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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, December 11

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week starts a two-week sprint to what amounts to the end of the political year: Friday, December 22. Though there will be some political business Christmas week, and a deal to crown the next Speaker of the City Council could be announced any time before the January 3 vote, most of the rest of the political activity for the year (and thus the four-year city term) will take place this week and next. That includes a very busy schedule at the City Council in terms of oversight hearings, legislative negotiations, and bills being passed before this Council class and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito end their term together. The first of two December full-body Stated meetings of the Council takes place on Monday, at which a number of bills will be passed (the other one is set for Dec. 19).

As the year nears an end, we're also watching for announcements related to personnel in the de Blasio administration -- who else might be leaving, coming, or promoted -- as well as in the administrations of the two other citywide elected officials, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James. While their top deputies are much less known than the mayor's, the positions are still influential and important to how the city is run.

We're also just a few weeks away from a new budget and legislative year kicking off in Albany, where Governor Cuomo will outline his 2018 agenda on January 3. There are legislative hearings this week as the two chambers gear up for next year. Cuomo begins his week with one public event in New York City -- see below for details.

And one New York eye remains fixed on Washington, D.C., where tax reform legislation is being negotiated among the House, Senate, and White House, with major potential ramifications for the Empire State and its biggest city.

There's a lot happening this week -- see 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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

At 10:30 a.m. Monday on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and Dr. Christina Greer of Fordham University will discuss the latest in city and state politics.

At 11 a.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo will be at the CUNY Graduate Center to hold a briefing with Puerto Rican Governor Rosselló and members of the New York congressional delegation.

Mayor de Blasio will appear on NY1's Inside City Hall in the 7 and 10 p.m. hours.

The full City Council will meet at 1:30 p.m. Monday for the penultimate stated meeting of the year and of the current four-year session. The meeting will be prefaced by a press conference led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Before the Stated meeting, the Committee on Finance will hold a hearing and the Committee on Rules, Privelages and Elections will hold a meeting.

At the State Legislature on Monday: The Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health will meet at 10 a.m. in Albany for a public hearing regarding “the adequacy of housing opportunities for individuals who are receiving services and supports from the Office of Mental Health (OMH) or the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) in the context of the funding provided in the State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2017-18 budget.”

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Monday, First Lady Chirlane McCray will host a press conference at the Tweed Courthouse where she will make an announcement about “promoting mental health literacy in the black community.” She will be joined by Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Mary Bassett, U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, former SEIU chair Toni Lewis, and representatives of six organizations historically led by black women.

At noon Monday, City Council Member Rory Lancman will hold a press conference outside the City Hall R train stop to “tout passage of Intro. 1664, legislation that will require the NYPD to report quarterly the number of arrests and summonses issued for subway fare evasion.” Lancman will be joined by representatives of the Community Service Society, the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, and the Bronx Defenders.

Also Monday at noon, on the steps of City Hall, "Council Member Rafael Espinal and Chair of the Transportation Committee, Ydanis Rodriguez will join transportation and environmental advocates to host a press conference announcing a transportation committee oversight hearing. The upcoming hearing, slated for Thursday, December 14 at 10 AM will feature a bill sponsored by Council Member Espinal. Reso No. 1443 "calls upon the Governor and MTA to commit to an expeditious transition to an electric bus fleet and to use electric buses as a robust part of its replacement service during the upcoming L train shutdown.”"

At 1pm Monday at City Hall, there will be a protest against the city’s plans to redevelop the Elizabeth Street Garden. The city’s plan, backed by local Council Member Margaret Chin, includes senior affordable housing and park/garden space, but Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden and a variety of other elected officials, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, are opposed to the deal.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the New York City Bar Association will host “The Global War on Terrorism: Do We Need a New AUMF,” discussing whether current military operations should be covered under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, authorized after 9/11. Speakers will include William Castle, Acting General Counsel for the Department of Defense; Bruce Ackerman, counsel in Smith vs Trump, a case challenging the president’s power to fight ISIS under the 2001 AUMF; and John Bellinger III, former senior counsel to George W. Bush and legal advisor to the National Security Council during 9/11.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Education will tour The Earth School in the East Village at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “Homeownership in NYC: Challenges and HPD’s Programs.”
--The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “USIC underground safety contractor workers’ unfair pay and benefits.”
--The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NFIP reauthorization and flood insurance affordability.”

At the State Legislature on Tuesday:
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Higher Education will meet at 10 a.m. in Albany for a public hearing to “examine the implementation of the scholarship programs included in the 2017-18 State Budget, the Excelsior Scholarship and the Enhanced Tuition Awards Program, and to examine the impact they are having on New York State families and institutions of higher education.”
--The Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture will meet at 10 a.m. in Albany for a public hearing to “elicit comments on what measures the state can implement that will provide a direct economic impact to farmers by enhancing their bottom line.”
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Libraries and Education Technology will meet at 10:30 a.m. in Albany for its annual budget oversight hearing on “funding of libraries in New York State for fiscal year 2017-2018.”
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse will meet at 1 p.m. at 250 Broadway in Manhattan for a public hearing “to examine the adequacy of funding for prevention, treatment, and recovery services within the State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2017-2018 Enacted Budget.”

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will join UFT President Michael Mulgrew at UFT Headquarters in Lower Manhattan to discuss “the upcoming legislative session; the state economy and budget priorities, including school spending; the threat posed by federal tax changes and potential program reductions; and other issues.” It is unclear if this is a public event or only open to UFT members.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Manhattan Institute will host “Prospects for Black America,” discussing the unique challenges that African-Americans face and possible policy and grassroots remedies. U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson will deliver the keynote address.

On Tuesday at 10:45 a.m., City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will speak at Generation Citizen's 2017 Civics Day, at Riverside Church.

At 11 a.m. in the Bronx, "Mayor de Blasio will make an announcement regarding the City’s use of cluster housing."

On Tuesday at noon, “Color Of Change, the nation's largest online racial justice organization, will join leaders from VOCAL-NY and Brooklyn Community Bail Fund in front of the office of Governor Cuomo in New York City to deliver a petition and hold press a conference demanding that Cuomo and Attorney General Schneiderman investigate the bail bond industry in New York. The petition highlights the lack of oversight and regulation of the exploitative commercial bail bond industry, which extracts millions of dollars from New York’s most marginalized communities. Each year, as many as 100,000 people in New York are imprisoned only because of their inability to afford bail. For some families, the only way to buy a loved one’s release is through the for-profit commercial bail bond industry.”

On Tuesday at 2 p.m. at City Hall Park, "Council Member Margaret S. Chin will join a diverse coalition of affordable senior housing advocates, LGBTQ groups and community gardeners in support of the announcement of the senior housing plan for Mott and Elizabeth streets that would include 121 units of deeply affordable housing for seniors and the formerly homeless; more than 7,600 square feet of public green space; and onsite offices for Habitat for Humanity NYC and SAGE."

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member and Speaker candidate Corey Johnson will join the Association for a Better New York for its “What’s on Tap” series at American Beauty in Chelsea.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at the Jerome Parker Educational Complex in New Springville, Staten Island, with City Council Member Joe Borelli, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, State Senator Andrew Lanza, and Assemblymember Michael Cusick.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “current condition and future plans” of the city’s wastewater infrastructure.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Higher Education and General Welfare will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “higher education opportunities for youth aging out of foster care.”
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on the 2017 election, as well as to discuss a proposed law relating to “the broadcasting of mandatory debates.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At the State Legislature on Wednesday: The Assembly Standing Committee on Health, the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, and the Task Force on New Americans will meet jointly at 10 a.m. at 250 Broadway in Manhattan for a public hearing regarding immigrants’ access to healthcare.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at Spector Hall.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a public board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Campaign Finance Board’s Voter Assistance Advisory Committee will hold its annual hearing at CFB headquarters at 100 Church Street. Featured speakers will be Fordham political science professor Dr. Christina Greer and 2018 NYC Youth Poet Laureate William Lohier.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, MTA Board Members Veronica Vanterpool and Norman Brown will join the Riders Alliance to discuss intricacies of the MTA’s funding, and how money gets spent by the authority. The conversation will be moderated by Executive Director John Raskin.

Governor Cuomo is scheduled to hold a fundraiser in Manhattan on Thursday featuring former President Bill Clinton. (Democrats to Cuomo's left are planning to protest outside the fundraiser, according to The New York Post.)

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Waterfronts will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the citywide waterfront inspection process.”
--The Committee on Transportation will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “mitigation plans for the 2019 L Train tunnel closure,” as well as to discuss a resolution “calling upon the Governor and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to commit to an expeditious transition to an electric bus fleet and to use electric buses as a robust part of its replacement service during the upcoming L train shutdown.”
--The Committees on Health and Public Safety will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “examining forensic science practices in the NYPD crime lab and OCME.”
--The Committee on Public Safety will also be discussing a proposed law relating to “respecting the right to record police activities.”
--The Committee on Aging and the Subcommittee on Senior Centers will meet jointly at 1 p.m.
--The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “economic impact of vacant storefronts.”

At the State Legislature on Thursday:
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Children and Families will meet at 11 a.m. in Albany for a public hearing to “examine the impact of the State budget on supports for foster parents and caretakers of children removed from their homes.”
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Housing will meet at 11:30 a.m. at 250 Broadway in Manhattan for an oversight hearing of “the State Fiscal Year 2017-2018 State Budget for New York State Homes & Community Renewal.”

The New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, City & State will honor its “CSR Responsible 100” honorees, in recognition of “100 of New York’s most outstanding corporate citizens.” First Lady Chirlane McCray will also be presented with the “Civic Leader of the Year Award.”

At 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Assemblymember Dan Quart will unveil a broad criminal justice reform legislative package, addressing issues such as “cash bail reform, online harassment, reentry services to those who were wrongfully convicted,” at 250 Broadway.

At 8 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at JHS 88 in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, with City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery,  and Assemblymember Felix Ortiz.

Friday and the weekend
At the State Legislature on Friday: The Assembly Standing Committee on Transportation will meet at 10:30 a.m. in Albany for a public hearing regarding the Department of Transportation Capital Program.

At noon Friday, the New York State Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting at the State Board Offices in Albany.

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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

Ahead of 2018 Session, Cuomo Mum on Pursuing MTA Board Overhaul

Cuomo MTA control

Gov. Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)

In June, as New Yorkers became increasingly frustrated with subway performance and braced themselves for the expected “summer of hell,” Governor Andrew Cuomo was the focus of intense criticism, responding with a series of measures he said were needed in order to fix the ailing Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

Among them, Cuomo introduced last-minute legislation that would allow the governor to appoint a majority of MTA board members, a gesture some saw as an attempt to bolster his sometimes claim that he does not actually control the MTA and its beleaguered subway system. Currently the governor appoints a plurality of board members as well as the chair and CEO of the MTA, giving the state’s chief executive de facto control of the board.

Cuomo’s bill, announced June 20, the final day of the session -- giving it minimal chance to be passed through the Legislature this year -- adds two state seats to the MTA board appointed by the governor and an additional vote for the chair. The proposal drew swift criticism from board members not appointed by the governor, who believe the body’s independence is hampered enough, and transit experts, who see it as a cynical ploy.

The measure was not included in the final legislative deal of the session and the governor has been silent on the subject since, though his nomination of Joe Lhota to once again lead the MTA was accepted and the governor appeared to retake responsibility for the future of the subway system.

Cuomo’s board reform proposal came amid a debate between the governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, over control of the state authority. The governor, while appointing the leadership and six members, has argued that the board’s organizational structure -- which allows city and downstate suburban appointees to total a slight majority of votes over budgetary and contracting decisions -- is flawed and has historically led to finger-pointing and dysfunction.

"Who's in charge? Who knows! Maybe the county executive, maybe the president, maybe the governor, maybe the mayor," the governor said, during a press appearance where he defended the bill.

“If you believe I have control with six [voting members], then you shouldn't have a problem giving me actual control. And if you have a problem giving me actual control, you know what that means? You were disingenuous when you said I had control," he added.

Along with the governor’s six board appointees and the mayor’s four, Westchester, Suffolk, and Nassau Counties each get a board member, and Rockland, Orange, Putnam, and Dutchess Counties appointees share a collective vote. There are six non-voting members of the board. If Cuomo had his way, there would be 16 total voting members and the new structure would give the state eight board appointees and nine votes.

When asked whether the governor still stood by the proposal and whether he would promote it as part of his 2018 agenda -- his State of the State speech and policy platform release will occur January 3 -- a spokesperson for Cuomo’s office said that the governor’s view on the issue had not changed but that the governor’s agenda was not yet finalized.

“The MTA’s board structure was purposefully created to avoid accountability, which is why in June Governor Cuomo advanced legislation to update it. Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to adopt the bill,” said spokesman Peter Ajemian.“That design flaw still exists today with the city’s refusal to pay for the system without recourse, and the MTA’s inability to implement its full Subway Action Plan.”

Ajemian emphasized that Cuomo’s administration has appointed a new leadership team is still making significant gains with the half of the plan that is funded by the state.

While the MTA board approves the budget and the chair and CEO run the authority, there is no credible argument that the governor does not effectively control the subway. Critics, including de Blasio, quickly pointed to the governor’s attention to and oversight of the completion of phase one of the Second Avenue subway extension as evidence of Cuomo’s control of the MTA.

“The governor controls the MTA. That’s a hard, accepted fact in the eyes of New Yorkers, said mayoral spokesperson Austin Finan, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “What’s needed now is a new, dedicated revenue stream to modernize the subways and buses that city riders depend on.”

The current board structure dates back to 1965, though in 1983 Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, similarly attempted to add members to the board to gain a majority, The New York Times has pointed out. The elder Cuomo gave up due to opposition from then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch and suburban officials.

After the board convened and objected to the legislation, Cuomo appointed Joe Lhota, who briefly ran the authority before leaving for a 2013 mayoral run, as its chair -- a move that was hailed by transit experts as a step in the right direction in terms of taking responsibility for the transportation system and its ongoing woes.

hRegardless of whether the governor decides to move forward with controversial MTA board restructuring, he and his chair seized a collective unilateral control over much of the authority’s actions.

Days after appointing Lhota, Cuomo declared a state of emergency at the MTA, ordering Lhota to assess the transit authority’s needs within 60 days. The administration has extended the order every 30 days, granting Lhota the authority to execute many contracts without a board vote.

“State of Emergency declarations must be renewed every 30 days, and as such, the Governor has renewed MTA’s order every 30 days so the MTA can continue to work swiftly and without constraint,” said Ajemian in statement, when asked when the order would be allowed to expire.

While MTA board members interviewed by Gotham Gazette declined to comment on the record about Cuomo’s restructuring bill, those from New York City have made clear that the governor already calls the shots at the agency. At least one gubernatorial appointee, Scott Rechler, sided with Cuomo on the legislation, when speaking to the New York Times in June.

“Let him put 100 percent of his political capital, his expertise, his energy, his relationships into fixing something that is immensely broken,” he told the outlet.

The general consensus is that the governor already has more than enough power over the MTA.

To restructure the MTA board, Cuomo would need the support of Legislature, which is led by an Assembly member from New York City and a Senator from Long Island.

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said no legislation had been proposed in the Assembly, so the speaker could not comment. A bill was hastily introduced and sent to the Senate’s rules committee on the last day of this year’s legislative session, and a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not return a request for comment.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

With Phase One Going on Trial, Cuomo’s Buffalo Investment Moves Ahead with Broken Reform Promises

Cuomo jobs western new york

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)

As federal corruption trials loom for several associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the administration is forging ahead with Buffalo Billion II, the second phase in an ambitious plan to revitalize Buffalo’s beleaguered economy and help transform Upstate New York into a hub of technology innovation and jobs. The first phase saw the massive alleged bid-rigging and kickback scandal that rocked state politics when outlined in September 2016 by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and will loom over Cuomo’s 2018 reelection campaign.

In April, the state Legislature approved $500 million in budgetary funds for the Buffalo Billion II, which marks a shift in the investment in Western New York. The initial Buffalo Billion program, touted by Cuomo as a major success in revitalizing that city despite the scandal, poured the bulk of the $1 billion in funds into a controversial solar panel factory, while Buffalo Billion II investments are diverse and largely infrastructural, including the development of waterfront and rail access, tourism, and job training initiatives.

Critics -- including lawmakers, financial analysts and good government groups -- acknowledge steps the Cuomo administration has since taken to improve the contracting process, but say they remain skeptical of the Buffalo Billion extension and how it is administered. Calling its approval “a blank check” to the governor with little oversight, they question why these small projects are not being funded through traditional means -- like via local governments -- and whether these investments are tax dollars well-spent. Meanwhile, other promises the governor made in the wake of the scandal were abandoned by Cuomo, who had promised unilateral action that did not materialize.

“There’s two problems here. One is the corruption problem, which is obviously paramount in the upcoming trials,” said David Friedfel, director of state affairs for Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan watchdog. “But a second problem that we’ve voiced concern about, which is sort of getting lost in the conversation, is that a lot of these are a bad investment of state taxpayer dollars.”

The Buffalo solar panel factory, which received about $750 million in state subsidies, as well as a state-funded nanotechnology hub in Syracuse, are at the center of last year’s sweeping probe by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, which ensnared nine men -- including two who had been powerful state officials -- whose trials may overshadow the 2018 legislative session in Albany, set to begin in January.

On January 8, jury selection is scheduled to start in the trial of Cuomo’s former close confidant and aide Joe Percoco, along with three construction and energy executives who had business before the state and are accused of arranging bribes for Percoco and his wife in exchange for Percoco’s government influence.

On May 15, jury selection for the trial of former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo empowered and praised over several years as a key architect of his upstate economic development efforts, and executives from LP Ciminelli, a construction company tied to the factory and Cuomo’ campaign coffers, will commence.

Two Syracuse developers, Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, who run COR Development, will be defendants in both trials. Eight defendants in total have pleaded not guilty, while a ninth, lobbyist and former Cuomo ally Todd Howe, pleaded guilty to numerous felony charges and is cooperating with prosecutors. While Cuomo was not directly implicated in the federal complaint, prosecutors note that he received large campaign donations from the business people involved in the scheme, often at Howe’s behest. The governor also oversaw the economic development programs that were allegedly taken advantage of and dismissed calls for greater independent contracting oversight, both before and after the scandal broke, though he did make some relatively minor adjustments.

In November 2016, two months after the charges were outlined, Cuomo expressed dismay over the scandals that were threatening to undercut his signature economic development programs and vowed to quickly strengthen oversight and ethics, though all under his purview. Notably, Empire State Development, the state’s economic development authority, would immediately begin to oversee projects run by entities associated with SUNY Polytechnic, Fort Schuyler Management Corp. and Fuller Road Management Corp., state-affiliated nonprofits created to more quickly disburse economic development funding that Kaloyeros is accused of using to illegally direct contracts.

“I believe this public trust and integrity issue must be addressed – directly and forthrightly. I don’t believe in denial as a life strategy. I believe you must face your problems, no matter how unpleasant, and do your best to resolve them,” Cuomo said in a long statement outlining his response to the scandal and news of problems at CUNY. “It is time for action, not words.”

Cuomo promised a series of actions and proposals, some that would need legislative approval and others he categorized as “steps we can take immediately.” Most of those promised reforms did not materialize.

In the November 2016 statement, Cuomo vowed, “I will order my campaign and my party not to accept campaign contributions from companies once a Request for Proposals has been announced, and for six months following the conclusion for the winner,” adding, “I believe the other state offices and the legislature should do the same and will propose such a law.” According to Cuomo’s office, his pledge was not followed through on.

While his campaign did not follow through, in January of this year, Cuomo outlined his ethics platform and proposed creating such bans for all government leaders overseeing contracting processes. It did not pass.

In November 2016, under other ‘immediate’ actions he would be taking, Cuomo acknowledged that “[t]he contracting systems at CUNY and SUNY have become the focus of US Attorney and IG inquiries in the past several months. To insure more permanent supervision, I will create and appoint separate Inspector Generals for both SUNY and CUNY.” These IGs were not created.

Cuomo also said in November 2016, “I will also appoint a Chief Procurement Officer for the Executive branch. That person will be charged with reviewing all state contracts, with an eye towards eliminating any wrongdoing, conflicts of interest or collusion. And just so there is no confusion, I do mean all contracts.” The governor did not appoint such an officer.

Instead of immediate action on these promises, they were turned into proposals in Cuomo’s 2017 agenda that did not pass in the April budget or June legislative agreements that followed. Asked about the lack of follow-through on the promises from November 2016, Cuomo’s office pointed to the Legislature. In the November 2016 statement Cuomo had classified the proposals among “actions I can take under my own authority."

Enacted or not, critics say that these appointments would make no substitute for outside oversight.

Two months later, during the Buffalo leg of his six-stop 2017 State of the State tour, Cuomo made no mention of the scandals or his ethics platform, painting a rosy picture of his administration’s efforts to revitalize the city, and vowing to “double down” on the projects.

“Buffalo Billion squared because it takes Buffalo Billion I and it takes Buffalo Billion II, and there’s a synergy between the two of them that will be exponential,” Cuomo said. “The principles of it are going to be to build on Western New York’s renaissance, which you’ve all accomplished already, help more small businesses in downtown areas and strategically invest in regional industries.”

As the next phase of those efforts unfold with the backdrop of the corruption trials, the new Buffalo Billion does appear less vulnerable to bid-rigging, in part due to a series of voluntary fixes adopted by Cuomo’s administration, and also because of increased scrutiny from the press and government watchdogs.

The shift of economic development projects from under SUNY-affiliated nonprofits to Empire State Development, which can be audited by the comptroller’s office, is a key step, and ESD, a public authority, has modified its own contracting protocols based on recommendations by state-contracted consultants from Guidepost Solutions. (Cuomo announced he was hiring Guidepost to do a review soon after the scandal broke.)

Asked for comment about the steps the administration has taken to address the corruption scandal in the Buffalo Billion and which Cuomo promises has followed through on as Buffalo Billion II moves ahead, a spokesperson for Cuomo provided some background information but pointed Gotham Gazette to prior public statements by state officials.

“We share your goal of preventing fraud, waste and abuse. ESD has taken substantive steps to strengthen applicable processes to address the concerns you have raised and to implement your recommendations, including our support of strengthened governance provided to non-profits associated with SUNY,” Zemsky of ESD wrote in a letter sent to Guidepost Solutions’ head Bart Schwartz in April.

According to the governor's office, those Guidepost-suggested changes include reforms related to procurement, construction, property and equipment acquisition, and grant compliance. More specifically, there are new controls and procedures to improve payment processing and project management‎, with a focus on project timelines, billing, budgeting, documentation verification, payroll, and how RFPs and bids are evaluated.

There has been little contract or spending activity related to Buffalo Billion II in 2017, according to records provided by the governor’s office, but a handful of relatively smaller projects have made it past the planning stage. A new building for University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine, is expected to be completed in December and will house an incoming class of students for the semester commencing January 2018. A welcome center on Grand Island, which is expected to become a vital component of New York's tourism industry, drawing in $100 billion and “supporting more than 900,000 jobs,” is expected to be fully constructed and in use by August 2018, according to Cuomo’s office.

Government watchdogs and reformers commend the government’s efforts to create more accountability for these projects but say they are no replacement for long-term, independent oversight.

The watchdogs call for a “database of deals,” which would digitally compile every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; dramatic overhaul of the campaign finance system to eliminate the appearance or reality of pay-to-play; and a bill to restore the powers of the state comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services before they are approved. That power was stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2011, in part to expedite the flow of economic development funds aimed at upstate revitalization, a move that was criticized intensely when the corruption revelations came to light.

"As with all of the economic development programs subject to our review, we are closely looking at payment requests,” said Jennifer Freeman, a spokesperson for DiNapoli's office in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The problem is not all contracts and payments are subject to our review, which is why State Comptroller DiNapoli is pushing for major procurement reforms to improve oversight."

These long-sought reforms appeared to have some momentum in the 2017 legislative session, but wound up going nowhere due to pushback from Cuomo, even as more economic development money was approved.

There is less pushback against Buffalo Billion II, in part because the state projects involved are less controversial and more diverse than those announced in 2012. At that time, many questioned the state’s decision to spend $750 million on the SolarCity manufacturing plant that made a splash when it was purchased by Tesla’s Elon Musk, but has failed to the deliver the promised jobs. However, those watching Albany, and Buffalo, say questions remain about why the state is overseeing projects typically done by a local development authority or industrial development authority.

“In Buffalo, you have the state economic development corporation calling the shots on dinky expenditures on small real estate and street improvement projects,” said John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, a watchdog group that has focused on economic development spending, especially upstate. “Is Buffalo Billion II a good investment compared to traditional government spending on clean water, road repair and public transit?”

Kaehny added that it is still preferable that the government make many small bets on small businesses, which is the emphasis of Buffalo Billion II, rather than “rolling the dice on giant, high risk, corporate handouts like Buffalo Billion I did with Tesla, Riverbend.”

Cuomo, a Democrat who has said he’s seeking a third term in 2018 and appears to be considering a run for president in 2020, may see Buffalo as an opportunity to shape his national image as a leader who successfully resuscitated one of America’s largest, long-suffering post-industrial cities -- succeeding where many others have failed. Though that narrative is likely to be complicated by the corruption scandal, with more to be determined by the trials set to begin in 2018.

The governor has called his work in Buffalo successful, pointing to a declining unemployment rate in the formerly industrial city, a rate that dropped from 7.9 percent in October 2010 to a 15-year-low of 4.9 by October 2016, and there is a chorus of voices backing him up. But Western New York’s job growth continues to lag behind the national average.

Part of the boom is related to an increase in construction jobs. For the five-year period ending in 2015, the number of construction jobs in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Metro Area rose by 10.1 percent, an all-time record, according to Cuomo’s office, and by 9.3 percent in Erie County. The state investment has generated buzz and created an air of optimism and excitement for both Buffalonians and outsiders, including companies that have eyed the state’s second largest city. The city has recently seen investments from General Motors, Geico, Goldman Sachs, General Mills, Sumitomo Rubber, and Moog and Entrepreneur Magazine recently ranked Buffalo second in the nation for start-up communities, according to the governor’s office.

The governor and his aides also say young people are flocking back to Buffalo: the number of young adults ages 20 to 34 in the Buffalo-Niagara region has increased by 8.3 percent since 2010.

Still, lawmakers whose districts should benefit from the funds have critiques of both phases of the program. Assembly Member Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, has been a vocal critic of the Legislature’s approval of the Buffalo Billion II and has joined calls for reforms in the wake of the the 2016 scandal. While acknowledging that Western New York has been infused with optimism and entrepreneurship, Walter says he attributes some of the economic prosperity to initiatives that predate Cuomo.

“My biggest concerns are, from what I've seen, is an inability to actually provide any data that shows that the programs are working,” he said of the initial Buffalo Billion program, noting that SolarCity was initially intended to house many types of industries before it became a solar panel factory. add

“The idea all along was we don't want a silver bullet, there's not a silver bullet solution to the economic woes of Western New York. We can't just have one big project, but that's exactly what this is turned into,” said Walter, who got in a heated back and forth with ESD head Howard Zemsky last month at an Assembly hearing on the progress of Buffalo Billion and other economic development programs.

The governor’s office says it is creating a “comprehensive and diverse portfolio of investments that collectively is driving the future of Buffalo’s continuing economic recovery.”

But while Buffalo Billion II may provide more tangible investments into the area, Walter questioned why the funds were not lined out by project in the 2017 budget, and criticized the opaque process through which it was passed.

“We're giving a blank check to the governor, to the Empire State Development, to whoever is going to be administering these funds,” he said. “So yeah, I still have great concern because we've given up all legislative authority over how this money is going to be spent.”

Others, like Democratic Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo, says she and her constituents welcome the investment from the state. While she recognizes concerns, Peoples-Stokes said she has witnessed a dramatic change in the long-struggling city in terms of opportunity, entrepreneurship, and investment from major companies, as well as college students choosing to remain in Buffalo’s downtown after graduation.

“For me, at the end of the day, to see economic development dollars have a meaningful impact in the core of our city, I’m satisfied with that,” she said. “Because for years, literally years -- this is not my first go around, I’ve been here for 15 years -- I’ve never seen the type of resources put into Buffalo as we’ve seen under Governor Cuomo.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistated the trial date of the LP Ciminelli executives.

Note: this story has been updated with more information on the reforms adopted from the Guidepost recommendations.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, December 4

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will start with Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD celebrating low crime in New York City, especially the incredibly low number of murders and shootings in the city thus far this year, looking at data through November.

For his part, Governor Andrew Cuomo took a quick trip to Puerto Rico on Saturday to recognize New Yorkers who have been on the ground there, many helping to restore power on the island, and to pledge more help. Cuomo is just over a month away from releasing his 2018 agenda. Meanwhile, he is under increasing pressure to chart a path to Democratic reconciliation in the state Senate.

De Blasio and Cuomo also have at least one eye on Washington, D.C., where a tax reform bill is moving its way through the legislation process that could have drastic impacts on New York and New Yorkers. Both have been critical of the legislation, a version of which passed the U.S. Senate late Friday night with no public review, and is now headed back to the House of Representatives for discussion. Cuomo scheduled a conference call to discuss the GOP tax reform effort with the governor of California and governor-elect of New Jersey, and members of the media.

Another major ongoing storyline is the race for City Council Speaker. While the vote will take place among the 51 City Council members of the new class come January, manuevering among the eight candidates continues, and political dynamics will continue to change throughout this week and the rest of December, most likely.

Speaking of the City Council, there are several high-profile hearings this week, on progress toward closing the Rikers Island jails; on NYCHA's failure to test apartments for lead paint; and on school desegregation. The three are among a larger set of Council hearings as this Council class enters its final few weeks.

As always, there are many events to be aware of this week - see 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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Mayor de Blasio has several events scheduled for Monday: at 11:30 a.m., de "Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner O’Neill will hold a media availability regarding crime statistics...There will be Q-and-A" with members of the media. This event will take place at 250 West 135th Street. At 7 p.m., "the Mayor will appear on NY1’s Inside City Hall." De Blasio will also speak at two events closed to the media: the Cities Thrive holiday reception at Gracie Mansion and the Queens County holiday party.

"On Monday, December 4, 2017 First Lady Chirlane McCray will host the second convening of Cities Thrive, an ever-growing network of nearly 200 cities working together to support a stronger, better funded and more integrated behavioral health system nationwide. Mayor Bill de Blasio will give an address during the second day of the conference. The coalition launched late last year and consists of a bi-partisan group of mayors from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico who are committed to driving mental health reform on local and national levels. The coalition expands the key principles for action in NYC’s groundbreaking mental health plan, ThriveNYC, led by the First Lady. A few of the coalition’s major achievements include working to help pass federal comprehensive mental health reform legislation, additional federal funding to combat the opioid crisis, and defense of the Affordable Care Act. Over the course of two days (Monday, December 4 - Tuesday, December 5) the First Lady and Mayor will be joined by agency leaders, elected officials, public health advocates and mental health professionals from across the country to share best practices for driving local change, and encourage a national dialogue that strengthens the public health approach to mental health and substance misuse." The event willl take place at New York Law School.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “progress in closing Rikers Island.” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will participate.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At 9:30 a.m. Monday, JustLeadershipUSA and #CLOSErikers will hold a rally outside the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall subway stop, preceding the City Council oversight hearing on the closure of Rikers Island jails.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has two public events Monday: at 9 a.m. he'll deliver remarks at the UFT rally for Puerto Rico,
outside the Alexander Hamilton Custom House. At 6 p.m., Stringer will deliver remarks at the Blackboard Awards for Schools, at the NYIT auditorium.

At 10 a.m. Monday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Environmental Conservation and Health, and the Subcommittee on Oversight of the Department of Environmental Conservation, will hold a joint public hearing at 250 Broadway in Manhattan to “examine water quality issues and to review implementation of the $2.5 billion in water infrastructure funding contained in the 2017-18 State Budget.”

At 11 a.m. Monday, "Minister Kirsten John Foy, Northeast Regional Director of NAN; along with NAN leadership, clergy, community stakeholders and activists" will "protest the FDNY hiring of racist son of former commissioner." The protest rally will occur outside of 9 Metrotech Center, Flatbush Ave.

At 11 a.m. Monday at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, an #EndWageTheft event: City and state prosecutors and partners will "announce joint effort to combat wage theft in the construction industry. Prosecutors to announce criminal charges in multiple cases involving stolen wages, provide tips on spotting wage theft and reporting it to authorities." The event will include: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office; New York State Attorney General’s Office; Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office; Bronx District Attorney’s Office; Nassau District Attorney’s Office; Queens District Attorney’s Office; Staten Island District Attorney’s Office; Westchester District Attorney’s Office; New York State Department of Labor; New York City Department of Investigation; and the New York City Comptroller’s Office.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, Civic Hall will host “How Can Kids Become Engaged Citizens In This Age Of Turmoil?,” discussing how education can “help develop kids to become lifelong citizens.” Participants include DeNora Getachew of Generation Citizen, Jacqueline Simmons of Teachers College, Elizabeth Waters of Inquiring Minds, and Joe Rogers of the Center for Education Equity.

At 1 p.m. Monday at his New York City office, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel will discuss fake comments that have corrupted the FCC’s public comment process on net neutrality, and call on the Commission to cooperate with Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation."

At 2 p.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo will be in Albany, from where he will join California Governor Jerry Brown and New Jersey Governor-Elect Phil Murphy to hold "a conference call on the GOP Tax plan."

On Tuesday during the Cities Thrive conference, Mayor de Blasio will give remarks in the 11:20 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. window, sandwiched between remarks by Andy Slavitt, Senior Advisor of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and First Lady McCray.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will be in the Bronx to visit the P.S. 30 food pantry. At noon at City Hall, Mark-Vivierito will hold an ethnic and community media roundtable. And in the evening, Mark-Viverito and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen will appear on NY1's Inside City Hall to discuss the East Harlem rezoning.

On Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., "Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, together with Federal, State and City partners, to announce conclusion of major long-term investigation."

On Tuesday at 2 p.m. at P.S. 315 in Brooklyn, "Deputy Mayor Buery, City officials, and Warby Parker co-founders and co-CEOs visit vision screenings at Brooklyn elementary school to highlight the Community Schools vision screening program and make an announcement about the expansion of the partnership with Warby Parker to provide free eyeglasses to all 227 Community Schools."

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Public Housing will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “DOI investigation into lead-based paint conditions at NYCHA apartments.” Public Advocate Letitia James will participate in the hearing.
--The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “cleaning park playground equipment after the spraying of pesticides” and “reporting on park capital expenditures.”

At the State Legislature on Tuesday:
--The Assembly Standing Committees on Governmental Operations, Labor, and Small Business, and the Assembly Subcommittee on Oversight of MWBEs, will meet jointly at 11 a.m. in Albany to “examine the MWBE program, the 2016 MWBE Disparity Study, including its Workforce Study and the potential implementation of recommendations, through the input of program participants.”
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development will hold a public hearing at 11 a.m. in Albany to “review the impact and effectiveness of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) grants awarded throughout the State.”
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Education will meet at noon in Albany for a public hearing regarding “the education of students at private schools in New York State.”
--The Senate Standing Committee on Energy and Telecommunications will hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. at 250 Broadway in Manhattan to “gain insight on the logistics of the NY Prize Program, including timeframes, cost, and efficacy of the program.”

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the District Attorneys for each borough except for Queens will convene at the Town and Village Synagogue in the East Village to discuss how they are attempting to divert mentally ill people and substance abusers away from the criminal justice system. The discussion is sponsored by the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice, Metro IAF, and the New York Daily News. Alyssa Katz of the Daily News editorial board and Greenburger Center Executive Director Cheryl Roberts will co-moderate.

Public Advocate Letitia James will be among those who attend The Nation Institute's Gala on Tuesday evening.

Comptroller Scott Stringer will host his annual Jewish Heritage Celebration on Tuesday night.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at the Belle Harbor School in Belle Harbor, Queens, with City Council Member Eric Ulrich, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, U.S. Rep Gregory Meeks, and Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss the nominations of Anne Holford-Smith to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and Alameda Sky Chapman to the Youth Board.
--The Committee on Technology will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “MODA’s data and verification plan.”
--The Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “DYFJ’s efforts in the implementation of raising the age of criminal responsibility.”

The New York Housing Conference and the National Housing Conference will host its 44th Annual Awards program at the Sheraton Times Square on Wednesday. Prior to the awards ceremony, there will be several panel discussions on the state of housing in New York. At 9 a.m., there will be a discussion on the potential impacts of HUD policy shifts, with NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye, HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, HUD Region II Administrator Lynne Patton, and NYS Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnaukas. Other panels will gather leaders in government, business, and advocacy to discuss issues such as updates to the city & state housing plan, the homelessness crisis, federal tax reform, and disaster recovery.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Aging will meet for a public hearing to “explore the ways in which community-based non-medical services and programs provide cost-effective supports to seniors living in their homes and neighborhoods and look at new approaches to delivering these services.”

Also at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Veterans' Affairs will meet on “Budget and programs for veterans related to monies in support of veteran-to-veteran programs.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will deliver the keynote address at “The Future of DACA” at Columbia’s SIPA International Affairs Building.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Member Andy King will deliver the keynote address at the Bronx Neighborhood Housing Services “Winter Wonderland Gala” at Eastwood Manor in Pelham Gardens, Bronx. The keynote will be titled “The Future of Affordable Housing in the Bronx.”

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committee on Education will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “diversity in New York City schools.”

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, City & State will host “Disaster Management,” part of its “Front Page Roundtable Series,” at the 3 West Club in Midtown. The panels, consisting of leaders in business, government, advocacy, and media, will discuss disaster preparedness and management in the wake of recent natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, protesters will gather outside Verizon stores as part of a nationwide protest against the Trump administration’s plans to end net neutrality.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will announce its new chair at  its 2017 Annual Open Meeting.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Citizen Action NY will host its 2017 Progressive Leadership Awards at DC 1707 in Midtown. Honorees include Mujahid Farid of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, the New York State Nurses Association, Youth Leaders at Make the Road NY, and political strategist and CNN commentator Angela Rye.

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at the Julia Richmond Education Complex on the Upper East Side with City Council Member Ben Kallos, U.S. Rep Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, and Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly Friday morning appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, Easy Elections NY will kick off its 2018 campaign to make it easier to vote in state elections at the First Presbyterian Church of Albany.

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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

What’s The [Data] Point? $26 billion

whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 21 -- $26 billion, with Martha Stark [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

martha stark ep21 d

The property tax system in New York is complex and controversial. New York City will take in $26 billion in property taxes this year from resident and business property owners -- the largest single source of revenue that funds New York City government. But there are significant inequities in the system and there has been talk of reform for decades, but nothing has been done. While Mayor de Blasio has promised action in his second term, a group has formed to sue the city and state to compel them into changing the system. Martha Stark is a former New York City finance commissioner who is working with the group, Tax Equity Now, and she joined the podcast to discuss the system, its problems, the lawsuit, and possible solutions.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and guest Martha Stark. Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo Urged to Sign Bill Strengthening Freedom of Information Law

Cuomo announcement open for business

Governor Cuomo (via the Governor's Office)

With just a few weeks before the 2018 legislative session, Governor Andrew Cuomo must soon sign or veto the outstanding legislation that passed both houses earlier this year.

Among over 100 pieces of legislation headed for the governor’s desk over the next month is a bill that aims to strengthen the Freedom of Information Law, drafted with the input of many good government and media interests, with changes from a previous version vetoed by Cuomo to address his concerns.

A growing coalition of these groups, which wield national, state and local influence, is keeping the issue in the public eye by calling on Cuomo to sign the bill, which is aimed at improving government responsiveness to information requests by non-governmental entities. The bill would make it easier for members of the public and organizations to win attorneys’ fees when they have won a court order instructing agencies to release public records, which can happen after a government entity refuses to honor an information request and an appeal is filed.

The legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Amy Paulin and Senator Patrick Gallivan, overwhelmingly passed both houses of the Legislature earlier this year, but has not yet been delivered to the governor’s desk for consideration.

While a similar attorneys’ fees bill was vetoed by Cuomo in 2015, the current legislation addresses Cuomo’s concerns by creating a two-tier system for potential financial penalties. Cuomo, a second-term Democrat who says he is running for reelection in 2018, will have 10 days to sign the bill into law once he receives it.

On the heels of a series of newspaper editorials backing the bill’s passage, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a coalition of 33 state media organizations from across the nation, wrote a letter to the governor Monday urging him to sign the legislation into law.

“Public information belongs to the public, and it shouldn’t cost thousands of dollars in legal fees to access it,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in a statement. “If the government is required to pay the legal costs when a court finds they had no reasonable basis to deny a public information request, it provides an incentive for them to comply with legitimate requests in the first place. More information in the hands of the public only strengthens government transparency and accountability.”

At the same time, a group of transparency and media groups, including national organizations like Sunlight Foundation and National Freedom of Information Coalition, echoed that sentiment in a statement of support this week calling New York’s Freedom of Information Law “the single most important transparency tool the public has.”

The bill amends the state law, often referred to as FOIL, to require the mandatory awarding of attorneys' fees to plaintiffs when the plaintiff substantially prevails on the record request and a court finds that an agency had no reasonable basis for denying access to public records. Under current law, plaintiffs who pursue records in court can seek attorneys’ fees, but the reimbursements are awarded at the judge’s discretion after a plaintiff prevails substantially and proves the government had no reasonable basis for denying access.

Based on feedback from Cuomo’s office and recommendations from the Committee on Open Government, the 2017 bill creates a two-tier system, still allowing judges to use their discretion in awarding attorneys’ fees in cases where agencies failed to meet deadlines for complying with FOIL.

“We think [the two-tier system] addresses the veto messages that we had prior and conversations we’ve had with the governor’s office,” said Assembly Member Paulin, a Democrat from Scarsdale.

Action on the bill will be part of what is expected to be the usual end-of-year flurry of activity by the governor, dealing with legislation before another budget season begins in Albany. A spokesperson for Cuomo said the FOIL bill is under review.

Among those calling for Cuomo to sign the bill into law are open government organizations like BetaNYC and Civic Hall, as well as typical state government watchdog groups like the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, and League of Women Voters, which say they are encouraged by the newfound national attention and support that the bill has drawn.

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, which helped design the current version of the bill, said he believes that the legislation is a “compromise” that is “designed to pass.”

“The hope is to ensure that the governor sees the full range of support for the bill,” said Kaehny. “One of the reasons this bill has drawn national attention is because New York’s a big state, but also because freedom of information law and transparency have been under attack for the last year or so.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

After Hacking Revelations, Assembly Examines New York Election Security

Cuomo voting election integrity

Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

Is New York ready for an election cyber-attack? Are the state’s voting systems vulnerable to hacking?

The New York State Assembly’s Election Law Committee heard testimony on Tuesday from state and local election board officials and cybersecurity experts on the systems in place to protect the state’s election processes from the types of coordinated cyberattacks that were carried out by Russian actors who sought to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The hearing was prompted by developments in September, when the Department of Homeland Security informed officials from 21 states that their election systems, including their registration databases, were targets of the coordinated Russian hacking effort that also attacked the Democratic National Committee and members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year. Although New York was not among them, the news raised concerns among state officials that similar incursions could be levelled against New York election infrastructure.

With the local elections of this year over and a state-level election cycle coming up in 2018, when all of the state Legislature and the four statewide positions will be on the ballot, Assembly members spent four hours Tuesday seeking clarity on how election data is managed, results are counted and recounted, and how the state works with federal and local authorities to detect and prevent cyber attacks like the ones seen last year.

“These attacks were not aberrations, they were not isolated incidents and only the most naive and or the most corrupt would believe that they will not continue into the future,” said Assembly Member Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Nassau County and chair of the committee, in his opening remarks.

Officials from the New York State Board of Elections seemed to put fears at rest almost immediately, even as they acknowledged that certain changes are required and that existing regulations need to be implemented more stringently.

“New York actually has one of the most secure systems in the country,” said Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the state BOE. He noted that the Help America Vote Act passed by the United States Congress in 2002, which enacted reforms to voting systems and provided federal funds for new voting equipment, did not first establish standards for that equipment. New York was one of the last states to comply, but in doing so years later implemented it correctly, he said, “in a manner that provides voters with secure and verifiable elections.”

The state has strict laws requiring certification and testing of both election software and hardware, Kellner said, as well as independent outside reviews of software. Wireless connections and networking capabilities are prohibited in voting equipment and even the computers used to program ballot scanners must be standalone devices without internet connectivity. “That isolation of the system used to set up the voting machines is something relatively unique to New York and it substantially reduces the possibility for the introduction of malware into our voting machines,” Kellner said.

The state also prohibits county boards of elections from contracting with outside vendors to program voting machines, which Kellner did concede could be cumbersome for smaller county boards with limited staff.

Finally, the state requires an audit of three percent of the voting machines used in each county after every election. The audit requirements were a particular focus of the hearing, with good government advocates and cybersecurity experts advocating for a new, more efficient method, called risk-limiting audits, developed in recent years.

Risk-limiting audits randomly choose which ballots to audit for comparison with the paper record, and determine the statistical level at which one can be confident that election results are correct. It results in a changing standard for the number of ballots that have to be audited, depending on the closeness of election results. The closer the race, the more ballots would be examined, for instance. Kellner generally endorsed the idea and recommended that the committee explore legislation to enact the improved system.

Kellner did have his own points to make during his testimony, noting that the law dealing with extremely close contests is “flawed” since escalating from a three percent audit to a full audit requires consensus from election commissioners representing opposing political parties, which is not easy to come by.

As an aside, Kellner, a Democrat, noted that New York would not be able to implement online voting any time soon since “the best technical minds around the world have not solved the problem of maintaining the secret ballot while at the same time ensuring that the ballot is cast and counted in the manner intended by the voter.”

Robert Brehm, co-executive director of the state BOE, said though the board is unaware if New York was directly targeted during the 2016 election, hackers consistently attempt intrusions into their systems and none have significantly affected election administration. The BOE takes a three-pronged approach to cyber-preparedness, he said, which involves developing a comprehensive risk assessment strategy, a strategy for county cyber-readiness, and bolstering plans to respond to individual incidents of cyber-intrusion.

Brehm said state officials cooperate with a slew of federal authorities and are striving to ensure that the information shared between them is also given to county election boards, which lack a strong cybersecurity apparatus and are more vulnerable.

The Assembly members present for the hearing at 250 Broadway in Manhattan, seven Democrats and two Republicans, had a broad range of inquiries. They asked about the board’s experiences with cyber attacks in the past, conclusions on trusted vendors who can work with county boards, and the mechanisms for keeping the legislative and executive branches of government in the loop. They asked about recommendations on electronic poll books (BOE’s Kellner said they had yet to thoroughly examine the proposal, though legislation to implement e-poll books has appeared close to passage in the Legislature), plans to update equipment, and cyber-readiness training for county BOE staff.

At the county level, Brehm conceded, “there’s much more work that’s needed to be done....The voting machines are isolated and very much the voter registration systems are not. They’re part of county infrastructure.” The BOE has full authority, he said, “to promulgate regulations that we are considering with regards to improving our security posture and requirements at the county level, but implementing them is going to be very difficult.”

Assembly Member Robert Carroll of Brooklyn raised the prospect of hackers attempting to purge voters from the rolls, asking the BOE officials how they monitor county BOE rolls. Brehm insisted the board conducts real-time monitoring of voter rolls and is working on updating its system. Carroll also mentioned the infamous purge of nearly 120,000 voters in Brooklyn ahead of the 2016 presidential primary, which Brehm said was due to a procedure being inaccurately followed rather than a failure in the system. He later emphasized the need for greater resources for county boards, and said the BOE would make a more substantial funding request in the upcoming state budget session.

Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City BOE, also insisted during his testimony that “money is always a critical thing,” although he did praise the cooperative attitude of the state BOE and federal officials.

Ryan said there were initial missteps in communication with federal authorities following the 2016 election cyberattack but the city was prepared for the eventuality. “The good thing is it was the type of circumstances that were built into the protections that were already in place,” he said. He insisted that the board had administered the 2016 and 2017 elections “without an issue of consequence,” but would need to be more vigilant for next year, when there will be congressional, state legislative, and statewide elections in New York. “We’re in pretty good shape...but we’re only in good shape until October of 2018,” he said. “So we really need to take a look at that critically and say, ‘how are we going to plan this out?’”

There were numerous recommendations made to the Assembly committee, some of which involved administrative solutions while yet others require legislative fixes.

Dustin Czarny, commissioner from the Onondaga County BOE said the current voting and election system leaves little time to identify and remedy issues with ballots. He encouraged the Assembly members to pursue electoral reforms such as early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. The two are among a slate of election reforms that have stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate, with minimal objection from Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo or the Democratic-led Assembly.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, and Susan Greenhalgh, vice president of programs at Verified Voting, a nonprofit focused on voting system technology, both argued for risk-limiting audits of voting machines.

Lerner pointed out that the current election auditing method looks at the process rather than results -- by testing vote totals from machines instead of directly examining ballots. She insisted that the state must constantly inspect paper ballots for accuracy, must never allow online voting, and must do away with the current system of election audits. “A flat three percent audit really, we feel, doesn’t hit the mark,” she said, agreeing to help legislators and election administrators in crafting legislation on risk-limiting audits.

“We have to look at ways to protect [the election system] as a national security asset,” Greenhalgh said, “and this is something that’s being run at county levels by people who are not in the federal national security space typically.”

Greenhalgh said the focus in computer security was increasingly on “resilience,” allowing a system to function even after it has been hacked. “If we’re looking at resilience in election systems, we want a system that would ensure that voters can vote,” she said, “that their votes get counted correctly...and that the proper outcome is realized.” She also supported the continued use of paper ballots as the simplest means of maintaining physical records, and reiterated the need for risk-limited audits.

“There is a limit to what our security practices, as good as they are in New York, can do,” she said.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight?

torres nycha monitor idc presser

CM Torres and the call for a state NYCHA monitor (photo: @RitchieTorres)

As Mayor Bill de Blasio and leaders of the embattled New York City Housing Authority continue to respond to fallout from revelations that NYCHA had failed for years to comply with federal and local laws around lead paint inspections, some elected officials are renewing calls for the state take a more active role in the city’s massive public housing system.

NYCHA, which has for decades has been plagued by lapses in safety protocols, sometimes with tragic results, includes 175,000 housing units home to well over the official tally of 400,000 New Yorkers. A report by the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI), released earlier this month, indicates that NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye knew of deficiencies in lead inspections in early 2016 but signed off on paperwork submitted to the federal government certifying that all the regulations had been met. Olatoye explained that soon after she had become aware of the gap, which began under the prior administration, she alerted NYCHA’s federal regulators and jumpstarted the lead inspections.

DOI called for the appointment of a “third-party monitor” to ensure compliance with lead and safety rules as well as to perform regular safety checks on NYCHA units.

De Blasio and Olatoye have resisted both the calls for more state oversight and the recommendation for the outside monitor, instead implementing their own set of reforms, including new protocols and a new internal compliance unit, while multiple top NYCHA officials were either forced out or demoted. Though he also sat on the revelations for over a year, de Blasio argued that NYCHA was already addressing the lead inspection shortfalls and admitted that he should have made the issue public sooner. He has strongly pushed back against calls for Olatoye’s removal.

As a public authority, the 84-year-old agency -- the oldest and largest such low- and middle-income housing provider in the country -- is technically under the purview of the state, though state law grants the mayor control over appointment of board members and leadership.

But in the wake of the lead-inspection revelations, several lawmakers want an increased state role in NYCHA oversight. Members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, held a November 20 press conference to push for a state monitor, as outlined in legislation introduced by Klein earlier this year, which would create an Office of the Independent Monitor within the Department of Homes and Community Renewal, to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Klein and other members of the IDC were also joined by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s public housing committee, and other elected officials.

The state played a larger role in financing and governing the agency in the years immediately after World War II, when there was a large state-wide public housing program, but that contribution shrunk over time to near non-existence, and NYCHA relies almost entirely on the federal housing agency, HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), for subsidizing its operating and capital needs.

While NYCHA has accumulated the $17 billion in capital needs to get into a state of good repair, the authority has also struggled to remain in the black in its yearly operating budget, which has actually been stabilized under de Blasio and Olatoye, even without state money.

State-provided operating subsidies to NYCHA were ended by Governor George Pataki in 1998, leaving the housing agency with a $60 million annual operating shortfall, according to NYCHA records. To address its growing annual operating deficit, which was as high as $235 million in 2006, NYCHA transferred many federal subsidies meant for capital improvements into operations, which ensured the system would fall into further disrepair. Since 2006, NYCHA’s personnel has been reduced from 15,000 to 11,000, with many of the jobs lost white collar positions that played a role in compliance. New York City followed the State’s example and by 2004 it had essentially stopped subsidizing NYCHA operations, further crippling the agency, according to according to urban historian and professor Dr. Nicholas Dagen Bloom, co-editor of the anthology Affordable Housing in New York.

“In the past 20 years, there’s a been a federal reduction, but compared to the state and city, HUD is really the only game in town,” said Bloom. “The city and state are almost entirely dependent on HUD for the real or long term oversight. So, there’s kind of a bureaucratic insanity where there is less money, but [NYCHA] is supposed to maintain the same standards.”

NYCHA has been stabilized somewhat under de Blasio, with the 2015 release of NextGeneration NYCHA, an ambitious, 10-year strategic plan to get the authority back on track. Thanks to an increase in city investment, the operating budget is no longer running a deficit and plans are moving ahead to bring in more revenue, but NYCHA has not made much headway in addressing the billions of dollars worth of unmet capital needs. As part of the plan, the de Blasio administration relieved NYCHA of more than $100 million in annual bills toward police services and property taxes. In 2015 and 2016, for the first time in years, the authority achieved an operating surplus, one just under HUD’s recommended three-month cushion. However, the most recent $35 million federal cut, announced in March, is expected to plummet NYCHA’s operating budget back into the red.

Over the past few years, NYCHA has benefited from some capital investment from the city address some infrastructural deficiencies. Since 2015 the city has infused the authority with $1.3 billion to fix 952 roofs, benefiting 175,478 NYCHA residents, as well as $555 million to repair 409 facades, according to a spokesperson for the de Blasio administration. Although the State has historically provided capital funds for NYCHA developments, in 2001, state contributions were reduced from $15 million to $6.4 million a year and dwindled completely by 2007, with the exception of a few one-time investments like $100 million for NYCHA (managed by Dorm Authority for the State of New York) for playgrounds and security cameras in 2015, and $200 million for boilers and elevators in 2017, according to city records.

However, infrastructure problems and public health crises persist throughout NYCHA, and since 2015, the IDC and Council Member Torres have been calling for the state to take more fiscal and regulatory responsibility for the city’s public housing system, a recommendation Governor Andrew Cuomo has in the past shrugged off, incorrectly characterizing the housing authority a “federal agency” and wrongly declaring state contributions as “unprecedented.”

Senator Klein’s state monitor bill unanimously passed the Senate on the final day of the 2017 legislative session, but has not been considered by the Assembly. Spokespersons for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the Assembly’s housing committee chair, Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.

Joining the calls for a state monitor amid the lead inspection fallout is not only Torres, but also Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who in a letter to Governor Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the federal government has demonstrated itself to be an unreliable partner to the city.

“Only the state has the ability to appoint a credible monitor to examine NYCHA at this time,” Diaz Jr. said in a statement. “More than 400,000 New Yorkers call our city’s public housing developments their home. The families who call our city’s public housing developments home deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It is now plainly clear that a state-appointed monitor is the only way to make that happen.”

In response to the latest calls for significantly more state involvement in NYCHA, Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in a statement, “We have continuously expressed concerns with NYCHA’s operational failures and these latest allegations -- and potential legal violations -- that the agency knowingly committed by exposing New Yorkers to lead paint are particularly disturbing. We have received the letter, and we are reviewing it with our fellow state partners, the Attorney General and the State Comptroller.”

De Blasio, at a press conference last week, appeared resistant to the idea of increased state involvement, emphasizing that the pertinent authority over the city’s public housing system is HUD and stressing that a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York already identified NYCHA’s lead screening lapses in 2016 and that the city was taking steps to remedy it.

“The pertinent authority here is the federal government,” said de Blasio at a press conference on November 20. “I think it’s important that agencies respect their fellow agencies. So, this is the top level of government that is the funder of a lot of NYCHA’s operations and has legal oversight responsibility. And for two years, they’ve been involved in this issue. I think that should be respected.”

While de Blasio acknowledged that the federal investigation into NYCHA is ongoing and that the city is continuing to cooperate, he said it could lead to a federal monitor of the housing authority, similar to those in place at the NYPD and Department of Correction. Instead of a state or independent monitor at this time, NYCHA is creating an Executive Compliance Department, with Chief Compliance Officer Edna Wells Handy at its head. Handy has been counsel to the NYPD commissioner. The mayor has also rebuffed calls from Public Advocate Tish James to fire Olatoye, defending his public housing chief, saying that she has been instrumental in turning the authority around.

“I’m convinced that the leadership we have now is part of the solution to the problems that plague NYCHA,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. De Blasio also referenced the personnel changes beneath Olatoye, though those were only made once the lead inspection scandal had become public through the Department of Investigation, not soon after Olatoye and de Blasio first learned of the inspection lapses.

Critics say steps taken by the de Blasio administration are insufficient. "Calling these changes ‘sweeping’ hardly makes them so. ‎An internal compliance department is no substitute for an independent monitor. NYCHA's failure to recognize the need for third-party accountability will only deepen the damage to its credibility," said Council Member Torres.

A spokesperson for the DOI, reiterated its call for the external NYCHA monitor to be housed at the independent city agency, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. The spokesperson noted that DOI already has a “robust integrity monitor program” with 18 active monitorships “overseeing an array of integrity issues that include construction, city-funded not for profits, and information technology.”

Professor Bloom said he is not surprised there is little enthusiasm from Cuomo’s office for the state to get involved.

“The underlying problem is NYCHA residents don’t vote at very high levels -- New York City residents don’t vote -- and upstate, public housing is not a priority. It’s a very small program upstate. [It’s a question of whether] there is the political will,” said Bloom.

According to Bloom, the calls for external monitors may be beside the point. While the creation of additional compliance entities may produce more reports (and bureaucracy), without a significant investment of funds to address the lead problem at its root cause, these steps are unlikely to improve quality of life for NYCHA residents. Currently federal regulations require that NYCHA inspect all 55,000 apartments with presumed lead paint, and NYCHA must prioritize apartments with children under six-years-old listed as residents. The city insists that the number of affected apartments is low; that between 2010 and 2016 there were only 17 documented cases requiring lead abatement at 18 NYCHA apartments where children with elevated blood lead levels live. Four of these cases occurring after 2014, according to de Blasio’s office, but a WNYC report suggests that these numbers may be skewed, since the city defines "elevated lead levels" at 10 micrograms per deciliter -- double the U.S Center for Disease Control standard since 2012.

“If you really want to make NYCHA lead-free -- and the case could be made that there should be no lead in any of these apartments -- well, that will require a much more extensive cleaning that will cost a lot of money,” Bloom said. A state-run and financed “lead abatement program” for NYCHA, for example, would likely be welcomed by the housing authority, Bloom added.

Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio said that two rounds of inspections and amelioration were already underway has vowed that NYCHA would soon been in compliance. On Monday, The Daily News reported that NYCHA residents had been notified that inspectors would force entry into units, removing and replacing door locks if tenants were not home during a designated time window.

“We will be in compliance with Local Law One next month and then we intend to stay in compliance with Local Law One every year thereafter,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. “And that is important because what that means essentially is as soon as inspections and amelioration ends for one year, you start essentially immediately thereafter for the next year. So there will be a continuous inspection cycle from this point on. Any resources that NYCHA needs for that effort will be provided.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 27

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This post-Thanksgiving week promises to be a busy one. Mayor de Blasio will likely be active after two weeks of limited public appearances (he was away on a family vacation in Connecticut, then it was Thanksgiving week). The City Council has another busy week with a variety of hearings and a full Council Stated meeting on Thursday, at which the Council passes bills that have moved through committee and sees the introduction of new bills (since we're in the final weeks of the four-year session, there are more bills being passed than introduced at this point). Two pieces of legislations especially worth watching: the police reform Right to Know Act and changes to the commercial rent tax, which affects businesses south of 96th Street in Manhattan. The Council's end-of-term flurry of oversight hearings continues this week.

Also continuing this week is the race to become the next Speaker of the City Council. The eight men running for the position, which will be officially voted on during the first Stated meeting of January's new Council class, have been engaging in behind-the-scenes politicking and more public arguments for their candidacies. The candidates continue to participate in forums, which are largely their opportunities to influence influencers like advocacy groups and the media narrative of the race. Overall, though, the many public forums the candidates have been and continue participating in will have little impact on who wins this race, which is decided by Council members, party bosses, labor unions, and other influential figures, like members of Congress and Mayor de Blasio, who will reportedly continue to meet with the speaker candidates this week.

De Blasio is holding a town hall in Queens on Thursday night. The mayor has four public events Monday -- see details below.

As we hit December on Friday, we're just over a month from when Governor Cuomo will begin to outline his 2018 agenda. In January, the governor, who says he will pursue a third term through next year's election, will give his State of the State policy agenda and also lay out his executive budget. Cuomo has already indicated that a congestion pricing plan will be part of the picture, but little else is known. As December and January approach, watch for new information about Cuomo's 2018. This week, we know that Cuomo is organizing and headlining a Saturday rally to protest President Trump's agenda set for New York City on Saturday, when Trump is due in the city for some fundraising. Cuomo is appearing more and more to be testing the waters for a potential presidential run. While the next presidential election is in 2020, candidates will really start running well before. Cuomo may prioritize his reelection bid first, then kick his presidential exploration into full gear in early 2019.

As always, there's a great deal happening this week - see 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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio has several public events: at noon at City Hall, de Blasio "will hold a public hearing on 16 pieces of legislation" that will be signed into law at a later date. At 4:30 p.m., "the Mayor will attend the grand opening ceremony for Gino Sorbillo’s Pizzeria." At 6 p.m. at City Hall, "the Mayor, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and members of the City Council will host a Puerto Rican Heritage celebration." And at 7:30 p.m. at Elsewhere in Brooklyn, "the Mayor will sign legislation to repeal the Cabaret Law."

At 11 a.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer is holding a press conference at Worth Square in Manhattan.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committees on Transportation and Sanitation & Solid Waste Management will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “private sanitation fleet safety.”
--The Committees on Civil Service & Labor and Small Business will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding an “update on career pathways/workforce development systems.”
--The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding an “update on assisting vulnerable populations in emergency evacuations.”

On Monday evening at 6:30 p.m., "AARP New York, NBC 4 New York, Telemundo47 and NBC Latino will host a debate for candidates in the running for New York City Council Speaker. Candidates will debate their priorities for the Council, including issues important to New Yorkers 50-plus such as affordable housing, transportation, support for caregivers, and livability. Local AARP members will be available for comments on the debate." The event will take place at the 92nd Street Y and will be livestreamed by TelemundoTelemundo and by NBC New York.

On Monday "at 6:30 PM, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will lead a community vigil in memory of 14-year-old Edwin Ajacalon, a Guatemalan immigrant who worked as a deliveryman for a local restaurant; he was killed Saturday afternoon in Sunset Park when a speeding car slammed into his bicycle and dragged him a half a block. At the site of the crash, Borough President Adams will join Ajacolon's uncle, fellow New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, and neighborhood advocates, including Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Transportation Alternatives, in mourning his loss and demanding action for safer streets, including long-demanded speed cameras."

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYC’s sagging air cargo industry.”
--The Committees on Higher Education and Technology will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “CUNY tech incubators.”
--The Committees on Health and Immigration will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “immigrant access to healthcare.”
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “DCAS’s energy management and energy efficiency initiatives.”
--The Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “trauma-informed services in the juvenile justice system.”

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics will meet on Tuesday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Election Law and the Subcommittee on Election Day Operations and Voter Disenfranchisement will hold a public hearing at 250 Broadway in Manhattan to “examine the condition of the State’s election infrastructure and take testimony with regard to protecting the integrity of election systems against cyber-infiltration or attack.”

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Still We Rise NYC will host “Healing Of Our City: A Faith & Community Conversation with NYPD” at the New Jerusalem Worship Center in Jamaica, Queens. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker will be joined by fellow officers and faith leaders to discuss several hot button issues related to policing in New York City.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture will hold an oversight hearing in Albany regarding “the SFY 2017-2018 State Budget for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.”

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners meeting.

At 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James will visit the Queens Adult Learning Center.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a public meeting at Long Island City High School in Queens.

At 6 pm. Tuesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will speak at Nicholasa Mohr exhibition opening at Aguilar Library.

There is a City Council Speaker candidate forum on Tuesday night focused on arts and culture, moderated by Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 Noticias, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at SVA Theatre. The forum is hosted by New Yorkers for Culture and Arts in partnership with "112 community engagement partners."

Mayor de Blasio will attend two closed press events on Tuesday evening: "the NYC League of Conservation Voters Fall Event and "Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins P.C Mill Brook Realty Group LLC’s Holiday Party."

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Aging will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “supporting unpaid caregivers.”
--The Committee on Contracts will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “examining existing supports and needs of underrepresented business owners in city procurement.”

On Wednesday morning, Center for an Urban Future will host "a high-level symposium...The Role of the Tech Sector in Sparking Middle Class Job Creation in New York City. The forum, to be held at Grand Central Tech, will host a distinguished panel of experts that will discuss the increasingly important role of the tech sector in stimulating middle class jobs in New York City." Panelists will include James Patchett, President & CEO, NYC Economic Development Corporation; Julie Samuels, Executive Director, Tech:NYC; Patrick Deem, Co-Founder & CFO, Voodoo Manufacturing; Rashid Ferrod Davis, Founding Principal, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH); Alex Lirtsman, Co-Founder, Ready Set Rocket; and moderator Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director, Center for an Urban Future.

At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Public Advocate Letitia James will hold a public hearing “focused on climate change, its potential impacts, and strategies and solutions for New York City.” The hearing will take place at Borough of Manhattan Community College in Tribeca.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at Spector Hall.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m., City Council Speaker candidates will participate in a forum hosted by Make the Road New York, El Diario, and Univision. The forum will be in Spanish, with English translation, and will take place at Make the Road in Jackson Heights, Queens.

The full City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, prefaced by a press conference led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Also at the City Council on Thursday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “requiring the department of finance to provide new homeowners with information about real property taxes and exemptions,” as well as a resolution “approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.”

At 3 p.m. Thursday, advocates will rally at Hunter College to demand free tuition at CUNY and a minimum salary per course of $7,000 for adjunct professors. The rally will take place on the day that PSC-CUNY’s contract expires.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Civic Hall and LMHQ will host the “Women’s Unconference,” discussing “innovations in women’s advocacy and female empowerment.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association, the Historical Society of the New York Courts, and the New York State Archives will host “Documenting Our Past: Great Documents of New York Legal History,” discussing “early documents of state importance that provide a window into New York State legal foundations.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, advocates will rally in Washington Square Park to demand that the (now former) police officers accused of raping a woman in custody face justice.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at MS 217 in Briarwood, Queens. City Council Member Rory Lancman will host and emcee, and the event will be held in collaboration with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, State Senator Leroy Comrie, and Assemblymembers Vivian Cook, David Weprin, Nily Rozic, Alicia Hyndman, and Daniel Rosenthal.

At 7 p.m. Thursday there will be a City Council speaker candidate forum in Brooklyn at St. Paul Community Baptist Church, with Rev. David K. Brawley, co-chair of Metro IAF/EBC, as moderator. Public Advocate Letitia James is co-hosting. Council Members Ritchie Torres and Robert Cornegy are confirmed.

Friday and the weekend
At 10 a.m. Friday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Judiciary will hold a public hearing at 250 Broadway in Manhattan regarding “Implementation of the State Budget on the Judiciary.”

On Friday night the City Council Speaker candidates will debate live on NY1 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump will be in New York City on Saturday for a fundraiser. Governor Cuomo will be at the Midtown Hilton at 11 a.m. to host an anti-Trump rally.

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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

Possible GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh Chances to Unseat Cuomo

gop governor candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Assembly Takes Stock of State Economic Development Programs Ahead of Next Negotiations

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Howard Zemsky in Buffalo (via Governor's Office)

Ahead of the 2018 legislative session, the New York State Assembly’s Economic Development Committee held a hearing Monday in Albany to evaluate the progress of the state’s multitude of economic development programs and hear testimony from companies and organizations that have benefited from state grants.

Taking center stage was Howard Zemsky, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development czar as president and CEO of Empire State Development, who defended the state’s jobs programs and was grilled for nearly an hour by members of the committee. Committee members, led by chair Robin Schimminger, a Democrat from Erie County, raised concerns about the effectiveness of Buffalo’s annual 43North competition and Regional Economic Development Council grants; lower-than-expected job production; and increased regulatory burdens on small businesses.

Cuomo has staked much of his legacy and devoted billions of state dollars to revitalizing the upstate economy. The state has infused $8 billion a year into economic projects since he took office in 2011, according to a Gannett Albany review. But as Cuomo’s economic development programs have multiplied each year, the Legislature has failed to pass any meaningful oversight measures to ensure transparency, that beneficiaries are meeting job creation goals, or that grants and incentives are going to well-vetted recipients. While some efforts, such as those aimed at farms and breweries, have been successful, others, like Cuomo’s Start-Up New York program, have fallen short of job creation goals.

At Monday’s hearing, Zemsky noted that upstate cities have seen a boom in tech sector jobs, which on average pay more than non-tech sector jobs, and touted a dramatic increase in venture capital investment throughout the state. The Empire State Development head said that ESD takes a “holistic” approach, pointing to the success of its downtown and waterfront revitalization efforts, which aim to attract a younger, more vibrant talent base, and investing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

He briefly defended the Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been accused of favoritism and conflicts of interests, and touted Buffalo as a success story -- a city that has been a major focus for Gov. Cuomo and transformed from a financially depressed post-industrial town to a vibrant hub of entrepreneurship.

“A lot of what we have done in Buffalo we have used as a template in many other parts of the state and I’m proud that we took some risks and took some chance,” said Zemsky. “Every year we improve and make adjustments.”

Schimminger cited an article noting that three-quarters of companies that are attracted to Buffalo by the 43North program have since left the city and inquired about whether the residency requirements, currently a year, could be extended.

“We’re only a few years into the program, but after every year the 43North board reassesses and reevaluates what went right, what didn’t go right, just like we do in government. Is it possible that we might change the regulations, that we might change the time frame? That’s under active discussion,” said Zemsky, noting that many companies retain active connections to Buffalo even after they leave.

Zemsky’s presentation rang hollow for at least one committee member, Assemblymember Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, who told Zemsky to provide hard data about the returns delivered by the state’s Buffalo investments rather than “offering platitudes.”

“Our job here is to draw a direct connection between what we are doing with taxpayer dollars to that renaissance and I’m not convinced you can do that,” said Walter. “If we could focus on that, rather than the platitudes, that would be great.”

Zemsky pointed Walter to ESD’s progress report, insisting the number of new firms has grown and jobs have dramatically accelerated in Buffalo, by “almost any metric,” particularly when compared to other struggling cities.

The conversation quickly turned personal, with Zemsky, who is a Buffalo businessman, accusing the Assembly member of opposing the state’s efforts to spur Buffalo’s economy, and demanding, “Do you go to any of the REDC meetings, do you know anything that is actually going on?”

At one point during the heated exchange about interpreting Buffalo’s jobs data, which Walter said mostly highlights low-skill jobs growth, Zemsky snapped, “You don’t know anything about the innovation economy.”

The biggest indicator of Buffalo’s growth, Zemsky pointed to the rise of the area’s millennial population over the last decade. “Turning the corner on that is the most important thing we can do,” he said.

After Zemsky, the Assembly panel was addressed by various industry leaders and experts, who described how programs like the Start-Up New York jobs program and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance (NYSTAR) have created or retained thousands of jobs and spurred both investment and innovation.

A representative of watchdog group ReInvent Albany then presented the positions of good government organizations, calling for the passage of a number of bills introduced in the Legislature last year, which would increase oversight of and transparency in the state’s economic development programs.

Among the legislative fixes proposed by Reinvent Albany and others is the creation of a “database of deals,” which would digitally list every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; a bill to restore the powers of the state Comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services; and campaign finance restrictions to curb the appearance or reality of pay-to-play politics.

At least two bills, including the database of deals and one requiring nonprofit organizations affiliated with government entities to be subject to the freedom of information law and the open meetings law, are sponsored by Schimminger, but did not make it to the Assembly floor. Legislation related to procurement reform appeared to gain steam early this year in light of a major bid-rigging scandal that will see close associates of and donors to Cuomo on trial for corruption in 2018, but nothing was passed as the Legislature acquiesced to the governor’s objections.

“The only thing the Legislature did do is write a check for $1.8 billion in the extender budget passed in April, a blank check granted by the Legislature to Governor Cuomo for economic development projects with no additional oversight,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany.

Schimminger welcomed Camarda’s comments, saying that  good government groups are “preaching to the choir” when they call for increased accountability and oversight.

“Not a single one of those bills that you mentioned have been blocked by the committee, in fact, many of them -- the database of deals, the Start-Up fix -- have come out of the committee but are delayed elsewhere,” said the Assembly member, referring to the fact that the legislation had been held up in other legislative committees.

The wisdom behind Start-Up New York, which creates tax-free zones for new businesses, local development corporations and other economic development programs is the finding that startups create significantly more jobs than companies that have matured 10 to 30 years and drive economic development. But critics say these programs continue to fall short of the job creation goals and many beneficiaries of these state incentives have failed to report on sufficient or any progress made through their grants.

Despite the fact that several members of Cuomo’s circle are set to appear in court next year for their roles in the bid-rigging scandal involving the state’s Buffalo Billion program, a second round of cash investment to the project was approved in this year’s budget, with no new accountability measures.

While Schimminger acknowledged these problems in his opening remarks, the hearing was primarily an information-gathering session, and those outstanding issues will be addressed during the next legislative session, he told Camarda. The governor will unveil his next executive budget in January, leading to months of negotiations and hearings.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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