Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/546 Mon, 18 Dec 2017 12:56:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Immediate Steps We Must Take to Protect Our Drinking Water, and Ourselves http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6736:immediate-steps-we-must-take-to-protect-our-drinking-water-and-ourselves http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6736:immediate-steps-we-must-take-to-protect-our-drinking-water-and-ourselves kaminsky

State Senator Todd Kaminsky, the author


New York State is facing a drinking water crisis and we cannot waste another moment in aggressively and adequately addressing it.

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.

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.

Whether it is Dioxane, other chemicals, lead, or bad infrastructure, all over the state we have water quality problems that require our immediate attention.

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.

Let’s start today. Here’s how:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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 @ToddKaminsky.

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Immediate Steps We Must Take to Protect Our Drinking Water, and Ourselves Sun, 29 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
It's Time for Wholesale Ethics Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6596:it-s-time-for-wholesale-ethics-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6596:it-s-time-for-wholesale-ethics-reform Kaminsky1

Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the author (photo: @toddkaminsky)


The headline is the same. The names are interchangeable.

And yet, the laws and attitudes stay the same.

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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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State Senator Todd Kaminsky represents Long Island's South Shore and is a former federal prosecutor of public corruption cases. On Twitter @toddkaminsky.

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It's Time for Wholesale Ethics Reform Thu, 27 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Trump Could Tip Key Races for State Senate Control http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6482:trump-could-tip-key-races-for-state-senate-control http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6482:trump-could-tip-key-races-for-state-senate-control Trump NY GOP

photo: @NewYorkGOP


New York State Senate Democrats have picked up seats in every presidential year in the past two decades. They’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.

What the Senate minority didn’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.

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 Siena University poll released Monday found that in a two-way race, New York voters prefer Clinton to Donald Trump 57-27 percent.

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. “The top of the ticket has always had a major impact for us,” 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. “I think the top of the ticket is going to be a real problem for Senate Republicans.”

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."

Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, responded: “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.”

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 strengthening its position and attempting to expand its membership in anticipation of Democratic victories. Meanwhile, leading Senate Democrats met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month to discuss efforts to win the chamber, as first reported by Politico New York.

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’t counting on it.

According to Democrats, political experts, and polls, Trump is driving away parts of the Republican base. The GOP nominee’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 “held today,” 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 “held today,” while 10 percent said they would vote for Trump.

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.

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.

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.

“We had a test run where people thought Trump would be a draw and what we found is more Democrats turned out,” said Sen. Gianaris, who runs the Senate Democrats’ 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.

Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, noted that Trump’s impact on down ballot races is hard to gauge at this point given his nontraditional candidacy. “The question is, ‘Can he motivate people to go to the polls who haven't voted before, who have not been polled?’ And then you have to factor in that the more people know about Trump, the less likely they are to vote for him”

However, Muzzio said that it is impossible for Republicans to ignore the results of the special election. “Kaminsky was still a test case and the results mean they are in trouble,” Muzzio told Gotham Gazette.

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. “The biggest problem Trump created is not for himself but for the Republican Party. The favorability for the party itself has plummeted,” Thies told Gotham Gazette.

Thies said that since Trump won the nomination polls have shown more Republicans dissatisfied and disconnected from their party while Democrats’ favor for their own party has grown.

“If the election was held tomorrow, Trump could depress Republican turnout,” said Thies. “You could begin to see a concerted effort for down ballot Republicans to disassociate themselves with Trump and create a local brand.”

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.

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’m going to make this unequivocally clear: I’m supporting Donald Trump for President. I’m going to do so with grace, with diplomacy, with passion and with fervor, and I’m going to do it with New York style.”

KEY RACES
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’ fear of Trump’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.

Martins discussed his decision on Effective Radio with Bill Samuels on Sunday, saying, “Thankfully, I’ve always run as an individual. I’ve had the opportunity through elective office to take stances on different things and people know who I am, so I’ve been able to use that and show through experience that I listen, I work across the aisle, I get things done,” Martins said.

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.

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’s performance. Republicans hope independents, who couldn’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.

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’s district has seen steady growth in Democratic registration and he could be in danger if Trump depresses Republican turnout.

Republican Senator Bill Larkin of the Hudson Valley’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.

Thies said that one key trend to watch in Long Island races is whether Trump’s position moves the needle on black and Latino turnout. “African-American and Latino voter numbers should give Democrats a big advantage in key races on Long Island,” said Thies, “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.”

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’s performance in past presidential election years is a sign of things to come. Amedore’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.

Some Democratic operatives expect that Trump’s cratering poll numbers and controversial positions could put dark horse races in play - races that Senate Democrats haven’t invested in as of yet.

One of those races is for Senator Kathy Marchione’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’s botched reaction to water poisoning in the small town of Hoosick Falls.

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.

Marchione’s Democratic opponent, Shaun Francis, said he isn’t concerned about how his race plays into the larger political picture, whether it be Senate control or the presidential race. “Having poisoned water isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue,” Francis said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “The incumbent’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.” Marchione’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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.

Muzzio said he expects to see some Senate Republicans “disavow Trump” in the coming weeks if his current trajectory continues, but in Upstate districts Muzzio said he isn’t sure Trump will actually be a hinderance. “I expect in some Upstate districts we will see turnout for Trump higher than for Democrats,” said Muzzio. He also warned that the presidential race has already been so volatile that he wouldn’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.

Thies said that despite the good news Democrats see in Trump’s recent poll numbers they are aware that there is more at play and more to do in the battle for Senate control. “Their position is looking good, but they still have to get their message out to voters,” he said of Democrats. “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.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Trump Could Tip Key Races for State Senate Control Tue, 16 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Hope in the State Senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6319:hope-in-the-state-senate-todd-kaminsky http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6319:hope-in-the-state-senate-todd-kaminsky hope state

Make the Road Action volunteers for Todd Kaminsky


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.

This result was key for three reasons.

First, it showed the importance of the votes of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color outside of New York City.

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.

Second, this choice will be important in addressing one of the main barriers blocking progress for our communities: the state Senate.

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.

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.

Third, Senator Kaminsky's victory could be the first step in changing the balance of power in Albany.

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.

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.

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Frank Sprouse-Guzman is a member of Make the Road Action and a Bay Shore resident. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadAct.

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

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Hope in the State Senate Wed, 04 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
5 Things State Lawmakers Can Do To Prevent Another Silver http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6318:5-things-state-lawmakers-can-do-to-prevent-another-silver http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6318:5-things-state-lawmakers-can-do-to-prevent-another-silver cuomo silver et al 2013

Silver, Cuomo, and others (photo via The Governor's Office, 2013)


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.

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

“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.

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.

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.

“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.”

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.

“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.”

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.

Later on Tuesday, Kaminsky issued a statement on Silver’s sentencing, saying “justice was served.”

“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.”

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:

1. Ban or Limit Outside Income
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.

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.

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.

However, legislators complain that their annual salary is not adequate. A pay commission is currently considering raises for the Legislature and the executive branch.

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.

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 told State of Politics 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.”

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.”

2. Create Stronger Budget Oversight and Transparency
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.

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 report recently revealed that the 2016-2017 budget contains $2.4 billion in lump-sum spending.

3. Confront Pay-to-Play
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.

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.

4. Close the LLC Loophole
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.

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.

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.

5. Ethics Watchdog Independence
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).

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.

“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.”

“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.”

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

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to reflect the two Tuesday news conferences and that a list of reforms was put forth.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

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5 Things State Lawmakers Can Do To Prevent Another Silver Tue, 03 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Special Election Results Buoy Hopes for Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6291:special-election-results-buoy-hopes-for-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6291:special-election-results-buoy-hopes-for-reform kaminsky voting april 2016

Todd Kaminsky votes for himself Tuesday (photo via @toddkaminsky)


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.

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.

"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."

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.”

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 also being filled Tuesday night. The Kaminsky campaign sought to tie his opponent to the disgraced Skelos.

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.

“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.”

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.”

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.

Democratic control of the Senate would change the conversation.

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.

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.)

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.

During an April 13 interview 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.

When Lehrer asked Kaminsky if he was running for Democratic control of the Senate Kaminsky demurred. “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.

Dadey said he sees Kaminsky as standing out from the party fray.

“This victory is Kaminsky’s, not the Democrats’,” said Dadey. “Kaminsky is seen as a serious person with purpose, that's what voters supported.”

Leaders of both the mainline Democrats and the IDC issued statements congratulating Kaminsky on his victory.

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.

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.

Many assume the Legislature is looking to run out the clock 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.

Reformers hope that the special election results will force legislative leaders to take some action on ethics to prevent public backlash in November.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

But the fairly narrow margin of her victory combined with Kaminsky’s apparent victory have energized reformers and could lead to a larger push for ethics-minded candidates in the fall.

“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.”

[Related: Legislative Days Quickly Dwindle, Intensifying Worry Over Ethics]

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

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

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Special Election Results Buoy Hopes for Reform Wed, 20 Apr 2016 19:17:15 +0000
Democrats and Republicans Run Parallel Races in Special Elections Created by Corruption http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6221:democrats-republicans-run-parallel-races-in-special-elections-created-by-corruption http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6221:democrats-republicans-run-parallel-races-in-special-elections-created-by-corruption mcgrath senate

Chris McGrath, Republican candidate for state Senate (photo: @McGrath4Senate) 


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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

On Friday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie outlined his chamber's ethics plan, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

kaminsky schumer

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.

McGrath has supported Republican-backed measures to strip pensions from lawmakers convicted of corruption and to put term limits on legislative leaders.

"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?" tweeted 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.

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.

"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.

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.

"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."

Democrats have hit McGrath for the association in attack ads. McGrath's campaign and representative of the Republican Majority have said that McGrath simply represented his friend.

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.

In that process, local Democrats decided to support a Silver disciple despite condemnation from many Democrats, Republicans, and government watchdogs.

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.)

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.

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 an interview with The Lo-Down about the selection process and her candidacy.

"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."

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."

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.

"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."

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."

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.

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."

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 called government corruption a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem in state government.

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.

"In recent times, the New York Legislature has been marked by regular bribery, rampant kickbacks and a rancid culture," Bharara said 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."

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

Read more by this writer.

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Democrats and Republicans Run Parallel Races in Special Elections Created by Corruption Sun, 13 Mar 2016 21:06:49 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6130:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6130:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-1 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio is in Iowa, where he has been since Friday and remains until Tuesday, campaigning for Hillary Clinton.

In New York, the big weekend news was that Democratic Assembly Member Todd Kaminsky, of Long Island, officially declared his bid for state Senate. Kaminsky, who was immediately endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is running for the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was forced from office after he was convicted on federal corruption charges.

As the week begins, joint legislative budget hearings continue in Albany. In New York City, we're anticipating several key developments this week:

There will be a hearing Wednesday of the City Planning Commission, at which it is expected to pass Mayor de Blasio's two citywide zoning changes, with tweaks, and send them to the City Council. The Council will hold hearings on Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) next week, on Feb. 9 and 10.

Also Wednesday, the Council will hold a hearing on its plan to raise pay for the city's elected officials and reform some Council rules, like making the position full-time and eliminating bonuses for chairing issue committees. There is some controversy involved, though, because the Council did not have a public hearing before drafting its plan, and its plan includes bigger raises than those recommended by an independent compensation commission.

On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will deliver his State of the City address - in the evening this year, he recently announced, so that more members of the public are able to tune in.

And on Friday, the City Council is expected to vote through those pay raises for themselves and other elected officials, while also voting on the mayor's plan to limit the carriage horse industry.

It's going to be a busy week! As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
The New York State Legislature is in session on Monday, each house will hold session, and there will be a joint legislative budget hearing about housing at 10 a.m.

On Monday, members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration will present his "Built to Lead" agenda at a variety of events around the state.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet “on the appointment of Shin-pei Tsay to the New York City Art Commission.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Finance will meet for an oversight hearing about “The City’s Efforts to Combat Real Property Deed Fraud.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Technology will meet on two bills related to information security and another related to city agencies disposal of electronics.

The New York Association of Counties will kick off its three-day 2016 Legislative Conference at Albany’s Desmond Hotel and Conference Center on Monday. At the conference, “matters ranging from the State budget and its impact on local government, renewable energy, the heroin epidemic, Uber and Airbnb” and other issues will be discussed. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and other officials are featured speakers.

At 9:30 a.m. Monday in Long Island City, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, NYC DOT, and NYC DDC will announce the Long Island City/Hunters Point $30 Million Reconstruction Project as part of the City’s Vision Zero Initiative.

At 11 a.m. Monday at her Manhattan office, “Public Advocate Letitia James will announce a lawsuit against the NYC Department of Education (DOE) for failing to provide children with disabilities a free and appropriate public education. This is the second lawsuit Public Advocate James has filed against the DOE regarding students with disabilities.”

Also at 11 a.m. Monday, there will be a World Hijab Day press conference at City Hall, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will participate.

At noon Monday at City Hall, "Communities United for Police Reform, advocacy and community organizations, and community members and New Yorkers" will hold a press conference to announce a request for an official investigaiton into the NYPD.

At 6 p.m., the New York City Bar Association will host a program called “How to Get on the Ballot in NYC” with former state Senate Minority Leader and private election law practitioner Martin E. Connor; Sarah K. Steiner, Chair of City Bar Election Law Committee and private election law practitioner; Jerry Goldfeder, private election law practitioner and chair of City Bar NYC Affairs Committee; and Steven Richman, general counsel at the NYC Board of Elections.

At 6 p.m., the School of Visual Arts will host a symposium about “health inequalities in East Harlem” with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Arnhold Global health Institute Director Dr. Prabhjot Singh, East Harlem tenants’ activist Carmen Quinones, Strive co-founder Rob Carmona and community leader Clyde Williams. It will be moderated by Cheryl Heller, Chair of Design for Social Innovation at SVA.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Lunar New Year Celebration.

On Monday evening, several elected officials and many others will attend the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts 50th Anniversary Gala.

Tuesday
The New York State Legislature is in session on Tuesday and will also have two joint legislative budget hearings: a 9:30 a.m. joint legislative budget hearing on taxes and a 1 p.m. joint legislative budget hearing on economic development.

At 8 a.m., de Blasio administration officials will give an information session about the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability zoning amendments at the Bronx Chamber of Commerce.

At noon, City Council Member Dan Garodnick will discuss “Midtown East Rezoning: What’s Next?” at the Cornell Club for the B’nai B’rith Real Estate luncheon.

New York City charter school staff and parents will head to Albany on Tuesday for “Advocacy Day 2016.”

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday: At 10 a.m., the Committees on Governmental Operations and Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet on four bills and two resolutions. The first bill will give pay raises to Council members, the mayor and other city elected officials. The other three bills and the resolutions are also related to compensation. [Read: City Council Announces Bill to Raise Pay, Reform Position]

The New York State Legislature will have joint legislative budget hearings on Wednesday: a 9:30 a.m. hearing on mental hygiene and a 1 p.m. hearing on workforce development.

At 8 a.m., a policy forum about “Green Preservation of Multi-Family Affordable Housing” will be hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, NYU Wagner and Enterprise Community Partners at 295 Lafayette Street.

The City Planning Commission will have a public meeting at 10 a.m. at 22 Reade Street in Manhattan, at which it is expected to pass the mayor’s zoning amendments, called Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, with their tweaks, and send them to the City Council.

Thursday
The New York State Legislature will have a joint legislative budget hearing on “Public Protection” at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will have an oversight hearing: “Update Concerning Local Law 77 of 2013, Which Created a Curbside Organics Collection Pilot Program.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committees on General Welfare and Education will have a joint oversight hearing on “DOE’s Support for Students who are Homeless or in Temporary Housing.”

At 6 p.m., the Center for New York City law is hosting “Police Use Of Force: A Discussion of NYPD’s New Policy”, which it is co-sponsoring with the Impact Center for Public Interest Law and the Criminal Justice Project. Representatives from the NYPD, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Civilian Complaint Review board will speak.

At 7 p.m., Mayor de Blasio will deliver his State of the City address at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx. The address was “moved to the evening to ensure that more New Yorkers will be able to watch and engage.”

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: The Council will have a full-bodied Stated Meeting at noon.

At a gala on Saturday, the Human Rights Campaign will be honoring Gov. Cuomo and actress Sigourney Weaver at the Waldorf Astoria. Cuomo is receiving the organization’s National Equality Award.

[Read: Concerns of 'Voter Fatigue' as New York Schedules Four Election Days]

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ryan Brady and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 1 Mon, 01 Feb 2016 01:29:50 +0000