawyer-legislators can apply to two agencies to keep their disclosures private (while JCOPE is already controlled by legislative and gubernatorial appointees and has proved generally ineffective).

Never on the table, it seems, was closing the massive LLC loophole. Cuomo is the largest beneficiary of the system that allows corporations and individuals to funnel unlimited campaign funds to candidates through various LLCs.

John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said it does not generally behoove good government groups to attack reform measures. "You quickly become the boy who cried wolf," said Kaehny. "You hit a single this year, and another next year, but that just isn't happening." Kaehny said that with lawyer-legislators protected from full disclosure the package lacks any real meat.

"What are you left with? A swipe card system that can be easily defrauded," said Kaehny, who notes the standard in the corporate world is biometric ID systems that are not easily cheated and are relatively inexpensive.

Dadey said that the reforms are not insignificant but that they should have come much sooner. "These changes were significant but would have been more significant in 2011. This is what we wanted to see in 2011," said Dadey. "This ethic reform is bigger than what we got in 2014 but it is not as big as it needed to be to battle corruption in Albany. We always suspected corruption bigger than we knew and the speaker's arrest blew it up. This was a huge opportunity to change Albany's ethics."

Dadey and representatives of other good government groups say that in past years they were included in discussions on ethics reforms early in the process but this year were only consulted when a deal was in place.

Kaehny said that the he believes the administration needs to start leading by example to sway the debate. But, he said he doesn't have a great deal of faith that that is going to take place as, for example, Cuomo has not taken unilateral action to end his administration's 90-day email deletion policy, saying, "The governor has absolutely not led by example on this - he has led backwards."

Rather than ending the policy (as Schneiderman did in his office) that good government groups have called "devastating to transparency," Cuomo defended the policy, then attacked the Legislature for not being open to the Freedom of Information Law, and proposed an email summit to occur before the end of March. That deadline has passed and good government groups and stakeholders including the offices of the attorney general and the comptroller say they have not been contacted.

"Its disappointing because we have a strong decisive governor," said Kaehny. "The proof is in his actions, but here he is trying to mislead, distract, and throw up smoke and mirrors. To this day we haven't gotten a response - not acknowledging our letter [requesting an update on the summit], not saying: 'we disagree and we are gonna yell at you.' So we are exasperated and disappointed in this lack of leadership."

Reform-minded legislators and good government groups agree that it is likely that a discussion about a new ethics reform package will start again before end of the upcoming legislative session, which will run from April 21 to mid-June. "This ethics fight isn't over," said Dadey. "We will need to be talking about it again very soon when the U.S. Attorney comes out with a new set of indictments," he added, referring to Preet Bharara, who has brought charges against Silver and others. "We peeled off one layer of the onion this time," Dadey continued, "but we will get to the core, if only because the public will demand it."

A look at Cuomo's attempts at reform:

2011: The Clean Up Albany Act established The Joint Commission on Public Ethics to investigate corruption in the legislative and executive branches. Labeled "independent," the agency is actually headed by gubernatorial and legislative appointees with deep connections to those elected officials. It only takes three votes out of 14 members to stop an investigation. A required review of JCOPE's effectiveness in 2014 was not undertaken and the latest ethics law extends the deadline for such a review.

Cuomo's quote: "This bill is the tough and aggressive approach we need. It provides for disclosure of outside income by lawmakers, creates a true independent monitor to investigate corruption, and spells out tough, new rules that lobbyists must follow. Government does not work without the trust of the people and this ethics overhaul is an important step in restoring that trust."

2013: After a slew of legislators are indicted, Cuomo announces a package of reforms that good government groups call "watered down," but legislators balk. Cuomo threatens to convene a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption in the Legislature and makes good on the promise in June. Moreland began holding hearings and taking testimony across the state but was quickly hampered by interference from the Cuomo administration when it began investigating major Cuomo donors.

Cuomo's quote: "Since the Legislature has failed to act, today I am formally empanelling a Commission to Investigate Public Corruption pursuant to the Moreland Act and Section 63(8) of the Executive Law that will convene the best minds in law enforcement and public policy from across New York to address weaknesses in the State's public corruption, election and campaign finance laws, generate transparency and accountability, and restore the public trust."

2014: Cuomo goes into details of a budget deal on a Saturday press conference call with reporters and reveals he has shuttered The Moreland Commission in exchange for a set of reforms that he sought the previous year. Those reforms include stronger bribery laws, a trial campaign finance system that only applied to the 2014 Comptroller's race, and a new enforcement position at the Board of Elections. Good government groups slammed the move and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara launched an investigation into Cuomo's involvement in the commission.

Cuomo's quote: "It's not a legal question. The Moreland Commission was my commission. It's my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference? It's my commission. I can't 'interfere' with it, because it is mine," Cuomo told Crain's.

2015: After Silver's arrest Cuomo gives a speech at the NYU School of Law where he discusses major reforms like a full-time legislature and a public campaign finance system. He says he is willing to have a late budget if it means getting his proposed reforms. However, a following statement from his office indicates the bigger reforms are not part of his ultimatum. When the budget deal is finally reached it includes more funding for JCOPE, a swipe card system for lawmakers to prevent per diem fraud, and a set of new rules he calls "The nation's toughest diclosure laws."

Cuomo's quote: "I said I would not sign a Budget without real ethics reform, and this Budget does just that, putting in place the nation's strongest and most comprehensive rules for disclosure of outside income by public officials, reforming the long-abused per diem system, revoking public pensions for those who abuse the public's trust, defining and eliminating personal use of campaign funds, and increasing transparency of independent expenditures."

Unlike years past, Cuomo and leaders of the Legislature did not hold a press conference to discuss the budget or the ethics reforms.

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

]]>
Advocates: Cuomo, Legislature Squandered Moment for True Reform Sun, 05 Apr 2015 16:06:14 +0000