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/todd-kaminsky 2018-10-19T11:28:56+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Experts Confident in New York Election Security, Though Risk of Temporary ‘Chaos’ Remains 2018-07-19T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7815:experts-confident-in-new-york-election-security-though-risk-of-chaos-remains Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govcuomo-votes-mount-kisco-primary.jpg" alt="govcuomo votes mount kisco primary" width="600" height="415" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday new measures to enhance the security of the state’s elections. They include “comprehensive risk assessments, intrusion detection devices, and managed security services for all county boards of elections,” as well as training for election staff on cyber security.</p> <p>The initiatives make use of $5 million allocated in the 2019 state budget for enhanced cybersecurity related to elections, which included the creation of an “election support center” and an “election cyber security toolkit,” provides “cyber risk vulnerability assessments” for state and local Boards of Elections, and requires BOEs to report data breaches to the state.</p> <p>The announcement comes in the wake of the indictment of 12 Russian nationals for interference in the 2016 presidential election, involving the theft and release of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. A news release from the governor’s office said that the state would solicit contracts in the coming days for the risk assessments, intrusion detection devices, and security services for county boards of elections.</p> <p>The broader issue of election security has become increasingly prominent in the wake of the 2016 election and the allegations of Russian interference. Cuomo’s announcement of new election security measures came just a few hours after a Tuesday panel at City &amp; State’s Protecting NY Summit, moderated by Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max, where panelists discussed the issue as it relates to state and local elections in New York. New York is in the midst of a busy election year that features races for all of its statewide state-level positions, all of its state legislative seats, one U.S. Senate seat, and all of its House of Representative seats, among others.</p> <p>The panel consisted of State Senators Todd Kaminsky and Liz Krueger; Assemblymember David Buchwald; Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections; Eric Hodge, of cybersecurity firm CyberScout Solutions; and Eva Guidarini, a member of Facebook’s U.S. Politics and Government Outreach team.</p> <p>In something of a twist from how New York’s dysfunctional elections are usually discussed, the state’s election security measures in the wake of the 2016 election were highly praised by the panelists. Unlike many states, New York never abandoned paper ballots so as always to leave a “paper trail” in the event of a hack. New York’s voting machines are also not “networked,” but rather are all independent machines. This makes it impossible to hack the entire system or even the machines.</p> <p>“The election results are stored on the device, on two separate -- they look like flash drives, we call them portable memory devices, PMDs -- one is for unofficial results, the other remains with the machine itself for the official results,” said Ryan. “And, in addition to that, there is paper ballots. So if there was ever a really catastrophic event, we still have the paper to make sure that even though the mischief occurred, the outcome and the integrity of the outcome, which is all we could ultimately preserve, is maintained.”</p> <p>Still, in the event of a hack, the city and state may still be underprepared. Ryan suggested that the BOE may be due for an increase in staffing to supplement its monitoring services.</p> <p>Senator Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, ranking member of the Senate finance committee and a member of the elections committee, said that the focus should be not just on whether the 2016 elections were meddled with, but when and how it would happen again, in 2018 and beyond.</p> <p>“Rather than talk about the fact that, apparently, they are hacking our elections, and we have to assume we’ll have future elections hacked, I think the lesson from yesterday, I agree, the timing was perfect for this discussion, was if you don’t have any faith that your elected officials are going to follow the law and uphold their duties and responsibilities, we are in serious trouble as a state, a city, or a country,” Krueger said, in reference to the press conference held by President Donald Trump alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin.</p> <p>Twice during the hour-long discussion, Krueger stressed that New York has never adopted electronic-only voting systems, instead opting to leave the paper trail to ensure votes are counted. She explained that she had been part of the fight to ensure paper ballots were still used as many other states were moving to digital-only, which has come back to haunt them.</p> <p>Ryan noted that the 2016 election-related hacking led the BOE to conduct, for the first time, election security exercises and simulations meant to quickly and efficiently identify and neutralize threats.</p> <p>“We did our first tabletop exercises in the lead-up to Election Day,” Ryan said of November 2016. “Tabletop exercises are the way that agencies keep the muscles limber, reenacting real world scenarios in a serious way, and we did a tabletop exercise on the Thursday before a presidential election for almost seven hours. Shows you the seriousness with which everyone took that.”</p> <p>Asked whether New Yorkers should stop expecting immediate and secure election results, Ryan demurred. Kaminsky said he would love to see Long Island election night results come in more quickly, like New York City is able to do.</p> <p>Ryan indicated that if there was a vulnerability to hacking it would be in the uploading of results from polling places to the BOE, and that if a bad actor was intent on causing some "chaos" they would possibly be able to do that for a short period of time, but that systems, while expensive, are in place to mitigate any effects fairly quickly. There may be some temporary confusion, he said, but it would be quickly corrected.</p> <p>“If there is a problem,” Ryan said, “we have backup systems in place. We can leverage police department personnel to shut down the uploading of the results from the poll sites, and shift that to the local police precincts.” Ryan said that BOE sytems are now constantly monitored throughout the year through work with New York City's technology department.</p> <p>Krueger kept to her admittedly skeptical theme by recounting an anecdote of first-year computer science students successfully breaking into voting machines in Ohio within an hour-and-a-half.</p> <p>“When everyone who takes the college computer class can do it in the first hour and a half, you should be very, very worried,” she said.</p> <p>Hodge, whose firm is hired by governments to sure up their cyber security and election systems, said that along with the voting machines and election results, the voter databases and rolls should be protected and secured as well. He also said that policymakers should prioritize being able to detect problems immediately, and that New York carefully vet election vendors to ensure that security is prioritized.</p> <p>"Thankfully," Assemblymember Buchwald said early in the program, "we've had a fairly proactive approach here in New York, not to toot my subcommittee's own horn, or the entire Assembly election committee, but we've actually had already two public hearings on election security, the most recent of which was this past November after the local elections. And if you were at the hearing, if you watched it online, you would have heard the words 'Cambridge Analytica' four months before they became national news."</p> <p>Governor Cuomo’s announcement of new measures comes on the heels of a new law aimed at securing the state’s elections passed earlier this year. The law prohibits foreign entities from forming independent expenditure (IE) committees to buy ads on social media, requires ad buyers on social media to register as IE committees and for the name of the IE that bought the ad to be clearly displayed, and requires the State BOE to make political communications more transparent and accessible.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govcuomo-votes-mount-kisco-primary.jpg" alt="govcuomo votes mount kisco primary" width="600" height="415" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday new measures to enhance the security of the state’s elections. They include “comprehensive risk assessments, intrusion detection devices, and managed security services for all county boards of elections,” as well as training for election staff on cyber security.</p> <p>The initiatives make use of $5 million allocated in the 2019 state budget for enhanced cybersecurity related to elections, which included the creation of an “election support center” and an “election cyber security toolkit,” provides “cyber risk vulnerability assessments” for state and local Boards of Elections, and requires BOEs to report data breaches to the state.</p> <p>The announcement comes in the wake of the indictment of 12 Russian nationals for interference in the 2016 presidential election, involving the theft and release of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. A news release from the governor’s office said that the state would solicit contracts in the coming days for the risk assessments, intrusion detection devices, and security services for county boards of elections.</p> <p>The broader issue of election security has become increasingly prominent in the wake of the 2016 election and the allegations of Russian interference. Cuomo’s announcement of new election security measures came just a few hours after a Tuesday panel at City &amp; State’s Protecting NY Summit, moderated by Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max, where panelists discussed the issue as it relates to state and local elections in New York. New York is in the midst of a busy election year that features races for all of its statewide state-level positions, all of its state legislative seats, one U.S. Senate seat, and all of its House of Representative seats, among others.</p> <p>The panel consisted of State Senators Todd Kaminsky and Liz Krueger; Assemblymember David Buchwald; Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections; Eric Hodge, of cybersecurity firm CyberScout Solutions; and Eva Guidarini, a member of Facebook’s U.S. Politics and Government Outreach team.</p> <p>In something of a twist from how New York’s dysfunctional elections are usually discussed, the state’s election security measures in the wake of the 2016 election were highly praised by the panelists. Unlike many states, New York never abandoned paper ballots so as always to leave a “paper trail” in the event of a hack. New York’s voting machines are also not “networked,” but rather are all independent machines. This makes it impossible to hack the entire system or even the machines.</p> <p>“The election results are stored on the device, on two separate -- they look like flash drives, we call them portable memory devices, PMDs -- one is for unofficial results, the other remains with the machine itself for the official results,” said Ryan. “And, in addition to that, there is paper ballots. So if there was ever a really catastrophic event, we still have the paper to make sure that even though the mischief occurred, the outcome and the integrity of the outcome, which is all we could ultimately preserve, is maintained.”</p> <p>Still, in the event of a hack, the city and state may still be underprepared. Ryan suggested that the BOE may be due for an increase in staffing to supplement its monitoring services.</p> <p>Senator Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, ranking member of the Senate finance committee and a member of the elections committee, said that the focus should be not just on whether the 2016 elections were meddled with, but when and how it would happen again, in 2018 and beyond.</p> <p>“Rather than talk about the fact that, apparently, they are hacking our elections, and we have to assume we’ll have future elections hacked, I think the lesson from yesterday, I agree, the timing was perfect for this discussion, was if you don’t have any faith that your elected officials are going to follow the law and uphold their duties and responsibilities, we are in serious trouble as a state, a city, or a country,” Krueger said, in reference to the press conference held by President Donald Trump alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin.</p> <p>Twice during the hour-long discussion, Krueger stressed that New York has never adopted electronic-only voting systems, instead opting to leave the paper trail to ensure votes are counted. She explained that she had been part of the fight to ensure paper ballots were still used as many other states were moving to digital-only, which has come back to haunt them.</p> <p>Ryan noted that the 2016 election-related hacking led the BOE to conduct, for the first time, election security exercises and simulations meant to quickly and efficiently identify and neutralize threats.</p> <p>“We did our first tabletop exercises in the lead-up to Election Day,” Ryan said of November 2016. “Tabletop exercises are the way that agencies keep the muscles limber, reenacting real world scenarios in a serious way, and we did a tabletop exercise on the Thursday before a presidential election for almost seven hours. Shows you the seriousness with which everyone took that.”</p> <p>Asked whether New Yorkers should stop expecting immediate and secure election results, Ryan demurred. Kaminsky said he would love to see Long Island election night results come in more quickly, like New York City is able to do.</p> <p>Ryan indicated that if there was a vulnerability to hacking it would be in the uploading of results from polling places to the BOE, and that if a bad actor was intent on causing some "chaos" they would possibly be able to do that for a short period of time, but that systems, while expensive, are in place to mitigate any effects fairly quickly. There may be some temporary confusion, he said, but it would be quickly corrected.</p> <p>“If there is a problem,” Ryan said, “we have backup systems in place. We can leverage police department personnel to shut down the uploading of the results from the poll sites, and shift that to the local police precincts.” Ryan said that BOE sytems are now constantly monitored throughout the year through work with New York City's technology department.</p> <p>Krueger kept to her admittedly skeptical theme by recounting an anecdote of first-year computer science students successfully breaking into voting machines in Ohio within an hour-and-a-half.</p> <p>“When everyone who takes the college computer class can do it in the first hour and a half, you should be very, very worried,” she said.</p> <p>Hodge, whose firm is hired by governments to sure up their cyber security and election systems, said that along with the voting machines and election results, the voter databases and rolls should be protected and secured as well. He also said that policymakers should prioritize being able to detect problems immediately, and that New York carefully vet election vendors to ensure that security is prioritized.</p> <p>"Thankfully," Assemblymember Buchwald said early in the program, "we've had a fairly proactive approach here in New York, not to toot my subcommittee's own horn, or the entire Assembly election committee, but we've actually had already two public hearings on election security, the most recent of which was this past November after the local elections. And if you were at the hearing, if you watched it online, you would have heard the words 'Cambridge Analytica' four months before they became national news."</p> <p>Governor Cuomo’s announcement of new measures comes on the heels of a new law aimed at securing the state’s elections passed earlier this year. The law prohibits foreign entities from forming independent expenditure (IE) committees to buy ads on social media, requires ad buyers on social media to register as IE committees and for the name of the IE that bought the ad to be clearly displayed, and requires the State BOE to make political communications more transparent and accessible.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Facebook Rep Calls New York Ad Transparency Law a National Model, Points to Next Steps 2018-07-18T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7811:facebook-rep-calls-new-york-ad-transparency-law-a-national-model-points-to-next-steps Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/gov-dpa.jpg" alt="gov dpa" /></p> <p>Gov. Cumo signs ad transparency bill (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The recent federal indictments of 12 Russians involved in the country’s interference campaign in the 2016 United States presidential election comes at a time of already heightened interest in election security given other previously known facts and allegations about Russian meddling in the election, the promulgation of “fake news,” attempted hacking of state elections systems, and questionable practices by social media platforms like Facebook. Though election security and integrity at the federal level has dominated people’s attention, it is also an issue at the state and local levels.</p> <p>For the past two years, policymakers, security companies, and members of the tech and media industries have engaged in more fulsome debate over how to combat issues like “fake news” -- meaning fabricated news stories pushed off as actual news -- and false or misleading ads on social media, not to mention ensuring the security of election infrastructure.</p> <p>In April, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-new-york-state-democracy-protection-act-secure-integrity-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bill</a>, passed in a new state budget agreement that prohibits foreign entities from buying political ads “in order to influence New York elections,” requires political ad buyers on social media to register as independent expenditure committees, requires independent expenditure ads to clearly display that the independent spender, not a candidate, paid for the ad, and requires the state Board of Elections to “create an online archive of all political communications for a set period.”</p> <p>Some say that while these are important measures, there is more to do to secure New York elections, both in terms of hardening security systems to prevent hacking and reducing the influence of malicious actors in other, “softer” ways. Facebook itself, while the subject of much scrutiny and criticism during and after the 2016 election, is making some reforms to the ways it does business. On Tuesday, a representative for the social media giant called the New York political ad transparency law a model for the rest of the country, while also pointing toward transparency into voter targeting on the platform as a next frontier.</p> <p>During a panel discussion at City &amp; State NY’s “Protecting NY Summit,” moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max, Eva Guidarini of Facebook said the company is encouraging users to report questionable content, has begun working with “third party fact-checkers” when potential fake news is flagged, and, if determined to be fake news, posts will receive a tag noting it as such, and be “down-ranked,” meaning it will show up less frequently in people’s feeds, while an explanation of the fact-checking will also be provided. She defended the practice of not removing content unless it is deemed “misinformation,” saying that there can be too many gray areas in defining misleading content. Misinformation would include things like fake news.</p> <p>Facebook’s actions come after widespread criticism of its platform as a venue for the spread of fake news and conspiracy theories, as well as inappropriate user-data sharing.</p> <p>Guidarini, a member of the U.S. Politics and Government Outreach team for the company, said Facebook should be the subject of government regulations, but indicated there is a line to ensure that the platform still serves its users. When asked, she also indicated that users must take some responsibility for evaluating content, and said the company is working to help educate people. She also praised the new New York law that applies to Facebook and other online services, which was sponsored in the state Senate by another panelist, Senator Todd Kaminsky.</p> <p>“We worked really closely with New York and Maryland,” Guidarini said. “We’re really excited about these ad transparency laws that you passed, and we’re now sort of rolling that out to the whole country even though it’s only law in a couple of states. We think that that’s important. The law lagged behind, right? It’s ridiculous that you didn’t have to say who’s paying for a political ad online, even though you did on TV and in newspapers. And we should change that.”</p> <p>The panel on election integrity included Guidarini; Kaminsky; state Senator Liz Krueger; Assemblymember David Buchwald; Michael Ryan, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections; and Eric Hodge of CyberScout Solutions, a company that works with government to prevent hacking and other security breaches.</p> <p>Ryan said that the BOE’s concern has moved from tampering with results towards the manipulation of social media to alter election results.</p> <p>“We were concerned in the lead-up to election day that people would put out false information that poll sites were on fire or that no voting is happening at particular locations,” Ryan said. “Real misinformation causing chaos as opposed to manipulation of results.”</p> <p>Sen. Kaminsky, a Democrat representing parts of Long Island, said that he combatted fake news himself in his 2016 election campaign, which led to an extremely close race where one was not expected. He said that the events made him prioritize publicizing the issue as being a state and local issue, not just one related to Donald Trump and Russia.</p> <p>“There would be a Facebook group that would pop up in someone’s feed called Long Islanders for Clean Drinking Water,” Kaminsky said. “They would then have an ad saying ‘last year, Todd Kaminsky voted to deprive Long Island of $10 million of clean drinking water. And if you liked it, all your friends would see it, it would go up to their feeds. And if you commented on it, all your friends would see it. If you commented something like, ‘this is not true,’ your comment would be removed in, like, ten minutes.”</p> <p>Kaminsky said that the law passed as part of the budget was a major focus for him in the previous two years. He also criticized the press, claiming that members of the media ran with the Facebook posts without fact-checking them. He said that there are not enough ameliorative pathways for combatting false political information, such as mailers claiming support for Kaminsky from “undocumented aliens” or Mayor Bill de Blasio. The former prosecutor indicated that there is not enough punishment for bad actors, but that his new law would at least change that for those that may try to anonymously post political advertising on social media.</p> <p>Asked about next steps in regulating social media platforms, Guidarini of Facebook said that, while microtargeted ads are a powerful tool, that “voters should know if the African-American community is receiving a totally different message, or the Hispanic community is receiving a totally different message from the white community from a specific candidate.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/gov-dpa.jpg" alt="gov dpa" /></p> <p>Gov. Cumo signs ad transparency bill (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The recent federal indictments of 12 Russians involved in the country’s interference campaign in the 2016 United States presidential election comes at a time of already heightened interest in election security given other previously known facts and allegations about Russian meddling in the election, the promulgation of “fake news,” attempted hacking of state elections systems, and questionable practices by social media platforms like Facebook. Though election security and integrity at the federal level has dominated people’s attention, it is also an issue at the state and local levels.</p> <p>For the past two years, policymakers, security companies, and members of the tech and media industries have engaged in more fulsome debate over how to combat issues like “fake news” -- meaning fabricated news stories pushed off as actual news -- and false or misleading ads on social media, not to mention ensuring the security of election infrastructure.</p> <p>In April, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-new-york-state-democracy-protection-act-secure-integrity-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bill</a>, passed in a new state budget agreement that prohibits foreign entities from buying political ads “in order to influence New York elections,” requires political ad buyers on social media to register as independent expenditure committees, requires independent expenditure ads to clearly display that the independent spender, not a candidate, paid for the ad, and requires the state Board of Elections to “create an online archive of all political communications for a set period.”</p> <p>Some say that while these are important measures, there is more to do to secure New York elections, both in terms of hardening security systems to prevent hacking and reducing the influence of malicious actors in other, “softer” ways. Facebook itself, while the subject of much scrutiny and criticism during and after the 2016 election, is making some reforms to the ways it does business. On Tuesday, a representative for the social media giant called the New York political ad transparency law a model for the rest of the country, while also pointing toward transparency into voter targeting on the platform as a next frontier.</p> <p>During a panel discussion at City &amp; State NY’s “Protecting NY Summit,” moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max, Eva Guidarini of Facebook said the company is encouraging users to report questionable content, has begun working with “third party fact-checkers” when potential fake news is flagged, and, if determined to be fake news, posts will receive a tag noting it as such, and be “down-ranked,” meaning it will show up less frequently in people’s feeds, while an explanation of the fact-checking will also be provided. She defended the practice of not removing content unless it is deemed “misinformation,” saying that there can be too many gray areas in defining misleading content. Misinformation would include things like fake news.</p> <p>Facebook’s actions come after widespread criticism of its platform as a venue for the spread of fake news and conspiracy theories, as well as inappropriate user-data sharing.</p> <p>Guidarini, a member of the U.S. Politics and Government Outreach team for the company, said Facebook should be the subject of government regulations, but indicated there is a line to ensure that the platform still serves its users. When asked, she also indicated that users must take some responsibility for evaluating content, and said the company is working to help educate people. She also praised the new New York law that applies to Facebook and other online services, which was sponsored in the state Senate by another panelist, Senator Todd Kaminsky.</p> <p>“We worked really closely with New York and Maryland,” Guidarini said. “We’re really excited about these ad transparency laws that you passed, and we’re now sort of rolling that out to the whole country even though it’s only law in a couple of states. We think that that’s important. The law lagged behind, right? It’s ridiculous that you didn’t have to say who’s paying for a political ad online, even though you did on TV and in newspapers. And we should change that.”</p> <p>The panel on election integrity included Guidarini; Kaminsky; state Senator Liz Krueger; Assemblymember David Buchwald; Michael Ryan, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections; and Eric Hodge of CyberScout Solutions, a company that works with government to prevent hacking and other security breaches.</p> <p>Ryan said that the BOE’s concern has moved from tampering with results towards the manipulation of social media to alter election results.</p> <p>“We were concerned in the lead-up to election day that people would put out false information that poll sites were on fire or that no voting is happening at particular locations,” Ryan said. “Real misinformation causing chaos as opposed to manipulation of results.”</p> <p>Sen. Kaminsky, a Democrat representing parts of Long Island, said that he combatted fake news himself in his 2016 election campaign, which led to an extremely close race where one was not expected. He said that the events made him prioritize publicizing the issue as being a state and local issue, not just one related to Donald Trump and Russia.</p> <p>“There would be a Facebook group that would pop up in someone’s feed called Long Islanders for Clean Drinking Water,” Kaminsky said. “They would then have an ad saying ‘last year, Todd Kaminsky voted to deprive Long Island of $10 million of clean drinking water. And if you liked it, all your friends would see it, it would go up to their feeds. And if you commented on it, all your friends would see it. If you commented something like, ‘this is not true,’ your comment would be removed in, like, ten minutes.”</p> <p>Kaminsky said that the law passed as part of the budget was a major focus for him in the previous two years. He also criticized the press, claiming that members of the media ran with the Facebook posts without fact-checking them. He said that there are not enough ameliorative pathways for combatting false political information, such as mailers claiming support for Kaminsky from “undocumented aliens” or Mayor Bill de Blasio. The former prosecutor indicated that there is not enough punishment for bad actors, but that his new law would at least change that for those that may try to anonymously post political advertising on social media.</p> <p>Asked about next steps in regulating social media platforms, Guidarini of Facebook said that, while microtargeted ads are a powerful tool, that “voters should know if the African-American community is receiving a totally different message, or the Hispanic community is receiving a totally different message from the white community from a specific candidate.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo Unveils ‘Democracy Agenda’ of Ad Transparency, Election Security and Voting Reforms 2017-12-21T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-21T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7384:cuomo-unveils-democracy-agenda-of-ad-transparency-election-security-and-voting-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/38198034236_bf971489f7_z.jpg" alt="38198034236 bf971489f7 z" width="600" height="367" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday unveiled his “Democracy Agenda,” a plan to create more transparency in political advertising and require online platforms to archive political ads, protect state elections from hacking threats, and enhance voting opportunities.</p> <p>The 13th proposal of the governor’s developing 2018 State of the State speech, the advertising transparency and cybersecurity initiatives are joined by three voting reform measures that were introduced by Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last year</a> but did not pass: early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration.</p> <p>"What we saw during the last election was a systematic effort to undermine and manipulate our very democracy," Cuomo said in a statement. "With these new safeguards, New York — in the strongest terms possible — will combat unscrupulous and shadowy threats to our electoral process, as well as break down fundamental barriers that for far too long have prevented New Yorkers from being heard and from exercising their right to vote."</p> <p>In his 2017 agenda, Cuomo included the voting reforms as part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his 10-point government ethics program</a>, which included strengthening campaign finance laws, such as closing the LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations to elected officials. None of the planks were passed, either in the budget in April or at the end of the legislative session in June.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the governor’s office declined to reveal whether ethics and campaign finance reform will be introduced in a separate plank during the governor’s upcoming SOTS address, but said the administration was committed to getting the announced electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>“In our political environment, it can sometimes takes multiple years for the legislature to pass reforms like these—as was the case with raise the age, the minimum wage increase, and even marriage equality, which failed in 2009 and then passed with bipartisan support two years later,” said Cuomo spokesperson Elizabeth Bibi. “This administration remains committed to modernizing our election process and will work with the legislature on this issue.”</p> <p>The voting reform measures are not embraced by leadership in the Republican-controlled state Senate, which clings to power through a ruling coalition with breakaway Democrats, and Cuomo told reporters <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6823-cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">that there was “no appetite”</a> from the Legislature to implement them during budget negotiations earlier this year.</p> <p>After the legislative session, the governor did sign an executive order expanding the list of agencies required to provide voting registration assistance, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7089-voting-reform-advocates-say-cuomo-can-do-more-through-executive-order" target="_blank" rel="noopener">advocates said that the order could have gone further</a>. For example, they say, a task force assembled by Cuomo to explore the implementation of these new rules could also study the costs and benefits of more meaningful electoral reform -- such as early voting and automatic registration -- in order to better sell the proposals to legislative leaders in 2018.</p> <p>If passed, Cuomo’s early voting proposal would allow eligible New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day. Automatic voter registration would automatically register anyone who comes in contact with the Department of Motor Vehicles or other government agency unless the person chooses to opt-out, and same-day registration would allow New Yorkers to register to vote when going to the polls to cast their ballots.</p> <p>Reform advocates praised the governor’s Democracy Agenda while urging him to include funding for the proposals in his upcoming budget.</p> <p>“While Governor Cuomo's recent push in cyber security and transparency for elections is an important step forward to ensure that New York's elections remain fair and safe, our basic voting processes also demand improvement,” said Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, in a statement. “Common Cause/NY urges the Governor to include Early Voting in his upcoming budget to create a more equitable voting process for all.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s democracy platform, as presented in a press release, focuses on the proliferation of “fake news” and political ad campaigns on social media platforms, which are not regulated in the same way as advertisements on traditional media platforms. Citing the influence of &nbsp;“unscrupulous and disruptive actors” on the 2016 presidential election, Cuomo’s proposal would codify state regulations as introduced by United States Senate and House members to regulate online advertising for federal elections. The governor vowed to ensure that all social media platforms, and other states, adopt similar policies.</p> <p>“As many as 126 million Americans are estimated to have seen Russian-bought political ads on Facebook alone last year, without realizing that they were seeing content paid for by Russia. &nbsp;Additionally, 131,000 Twitter messages, linked to more than 36,000 Russian accounts, have also been identified,” states the press release from Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>To ensure the fairness and transparency of New York elections, Cuomo has put forth a three-pronged strategy to: expand New York State's definition of political communication to include paid internet and digital advertisements; require digital platforms to maintain a public file of all political advertisements purchased by a person or group for publication on the platform; and require online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.</p> <p>Violations of these requirements would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>The cybersecurity component seeks to keep elections uncorrupted by hackers. Earlier this year, following numerous reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Cuomo directed the New York State Cyber Security Advisory Board to work with state agencies and the State and County Boards of Election to assess the threats to the cybersecurity of New York's elections infrastructure, identify security priorities, and recommend any necessary additional security measures.</p> <p>As a result of this review, Cuomo says he is proposing a four-pronged approach to further strengthen cyber protections for New York's elections infrastructure: create an Election Support Center; develop an Elections Cyber Security Support Toolkit; provide cyber risk vulnerability assessments and support for local boards of elections; and require counties to report data breaches to state authorities.</p> <p>Governmental reform advocates had praise for Cuomo’s proposals, as promoted through the governor’s press release.</p> <p>"Our democracy urgently needs repair. Washington has not yet acted, but states can. Today New York lags behind many other states. With these reforms it can step into the lead, making it easier to register and vote, and protecting the system from abuse,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, in a statement.</p> <p>He noted that automatic voter registration, if done right, could add millions to the rolls, cost less, and bolster security. Meanwhile, early voting and same-day registration would make voting far easier for working people.</p> <p>“And it is vital to ensure that foreign governments and other malevolent actors can't distort elections with dark money ads or attacks on voting machines and databases. Governor Cuomo's agenda would be a powerful step forward. It's worth fighting for. We hope Albany listens," Waldman said.</p> <p>The governor’s 13th State of the State proposal also received praise from Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island who has introduced similar legislation to prevent anonymous and false political attack ads on social media, and Kaminsky’s fellow Senate Democrats, who have long pushed for voting reforms like the ones unveiled today.<a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/338555295/7-Shocking-Facts-About-New-York-s-Voting-Laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><br /></a></p> <p>“I thank Governor Cuomo for joining this important effort to rid our election process of these false, misleading, and anonymous advertisements. These often dirty attacks that are aimed at providing misinformation to voters undermine our democracy. Voters deserve full transparency during their elections,” said Kaminsky. “It is important that we restore the voters' trust in government, and Governor Cuomo advancing this initiative will ensure we are able to take real steps to clean up campaigns in New York.”</p> <p>Each year, ahead of his annual State of the State address, which for 2018 will take place on January 3, Cuomo typically previews several planks of his new agenda. Other initiatives unveiled so far have focused on environmental investment and protections, strengthening of labor laws, gun control, and returning the Islanders hockey team to Long Island.</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/2017/38198034236_bf971489f7_z.jpg" alt="38198034236 bf971489f7 z" width="600" height="367" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday unveiled his “Democracy Agenda,” a plan to create more transparency in political advertising and require online platforms to archive political ads, protect state elections from hacking threats, and enhance voting opportunities.</p> <p>The 13th proposal of the governor’s developing 2018 State of the State speech, the advertising transparency and cybersecurity initiatives are joined by three voting reform measures that were introduced by Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last year</a> but did not pass: early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration.</p> <p>"What we saw during the last election was a systematic effort to undermine and manipulate our very democracy," Cuomo said in a statement. "With these new safeguards, New York — in the strongest terms possible — will combat unscrupulous and shadowy threats to our electoral process, as well as break down fundamental barriers that for far too long have prevented New Yorkers from being heard and from exercising their right to vote."</p> <p>In his 2017 agenda, Cuomo included the voting reforms as part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his 10-point government ethics program</a>, which included strengthening campaign finance laws, such as closing the LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations to elected officials. None of the planks were passed, either in the budget in April or at the end of the legislative session in June.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the governor’s office declined to reveal whether ethics and campaign finance reform will be introduced in a separate plank during the governor’s upcoming SOTS address, but said the administration was committed to getting the announced electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>“In our political environment, it can sometimes takes multiple years for the legislature to pass reforms like these—as was the case with raise the age, the minimum wage increase, and even marriage equality, which failed in 2009 and then passed with bipartisan support two years later,” said Cuomo spokesperson Elizabeth Bibi. “This administration remains committed to modernizing our election process and will work with the legislature on this issue.”</p> <p>The voting reform measures are not embraced by leadership in the Republican-controlled state Senate, which clings to power through a ruling coalition with breakaway Democrats, and Cuomo told reporters <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6823-cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">that there was “no appetite”</a> from the Legislature to implement them during budget negotiations earlier this year.</p> <p>After the legislative session, the governor did sign an executive order expanding the list of agencies required to provide voting registration assistance, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7089-voting-reform-advocates-say-cuomo-can-do-more-through-executive-order" target="_blank" rel="noopener">advocates said that the order could have gone further</a>. For example, they say, a task force assembled by Cuomo to explore the implementation of these new rules could also study the costs and benefits of more meaningful electoral reform -- such as early voting and automatic registration -- in order to better sell the proposals to legislative leaders in 2018.</p> <p>If passed, Cuomo’s early voting proposal would allow eligible New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day. Automatic voter registration would automatically register anyone who comes in contact with the Department of Motor Vehicles or other government agency unless the person chooses to opt-out, and same-day registration would allow New Yorkers to register to vote when going to the polls to cast their ballots.</p> <p>Reform advocates praised the governor’s Democracy Agenda while urging him to include funding for the proposals in his upcoming budget.</p> <p>“While Governor Cuomo's recent push in cyber security and transparency for elections is an important step forward to ensure that New York's elections remain fair and safe, our basic voting processes also demand improvement,” said Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, in a statement. “Common Cause/NY urges the Governor to include Early Voting in his upcoming budget to create a more equitable voting process for all.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s democracy platform, as presented in a press release, focuses on the proliferation of “fake news” and political ad campaigns on social media platforms, which are not regulated in the same way as advertisements on traditional media platforms. Citing the influence of &nbsp;“unscrupulous and disruptive actors” on the 2016 presidential election, Cuomo’s proposal would codify state regulations as introduced by United States Senate and House members to regulate online advertising for federal elections. The governor vowed to ensure that all social media platforms, and other states, adopt similar policies.</p> <p>“As many as 126 million Americans are estimated to have seen Russian-bought political ads on Facebook alone last year, without realizing that they were seeing content paid for by Russia. &nbsp;Additionally, 131,000 Twitter messages, linked to more than 36,000 Russian accounts, have also been identified,” states the press release from Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>To ensure the fairness and transparency of New York elections, Cuomo has put forth a three-pronged strategy to: expand New York State's definition of political communication to include paid internet and digital advertisements; require digital platforms to maintain a public file of all political advertisements purchased by a person or group for publication on the platform; and require online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.</p> <p>Violations of these requirements would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>The cybersecurity component seeks to keep elections uncorrupted by hackers. Earlier this year, following numerous reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Cuomo directed the New York State Cyber Security Advisory Board to work with state agencies and the State and County Boards of Election to assess the threats to the cybersecurity of New York's elections infrastructure, identify security priorities, and recommend any necessary additional security measures.</p> <p>As a result of this review, Cuomo says he is proposing a four-pronged approach to further strengthen cyber protections for New York's elections infrastructure: create an Election Support Center; develop an Elections Cyber Security Support Toolkit; provide cyber risk vulnerability assessments and support for local boards of elections; and require counties to report data breaches to state authorities.</p> <p>Governmental reform advocates had praise for Cuomo’s proposals, as promoted through the governor’s press release.</p> <p>"Our democracy urgently needs repair. Washington has not yet acted, but states can. Today New York lags behind many other states. With these reforms it can step into the lead, making it easier to register and vote, and protecting the system from abuse,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, in a statement.</p> <p>He noted that automatic voter registration, if done right, could add millions to the rolls, cost less, and bolster security. Meanwhile, early voting and same-day registration would make voting far easier for working people.</p> <p>“And it is vital to ensure that foreign governments and other malevolent actors can't distort elections with dark money ads or attacks on voting machines and databases. Governor Cuomo's agenda would be a powerful step forward. It's worth fighting for. We hope Albany listens," Waldman said.</p> <p>The governor’s 13th State of the State proposal also received praise from Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island who has introduced similar legislation to prevent anonymous and false political attack ads on social media, and Kaminsky’s fellow Senate Democrats, who have long pushed for voting reforms like the ones unveiled today.<a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/338555295/7-Shocking-Facts-About-New-York-s-Voting-Laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><br /></a></p> <p>“I thank Governor Cuomo for joining this important effort to rid our election process of these false, misleading, and anonymous advertisements. These often dirty attacks that are aimed at providing misinformation to voters undermine our democracy. Voters deserve full transparency during their elections,” said Kaminsky. “It is important that we restore the voters' trust in government, and Governor Cuomo advancing this initiative will ensure we are able to take real steps to clean up campaigns in New York.”</p> <p>Each year, ahead of his annual State of the State address, which for 2018 will take place on January 3, Cuomo typically previews several planks of his new agenda. Other initiatives unveiled so far have focused on environmental investment and protections, strengthening of labor laws, gun control, and returning the Islanders hockey team to Long Island.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Immediate Steps We Must Take to Protect Our Drinking Water, and Ourselves 2017-01-29T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-29T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6736:immediate-steps-we-must-take-to-protect-our-drinking-water-and-ourselves Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kaminsky.jpg" alt="kaminsky" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>State Senator Todd Kaminsky, the author</p> <hr /> <p>New York State is facing a drinking water crisis and we cannot waste another moment in aggressively and adequately addressing it.</p> <p>Close to home for me, recent reports that the Environmental Protection Agency discovered a dangerous chemical — 1,4-Dioxane — that is more prevalent in our drinking water here on Long Island than anywhere else in our state raise serious questions about our health and safety that must be immediately addressed.</p> <p>Dioxane is a hazardous agent often used as a stabilizer for manufacturing solvents, and is present in many shampoos, lotions and detergents. Worse, it readily leaches from soil to groundwater, is resistant to biodegradation, and cannot be removed from water with conventional treatment technologies. An EPA report concluded that this toxin is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans" by all routes of exposure.</p> <p>Whether it is Dioxane, other chemicals, lead, or bad infrastructure, all over the state we have water quality problems that require our immediate attention.</p> <p>The time to act is now. All public institutions put in place to protect New Yorkers must marshal their resources to ensure we quickly learn the extent of this problem, create a plan to address it, and act swiftly to clean our drinking water however necessary, wherever necessary.</p> <p>Let’s start today. Here’s how:</p> <p>Pass legislation I put forth to direct the state’s health commissioner to immediately conduct a comprehensive health review of 1,4-Dioxane in our water and set a specific limit for this dangerous chemical. Currently, there is no specific standard for the amount of 1,4-Dioxane allowed in our water, which means it automatically defaults to a catch-all standard, which is way too high.</p> <p>Develop technology to remove 1,4-Dioxane from our water. There is a pilot program underway in Suffolk County to do just that, which must be expedited and expanded.</p> <p>Approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to invest $2 billion in critical clean water infrastructure across New York. Water treatment can cost nearly $1 million to rid each contaminated site of 1,4-Dioxane -- a bill local municipalities simply cannot afford to foot. The new funding stream would go a long way toward supporting the chemical-removing technology that we need.</p> <p>Water is our most critical natural resource, and Long Island relies heavily on its aquifer system to provide a clean and plentiful supply of potable water for our consumption. When we find out that the water we take for granted every day contains chemicals that can cause cancer, we must act without hesitation.</p> <p>I will fight tirelessly and work with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to procure the necessary funding for the surveying, planning, and technology to purge our water of harmful substances and restore it to the clean and safe state we deserve. For all of the taxes we pay, we Long Islanders deserve the most basic service a government can provide: clean and safe drinking water. It’s a necessity of daily life that all New Yorkers deserve.</p> <p>***<br />Todd Kaminsky is the state Senator for New York’s 9th Senatorial District and was recently appointed to serve as the Ranking Member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/toddkaminsky" target="_blank">@ToddKaminsky</a>.</p> <p>

***
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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kaminsky.jpg" alt="kaminsky" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>State Senator Todd Kaminsky, the author</p> <hr /> <p>New York State is facing a drinking water crisis and we cannot waste another moment in aggressively and adequately addressing it.</p> <p>Close to home for me, recent reports that the Environmental Protection Agency discovered a dangerous chemical — 1,4-Dioxane — that is more prevalent in our drinking water here on Long Island than anywhere else in our state raise serious questions about our health and safety that must be immediately addressed.</p> <p>Dioxane is a hazardous agent often used as a stabilizer for manufacturing solvents, and is present in many shampoos, lotions and detergents. Worse, it readily leaches from soil to groundwater, is resistant to biodegradation, and cannot be removed from water with conventional treatment technologies. An EPA report concluded that this toxin is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans" by all routes of exposure.</p> <p>Whether it is Dioxane, other chemicals, lead, or bad infrastructure, all over the state we have water quality problems that require our immediate attention.</p> <p>The time to act is now. All public institutions put in place to protect New Yorkers must marshal their resources to ensure we quickly learn the extent of this problem, create a plan to address it, and act swiftly to clean our drinking water however necessary, wherever necessary.</p> <p>Let’s start today. Here’s how:</p> <p>Pass legislation I put forth to direct the state’s health commissioner to immediately conduct a comprehensive health review of 1,4-Dioxane in our water and set a specific limit for this dangerous chemical. Currently, there is no specific standard for the amount of 1,4-Dioxane allowed in our water, which means it automatically defaults to a catch-all standard, which is way too high.</p> <p>Develop technology to remove 1,4-Dioxane from our water. There is a pilot program underway in Suffolk County to do just that, which must be expedited and expanded.</p> <p>Approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to invest $2 billion in critical clean water infrastructure across New York. Water treatment can cost nearly $1 million to rid each contaminated site of 1,4-Dioxane -- a bill local municipalities simply cannot afford to foot. The new funding stream would go a long way toward supporting the chemical-removing technology that we need.</p> <p>Water is our most critical natural resource, and Long Island relies heavily on its aquifer system to provide a clean and plentiful supply of potable water for our consumption. When we find out that the water we take for granted every day contains chemicals that can cause cancer, we must act without hesitation.</p> <p>I will fight tirelessly and work with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to procure the necessary funding for the surveying, planning, and technology to purge our water of harmful substances and restore it to the clean and safe state we deserve. For all of the taxes we pay, we Long Islanders deserve the most basic service a government can provide: clean and safe drinking water. It’s a necessity of daily life that all New Yorkers deserve.</p> <p>***<br />Todd Kaminsky is the state Senator for New York’s 9th Senatorial District and was recently appointed to serve as the Ranking Member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/toddkaminsky" target="_blank">@ToddKaminsky</a>.</p> <p>

***
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</p>
It's Time for Wholesale Ethics Reform 2016-10-27T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6596:it-s-time-for-wholesale-ethics-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/Kaminsky1.jpg" alt="Kaminsky1" width="600" height="539" /></p> <p>Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the author (photo: @toddkaminsky)</p> <hr /> <p>The headline is the same. The names are interchangeable.</p> <p>And yet, the laws and attitudes stay the same.</p> <p>The most recent indictment of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto should serve as a wakeup call to elected officials and taxpayers alike. The corruption within our governments is pervasive and isn’t going anywhere until we implement comprehensive ethics reform. No one is above the law.</p> <p>Having put away both corrupt Democrats and Republicans as a former federal corruption prosecutor, I’ve seen time and again how politicians abuse the public’s trust for personal gain. Voters feel betrayed, but aren’t surprised at the same time. As the list of convicted elected officials grows, we have come to a decisive moment: continue operating as ‘business as usual,’ or build an ethical and clean government with trustworthy leaders that will fairly represent taxpayers’ interests.</p> <p>We can’t keep putting a band-aid on the problem. In June, my colleagues and I voted to strip convicted politicians of their pensions and will have to vote again on the issue when we return to Albany. That is an important, yet small step forward, and we must do more. Here’s what I propose:</p> <p>First, we must ban lawmakers from receiving outside income. Being a legislator is my only job because I believe that 100% of my attention should be focused on how I can improve my constituents’ lives and the communities that I represent. This is of the utmost priority. Conflicts of interest between legislative duties and an outside job were central to convictions of Sheldon Silver, Pedro Espada, and others. The fact that a company could hire a legislator to conduct business on their behalf and then they could turn around and vote on legislation that directly impacts that business is completely absurd.</p> <p>Second, we need to close the loophole that allows public officials to accept gifts or benefits simply because of that person’s official position. We can easily combat the corruption that has infiltrated Albany by eliminating the influence of money on politicians. The recent McDonnell v. The United States decision dramatically narrowed federal bribery statutes and now effectively allows your public officials to accept a lavish gift as long as it’s not connected to a promise to perform an official act. This is the same decision which has given Dean Skelos the opportunity to appeal his conviction. Let’s be real: this decision allows anyone to have a lawmaker on retainer and it’s simply unacceptable. I’ve introduced legislation to close this ‘free money’ loophole because corrupt special interests have held undue influence on Albany for far too long.</p> <p>We also need to give local District Attorneys more tools to investigate these abuses of power by making it a crime to lie to a DA, ADA or their investigators. Have you ever wondered why big corruption cases aren’t brought by local District Attorneys? It’s because they don’t have enough power to do so. We cannot continue to rely on federal prosecutors and investigators to clean up our governments.</p> <p>Third, we must implement changes to our municipal contracting laws. As an Assembly member, I proposed legislation to mandate municipalities to create a vendor responsibility system to vet even modestly-sized contracts. It’s time to open the windows and let the sun shine on contract awards. Ending the era of ‘pay to play’ politics should be a top priority at all levels of government because it is one of most the egregious violations of the public’s trust.</p> <p>Finally, it’s time to take control over our elections and close campaign finance loopholes that allow dark money to eclipse the voters’ will. This session, I introduced a bill to reduce contribution limits from a party or county campaign committee to a candidate campaign to $15,000, and to decouple the contribution limit from the consumer price index which has allowed it to inflate to $109,600. This bill also requires LLC contributions to be counted toward an individual’s contribution limit. And without a doubt, we must close the LLC loophole.</p> <p>These proposals will go a long way in producing a more ethical government and restoring the public’s confidence in that government. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue –if we continue to sweep real reform under the rug, corrupt politicians will continue to tarnish our democracy and abuse taxpayers’ trust. I look forward to working with anyone - Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike - to clean up our government once and for all.</p> <p>***<br />State Senator Todd Kaminsky represents Long Island's South Shore and is a former federal prosecutor of public corruption cases. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/toddkaminsky" target="_blank">@toddkaminsky</a>.</p> <p>

***
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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/Kaminsky1.jpg" alt="Kaminsky1" width="600" height="539" /></p> <p>Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the author (photo: @toddkaminsky)</p> <hr /> <p>The headline is the same. The names are interchangeable.</p> <p>And yet, the laws and attitudes stay the same.</p> <p>The most recent indictment of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto should serve as a wakeup call to elected officials and taxpayers alike. The corruption within our governments is pervasive and isn’t going anywhere until we implement comprehensive ethics reform. No one is above the law.</p> <p>Having put away both corrupt Democrats and Republicans as a former federal corruption prosecutor, I’ve seen time and again how politicians abuse the public’s trust for personal gain. Voters feel betrayed, but aren’t surprised at the same time. As the list of convicted elected officials grows, we have come to a decisive moment: continue operating as ‘business as usual,’ or build an ethical and clean government with trustworthy leaders that will fairly represent taxpayers’ interests.</p> <p>We can’t keep putting a band-aid on the problem. In June, my colleagues and I voted to strip convicted politicians of their pensions and will have to vote again on the issue when we return to Albany. That is an important, yet small step forward, and we must do more. Here’s what I propose:</p> <p>First, we must ban lawmakers from receiving outside income. Being a legislator is my only job because I believe that 100% of my attention should be focused on how I can improve my constituents’ lives and the communities that I represent. This is of the utmost priority. Conflicts of interest between legislative duties and an outside job were central to convictions of Sheldon Silver, Pedro Espada, and others. The fact that a company could hire a legislator to conduct business on their behalf and then they could turn around and vote on legislation that directly impacts that business is completely absurd.</p> <p>Second, we need to close the loophole that allows public officials to accept gifts or benefits simply because of that person’s official position. We can easily combat the corruption that has infiltrated Albany by eliminating the influence of money on politicians. The recent McDonnell v. The United States decision dramatically narrowed federal bribery statutes and now effectively allows your public officials to accept a lavish gift as long as it’s not connected to a promise to perform an official act. This is the same decision which has given Dean Skelos the opportunity to appeal his conviction. Let’s be real: this decision allows anyone to have a lawmaker on retainer and it’s simply unacceptable. I’ve introduced legislation to close this ‘free money’ loophole because corrupt special interests have held undue influence on Albany for far too long.</p> <p>We also need to give local District Attorneys more tools to investigate these abuses of power by making it a crime to lie to a DA, ADA or their investigators. Have you ever wondered why big corruption cases aren’t brought by local District Attorneys? It’s because they don’t have enough power to do so. We cannot continue to rely on federal prosecutors and investigators to clean up our governments.</p> <p>Third, we must implement changes to our municipal contracting laws. As an Assembly member, I proposed legislation to mandate municipalities to create a vendor responsibility system to vet even modestly-sized contracts. It’s time to open the windows and let the sun shine on contract awards. Ending the era of ‘pay to play’ politics should be a top priority at all levels of government because it is one of most the egregious violations of the public’s trust.</p> <p>Finally, it’s time to take control over our elections and close campaign finance loopholes that allow dark money to eclipse the voters’ will. This session, I introduced a bill to reduce contribution limits from a party or county campaign committee to a candidate campaign to $15,000, and to decouple the contribution limit from the consumer price index which has allowed it to inflate to $109,600. This bill also requires LLC contributions to be counted toward an individual’s contribution limit. And without a doubt, we must close the LLC loophole.</p> <p>These proposals will go a long way in producing a more ethical government and restoring the public’s confidence in that government. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue –if we continue to sweep real reform under the rug, corrupt politicians will continue to tarnish our democracy and abuse taxpayers’ trust. I look forward to working with anyone - Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike - to clean up our government once and for all.</p> <p>***<br />State Senator Todd Kaminsky represents Long Island's South Shore and is a former federal prosecutor of public corruption cases. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/toddkaminsky" target="_blank">@toddkaminsky</a>.</p> <p>

***
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Trump Could Tip Key Races for State Senate Control 2016-08-16T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6482:trump-could-tip-key-races-for-state-senate-control Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Trump_NY_GOP.jpg" alt="Trump NY GOP" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>photo: @NewYorkGOP</p> <hr /> <p>New York State Senate Democrats have picked up seats in every presidential year in the past two decades. They&rsquo;ve been chomping at the bit for Hillary Clinton, a former New York Senator, to head the presidential ticket, telling anyone who would listen that she would bolster turnout for them and win them swing districts, thereby securing them control of the chamber, perhaps for good.</p> <p>What the Senate minority didn&rsquo;t count on was the Republican presidential candidate being toxic to black and Hispanic voters and alienating a significant portion of his own base, giving even greater hope to Democrats for a takeover of the only lasting Republican stronghold in New York State government.</p> <p>According to recent polls, that is exactly the situation Senate Democrats are in, and their optimism is running high. With less than three months until Election Day a <a href="https://www.siena.edu/centers-institutes/siena-research-institute/political-polls/" target="_blank">Siena University poll</a> released Monday found that in a two-way race, New York voters prefer Clinton to Donald Trump 57-27 percent.</p> <p>Worse for Senate Republicans who hope to hold off Democrats in key races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley is that Trump trails Clinton in both the suburbs and upstate by 11 and 8 points, respectively. &ldquo;The top of the ticket has always had a major impact for us,&rdquo; Democratic State Senator Mike Gianaris of Queens told Gotham Gazette, referring to the fact that more Democrats vote in presidential years than non-presidential years. &ldquo;I think the top of the ticket is going to be a real problem for Senate Republicans.&rdquo;</p> <p>Scott Reif, spokesperson for Senate Republicans, sent Gotham Gazette the following statement: "Rather than hope and change, the entire campaign strategy of the Senate Democrats this year seems to be hope and hope. They hope that the Republican presidential candidate is a drag on the bottom of the ticket. They hope that Hillary Clinton has long enough coattails to sweep them into office. The Senate Democrats don't stand for anything and they have no vision for where they want to lead this state. We're going to grow our majority because we have delivered for hard working New Yorkers, starting with a $4.2 billion income tax cut that will slash middle-class taxes by 20 percent and a record level of support for education, including complete elimination of the GEA."</p> <p>Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, responded: &ldquo;The GOP are getting desperate. This year will be a historic year for Democrats. The people are sick and tired of the Republican Conference that has blocked women's health choices, stood up for special interests and elected corrupt leader after corrupt leader.&rdquo;</p> <p>There are currently 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans in the chamber but Republicans maintain control with the help of Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans, and the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, which has a governing coalition agreement with Republicans. The IDC appears to be in the process of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6454-2016-a-far-different-election-year-for-independent-democrats" target="_blank">strengthening its position</a> and attempting to expand its membership in anticipation of Democratic victories. Meanwhile, leading Senate Democrats <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/08/cuomo-huddles-with-dems-for-session-on-winning-state-senate-104658" target="_blank">met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo</a> earlier this month to discuss efforts to win the chamber, as first reported by Politico New York.</p> <p>Cuomo has historically allied himself with Senate Republicans, at times promising support to Senate Democrats that never appeared. Some insiders insist the meeting shows that Cuomo sees the writing on the wall and that he will look to keep his influence in the chamber by utilizing the IDC. Several Senate Democrats said that Cuomo has shown more interest in supporting Democrats this year than he has since he was elected in 2010. Still, Senate Democrats say as much as they would like his support, they aren&rsquo;t counting on it.</p> <p>According to Democrats, political experts, and polls, Trump is driving away parts of the Republican base. The GOP nominee&rsquo;s rhetoric appears to be energizing pockets of new voters who want to see him defeated. Eighty-five percent of black voters surveyed said they would vote for Clinton if the contest was &ldquo;held today,&rdquo; with only 8 percent saying they would vote for Trump. Seventy-six percent of Latinos surveyed said they would vote for Clinton if the race was &ldquo;held today,&rdquo; while 10 percent said they would vote for Trump.</p> <p>African-Americans and Hispanics are two voting blocs that will have major impact in races on Long Island. Senate Democrats have policies that appeal to many voters of color, including criminal justice reform measures and the DREAM Act, which provides financial aid to children of undocumented immigrants. Senate Republicans have blocked these reforms in Albany.</p> <p>Republicans charge that Democrats have been bad for the economy, namely for small businesses and job creation, and point to an MTA tax put in place while the Democrats controlled the Senate from 2009 to 2010.</p> <p>Senate Democrats have recent precedent on their side as their candidate, now Senator Todd Kaminsky, won the highly contested special election for the 9th Senate District in April to replace former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Skelos was forced from office after being convicted on multiple federal corruption charges.</p> <p>&ldquo;We had a test run where people thought Trump would be a draw and what we found is more Democrats turned out,&rdquo; said Sen. Gianaris, who runs the Senate Democrats&rsquo; campaign efforts and noted the special election took place when Trump was riding high on primary victories and had yet to begin to self destruct.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, noted that Trump&rsquo;s impact on down ballot races is hard to gauge at this point given his nontraditional candidacy. &ldquo;The question is, &lsquo;Can he motivate people to go to the polls who haven't voted before, who have not been polled?&rsquo; And then you have to factor in that the more people know about Trump, the less likely they are to vote for him&rdquo;</p> <p>However, Muzzio said that it is impossible for Republicans to ignore the results of the special election. &ldquo;Kaminsky was still a test case and the results mean they are in trouble,&rdquo; Muzzio told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Evan Thies, founder of Brooklyn Strategies, a political consultancy used by Kaminsky, said that the trend he is fascinated by in current polls is the declining support of registered Republicans for their own party. &ldquo;The biggest problem Trump created is not for himself but for the Republican Party. The favorability for the party itself has plummeted,&rdquo; Thies told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Thies said that since Trump won the nomination polls have shown more Republicans dissatisfied and disconnected from their party while Democrats&rsquo; favor for their own party has grown.</p> <p>&ldquo;If the election was held tomorrow, Trump could depress Republican turnout,&rdquo; said Thies. &ldquo;You could begin to see a concerted effort for down ballot Republicans to disassociate themselves with Trump and create a local brand.&rdquo;</p> <p>The Siena poll shows that in a head-to-head matchup 81 percent of Democrats surveyed said they would vote for Clinton, while only 55 percent of Republicans say they will vote for Trump. Meanwhile only 24 percent of voters surveyed saw Trump favorably with 72 percent saying they saw him unfavorably. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Republicans surveyed favored Trump with 46 percent saying they saw him unfavorably.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan gave a full-throated endorsement of Trump at the Republican National Convention in July. According to State of Politics he told the New York delegation: "I&rsquo;m going to make this unequivocally clear: I&rsquo;m supporting Donald Trump for President. I&rsquo;m going to do so with grace, with diplomacy, with passion and with fervor, and I&rsquo;m going to do it with New York style.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>KEY RACES</strong><br />Like Flanagan and Kaminsky, Senator Jack Martins represents part of Long Island. Martins decided, however, to forgo attempting reelection to run for an open Congressional seat. He has not endorsed Trump, something many Democrats see as a significant indication of Republicans&rsquo; fear of Trump&rsquo;s impact on important Long Island races. The race to replace Martins in the 7th Senate District is one of the top races in the battle for Senate control.</p> <p>Martins discussed his decision <a href="https://soundcloud.com/effective-radio" target="_blank">on Effective Radio with Bill Samuels</a> on Sunday, saying, &ldquo;Thankfully, I&rsquo;ve always run as an individual. I&rsquo;ve had the opportunity through elective office to take stances on different things and people know who I am, so I&rsquo;ve been able to use that and show through experience that I listen, I work across the aisle, I get things done,&rdquo; Martins <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/08/martins-explains-his-non-endorsement-of-trump/" target="_blank">said</a>.</p> <p>Seeking to replace Martins are Democrat Adam Haber, a businessman, and Republican Elaine Phillips, who is the mayor of Flower Hill. Haber, who unsuccessfully challenged Martins in 2014, is leading in fundraising. Democrats have a 20,000 voter enrollment advantage in the district and held the seat from 2007 to 2010. As in other swing districts, turnout will be key, and that is where Clinton and Trump may factor in decisively.</p> <p>Sen. Kaminsky will again face Republican opponent Chris McGrath. Running as an Assembly member, Kaminsky won the special election by about 1,000 votes. Democrats think Kaminsky will perform even better as the incumbent and with Republican turnout suppressed by Trump&rsquo;s performance. Republicans hope independents, who couldn&rsquo;t vote in the Republican presidential primary, may now vote for McGrath when they come out to vote in November. But the recent Siena poll shows independent New York voters favor Clinton by about 10 percentage points, though it is not clear how Long Island independents feel.</p> <p>Longtime Republican incumbent Senator Kemp Hannon of Garden City, the 6th Senate District, is battle tested, having dispatched a number of strong Democratic challenges. But this year he again faces Democrat Ryan Cronin, who he narrowly defeated in 2012. Hannon&rsquo;s district has seen steady growth in Democratic registration and he could be in danger if Trump depresses Republican turnout.</p> <p>Republican Senator Bill Larkin of the Hudson Valley&rsquo;s 39th Senate District also faces a rematch against his 2012 challenger, Chris Eachus, who he defeated by five points. Many observers wondered whether the 88-year-old Larkin would run for reelection as he has kept an extremely low profile in the district. Democratic registration has also grown in this district with registered Democrats now outnumbering Republicans 62,824 to 50,130 amongst active voters.</p> <p>Thies said that one key trend to watch in Long Island races is whether Trump&rsquo;s position moves the needle on black and Latino turnout. &ldquo;African-American and Latino voter numbers should give Democrats a big advantage in key races on Long Island,&rdquo; said Thies, &ldquo;but in previous years turnout didn't match registration. Trump has now poked a very big bear. If we see even a marginal uptick amongst African-American and Latino voters Republicans could face a major challenge.&rdquo;</p> <p>Democrats are hoping to unseat Republican Senator George Amedore, of the 46th Senate District, who soundly defeated Democratic incumbent Cecilia Tkaczyk in 2014. But in this case, as in many others, Democrats are hopeful that their candidate&rsquo;s performance in past presidential election years is a sign of things to come. Amedore&rsquo;s district was tailor-made for him in the 2010 redistricting process, but Tkaczyk narrowly won it in 2012, when President Obama was re-elected. The district continues to grow more Democratic and the challenger, Sara Niccoli, has out fundraised him. Democrats outnumber active Republican voters in the district 61,976 to 51,850.</p> <p>Some Democratic operatives expect that Trump&rsquo;s cratering poll numbers and controversial positions could put dark horse races in play - races that Senate Democrats haven&rsquo;t invested in as of yet.</p> <p>One of those races is for Senator Kathy Marchione&rsquo;s 43rd district seat, where Republicans lead Democrats 62,268 to 53,650 in voter registration. The district is home to about 15,000 registered voters unaffiliated with a party, known as independents. It may now be in play thanks to Marchione&rsquo;s botched reaction to water poisoning in the small town of Hoosick Falls.</p> <p>Marchione, a Republican, flip-flopped on whether it was necessary to hold legislative oversight hearings on the state response to the Hoosick Falls crisis, and at one point introduced an amendment to her own bill designed to help residents sue companies for water poisoning that would have basically killed any chance of it passing both houses. Marchione then reversed herself after major backlash from residents and environmentalists. The Senate is now scheduled to hold hearings into Hoosick Falls at the end of August.</p> <p>Marchione&rsquo;s Democratic opponent, Shaun Francis, said he isn&rsquo;t concerned about how his race plays into the larger political picture, whether it be Senate control or the presidential race. &ldquo;Having poisoned water isn&rsquo;t a Democratic or Republican issue,&rdquo; Francis said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;The incumbent&rsquo;s actions in session really opened a lot of eyes in the district of people who were concerned for their health. Regardless of whether they were Republican or Democrat people in the district saw that she is incapable of doing her job.&rdquo; Marchione&rsquo;s office did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Republican Senator Hugh Farley, 83 years old, has represented the 49th district that is comprised of Schenectady, Fulton, Herkimer and Saratoga Counties since 1977 and will not seek reelection. Pundits see his hand-picked successor, Assemblymember Jim Tedisco, as a sinch for the seat, but Tedisco lost a 2009 Congressional bid to Democrat Scott Murphy despite running in a district with Republican registration advantage and having significantly better name recognition. Republicans currently hold a 67,924 to 53,012 active voter registration advantage in the district. Democratic challenger Chad Putman holds little name recognition in the district but depressed Republican turnout could make the race closer than expected.</p> <p>Muzzio said he expects to see some Senate Republicans &ldquo;disavow Trump&rdquo; in the coming weeks if his current trajectory continues, but in Upstate districts Muzzio said he isn&rsquo;t sure Trump will actually be a hinderance. &ldquo;I expect in some Upstate districts we will see turnout for Trump higher than for Democrats,&rdquo; said Muzzio. He also warned that the presidential race has already been so volatile that he wouldn&rsquo;t be surprised to see the dynamics shifted by an outside force, like more damaging documents leaked about Clinton, or revelations from investigations into her use of the Clinton Foundation or of her home-made email system.</p> <p>Thies said that despite the good news Democrats see in Trump&rsquo;s recent poll numbers they are aware that there is more at play and more to do in the battle for Senate control. &ldquo;Their position is looking good, but they still have to get their message out to voters,&rdquo; he said of Democrats. &ldquo;You will not see anyone taking their foot off the gas pedal because the stakes are too high and you could very well see down ballot Republicans utilizing an effective vote-local message.&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/Trump_NY_GOP.jpg" alt="Trump NY GOP" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>photo: @NewYorkGOP</p> <hr /> <p>New York State Senate Democrats have picked up seats in every presidential year in the past two decades. They&rsquo;ve been chomping at the bit for Hillary Clinton, a former New York Senator, to head the presidential ticket, telling anyone who would listen that she would bolster turnout for them and win them swing districts, thereby securing them control of the chamber, perhaps for good.</p> <p>What the Senate minority didn&rsquo;t count on was the Republican presidential candidate being toxic to black and Hispanic voters and alienating a significant portion of his own base, giving even greater hope to Democrats for a takeover of the only lasting Republican stronghold in New York State government.</p> <p>According to recent polls, that is exactly the situation Senate Democrats are in, and their optimism is running high. With less than three months until Election Day a <a href="https://www.siena.edu/centers-institutes/siena-research-institute/political-polls/" target="_blank">Siena University poll</a> released Monday found that in a two-way race, New York voters prefer Clinton to Donald Trump 57-27 percent.</p> <p>Worse for Senate Republicans who hope to hold off Democrats in key races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley is that Trump trails Clinton in both the suburbs and upstate by 11 and 8 points, respectively. &ldquo;The top of the ticket has always had a major impact for us,&rdquo; Democratic State Senator Mike Gianaris of Queens told Gotham Gazette, referring to the fact that more Democrats vote in presidential years than non-presidential years. &ldquo;I think the top of the ticket is going to be a real problem for Senate Republicans.&rdquo;</p> <p>Scott Reif, spokesperson for Senate Republicans, sent Gotham Gazette the following statement: "Rather than hope and change, the entire campaign strategy of the Senate Democrats this year seems to be hope and hope. They hope that the Republican presidential candidate is a drag on the bottom of the ticket. They hope that Hillary Clinton has long enough coattails to sweep them into office. The Senate Democrats don't stand for anything and they have no vision for where they want to lead this state. We're going to grow our majority because we have delivered for hard working New Yorkers, starting with a $4.2 billion income tax cut that will slash middle-class taxes by 20 percent and a record level of support for education, including complete elimination of the GEA."</p> <p>Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, responded: &ldquo;The GOP are getting desperate. This year will be a historic year for Democrats. The people are sick and tired of the Republican Conference that has blocked women's health choices, stood up for special interests and elected corrupt leader after corrupt leader.&rdquo;</p> <p>There are currently 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans in the chamber but Republicans maintain control with the help of Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans, and the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, which has a governing coalition agreement with Republicans. The IDC appears to be in the process of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6454-2016-a-far-different-election-year-for-independent-democrats" target="_blank">strengthening its position</a> and attempting to expand its membership in anticipation of Democratic victories. Meanwhile, leading Senate Democrats <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/08/cuomo-huddles-with-dems-for-session-on-winning-state-senate-104658" target="_blank">met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo</a> earlier this month to discuss efforts to win the chamber, as first reported by Politico New York.</p> <p>Cuomo has historically allied himself with Senate Republicans, at times promising support to Senate Democrats that never appeared. Some insiders insist the meeting shows that Cuomo sees the writing on the wall and that he will look to keep his influence in the chamber by utilizing the IDC. Several Senate Democrats said that Cuomo has shown more interest in supporting Democrats this year than he has since he was elected in 2010. Still, Senate Democrats say as much as they would like his support, they aren&rsquo;t counting on it.</p> <p>According to Democrats, political experts, and polls, Trump is driving away parts of the Republican base. The GOP nominee&rsquo;s rhetoric appears to be energizing pockets of new voters who want to see him defeated. Eighty-five percent of black voters surveyed said they would vote for Clinton if the contest was &ldquo;held today,&rdquo; with only 8 percent saying they would vote for Trump. Seventy-six percent of Latinos surveyed said they would vote for Clinton if the race was &ldquo;held today,&rdquo; while 10 percent said they would vote for Trump.</p> <p>African-Americans and Hispanics are two voting blocs that will have major impact in races on Long Island. Senate Democrats have policies that appeal to many voters of color, including criminal justice reform measures and the DREAM Act, which provides financial aid to children of undocumented immigrants. Senate Republicans have blocked these reforms in Albany.</p> <p>Republicans charge that Democrats have been bad for the economy, namely for small businesses and job creation, and point to an MTA tax put in place while the Democrats controlled the Senate from 2009 to 2010.</p> <p>Senate Democrats have recent precedent on their side as their candidate, now Senator Todd Kaminsky, won the highly contested special election for the 9th Senate District in April to replace former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Skelos was forced from office after being convicted on multiple federal corruption charges.</p> <p>&ldquo;We had a test run where people thought Trump would be a draw and what we found is more Democrats turned out,&rdquo; said Sen. Gianaris, who runs the Senate Democrats&rsquo; campaign efforts and noted the special election took place when Trump was riding high on primary victories and had yet to begin to self destruct.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, noted that Trump&rsquo;s impact on down ballot races is hard to gauge at this point given his nontraditional candidacy. &ldquo;The question is, &lsquo;Can he motivate people to go to the polls who haven't voted before, who have not been polled?&rsquo; And then you have to factor in that the more people know about Trump, the less likely they are to vote for him&rdquo;</p> <p>However, Muzzio said that it is impossible for Republicans to ignore the results of the special election. &ldquo;Kaminsky was still a test case and the results mean they are in trouble,&rdquo; Muzzio told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Evan Thies, founder of Brooklyn Strategies, a political consultancy used by Kaminsky, said that the trend he is fascinated by in current polls is the declining support of registered Republicans for their own party. &ldquo;The biggest problem Trump created is not for himself but for the Republican Party. The favorability for the party itself has plummeted,&rdquo; Thies told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Thies said that since Trump won the nomination polls have shown more Republicans dissatisfied and disconnected from their party while Democrats&rsquo; favor for their own party has grown.</p> <p>&ldquo;If the election was held tomorrow, Trump could depress Republican turnout,&rdquo; said Thies. &ldquo;You could begin to see a concerted effort for down ballot Republicans to disassociate themselves with Trump and create a local brand.&rdquo;</p> <p>The Siena poll shows that in a head-to-head matchup 81 percent of Democrats surveyed said they would vote for Clinton, while only 55 percent of Republicans say they will vote for Trump. Meanwhile only 24 percent of voters surveyed saw Trump favorably with 72 percent saying they saw him unfavorably. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Republicans surveyed favored Trump with 46 percent saying they saw him unfavorably.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan gave a full-throated endorsement of Trump at the Republican National Convention in July. According to State of Politics he told the New York delegation: "I&rsquo;m going to make this unequivocally clear: I&rsquo;m supporting Donald Trump for President. I&rsquo;m going to do so with grace, with diplomacy, with passion and with fervor, and I&rsquo;m going to do it with New York style.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>KEY RACES</strong><br />Like Flanagan and Kaminsky, Senator Jack Martins represents part of Long Island. Martins decided, however, to forgo attempting reelection to run for an open Congressional seat. He has not endorsed Trump, something many Democrats see as a significant indication of Republicans&rsquo; fear of Trump&rsquo;s impact on important Long Island races. The race to replace Martins in the 7th Senate District is one of the top races in the battle for Senate control.</p> <p>Martins discussed his decision <a href="https://soundcloud.com/effective-radio" target="_blank">on Effective Radio with Bill Samuels</a> on Sunday, saying, &ldquo;Thankfully, I&rsquo;ve always run as an individual. I&rsquo;ve had the opportunity through elective office to take stances on different things and people know who I am, so I&rsquo;ve been able to use that and show through experience that I listen, I work across the aisle, I get things done,&rdquo; Martins <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/08/martins-explains-his-non-endorsement-of-trump/" target="_blank">said</a>.</p> <p>Seeking to replace Martins are Democrat Adam Haber, a businessman, and Republican Elaine Phillips, who is the mayor of Flower Hill. Haber, who unsuccessfully challenged Martins in 2014, is leading in fundraising. Democrats have a 20,000 voter enrollment advantage in the district and held the seat from 2007 to 2010. As in other swing districts, turnout will be key, and that is where Clinton and Trump may factor in decisively.</p> <p>Sen. Kaminsky will again face Republican opponent Chris McGrath. Running as an Assembly member, Kaminsky won the special election by about 1,000 votes. Democrats think Kaminsky will perform even better as the incumbent and with Republican turnout suppressed by Trump&rsquo;s performance. Republicans hope independents, who couldn&rsquo;t vote in the Republican presidential primary, may now vote for McGrath when they come out to vote in November. But the recent Siena poll shows independent New York voters favor Clinton by about 10 percentage points, though it is not clear how Long Island independents feel.</p> <p>Longtime Republican incumbent Senator Kemp Hannon of Garden City, the 6th Senate District, is battle tested, having dispatched a number of strong Democratic challenges. But this year he again faces Democrat Ryan Cronin, who he narrowly defeated in 2012. Hannon&rsquo;s district has seen steady growth in Democratic registration and he could be in danger if Trump depresses Republican turnout.</p> <p>Republican Senator Bill Larkin of the Hudson Valley&rsquo;s 39th Senate District also faces a rematch against his 2012 challenger, Chris Eachus, who he defeated by five points. Many observers wondered whether the 88-year-old Larkin would run for reelection as he has kept an extremely low profile in the district. Democratic registration has also grown in this district with registered Democrats now outnumbering Republicans 62,824 to 50,130 amongst active voters.</p> <p>Thies said that one key trend to watch in Long Island races is whether Trump&rsquo;s position moves the needle on black and Latino turnout. &ldquo;African-American and Latino voter numbers should give Democrats a big advantage in key races on Long Island,&rdquo; said Thies, &ldquo;but in previous years turnout didn't match registration. Trump has now poked a very big bear. If we see even a marginal uptick amongst African-American and Latino voters Republicans could face a major challenge.&rdquo;</p> <p>Democrats are hoping to unseat Republican Senator George Amedore, of the 46th Senate District, who soundly defeated Democratic incumbent Cecilia Tkaczyk in 2014. But in this case, as in many others, Democrats are hopeful that their candidate&rsquo;s performance in past presidential election years is a sign of things to come. Amedore&rsquo;s district was tailor-made for him in the 2010 redistricting process, but Tkaczyk narrowly won it in 2012, when President Obama was re-elected. The district continues to grow more Democratic and the challenger, Sara Niccoli, has out fundraised him. Democrats outnumber active Republican voters in the district 61,976 to 51,850.</p> <p>Some Democratic operatives expect that Trump&rsquo;s cratering poll numbers and controversial positions could put dark horse races in play - races that Senate Democrats haven&rsquo;t invested in as of yet.</p> <p>One of those races is for Senator Kathy Marchione&rsquo;s 43rd district seat, where Republicans lead Democrats 62,268 to 53,650 in voter registration. The district is home to about 15,000 registered voters unaffiliated with a party, known as independents. It may now be in play thanks to Marchione&rsquo;s botched reaction to water poisoning in the small town of Hoosick Falls.</p> <p>Marchione, a Republican, flip-flopped on whether it was necessary to hold legislative oversight hearings on the state response to the Hoosick Falls crisis, and at one point introduced an amendment to her own bill designed to help residents sue companies for water poisoning that would have basically killed any chance of it passing both houses. Marchione then reversed herself after major backlash from residents and environmentalists. The Senate is now scheduled to hold hearings into Hoosick Falls at the end of August.</p> <p>Marchione&rsquo;s Democratic opponent, Shaun Francis, said he isn&rsquo;t concerned about how his race plays into the larger political picture, whether it be Senate control or the presidential race. &ldquo;Having poisoned water isn&rsquo;t a Democratic or Republican issue,&rdquo; Francis said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;The incumbent&rsquo;s actions in session really opened a lot of eyes in the district of people who were concerned for their health. Regardless of whether they were Republican or Democrat people in the district saw that she is incapable of doing her job.&rdquo; Marchione&rsquo;s office did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Republican Senator Hugh Farley, 83 years old, has represented the 49th district that is comprised of Schenectady, Fulton, Herkimer and Saratoga Counties since 1977 and will not seek reelection. Pundits see his hand-picked successor, Assemblymember Jim Tedisco, as a sinch for the seat, but Tedisco lost a 2009 Congressional bid to Democrat Scott Murphy despite running in a district with Republican registration advantage and having significantly better name recognition. Republicans currently hold a 67,924 to 53,012 active voter registration advantage in the district. Democratic challenger Chad Putman holds little name recognition in the district but depressed Republican turnout could make the race closer than expected.</p> <p>Muzzio said he expects to see some Senate Republicans &ldquo;disavow Trump&rdquo; in the coming weeks if his current trajectory continues, but in Upstate districts Muzzio said he isn&rsquo;t sure Trump will actually be a hinderance. &ldquo;I expect in some Upstate districts we will see turnout for Trump higher than for Democrats,&rdquo; said Muzzio. He also warned that the presidential race has already been so volatile that he wouldn&rsquo;t be surprised to see the dynamics shifted by an outside force, like more damaging documents leaked about Clinton, or revelations from investigations into her use of the Clinton Foundation or of her home-made email system.</p> <p>Thies said that despite the good news Democrats see in Trump&rsquo;s recent poll numbers they are aware that there is more at play and more to do in the battle for Senate control. &ldquo;Their position is looking good, but they still have to get their message out to voters,&rdquo; he said of Democrats. &ldquo;You will not see anyone taking their foot off the gas pedal because the stakes are too high and you could very well see down ballot Republicans utilizing an effective vote-local message.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Hope in the State Senate 2016-05-04T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6319:hope-in-the-state-senate-todd-kaminsky Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/hope-state.jpg" alt="hope state" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p>Make the Road Action volunteers for Todd Kaminsky</p> <hr /> <p>Last Tuesday, many New Yorkers were focused on the presidential primaries, but there was another election that may be even more important for communities like mine. In a special election for State Senate in Nassau County, Democrat Todd Kaminsky won a seat long-held by former Republican Sen. Dean Skelos.</p> <p>This result was key for three reasons.</p> <p>First, it showed the importance of the votes of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color outside of New York City.</p> <p>As a black Latino immigrant living on Long Island, I’ve seen first-hand how the region has changed in recent years away from being the overwhelmingly white suburban area it was once. Now, as reported by Newsday, it is likely that communities of color were the key difference in the victory of Todd Kaminsky by a relatively small margin, demonstrating the growth of our community on Long Island and our power. While we still have much work to do to continue registering and mobilizing voters, last Tuesday’s result shows that we are becoming more aware about the importance of voting in local and state elections, which often have more direct impact on our lives than federal contests. Communities of color—particularly Latino and immigrant communities—are growing in population and so too is our political weight.</p> <p>Second, this choice will be important in addressing one of the main barriers blocking progress for our communities: the state Senate.</p> <p>Many of the abuses suffered by our community in New York stem from state laws that fail to protect us. in many cases, we are even targeted. These laws—weak rent regulations, lack of police and criminal justice reforms, restrictions on accessing financial aid, and more—exist because for years we have had no one in the Senate from Long Island who represents us at the time of decision-making. Make the Road Action, of which I am a member, backed Todd Kaminsky because he committed to supporting our community—for example, by raising wages, expanding healthcare access, and ensuring higher education access. Meanwhile, the Republican campaign mailed anti-immigrant propaganda to excite ultra-conservative voters with a message akin to Donald Trump’s.</p> <p>We will continue to fight on priority issues for our community—to pass the DREAM Act, strengthen rent laws, pass criminal justice reform, and more—and we are confident that Senator Kaminsky will be there with us.</p> <p>Third, Senator Kaminsky's victory could be the first step in changing the balance of power in Albany.</p> <p>Through November, Republicans are likely to maintain control of the Senate through an alliance with the Independent Democrats (IDC). But this special election showed that progressive candidates themselves are able to succeed against conservatives on Long Island—the first time we’ve seen that in years—and we expect to have several close state Senate elections in our region in November. With only one or two more wins, Democrats could take control of the state Senate, which would give us the opportunity to pass new laws that protect workers, young people who want to study, tenants, LGBTQ immigrants—in short, our entire community.</p> <p>This election showed the growing power of our community. Now we must continue to build our strength and ensure that we are prepared to fight for our rights and vote in November, when the entire state Legislature is up for election.</p> <p>***<br />Frank Sprouse-Guzman is a member of Make the Road Action and a Bay Shore resident. On Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/MaketheRoadAct" target="_blank">@MaketheRoadAct</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/hope-state.jpg" alt="hope state" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p>Make the Road Action volunteers for Todd Kaminsky</p> <hr /> <p>Last Tuesday, many New Yorkers were focused on the presidential primaries, but there was another election that may be even more important for communities like mine. In a special election for State Senate in Nassau County, Democrat Todd Kaminsky won a seat long-held by former Republican Sen. Dean Skelos.</p> <p>This result was key for three reasons.</p> <p>First, it showed the importance of the votes of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color outside of New York City.</p> <p>As a black Latino immigrant living on Long Island, I’ve seen first-hand how the region has changed in recent years away from being the overwhelmingly white suburban area it was once. Now, as reported by Newsday, it is likely that communities of color were the key difference in the victory of Todd Kaminsky by a relatively small margin, demonstrating the growth of our community on Long Island and our power. While we still have much work to do to continue registering and mobilizing voters, last Tuesday’s result shows that we are becoming more aware about the importance of voting in local and state elections, which often have more direct impact on our lives than federal contests. Communities of color—particularly Latino and immigrant communities—are growing in population and so too is our political weight.</p> <p>Second, this choice will be important in addressing one of the main barriers blocking progress for our communities: the state Senate.</p> <p>Many of the abuses suffered by our community in New York stem from state laws that fail to protect us. in many cases, we are even targeted. These laws—weak rent regulations, lack of police and criminal justice reforms, restrictions on accessing financial aid, and more—exist because for years we have had no one in the Senate from Long Island who represents us at the time of decision-making. Make the Road Action, of which I am a member, backed Todd Kaminsky because he committed to supporting our community—for example, by raising wages, expanding healthcare access, and ensuring higher education access. Meanwhile, the Republican campaign mailed anti-immigrant propaganda to excite ultra-conservative voters with a message akin to Donald Trump’s.</p> <p>We will continue to fight on priority issues for our community—to pass the DREAM Act, strengthen rent laws, pass criminal justice reform, and more—and we are confident that Senator Kaminsky will be there with us.</p> <p>Third, Senator Kaminsky's victory could be the first step in changing the balance of power in Albany.</p> <p>Through November, Republicans are likely to maintain control of the Senate through an alliance with the Independent Democrats (IDC). But this special election showed that progressive candidates themselves are able to succeed against conservatives on Long Island—the first time we’ve seen that in years—and we expect to have several close state Senate elections in our region in November. With only one or two more wins, Democrats could take control of the state Senate, which would give us the opportunity to pass new laws that protect workers, young people who want to study, tenants, LGBTQ immigrants—in short, our entire community.</p> <p>This election showed the growing power of our community. Now we must continue to build our strength and ensure that we are prepared to fight for our rights and vote in November, when the entire state Legislature is up for election.</p> <p>***<br />Frank Sprouse-Guzman is a member of Make the Road Action and a Bay Shore resident. On Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/MaketheRoadAct" target="_blank">@MaketheRoadAct</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
5 Things State Lawmakers Can Do To Prevent Another Silver 2016-05-03T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-03T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6318:5-things-state-lawmakers-can-do-to-prevent-another-silver Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/11843054324_928c59836b_z.jpg" width="600" height="435" alt="cuomo silver et al 2013 " /></p> <p>Silver, Cuomo, and others (photo via The Governor's Office, 2013)</p> <hr /> <p>Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was perceived by many to be an institution of state government. Having served at the head of the Democrat-controlled Assembly for over a decade, Silver’s rule was iron-fisted and opaque - he could end a political career on a whim, kill a major policy initiative with a quiet grumble, and maneuver millions of dollars in state cash to recipients of his choice.</p> <p>That all ended last year when Silver was indicted by the U.S. Attorney on multiple corruption charges and voted out of leadership. For a few weeks he sat at a desk like a rank-and-file member of the chamber he once dominated. Even then some legislators thought there was a chance Silver would survive the scandal, but that was until he was convicted on all counts in late November. On Tuesday, Judge Valerie Caproni reminded Silver of the finality of his conviction, sentencing him to 12 years in prison, ordering him to pay back more than $5 million in ill-gotten riches, and fining him $1.75 million.</p> <p>“I hope the sentence I impose on you will make other politicians think twice, until their better angels take over,” Judge Caproni told Silver. “Or, if there are no better angels, perhaps the fear of living out one’s golden years in an orange jumpsuit will keep them on the straight and narrow.”</p> <p>As tough as Silver’s sentence might seem, there are a number of reformers that fear it is just another in a parade of sentences handed out to state legislators who violate the public trust and that without real reform politicians will be able to continue using their power to earn outside income that is tied to policy decisions, that they’ll be able to steer state funding to those they do business with.</p> <p>Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) told reporters at a press conference a little more than an hour before Silver’s sentencing that he feared Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators will be content to act on only one reform measure this year: the first vote of two that is required to change the constitution so that lawmakers convicted of a felony are stripped of their state pensions. Both Silver and former Senate President Dean Skelos, also convicted late last year of public corruption, are set to receive hefty pensions.</p> <p>“If that’s all they did they might as well not do anything,” said Horner. “You would think that going to prison would be a far more scary prospect than a loss of pension,” Horner said, noting that prison terms have not yet proven to be a real deterrent. Silver is joining a long list of former New York legislators to serve prison time.</p> <p>NYPIRG and other government reform groups including Common Cause NY, Citizens Union, League of Women Voters NYS, and Reinvent Albany held simultaneous news conferences in Albany and New York City on Tuesday to call on lawmakers to act to prevent corruption in state government. They released a list of five reforms they want to see enacted immediately.</p> <p>Good government leaders and reform-minded legislators say that the Legislature needs to take action to focus on preventing crimes instead of worrying about how to punish legislators once they have already been committed.</p> <p>“What we want today are preventive measures,” said Laura Ladd Bierman of League of Women Voters. Reformers are calling, she said, not for more punishments, but for “things that prevent [corruption] in the first place.”</p> <p>On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Todd Kaminsky was sworn in after winning the special election to replace Skelos. Asked by reporters if he thought there would be any consequences to the recent ethics scandals, Kaminsky said he thought his election was one direct consequence.</p> <p>“I think my election is one of those results of what happens when you don't get reforms. I took a seat that was held by the same party since I was in first grade,” said Kaminsky, himself a former federal prosecutor of public corruption who helped put crooked New York lawmakers behind bars. “Things don't change lightly, they change when there are big seismic changes and I think thats whats happening.”</p> <p>Silver’s replacement, current Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, struck a somber tone with reporters, but said that it was time for life to go on and that most state legislators are good, hard-working people, though there are always a few bad apples in every industry.</p> <p>Later on Tuesday, Kaminsky issued a statement on Silver’s sentencing, saying “justice was served.”</p> <p>“But the fight to clean up our government is far from over,” Kaminsky said. “Silver's sentencing should serve as a reminder that serious changes still need to be made in Albany. Our elected officials must act swiftly and strongly before the legislative session is over to put an end to the parade of corrupt politicians who have cut taxpayers out in our state for too long.”</p> <p><em>Largely similar to the list put forth by reformers on Tuesday, here are five things lawmakers can do over the next few weeks to help limit corruption in New York:</em></p> <p><strong>1. Ban or Limit Outside Income</strong><br />Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2016 budget proposal included a bill that would restrict lawmakers outside income to 15 percent of their legislative salaries, which are currently $79,500 per year, mirroring the Congressional model. Silver was convicted of receiving payments from a law firm for which the only service he provided was referring sufferers of a deadly form of cancer.</p> <p>Silver steered state funding to a doctor who in turn provided Silver’s law firm with the name of Mesothelioma patients. The arrangement earned Silver over $3 million in referral fees.</p> <p>A number of other legislators work or have worked as counsel to law firms that may have business pending before the state, others have worked as lobbyists or consultants. Backers of Cuomo’s plan and ones like it say that legislators’ first loyalty should be to the people of New York and not to an outside employer.</p> <p>However, legislators complain that their annual salary is not adequate. A pay commission is currently considering raises for the Legislature and the executive branch.</p> <p>The Assembly has advanced its own bill to limit legislators’ outside income to almost $70,000 annually, a number that represents about 90 percent of current legislative salaries.</p> <p>Senate Republicans have balked at the idea of limiting outside income. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who left his outside practice when he replaced Skelos last year, has said he opposes a ban or strict limits. Republican Senator John DeFrancisco has argued that a ban would dissuade well-qualified people from public service. “I think you’re eliminating a lot of good people in government,” DeFrancisco <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/01/senate-gop-skeptical-on-income-limit/" target="_blank">told State of Politics</a> in January. “If anyone really thinks creating a professional politician is going to root out corruption, where that politician is required every two years to win an election, I don’t think that’s a road to any less corruption.”</p> <p>Kaminsky disagrees. On Tuesday after his swearing in, he said, “To have both leaders of both houses convicted and not having moved on outside income is unconscionable. We’ve got 21 session days starting in about ten minutes, so let's get to it.”</p> <p><strong>2. Create Stronger Budget Oversight and Transparency</strong><br />In a new report, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli criticizes this year’s budget for relying on lump sum appropriations. Silver was able to tap into hundreds of thousands of dollars of those sums to provide support for the doctor who provided him with referrals. The funds are not subject to public scrutiny.</p> <p>Good government groups want such lump sums either banned or included in a newly created database to track exactly who requests the cash, who ends up spending it, and how it is spent. A Citizens Union <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/FINAL%20CU%20Spending%20in%20the%20Shadows%20Report%20FY17%20Executive%20Budget%20-%202%2029%2016.pdf" target="_blank">report recently revealed</a> that the 2016-2017 budget contains $2.4 billion in lump-sum spending.</p> <p><strong>3. Confront Pay-to-Play</strong><br />Entities with business before the state are also some of the biggest campaign contributors. Good government groups say it creates at the very least an appearance of an inherent conflict of interest wherein those who give the most end up with favorable legislation, state contracts, and business subsidies. New York City currently places very strict limits on campaign donations from anyone with business before the city as part of its public-matching program, which the state does not have.</p> <p>In another part of his scheme, Silver encouraged real estate groups with business before the state to use a law firm he was connected to in exchange for kickbacks from the firm. Real estate interests are some of the biggest donors in the state and have been allowed to negotiate policy by Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature.</p> <p><strong>4. Close the LLC Loophole</strong><br />Real estate and other groups have been able to game the state’s already lax campaign finance limits by using a loophole that allows the creation of mysterious limited liability corporations with the express purpose of donating to favored politicians. “We have the highest limits in the country of any state that has any and even those limits get circumvented,” said Horner.</p> <p>Leonard Litwin - who had previously been the largest campaign donor in the state - described to prosecutors how he and his corporation, Glenwood Management Inc., used the system to get around contribution limits.</p> <p>Richard Runes, a lobbyist overseeing Glenwood’s government relations, detailed the process during Silver’s trial, saying: “I would take the checks, and I would attach my business card to the check with a paper clip, put it in a 1200 Union Turnpike envelope, and deliver it to whichever campaign committee it was going to,” referring to Glenwood’s address.</p> <p><strong>5. Ethics Watchdog Independence</strong><br />The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), tasked with policing lobbying and ethics in the state, is renowned for its opaqueness and lack of major action. The body is made up of legislative and gubernatorial appointees, and the three chairs it has had in its short existence have all served as aides to Gov. Cuomo (one of them even returned to Cuomo’s direct employment after leaving the body).</p> <p>The commission has routinely been crippled by infighting, with legislative appointees calling for less influence from the governor’s office, and JCOPE largely conducts its business in secret. The appointees of both Silver and Skelos have lingered on after their bosses were convicted of public corruption.</p> <p>“We need to have a much better enforcement mechanism,” said Horner. “The fact that JCOPE has been relegated to the sidelines shows the need for better enforcement. We shouldn't have to rely on the federal government to police the state. We don't want a group that is solely a creature of the Governor and Legislature.”</p> <p>“JCOPE needs to be an open entity,” Horner added. “It’s a public ethics watchdog, we should know as much we can know about it within reason.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to reflect the two Tuesday news conferences and that a list of reforms was put forth.</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/11843054324_928c59836b_z.jpg" width="600" height="435" alt="cuomo silver et al 2013 " /></p> <p>Silver, Cuomo, and others (photo via The Governor's Office, 2013)</p> <hr /> <p>Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was perceived by many to be an institution of state government. Having served at the head of the Democrat-controlled Assembly for over a decade, Silver’s rule was iron-fisted and opaque - he could end a political career on a whim, kill a major policy initiative with a quiet grumble, and maneuver millions of dollars in state cash to recipients of his choice.</p> <p>That all ended last year when Silver was indicted by the U.S. Attorney on multiple corruption charges and voted out of leadership. For a few weeks he sat at a desk like a rank-and-file member of the chamber he once dominated. Even then some legislators thought there was a chance Silver would survive the scandal, but that was until he was convicted on all counts in late November. On Tuesday, Judge Valerie Caproni reminded Silver of the finality of his conviction, sentencing him to 12 years in prison, ordering him to pay back more than $5 million in ill-gotten riches, and fining him $1.75 million.</p> <p>“I hope the sentence I impose on you will make other politicians think twice, until their better angels take over,” Judge Caproni told Silver. “Or, if there are no better angels, perhaps the fear of living out one’s golden years in an orange jumpsuit will keep them on the straight and narrow.”</p> <p>As tough as Silver’s sentence might seem, there are a number of reformers that fear it is just another in a parade of sentences handed out to state legislators who violate the public trust and that without real reform politicians will be able to continue using their power to earn outside income that is tied to policy decisions, that they’ll be able to steer state funding to those they do business with.</p> <p>Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) told reporters at a press conference a little more than an hour before Silver’s sentencing that he feared Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators will be content to act on only one reform measure this year: the first vote of two that is required to change the constitution so that lawmakers convicted of a felony are stripped of their state pensions. Both Silver and former Senate President Dean Skelos, also convicted late last year of public corruption, are set to receive hefty pensions.</p> <p>“If that’s all they did they might as well not do anything,” said Horner. “You would think that going to prison would be a far more scary prospect than a loss of pension,” Horner said, noting that prison terms have not yet proven to be a real deterrent. Silver is joining a long list of former New York legislators to serve prison time.</p> <p>NYPIRG and other government reform groups including Common Cause NY, Citizens Union, League of Women Voters NYS, and Reinvent Albany held simultaneous news conferences in Albany and New York City on Tuesday to call on lawmakers to act to prevent corruption in state government. They released a list of five reforms they want to see enacted immediately.</p> <p>Good government leaders and reform-minded legislators say that the Legislature needs to take action to focus on preventing crimes instead of worrying about how to punish legislators once they have already been committed.</p> <p>“What we want today are preventive measures,” said Laura Ladd Bierman of League of Women Voters. Reformers are calling, she said, not for more punishments, but for “things that prevent [corruption] in the first place.”</p> <p>On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Todd Kaminsky was sworn in after winning the special election to replace Skelos. Asked by reporters if he thought there would be any consequences to the recent ethics scandals, Kaminsky said he thought his election was one direct consequence.</p> <p>“I think my election is one of those results of what happens when you don't get reforms. I took a seat that was held by the same party since I was in first grade,” said Kaminsky, himself a former federal prosecutor of public corruption who helped put crooked New York lawmakers behind bars. “Things don't change lightly, they change when there are big seismic changes and I think thats whats happening.”</p> <p>Silver’s replacement, current Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, struck a somber tone with reporters, but said that it was time for life to go on and that most state legislators are good, hard-working people, though there are always a few bad apples in every industry.</p> <p>Later on Tuesday, Kaminsky issued a statement on Silver’s sentencing, saying “justice was served.”</p> <p>“But the fight to clean up our government is far from over,” Kaminsky said. “Silver's sentencing should serve as a reminder that serious changes still need to be made in Albany. Our elected officials must act swiftly and strongly before the legislative session is over to put an end to the parade of corrupt politicians who have cut taxpayers out in our state for too long.”</p> <p><em>Largely similar to the list put forth by reformers on Tuesday, here are five things lawmakers can do over the next few weeks to help limit corruption in New York:</em></p> <p><strong>1. Ban or Limit Outside Income</strong><br />Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2016 budget proposal included a bill that would restrict lawmakers outside income to 15 percent of their legislative salaries, which are currently $79,500 per year, mirroring the Congressional model. Silver was convicted of receiving payments from a law firm for which the only service he provided was referring sufferers of a deadly form of cancer.</p> <p>Silver steered state funding to a doctor who in turn provided Silver’s law firm with the name of Mesothelioma patients. The arrangement earned Silver over $3 million in referral fees.</p> <p>A number of other legislators work or have worked as counsel to law firms that may have business pending before the state, others have worked as lobbyists or consultants. Backers of Cuomo’s plan and ones like it say that legislators’ first loyalty should be to the people of New York and not to an outside employer.</p> <p>However, legislators complain that their annual salary is not adequate. A pay commission is currently considering raises for the Legislature and the executive branch.</p> <p>The Assembly has advanced its own bill to limit legislators’ outside income to almost $70,000 annually, a number that represents about 90 percent of current legislative salaries.</p> <p>Senate Republicans have balked at the idea of limiting outside income. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who left his outside practice when he replaced Skelos last year, has said he opposes a ban or strict limits. Republican Senator John DeFrancisco has argued that a ban would dissuade well-qualified people from public service. “I think you’re eliminating a lot of good people in government,” DeFrancisco <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/01/senate-gop-skeptical-on-income-limit/" target="_blank">told State of Politics</a> in January. “If anyone really thinks creating a professional politician is going to root out corruption, where that politician is required every two years to win an election, I don’t think that’s a road to any less corruption.”</p> <p>Kaminsky disagrees. On Tuesday after his swearing in, he said, “To have both leaders of both houses convicted and not having moved on outside income is unconscionable. We’ve got 21 session days starting in about ten minutes, so let's get to it.”</p> <p><strong>2. Create Stronger Budget Oversight and Transparency</strong><br />In a new report, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli criticizes this year’s budget for relying on lump sum appropriations. Silver was able to tap into hundreds of thousands of dollars of those sums to provide support for the doctor who provided him with referrals. The funds are not subject to public scrutiny.</p> <p>Good government groups want such lump sums either banned or included in a newly created database to track exactly who requests the cash, who ends up spending it, and how it is spent. A Citizens Union <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/FINAL%20CU%20Spending%20in%20the%20Shadows%20Report%20FY17%20Executive%20Budget%20-%202%2029%2016.pdf" target="_blank">report recently revealed</a> that the 2016-2017 budget contains $2.4 billion in lump-sum spending.</p> <p><strong>3. Confront Pay-to-Play</strong><br />Entities with business before the state are also some of the biggest campaign contributors. Good government groups say it creates at the very least an appearance of an inherent conflict of interest wherein those who give the most end up with favorable legislation, state contracts, and business subsidies. New York City currently places very strict limits on campaign donations from anyone with business before the city as part of its public-matching program, which the state does not have.</p> <p>In another part of his scheme, Silver encouraged real estate groups with business before the state to use a law firm he was connected to in exchange for kickbacks from the firm. Real estate interests are some of the biggest donors in the state and have been allowed to negotiate policy by Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature.</p> <p><strong>4. Close the LLC Loophole</strong><br />Real estate and other groups have been able to game the state’s already lax campaign finance limits by using a loophole that allows the creation of mysterious limited liability corporations with the express purpose of donating to favored politicians. “We have the highest limits in the country of any state that has any and even those limits get circumvented,” said Horner.</p> <p>Leonard Litwin - who had previously been the largest campaign donor in the state - described to prosecutors how he and his corporation, Glenwood Management Inc., used the system to get around contribution limits.</p> <p>Richard Runes, a lobbyist overseeing Glenwood’s government relations, detailed the process during Silver’s trial, saying: “I would take the checks, and I would attach my business card to the check with a paper clip, put it in a 1200 Union Turnpike envelope, and deliver it to whichever campaign committee it was going to,” referring to Glenwood’s address.</p> <p><strong>5. Ethics Watchdog Independence</strong><br />The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), tasked with policing lobbying and ethics in the state, is renowned for its opaqueness and lack of major action. The body is made up of legislative and gubernatorial appointees, and the three chairs it has had in its short existence have all served as aides to Gov. Cuomo (one of them even returned to Cuomo’s direct employment after leaving the body).</p> <p>The commission has routinely been crippled by infighting, with legislative appointees calling for less influence from the governor’s office, and JCOPE largely conducts its business in secret. The appointees of both Silver and Skelos have lingered on after their bosses were convicted of public corruption.</p> <p>“We need to have a much better enforcement mechanism,” said Horner. “The fact that JCOPE has been relegated to the sidelines shows the need for better enforcement. We shouldn't have to rely on the federal government to police the state. We don't want a group that is solely a creature of the Governor and Legislature.”</p> <p>“JCOPE needs to be an open entity,” Horner added. “It’s a public ethics watchdog, we should know as much we can know about it within reason.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to reflect the two Tuesday news conferences and that a list of reforms was put forth.</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
Special Election Results Buoy Hopes for Reform 2016-04-20T19:17:15+00:00 2016-04-20T19:17:15+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6291:special-election-results-buoy-hopes-for-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kaminsky_voting_april_2016.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="kaminsky voting april 2016" /></p> <p>Todd Kaminsky votes for himself Tuesday (photo via @toddkaminsky)</p> <hr /> <p>The polls may be closed but the heated race to replace convicted former Republican Senator Dean Skelos is far from over. Late Tuesday night Assemblymember Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat, declared victory while Republican candidate Chris McGrath refused to concede, saying the race would be decided by absentee ballots. Only 780 votes separate Kaminsky from McGrath and there are over 2,000 outstanding ballots to be counted. Regardless of the results the pair may face off again in November when the seat will be up for grabs again.</p> <p>Despite the unresolved nature of the affair, good government groups and legislators who back major ethics reforms, have been buoyed by Kaminsky’s performance. A former federal prosecutor, Kaminsky ran with cleaning up government corruption at the top of his agenda.</p> <p>"Whatever the outcome, the race shows the power of the ethics reform message,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the non-partisan New York State Public Interest Research Group. “Continuing to ignore the public's demand for Albany to clean up its act will only lead to incumbents putting themselves in political peril."</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch, said he believes a Kaminsky win could in fact spark major reform. “If Kaminsky wins it’s a real signal voters were upset about indictments. Republicans held that seat forever,” said Muzzio. “A Kaminsky win could signal a larger rebellion against the establishment and endanger the Republican [Senate] majority. Of course he could win now and lose in November.”</p> <p>Kaminsky campaigned in part by condemning the culture that led to the convictions of Skelos and his counterpart, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat whose seat was <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6289-new-york-voting-results" target="_blank">also being filled Tuesday night</a>. The Kaminsky campaign sought to tie his opponent to the disgraced Skelos.</p> <p>McGrath, on the other hand, remained silent on major reform initiatives and Skelos’ conviction. His campaign focused on tying Kaminsky to Mayor Bill de Blasio and a progressive agenda favoring New York City over Long Island. Nassau County, a former Republican stronghold, has seen a surge in Democratic voter registration over the past few years.</p> <p>“Reform won tonight and corruption lost,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, as Kaminsky declared victory. “Kaminsky championed reform and won, McGrath was silent on reform and lost.”</p> <p>That take on the race was echoed by a spokesperson for Senate Democrats: “Kaminsky ran on a platform of cleaning up Albany and won their former leader’s seat. Senate Republicans should get the message, stop stalling, and work with the Senate Democrats to enact ethics reforms to better the public trust.”</p> <p>As ethics reform efforts have stalled in Albany even in the wake of the Skelos and Silver convictions, many have pointed to Senate Republicans’ limited support for enacting new laws to prevent and punish corruption. Some, however, say that even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his fellow Democrats who control the Assembly have put forth more robust ethics reform platforms, lawmakers of both parties are largely disinterested in actually enacting them.</p> <p>Democratic control of the Senate would change the conversation.</p> <p>A long recount and/or lawsuit could prevent either Kaminsky or McGrath from being seated before November, but if Kaminsky does come out as a clear winner, Democrats will technically have the majority. In the 63-seat Senate, Republicans currently hold a majority through 31 elected Republicans and Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with them. They have also partnered with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference to keep the majority in the past.</p> <p>Now, Democrats are confident the numbers add up in their favor and that a recount will be brief and any legal action would simply be forestalling the inevitable. Senate Republicans did launch a lawsuit that drew out the seating of former Sen. Cecelia Tkaczyk in 2012 when she narrowly defeated now-incumbent Republican Senator George Amedore. (Amedore took the seat in 2014.)</p> <p>Kaminsky has sought to make his election about both Long Island issues and reform, while pushing back against attacks tying him to de Blasio and even in some cases his role as someone who would shift control of the Senate.</p> <p>During an April 13 <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/meet-candidates-assemblyman-todd-kaminsky/" target="_blank">interview</a> with Brian Lehrer of WNYC, Kaminsky stressed his work as a federal prosecutor under now U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, where he said he took a bipartisan approach to prosecuting corruption and noted he spent two years on the prosecution of former Democratic Sen. Pedro Espada. “People are fed up. They’re absolutely sick of their government. They blame both parties. They know something stinks,” Kaminsky told Lehrer.</p> <p>When Lehrer asked Kaminsky if he was running for Democratic control of the Senate Kaminsky demurred.&nbsp;“I try not to look at it that way. I don't think anybody knows what happens. There certainly are a group of Democrats who caucus with Republicans. I try not to look at the chessboard,” Kaminsky said.</p> <p>Dadey said he sees Kaminsky as standing out from the party fray.</p> <p>“This victory is Kaminsky’s, not the Democrats’,” said Dadey. “Kaminsky is seen as a serious person with purpose, that's what voters supported.”</p> <p>Leaders of both the mainline Democrats and the IDC issued statements congratulating Kaminsky on his victory.</p> <p>The race may rank as one of the costliest senate contests in state history with the United Federation of Teachers spending heavily on independent expenditures for Kaminsky while McGrath was supported by a pro-charter school PAC that spent nearly $1 million.</p> <p>Government reform groups have struggled to get any traction this legislative session. Cuomo’s ethics package, outlined during his January State of the State address, was quickly removed from budget negotiations and since then the Legislature and governor have been preoccupied by the presidential primary and the special elections.</p> <p>Many assume the Legislature is looking <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6276-legislative-days-quickly-dwindle-intensifying-worry-over-ethics" target="_blank">to run out the clock</a> on the post-budget session and return to their districts to prep for the upcoming elections where all legislative seats will be up for grabs.</p> <p>Reformers hope that the special election results will force legislative leaders to take some action on ethics to prevent public backlash in November.</p> <p>The Manhattan special election to replace Silver would on its face seem not to hold any encouraging news for those looking for a repudiation of politics of usual. Silver’s chosen successor, Alice Cancel, won the race with just over 40 percent of the vote - her closest challenger, Working Families Party-backed Yuh-Line Niou won about 35 percent.</p> <p>However, reformers do see some bright spots in the results. “Sixty percent of those who voted, voted against the handpicked candidate of Sheldon Silver,” said Dadey. A Republican candidate, Lester Chang, got about 25 percent of the vote.</p> <p>Muzzio noted that Cancel’s victory was sealed when Silver’s allies helped her win the Democratic line. “People just aren't used to voting Working Families or Republican,” said Muzzio of the lower Manhattan district.</p> <p>Cancel will head into the fall election as the incumbent, but she is likely to face a number of challengers in the Democratic primary. Niou indicated in a post-election announcement that she plans to stay involved in the district and perhaps run again, and district leader Paul Newell announced Tuesday night that he plans to run in the primary. A number of other Democrats have expressed interest in the seat.</p> <p>Niou enjoyed the backing of a number of elected Democratic officials, some of whom expressed great distaste for how Silver supporters orchestrated Cancel’s candidacy. It isn’t clear if those same electeds will look to oust Cancel in the fall.</p> <p>But the fairly narrow margin of her victory combined with Kaminsky’s apparent victory have energized&nbsp;reformers and could lead to a larger push for ethics-minded candidates in the fall.</p> <p>“I think this sends a big message that the status quo is not to be tolerated,” said Dadey. “This is a repudiation of Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver...voters supported change.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6276-legislative-days-quickly-dwindle-intensifying-worry-over-ethics" target="_blank">Legislative Days Quickly Dwindle, Intensifying Worry Over Ethics</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</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/kaminsky_voting_april_2016.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="kaminsky voting april 2016" /></p> <p>Todd Kaminsky votes for himself Tuesday (photo via @toddkaminsky)</p> <hr /> <p>The polls may be closed but the heated race to replace convicted former Republican Senator Dean Skelos is far from over. Late Tuesday night Assemblymember Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat, declared victory while Republican candidate Chris McGrath refused to concede, saying the race would be decided by absentee ballots. Only 780 votes separate Kaminsky from McGrath and there are over 2,000 outstanding ballots to be counted. Regardless of the results the pair may face off again in November when the seat will be up for grabs again.</p> <p>Despite the unresolved nature of the affair, good government groups and legislators who back major ethics reforms, have been buoyed by Kaminsky’s performance. A former federal prosecutor, Kaminsky ran with cleaning up government corruption at the top of his agenda.</p> <p>"Whatever the outcome, the race shows the power of the ethics reform message,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the non-partisan New York State Public Interest Research Group. “Continuing to ignore the public's demand for Albany to clean up its act will only lead to incumbents putting themselves in political peril."</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch, said he believes a Kaminsky win could in fact spark major reform. “If Kaminsky wins it’s a real signal voters were upset about indictments. Republicans held that seat forever,” said Muzzio. “A Kaminsky win could signal a larger rebellion against the establishment and endanger the Republican [Senate] majority. Of course he could win now and lose in November.”</p> <p>Kaminsky campaigned in part by condemning the culture that led to the convictions of Skelos and his counterpart, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat whose seat was <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6289-new-york-voting-results" target="_blank">also being filled Tuesday night</a>. The Kaminsky campaign sought to tie his opponent to the disgraced Skelos.</p> <p>McGrath, on the other hand, remained silent on major reform initiatives and Skelos’ conviction. His campaign focused on tying Kaminsky to Mayor Bill de Blasio and a progressive agenda favoring New York City over Long Island. Nassau County, a former Republican stronghold, has seen a surge in Democratic voter registration over the past few years.</p> <p>“Reform won tonight and corruption lost,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, as Kaminsky declared victory. “Kaminsky championed reform and won, McGrath was silent on reform and lost.”</p> <p>That take on the race was echoed by a spokesperson for Senate Democrats: “Kaminsky ran on a platform of cleaning up Albany and won their former leader’s seat. Senate Republicans should get the message, stop stalling, and work with the Senate Democrats to enact ethics reforms to better the public trust.”</p> <p>As ethics reform efforts have stalled in Albany even in the wake of the Skelos and Silver convictions, many have pointed to Senate Republicans’ limited support for enacting new laws to prevent and punish corruption. Some, however, say that even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his fellow Democrats who control the Assembly have put forth more robust ethics reform platforms, lawmakers of both parties are largely disinterested in actually enacting them.</p> <p>Democratic control of the Senate would change the conversation.</p> <p>A long recount and/or lawsuit could prevent either Kaminsky or McGrath from being seated before November, but if Kaminsky does come out as a clear winner, Democrats will technically have the majority. In the 63-seat Senate, Republicans currently hold a majority through 31 elected Republicans and Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with them. They have also partnered with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference to keep the majority in the past.</p> <p>Now, Democrats are confident the numbers add up in their favor and that a recount will be brief and any legal action would simply be forestalling the inevitable. Senate Republicans did launch a lawsuit that drew out the seating of former Sen. Cecelia Tkaczyk in 2012 when she narrowly defeated now-incumbent Republican Senator George Amedore. (Amedore took the seat in 2014.)</p> <p>Kaminsky has sought to make his election about both Long Island issues and reform, while pushing back against attacks tying him to de Blasio and even in some cases his role as someone who would shift control of the Senate.</p> <p>During an April 13 <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/meet-candidates-assemblyman-todd-kaminsky/" target="_blank">interview</a> with Brian Lehrer of WNYC, Kaminsky stressed his work as a federal prosecutor under now U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, where he said he took a bipartisan approach to prosecuting corruption and noted he spent two years on the prosecution of former Democratic Sen. Pedro Espada. “People are fed up. They’re absolutely sick of their government. They blame both parties. They know something stinks,” Kaminsky told Lehrer.</p> <p>When Lehrer asked Kaminsky if he was running for Democratic control of the Senate Kaminsky demurred.&nbsp;“I try not to look at it that way. I don't think anybody knows what happens. There certainly are a group of Democrats who caucus with Republicans. I try not to look at the chessboard,” Kaminsky said.</p> <p>Dadey said he sees Kaminsky as standing out from the party fray.</p> <p>“This victory is Kaminsky’s, not the Democrats’,” said Dadey. “Kaminsky is seen as a serious person with purpose, that's what voters supported.”</p> <p>Leaders of both the mainline Democrats and the IDC issued statements congratulating Kaminsky on his victory.</p> <p>The race may rank as one of the costliest senate contests in state history with the United Federation of Teachers spending heavily on independent expenditures for Kaminsky while McGrath was supported by a pro-charter school PAC that spent nearly $1 million.</p> <p>Government reform groups have struggled to get any traction this legislative session. Cuomo’s ethics package, outlined during his January State of the State address, was quickly removed from budget negotiations and since then the Legislature and governor have been preoccupied by the presidential primary and the special elections.</p> <p>Many assume the Legislature is looking <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6276-legislative-days-quickly-dwindle-intensifying-worry-over-ethics" target="_blank">to run out the clock</a> on the post-budget session and return to their districts to prep for the upcoming elections where all legislative seats will be up for grabs.</p> <p>Reformers hope that the special election results will force legislative leaders to take some action on ethics to prevent public backlash in November.</p> <p>The Manhattan special election to replace Silver would on its face seem not to hold any encouraging news for those looking for a repudiation of politics of usual. Silver’s chosen successor, Alice Cancel, won the race with just over 40 percent of the vote - her closest challenger, Working Families Party-backed Yuh-Line Niou won about 35 percent.</p> <p>However, reformers do see some bright spots in the results. “Sixty percent of those who voted, voted against the handpicked candidate of Sheldon Silver,” said Dadey. A Republican candidate, Lester Chang, got about 25 percent of the vote.</p> <p>Muzzio noted that Cancel’s victory was sealed when Silver’s allies helped her win the Democratic line. “People just aren't used to voting Working Families or Republican,” said Muzzio of the lower Manhattan district.</p> <p>Cancel will head into the fall election as the incumbent, but she is likely to face a number of challengers in the Democratic primary. Niou indicated in a post-election announcement that she plans to stay involved in the district and perhaps run again, and district leader Paul Newell announced Tuesday night that he plans to run in the primary. A number of other Democrats have expressed interest in the seat.</p> <p>Niou enjoyed the backing of a number of elected Democratic officials, some of whom expressed great distaste for how Silver supporters orchestrated Cancel’s candidacy. It isn’t clear if those same electeds will look to oust Cancel in the fall.</p> <p>But the fairly narrow margin of her victory combined with Kaminsky’s apparent victory have energized&nbsp;reformers and could lead to a larger push for ethics-minded candidates in the fall.</p> <p>“I think this sends a big message that the status quo is not to be tolerated,” said Dadey. “This is a repudiation of Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver...voters supported change.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6276-legislative-days-quickly-dwindle-intensifying-worry-over-ethics" target="_blank">Legislative Days Quickly Dwindle, Intensifying Worry Over Ethics</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
Democrats and Republicans Run Parallel Races in Special Elections Created by Corruption 2016-03-13T21:06:49+00:00 2016-03-13T21:06:49+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6221:democrats-republicans-run-parallel-races-in-special-elections-created-by-corruption Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mcgrath_senate.jpg" alt="mcgrath senate" width="600" height="368" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Chris McGrath, Republican candidate for state Senate (photo: @McGrath4Senate)</span>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>Both groups are accustomed to scrapping for power and attention. With two recent federal corruption convictions, each saw an opportunity to grab more. And now, in downtown Manhattan and Nassau County Long Island, Republicans and Democrats are running parallel campaigns to seize upon a chance to flip one seat in each of the two houses of the New York State Legislature.&nbsp;</p> <p>Assembly Republicans and Senate Democrats again find themselves in similar positions - each trying to win a special election to replace a deposed leader by painting the majority candidate as a product of the man they are vying to replace and symbol of Albany dysfunction. The majority candidates, in turn, face questions about how much government reform they actually support.</p> <p>The races to replace former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, have become testament to the quirkiness of New York politics and the Albany tradition whereby legislative majorities look the other way and promulgate a system long-criticized for a lack of transparency and ethics.</p> <p>To be sure, the Senate race presents a far more likely opportunity for the minority party to pick up a seat, as well as a more consequential potential shift in the house with a near-equal balance of power. Democrats not only hold a far wider voter registration advantage in Manhattan, but in their control of the Assembly.</p> <p>Set for April 19, the two elections are unfolding against the backdrop of budget negotiations in Albany, which Silver and Skelos - along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo - dominated for years. It seemed likely earlier this year that budget season would include ethics reform as a major ingredient, however Cuomo, a Democrat, has rarely mentioned ethics since unveiling a significant reform platform during his State of the State address in January.</p> <p>On Friday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6219-heastie-outlines-assembly-ethics-plan" target="_blank">outlined his chamber's ethics plan</a>, which aligns fairly closely with Cuomo's. Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have indicated that they see little need for further reforms to prevent and punish government corruption.</p> <p>Many believe that ethics reforms will be dropped from the budget, where Cuomo has the most leverage to negotiate them if he truly wants them enacted. In the legislative session to follow the budget, there's no urgency like during budget time and this year legislators will be in a hurry to get back to their districts for campaign season. It leaves many Albany observers and actors wondering whether there will be any tangible impact on Albany from the recent corruption convictions besides the two vacancies they created.</p> <p>In the special election to replace Skelos, Democratic Assembly Member Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, and Christopher McGrath, a personal injury attorney, face off in the Nassau County district.</p> <p>The stakes are particularly high as control of the 63-seat Senate depends on just a few swing districts. Democrats have tried to paint McGrath as part of the Republican county apparatus that supported Skelos. Senate Republicans have mostly pushed back against ethics reforms such as limiting outside income, closing the LLC loophole, and other tougher campaign finance laws, saying that there will always be bad apples and that previous reforms should be enough.</p> <p>McGrath has said he will not step away from his law practice if elected, something Democrats have seized on as Silver was convicted on charges of using state money in a scheme to receive kickbacks from his law firm. The new Assembly ethics plan unveiled on Friday includes both new limits to what legislators can make in outside income and a mandate that lawyer-legislators must earn their outside income through casework, not simply being "of counsel" at a firm.</p> <p>Democrats have played up Kaminsky's experience as a federal prosecutor and his condemnation of corruption across party lines. "Todd Kaminsky is exactly who Long Islanders need to clean up Albany," said Senator Chuck Schumer as he endorsed Kaminsky on Friday (pictured). "As a federal corruption prosecutor, Todd took on the tough cases and made sure that if you broke the law, you were held accountable - regardless of whether you are a Democrat or Republican."</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kaminsky_schumer.jpg" alt="kaminsky schumer" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" width="250" height="334" /></p> <p>Republicans have countered that Kaminsky failed to break from Silver during his time as an Assembly member. They have also made Kaminsky's election about Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying that a Democratic majority would be a mechanism for spreading de Blasio's liberal agenda across the state.</p> <p>McGrath has supported Republican-backed measures to strip pensions from lawmakers convicted of corruption and to put term limits on legislative leaders.</p> <p>"How can [Todd Kaminsky] say he supports pension forfeiture, term limits for leaders but he and his NYC allies in Assembly won't pass either?" <a href="https://twitter.com/ScottReif1/status/703261489969414144" target="_blank">tweeted</a> Republican spokesperson Scott Reif late last month. Reif and Democratic spokesperson Mike Murphy have been regularly engaging in public arguments about the race on Twitter.</p> <p>The forfeiture issue became complicated when Senate Republicans passed a measure that would have any state employee forfeit their pension if convicted and unions pressed the Assembly to back a law limited to elected officials.</p> <p>"Despite all the bluster that ethics reform isn't important I think these convictions have changed their thinking," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group about Senate Republicans. "It's clearly changed their choice in candidates. They've picked a relative outsider in Chris McGrath." Horner said Senate Republicans also chose a relative unknown in their successful 2015 bid to replace Sen. Tom Libous, who was also convicted on federal charges, with relative unknown Fred Akshar.</p> <p>Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, who heads the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, painted McGrath as a "Skelos crony" in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Gianaris referenced a Daily News story that reported McGrath represented a Republican political club and campaign manager and long-time friend of Skelos in a suit brought in 1997 by a former employee of the Nassau County Bridge Authority who said he was forced from his position after trying to remove a number of patronage hires.</p> <p>"What's past is prologue," said Gianaris. "When Nassau County Republicans had ethics trouble years ago they went to Chris McGrath and here they are after Skelos' conviction turning to him again."</p> <p>Democrats have hit McGrath for the association in attack ads. McGrath's campaign and representative of the Republican Majority have said that McGrath simply <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/gop-senate-candidate-represented-man-close-dean-skelos-blog-entry-1.2546542" target="_blank">represented his friend</a>.</p> <p>The race to replace Silver has similar theme, albeit with the shoes on the other feet, but is decidedly lower stakes. Assembly Republicans have little chance of taking a majority in their chamber for the foreseeable future, however winning Silver's seat would be a tremendous moral victory for them. Some Democrats have privately acknowledged that they expect Republican candidate Lester Chang to perform better than expected in what is an extremely Democratic district, thanks to a fractious Democratic nomination process.</p> <p>In that process, local Democrats decided to support a Silver disciple despite condemnation from many Democrats, Republicans, and government watchdogs.</p> <p>The special election process dictates that instead of a primary the local party apparatus picks a candidate. To name a Democratic nominee, four clubs marshalled their members, with three of them backing Alice Cancel, whose name will be on the party's ballot line. One of those clubs counts Silver's wife and their allies as its members. The result was a number of reform Democrats decrying the process. Yuh-Line Niou dropped out of the selection process in protest and his now running on the Working Families Party Line. She's been endorsed by Comptroller Scott Stringer and several others (Cancel happens to work under Stringer at the comptroller's office.)</p> <p>District Leader Paul Newell, who previously challenged Silver unsuccessfully, has decided to skip the special election and run in a Democratic primary in the fall when the seat will be up for grabs again. District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar also plans to run at that time.</p> <p>Cancel has done nothing to distance herself from Silver and has in fact praised him repeatedly. "For us, he was a hero — because of the things he brought to our community, because of the schools that we didn't have that were built because of his negotiations to get it done for the community. The money that he poured in for our seniors, for our daycare, for our Head Start. Why would we be attacking him?" Cancel said in <a href="http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/2016/02/our-interview-with-alice-cancel-democratic-nominee-in-the-65th-ad.html" target="_blank">an interview</a> with The Lo-Down about the selection process and her candidacy.</p> <p>"I think people are aware of both of those things," Newell told Gotham Gazette. "There is no question he did a lot for his district, but they are also aware that reform is necessary."</p> <p>Manhattan Republican Chair Adele Malpass said that she sees Cancel's candidacy as a clear indication that the Silver indictment had little impact on those in power. "It shows there is no consequence for corruption, there was no message received at all," Malpass told Gotham Gazette. "This was just business as usual. They had eight candidates to choose from and the one they picked was backed by Silver's wife and called him a hero. This is just the party boss system and people are afraid to challenge them."</p> <p>Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who has been an outspoken critic of the power enjoyed by both legislative majorities and their reticence toward reform, recently headlined a fundraiser for Chang and did some campaigning with him.</p> <p>"It is surprising to me to see Silver indicted, tried and convicted so quickly only to turn around and have his wife, and Judy Rapfogel involved in selecting his replacement," Kolb told Gotham Gazette, referring to Silver's former chief of staff. "And then on top of that, [Cancel] comes out and says [Silver's] a hero."</p> <p>Despite his previous criticism of both majorities Kolb offered a brighter interpretation of how the Senate Majority has handled filling Skelos' seat. "Yes local republicans were involved in the selection process, but Dean Skelos' family was not involved in selecting a candidate," Kolb told Gotham Gazette. "I think Todd Kaminsky is a handsome, experienced prosecutor, but he supported Shelly Silver and he didn't support the [pension] forfeiture amendment."</p> <p>Kolb said that if Chang is elected he will be able to vote his conscience and will not be ordered how to vote by leadership - something he says occurs in both the Senate and Assembly majorities.</p> <p>Horner, of NYPIRG, said he suspects that Gov. Cuomo and both majorities have been working to tamp down discussion of reform because it benefits them politically. "It's pretty clear the political establishment in New York does not want to allow any oxygen into the room on ethics," Horner told Gotham Gazette. "That air fuels the fire of voters anger and they want it to burn out, they want to smother. If it's not in the budget then I assume they will do it in June and they are hoping by then people won't be as angry. We need a champion and the governor is the obvious person to be that champion but he is choosing not to do it."</p> <p>It is unclear how much the Silver and Skelos convictions or the former leaders' ties to candidates seeking to replace them will have on voters. But, about 9 in 10 New Yorkers recently polled <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/02/siena-poll-corruption-a-serious-problem-but-education-remains-a-top-concern/" target="_blank">called</a> government corruption a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem in state government.</p> <p>U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who took down both Silver and Skelos, has repeatedly said that corruption in government is cultural, not partisan or regional.</p> <p>"In recent times, the New York Legislature has been marked by regular bribery, rampant kickbacks and a rancid culture," Bharara <a href="http://wamc.org/post/preet-bharara-linda#stream/0" target="_blank">said</a> during a talk in Albany last month. "Recent events paint a portrait of the show me the money culture in the worst possible way. It continues, by the way, to be a bipartisan affair, Republican and Democrat, in the Assembly and in the Senate, upstate and downstate."</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mcgrath_senate.jpg" alt="mcgrath senate" width="600" height="368" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Chris McGrath, Republican candidate for state Senate (photo: @McGrath4Senate)</span>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>Both groups are accustomed to scrapping for power and attention. With two recent federal corruption convictions, each saw an opportunity to grab more. And now, in downtown Manhattan and Nassau County Long Island, Republicans and Democrats are running parallel campaigns to seize upon a chance to flip one seat in each of the two houses of the New York State Legislature.&nbsp;</p> <p>Assembly Republicans and Senate Democrats again find themselves in similar positions - each trying to win a special election to replace a deposed leader by painting the majority candidate as a product of the man they are vying to replace and symbol of Albany dysfunction. The majority candidates, in turn, face questions about how much government reform they actually support.</p> <p>The races to replace former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, have become testament to the quirkiness of New York politics and the Albany tradition whereby legislative majorities look the other way and promulgate a system long-criticized for a lack of transparency and ethics.</p> <p>To be sure, the Senate race presents a far more likely opportunity for the minority party to pick up a seat, as well as a more consequential potential shift in the house with a near-equal balance of power. Democrats not only hold a far wider voter registration advantage in Manhattan, but in their control of the Assembly.</p> <p>Set for April 19, the two elections are unfolding against the backdrop of budget negotiations in Albany, which Silver and Skelos - along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo - dominated for years. It seemed likely earlier this year that budget season would include ethics reform as a major ingredient, however Cuomo, a Democrat, has rarely mentioned ethics since unveiling a significant reform platform during his State of the State address in January.</p> <p>On Friday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6219-heastie-outlines-assembly-ethics-plan" target="_blank">outlined his chamber's ethics plan</a>, which aligns fairly closely with Cuomo's. Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have indicated that they see little need for further reforms to prevent and punish government corruption.</p> <p>Many believe that ethics reforms will be dropped from the budget, where Cuomo has the most leverage to negotiate them if he truly wants them enacted. In the legislative session to follow the budget, there's no urgency like during budget time and this year legislators will be in a hurry to get back to their districts for campaign season. It leaves many Albany observers and actors wondering whether there will be any tangible impact on Albany from the recent corruption convictions besides the two vacancies they created.</p> <p>In the special election to replace Skelos, Democratic Assembly Member Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, and Christopher McGrath, a personal injury attorney, face off in the Nassau County district.</p> <p>The stakes are particularly high as control of the 63-seat Senate depends on just a few swing districts. Democrats have tried to paint McGrath as part of the Republican county apparatus that supported Skelos. Senate Republicans have mostly pushed back against ethics reforms such as limiting outside income, closing the LLC loophole, and other tougher campaign finance laws, saying that there will always be bad apples and that previous reforms should be enough.</p> <p>McGrath has said he will not step away from his law practice if elected, something Democrats have seized on as Silver was convicted on charges of using state money in a scheme to receive kickbacks from his law firm. The new Assembly ethics plan unveiled on Friday includes both new limits to what legislators can make in outside income and a mandate that lawyer-legislators must earn their outside income through casework, not simply being "of counsel" at a firm.</p> <p>Democrats have played up Kaminsky's experience as a federal prosecutor and his condemnation of corruption across party lines. "Todd Kaminsky is exactly who Long Islanders need to clean up Albany," said Senator Chuck Schumer as he endorsed Kaminsky on Friday (pictured). "As a federal corruption prosecutor, Todd took on the tough cases and made sure that if you broke the law, you were held accountable - regardless of whether you are a Democrat or Republican."</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kaminsky_schumer.jpg" alt="kaminsky schumer" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" width="250" height="334" /></p> <p>Republicans have countered that Kaminsky failed to break from Silver during his time as an Assembly member. They have also made Kaminsky's election about Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying that a Democratic majority would be a mechanism for spreading de Blasio's liberal agenda across the state.</p> <p>McGrath has supported Republican-backed measures to strip pensions from lawmakers convicted of corruption and to put term limits on legislative leaders.</p> <p>"How can [Todd Kaminsky] say he supports pension forfeiture, term limits for leaders but he and his NYC allies in Assembly won't pass either?" <a href="https://twitter.com/ScottReif1/status/703261489969414144" target="_blank">tweeted</a> Republican spokesperson Scott Reif late last month. Reif and Democratic spokesperson Mike Murphy have been regularly engaging in public arguments about the race on Twitter.</p> <p>The forfeiture issue became complicated when Senate Republicans passed a measure that would have any state employee forfeit their pension if convicted and unions pressed the Assembly to back a law limited to elected officials.</p> <p>"Despite all the bluster that ethics reform isn't important I think these convictions have changed their thinking," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group about Senate Republicans. "It's clearly changed their choice in candidates. They've picked a relative outsider in Chris McGrath." Horner said Senate Republicans also chose a relative unknown in their successful 2015 bid to replace Sen. Tom Libous, who was also convicted on federal charges, with relative unknown Fred Akshar.</p> <p>Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, who heads the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, painted McGrath as a "Skelos crony" in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Gianaris referenced a Daily News story that reported McGrath represented a Republican political club and campaign manager and long-time friend of Skelos in a suit brought in 1997 by a former employee of the Nassau County Bridge Authority who said he was forced from his position after trying to remove a number of patronage hires.</p> <p>"What's past is prologue," said Gianaris. "When Nassau County Republicans had ethics trouble years ago they went to Chris McGrath and here they are after Skelos' conviction turning to him again."</p> <p>Democrats have hit McGrath for the association in attack ads. McGrath's campaign and representative of the Republican Majority have said that McGrath simply <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/gop-senate-candidate-represented-man-close-dean-skelos-blog-entry-1.2546542" target="_blank">represented his friend</a>.</p> <p>The race to replace Silver has similar theme, albeit with the shoes on the other feet, but is decidedly lower stakes. Assembly Republicans have little chance of taking a majority in their chamber for the foreseeable future, however winning Silver's seat would be a tremendous moral victory for them. Some Democrats have privately acknowledged that they expect Republican candidate Lester Chang to perform better than expected in what is an extremely Democratic district, thanks to a fractious Democratic nomination process.</p> <p>In that process, local Democrats decided to support a Silver disciple despite condemnation from many Democrats, Republicans, and government watchdogs.</p> <p>The special election process dictates that instead of a primary the local party apparatus picks a candidate. To name a Democratic nominee, four clubs marshalled their members, with three of them backing Alice Cancel, whose name will be on the party's ballot line. One of those clubs counts Silver's wife and their allies as its members. The result was a number of reform Democrats decrying the process. Yuh-Line Niou dropped out of the selection process in protest and his now running on the Working Families Party Line. She's been endorsed by Comptroller Scott Stringer and several others (Cancel happens to work under Stringer at the comptroller's office.)</p> <p>District Leader Paul Newell, who previously challenged Silver unsuccessfully, has decided to skip the special election and run in a Democratic primary in the fall when the seat will be up for grabs again. District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar also plans to run at that time.</p> <p>Cancel has done nothing to distance herself from Silver and has in fact praised him repeatedly. "For us, he was a hero — because of the things he brought to our community, because of the schools that we didn't have that were built because of his negotiations to get it done for the community. The money that he poured in for our seniors, for our daycare, for our Head Start. Why would we be attacking him?" Cancel said in <a href="http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/2016/02/our-interview-with-alice-cancel-democratic-nominee-in-the-65th-ad.html" target="_blank">an interview</a> with The Lo-Down about the selection process and her candidacy.</p> <p>"I think people are aware of both of those things," Newell told Gotham Gazette. "There is no question he did a lot for his district, but they are also aware that reform is necessary."</p> <p>Manhattan Republican Chair Adele Malpass said that she sees Cancel's candidacy as a clear indication that the Silver indictment had little impact on those in power. "It shows there is no consequence for corruption, there was no message received at all," Malpass told Gotham Gazette. "This was just business as usual. They had eight candidates to choose from and the one they picked was backed by Silver's wife and called him a hero. This is just the party boss system and people are afraid to challenge them."</p> <p>Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who has been an outspoken critic of the power enjoyed by both legislative majorities and their reticence toward reform, recently headlined a fundraiser for Chang and did some campaigning with him.</p> <p>"It is surprising to me to see Silver indicted, tried and convicted so quickly only to turn around and have his wife, and Judy Rapfogel involved in selecting his replacement," Kolb told Gotham Gazette, referring to Silver's former chief of staff. "And then on top of that, [Cancel] comes out and says [Silver's] a hero."</p> <p>Despite his previous criticism of both majorities Kolb offered a brighter interpretation of how the Senate Majority has handled filling Skelos' seat. "Yes local republicans were involved in the selection process, but Dean Skelos' family was not involved in selecting a candidate," Kolb told Gotham Gazette. "I think Todd Kaminsky is a handsome, experienced prosecutor, but he supported Shelly Silver and he didn't support the [pension] forfeiture amendment."</p> <p>Kolb said that if Chang is elected he will be able to vote his conscience and will not be ordered how to vote by leadership - something he says occurs in both the Senate and Assembly majorities.</p> <p>Horner, of NYPIRG, said he suspects that Gov. Cuomo and both majorities have been working to tamp down discussion of reform because it benefits them politically. "It's pretty clear the political establishment in New York does not want to allow any oxygen into the room on ethics," Horner told Gotham Gazette. "That air fuels the fire of voters anger and they want it to burn out, they want to smother. If it's not in the budget then I assume they will do it in June and they are hoping by then people won't be as angry. We need a champion and the governor is the obvious person to be that champion but he is choosing not to do it."</p> <p>It is unclear how much the Silver and Skelos convictions or the former leaders' ties to candidates seeking to replace them will have on voters. But, about 9 in 10 New Yorkers recently polled <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/02/siena-poll-corruption-a-serious-problem-but-education-remains-a-top-concern/" target="_blank">called</a> government corruption a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem in state government.</p> <p>U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who took down both Silver and Skelos, has repeatedly said that corruption in government is cultural, not partisan or regional.</p> <p>"In recent times, the New York Legislature has been marked by regular bribery, rampant kickbacks and a rancid culture," Bharara <a href="http://wamc.org/post/preet-bharara-linda#stream/0" target="_blank">said</a> during a talk in Albany last month. "Recent events paint a portrait of the show me the money culture in the worst possible way. It continues, by the way, to be a bipartisan affair, Republican and Democrat, in the Assembly and in the Senate, upstate and downstate."</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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