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Mostly Questions and Criticism Ahead of Cuomo Email Summit

Cuomo Indian Point

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

On Friday - the Friday of Memorial Day weekend - Gov. Andrew Cuomo will host a summit on email retention policy. It is a much-anticipated meeting that a large number of key stakeholders don't see a need for, and it's unclear what attendance will look like in terms of representation from the major entities in state government being called together to agree on a uniform approach to keeping and deleting official emails.

Read more: Mostly Questions and Criticism Ahead of Cuomo Email Summit

Now Law, New York to Create City Cultural Plan

BdB Van Bramer Levin

Mayor de Blasio signs the cultural plan bill into law (photo: @JimmyVanBramer) 

New York may be the considered the country's cultural capital, but the city has never had a comprehensive plan to outline its immense cultural assets, identify areas of need, and chart a path forward. A new law, passed by the City Council and signed on Monday by Mayor Bill de Blasio, will change that.

Read more: Now Law, New York to Create City Cultural Plan

SAFE Act Haunts Movement on Gun Safety Legislation

students NYAGV

Student activists in Albany (photo: @NYAGV1)

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

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

Read more: SAFE Act Haunts Movement on Gun Safety Legislation

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, May 18

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

EMAIL SUMMIT ANYONE? The much-anticipated, long-awaited e-mail deletion policy summit organized by the Cuomo administration is set for Friday in Albany - will it happen? Will anyone go?

WAGE BOARD: Happening on a much faster timeline is Cuomo's new Department of Labor fast-food worker wage board - the first meeting is set for Wednesday. There are high hopes that this will soon lead to a higher minimum wage for all New Yorkers, not just fast-food workers, but it is unclear exactly where the panel's work is heading, other than that it is very likely there will be executive action on fast-food worker wages. There could, of course, be a new minimum wage deal before legislative session ends...

Read more: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, May 18

Next Steps for Two Soon-To-Be-Vacant City Council Seats

weprin ignizio

CMs Weprin, left, & Ignizio, right, are both leaving the Council (photo: William Alatriste)

City Council member Mark Weprin, a Democrat who represents part of Queens, announced on Monday that he will step down from his seat to join Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration as Deputy Secretary of Legislative Affairs, making him a key liaison between the governor and the state Legislature, City Council, and others.

Read more: Next Steps for Two Soon-To-Be-Vacant City Council Seats

At Chaotic Time, Cuomo Hires Weprin to Assist in Deal-making

mark weprin via alatriste

CM Weprin, right, has accepted a position in the Cuomo Administration (William Alatriste)

A legislature plagued by scandal; two new, inexperienced house leaders; a governor facing the lowest approval ratings of his tenure; and only a few weeks to get anything done. This is the setting for Mark Weprin's return to Albany, where he'll be tasked with fostering dialogue, brokering deals, and making progress in a new role.

Read more: At Chaotic Time, Cuomo Hires Weprin to Assist in Deal-making

Resolution Calls for Constitutional Amendment Negating Citizens United


Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)

City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, will introduce a resolution at Thursday’s full-body Stated Meeting calling on members of the United States Congress to commit to a constitutional amendment that would limit independent expenditures in election campaigns. It is a move aimed at reducing the “dark money” spent during political campaigns and to counteract the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United ruling.

Read more: Resolution Calls for Constitutional Amendment Negating Citizens United

Progressive Caucus Responds to De Blasio's Executive Budget

rosenthal and co 

CM Helen Rosenthal is a vice chair of the Progressive Caucus (@TenantPowerNY)

In response to his recently unveiled fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget, the City Council’s 18-member progressive caucus sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday outlining an eleven-point “advancement framework.” In the letter, which alternately praises the mayor and requests additional funding for specific priorities, the council members outline “legislative, fiscal and advocacy goals” for a “more equal and more just New York.”

The effort, in part led by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Progressive Caucus vice-chair, drew feedback from caucus members to identify where the mayor’s budget is in line with the group’s progressive agenda and where it still needs attention. “It is really the moral document behind the rhetoric,” Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette of the city budget in a Wednesday phone interview.

The council members, 18 of the body’s 51 total members, largely commend de Blasio for his executive budget, released last week, that focuses on tackling income inequality, particularly through commitments to housing, workers’ rights, and civil legal services. “On the whole there’s no question it’s a very progressive, very impressive, and fiscally responsible budget,” said Rosenthal, who is a budget expert and chairs the Council’s contracts committee.

But, Progressive Caucus members also pointed to certain priorities which complement the mayor’s own efforts and will be a part of budget negotiations over the next few weeks. “Some are smaller indications, some are bigger,” said Rosenthal. “But they all get to the same point,” she said, alluding to the work of "advancing opportunity for all New Yorkers," as stated in the letter, a copy of which was read by Gotham Gazette.

For instance, the letter applauds the mayor for redirecting $506 million to the New York City Housing Authority through 2019, and providing an additional $300 million in capital funds over the next three years. But the mayor’s rightsizing initiative has created the need for more resources for relocating families, they say in the letter. The caucus calls on the mayor to create a fund similar to the Council’s Moving Allowance Program that helps low-income tenants relocate. It also asks for more funding for Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) Alternative Enforcement Program that undertakes maintenance work on dilapidated buildings.

The mayor, in his executive budget, adjusted the income of 35,000 contract workers to provide them a living wage increase. The Progressive Caucus welcomed this measure. “The Caucus shares in your belief that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay,” reads the letter. Caucs members hope, however, that the mayor would expand this to all 125,000 city-contracted social service workers.

“The point that this document intended to make is that we’re not just saying it. We’re giving exact examples,” Rosenthal said.

Among the other allocations and initiatives the caucus praises in its letter are the $78 million commitment to mental health services; the $1.8 million increase for the Commission on Human Rights; $18.9 million for the municipal identification program, IDNYC; improvements in community safety; and the efforts to reduce homelessness.

Caucus demands are both targeted and general. Among other things, the members are pushing for increased funding for seniors; restoring $8.7 million for park maintenance employees and greater funding to the Green Thumb community garden program; money to provide six-day service in libraries; creating an LGBT liaison at the Department of Education; providing green education programs; increasing support to worker cooperatives; tackling viral hepatitis cases; addressing disparities in school athletic opportunities, particularly for young women and students of color; and increasing funding for the Office of Special Enforcement to tackle illegal hotels.

The letter also indicates the caucus’ disappointment for the lack of funding for oversight and protection against employer abuse. Earlier this year, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito  proposed the creation of an Office of Labor Standards for this very purpose.

Although Mark-Viverito has technically not signed the letter, the agenda laid out in the document is in line with the City Council’s preliminary budget response put out by Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras, and their fellow council members. Mark-Viverito was a co-founder of the Progressive Caucus with Council Member Brad Lander, but she has formally removed herself after becoming speaker. The caucus is currently co-chaired by Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Donovan Richards; Council Member Ben Kallos and Rosenthal are co-vice chairs. After outlining his executive budget last week, de Blasio is in Washington, DC and California this week talking about the fight against inequality in New York and nationally. He unveiled The Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality in DC on Tuesday with a large group of collaborators and co-signers.

Moving forward in the city, the final deatils of the budget will be worked out before the June 30 deadline, and Rosenthal said the progressive caucus will be asking detailed questions about where de Blasio’s latest iteration falls short and why. Publicly, these questions will be raised during the Council’s weeks of executive budget hearings set to begin next week. Following that, Progressive Caucus members will reconvene to give their input to the Speaker as Mark-Viverito works with the entire Council and negotiates with the mayor. 

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Overwhelmingly Passed Again by Assembly, Bill to Close LLC Loophole Appears Iced by Senate

squadron podium

Sen. Daniel Squadron (photo: @DanielSquadron)

On Tuesday the state Assembly passed a bill to close the controversial LLC loophole at the center of the federal corruption cases against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Both men - a Democrat and a Republican, respectively - were recently arrested and subsequently stepped down from their powerful leadership posts. Later in the evening Tuesday, the Senate’s version of the bill to close the loophole that allows money to flow unfettered into campaign accounts appeared to be dispatched by Senate Republicans in a bit of behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

The LLC loophole that allows individuals and corporations to donate unlimited amounts of cash to legislators has been treated by many as a political hot potato all year. It gained attention when Glenwood Management and its principle, Leonard Litwin, were connected to the Silver indictment. Litwin is the state’s largest campaign donor thanks to the many LLCs he controls and his tendency to donate large sums to politicians at all levels of state government and in both major parties. The issue flared up again after Litwin and his company appeared in the federal complaint against Skelos.

According to a study by Common Cause NY, Glenwood Management has given $12.8 million in political donations from 2005 to 2014, but only 10 percent of those donations actually came directly from Litwin or his companies. The rest of the donations were made by LLCs registered to Glenwood or listed at its address.

In April, Sen. Daniel Squadron, a New York City Democrat, used a parliamentary maneuver called “Motion for Committee Consideration” to force the Elections Committee to consider the bill. In an apparent move designed to avoid controversy, Republican Senators voted to move the bill out of committee without recommendation. Instead of being sent to the floor for a vote it was sent to the Corporations Committee. Squadron told Gotham Gazette at the time it appeared the Republcians had “used a loophole to kill an attempt to stop a loophole” because the Corporations Committee rarely meets.

The rules say that once a bill is referred to a committee it must be heard within that committee’s next two meetings, if they are held within the legislative session for which the bill is active.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Corporations Committee did indeed meet on Tuesday, only after the meeting had been rescheduled multiple times - its second meeting since the bill left the Elections Committee. The meeting was finally called to order in the evening after the day’s Senate session. Committees rarely, if ever, meet after session. In fact, Squadron said he couldn't recall a committee meeting being scheduled for after session during his seven years serving in the Senate.

The LLC bill was not on the committee's agenda despite Squadron’s insistence that Senate rules mandated it. Committee Chair Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer told Squadron that he had not received a letter requesting his bill be put on the agenda until just before the meeting.

Squadron said he indeed had notified the committee properly and that the request for consideration he filed with the Elections Committee should have ensured the bill was on the agenda. Republican counsel interpreted the rules differently saying that the motion did not mandate a vote in Corporations.

“I just got your letter. I haven't been able to digest your letter,” Ranzenhofer told Squadron. “Let me take look at it and decide whether it should be on the calendar.”

Squadron pressed Ranzenhofer on when the committee might meet next and if it is likely his bill would be on the agenda. “Actually, before this subject came up it was actually not my plan to have any more meetings,” Ranzenhofer responded and referenced the many bills that had already been considered during the meeting. With that the meeting was adjourned.

“Hope springs eternal,” Squadron told Gotham Gazette. “I have hope that the new leader will consider the importance of this measure,” Squadron said, noting that new Majority Leader John Flanagan had only been elected to replace Skelos the day before. Flanagan told reporters earlier in the day that he would discuss the loophole with his conference.

Barbara Bartoletti of The League of Women Voters said she wasn’t exactly surprised Squadron’s bill was not considered. “No one pays attention to committee meetings in the Senate,” she said, adding, “Most lobbyists don’t even show up because they are controlled by leadership.”

Consensus on ending the loophole has been elusive despite the headlines it has inspired.

Closing the loophole appeared to be part of budget negotiations, with Governor Andrew Cuomo saying publicly that he believes it should be closed, but it was absent from the final deal that was revealed to legislators minutes before they had to vote for it. It has been unclear if the governor, whose campaign accounts have benefited immensely from LLC contributions, has worked at all to move Senate Republicans toward closing the loophole.

In April, good government groups partnered with legislators to push the State Board of Elections to close the loophole that it had created through a 1996 ruling. The Board deadlocked 2-2, with both Republican appointees voting against a measure sponsored by the Democrats to consider limits on LLCs.

Also last month, the Senate Elections Committee referred Squadron’s bill to Corporations, where it appears it will die. There is no indication that the committee will meet again before legislative session ends in mid-June.

“They all benefit from this,” said Bartoletti of both houses of the Legislature and Governor Cuomo. “One of them will do something on it knowing the other will prevent real action.”

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, a New York City Democrat and sponsor of the Assembly bill to close the LLC loophole, acknowledged the fact that members of both political parties are beneficiaries in the status quo. “This is a non-partisan issue,” said Kavanagh. After his bill was passed by a whopping 120-8 vote in the Assembly, Kavanagh later issued a statement saying he hopes “The Senate will join us in enacting this, by passing Senator Daniel Squadron's companion bill."

In the news release celebrating the Assembly vote sent out by Speaker Carl Heastie’s office, Kavanagh is also quoted saying that "The LLC loophole is perhaps the most egregious weakness in our laws regulating money in politics. It has been the mechanism of choice for certain people to attempt to buy influence wholesale.”

For his part, Heastie stated, “Limits on political contributions exist for a reason...By treating LLCs the same way we treat corporations, we can create greater transparency and put an end to the use of multiple LLCs as a means of working around campaign finance laws.”

Good government groups issued a statement praising the bipartisan passage of the bill in the Assembly. “With the passage of A.6975-B, the Assembly has sent a strong bipartisan signal, and is taking an important step to uphold the public interest and rebuild confidence through the passage of one of many needed ethics reforms,” said the statement from a coalition of groups including The New York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause, The Brennan Center, Reinvent Albany and Citizens Union. “We encourage the Senate to follow suit and let New Yorkers know they are serious about addressing the pervasive culture of corruption plaguing Albany.”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

John Flanagan's Senate Campaign Finance: The Full Picture

Flanagan via Senate website

John Flanagan (photo: Senate website)

John Flanagan, Republican state Senator, is now Temporary President and Majority Leader in Albany's upper chamber. He replaces Dean Skelos in leadership following the fellow Long Island senator's arrest on federal corruption charges. With a nod to upstate legislators, Flanagan retains Tom Libous as deputy leader, despite Libous himself being under federal indictment.
In his new, higher-profile, more powerful leadership role, Flanagan will be at the table with Governor Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both Democrats, as all major policy decisions are negotiated. With increased power comes increased scrutiny - just after being elected to lead the Senate, Flanagan was asked repeatedly by reporters on Monday if he is under federal investigation. He indicated he is not. As both Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver were brought down by federal indictments related to financial matters, whether extortion, kickbacks, or other charges, the political finance network of John Flanagan is now more relevant than ever. While Flanagan last week quit his other job as a lawyer leading up to his Senate ascent, he has been in the Legislature for more than twenty years and has a long campaign finance record, both in terms of donations to his campaign accounts, and expenditures made by those accounts.
Here is a look at Flanagan's fundraising velocity across his career in the New York Senate, which he joined in 2003 after many years in the Assembly:
flanagan 1
Flanagan has raised $2,557,409.53 since 2000 (beginning in earnest with 2002, an election year). He had his biggest fundraising year in 2006. From 2002 through 2014, he collected an average of $196,362.27 in donations per year, in an average of 350 donor transactions.
Here are his top Individual donors (everyone who gave $5,000 and up, 2002-2014):
flanagan individual donors
His largest donor, Ronald Parr (whose business also appears on the next list, of corporate donors) describes his company as, "Headquartered in Ronkonkoma, New York, The Parr Organization has been a leading Long Island full service construction and development company for more than fifty years."
Burton Resnick is a real estate executive with Jack Resnick and Sons. Rod Brayman is President at Phoenix Beverages. Paula G. McInerney, Matthew Cody, Roger Hertog, and Bruce Kovner are all current or retired hedge fund managers.  
Sen. Flanagan's top Corporate donors (2002-2014):
flanagan corp
This list is almost entirely liquor- and beverage-related with a tiny touch of real estate and Up From The Ashes, Inc, which is associated with Rod Brayman (who is in beverages).
Between the use of multiple entities, and all the variations in how names are entered, identifying these relationships can be tricky. When special care is taken to review the diversely named enterprises of Leonard Litwin and Glenwood Management, $31,500 in accumulated contributions from these sources to Flanagan emerges. This means that while traditional methods implicate BOTTLEBARGAINS NORWOOD LIQUORS INC. as Flanagan's largest corporate donor, this honor apparently goes to Glenwood, instead. By comparison, Dean Skelos received over $110,000 from Litwin, while John DeFrancisco (across two committees) received $36,100.  
Sen. Flanagan's top Institutional donors (2002-2014):
flanagan institutional
Flanagan's chairmanship of the Education committee, at the very least, is apparent in the institutional donor list above. Otherwise, the major spenders in his world are the same as the rest of leadership, past and present. As senate leader, Flanagan will no longer chair the education committee, he has yet to name a successor.
Looking at Flanagan's campaign account expenditures show interesting data of how the senator has spend that money (again, 2002-2014):
flanagan expenditures
Like his Assembly counterpart, Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie, Flanagan appears quite comfortable putting massive expenditure on his American Express. At $115,025.96, that is where 4.49% of every dollar Flanagan raised actually went.  
Using information (unevenly supplied) in the memo column, it appears that most of this credit card money is spent on food and liquor, followed by gas and hotels. The rest of that lump sum is spent on late fees and interest payments to American Express.
Standing out from this list are Flanagan's campaign payments to Toyota Financial Services - presumably an auto loan - in the total amount of $32,817.90, so far. It would appear he is financing an automobile with campaign account funds. 
A common feature of leadership and putative leadership in each legislative chamber in Albany is being a net creditor to your party-conference organizations. While some tithes to parties are handled as expenditures, larger sums are often handled via Schedule H (transfers out). Here are nearly a dozen committees to which Flanagan transfered money (2002-2014):
flanagan transfers
The bulk of these transfers, to his party machine, were conducted in 2010 and 2014, while balance-of-power elections raged in his chamber. In 2006, the SRCC transferred $200,000 to Flanagan. He has since transferred $551,000 back. 

by Jon Reznick for Gotham Gazette
Data analysis performed using FTMSQL2 by Competitive Advantage Research, LLC

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