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Gov. Cuomo yesterday followed through on threats to establish a commission to investigate corruption in Albany after the legislature failed to pass any bills addressing the recent rash of scandals there. The commission will recommend cases against public officials and suggest changes to election and campaign fund-raising laws. It can issue subpoenas and examine witnesses under oath and it's slated to issue a preliminary report by year's end. Many of the panels members have ties to the governor. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Former Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau are special advisors to the commission.

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Other Stories We're Following

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City Finally Approved For .NYC Domain Names (Politicker)

Quinn Awards $210,000 To Nonprofits That Helped Her Campaign (Daily News)

Complaints Against NYPD Cops Mirror Stop-And-Frisk Locations (Daily News)

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Democratic State Sen. Kevin Parker, of Brooklyn, isn't interested in hearing about a dysfunctional Legislature mired in corruption and inaction. He's been busy introducing bills — lots and lots of bills.

Parker introduced 43 bills on May 16 — the Senate's last day of unlimited bill introduction.

The 43 bills run the gamut of legislative matters:

  • S.5442 would require the state parks commissioner to create a New York Abolition and Civil Rights History Trail.
  • S.5523 would create a pilot program for social impact bonds designed to lower recidivism in juvenile justice programs
  • S.5386 would require creditors to inform debtors that written communications are available in large print.
  • S.5446 would allow same day voter registration and voting.

Last month, Bill Mahoney of The New York Public Interest Research Group estimated that the Legislature is on track to duplicate their performance from last year when they passed the fewest bills two-house bills since 1914.

And Mahoney says that, as of now, the Legislature is still on pace to perform just as badly.

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The New York Times reported yesterday that a group of Assembly Republicans headed have called on federal prosecutors to investigate the "scandalous and allegedly criminal enterprises conducted by the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, and his staff."

The group wants an investigation into Silver's handling of sexual harassment cases over the years, including allegations against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

The letter, addressed to U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District, alleges: "Silver’s chief legal counsel and his deputy legal counsel violated the state’s sexual harassment policy by refusing to follow the mandatory reporting requirements with the Assembly Ethics Committee even though Silver and his staff originally drafted this compulsory rule."

A spokesman for Silver didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from the Gotham Gazette.

If Hartunian were to investigate, he wouldn't be the only U.S. attorney looking into Albany scandal. Preet Bharara, of the Southern District of New York, has more than a few Albany legislators running scared.

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Yesterday Con Edison revealed some of its first improvements to protect its network of equipment against flooding and storms as hurricane season quickly approaches. The planned upgrades are expected to total $1 billion over the next four years. To pay for it, the utility is asking for a rate hike that will amount to $3 a month per customer. Con Ed has been criticized for being understaffed when the storm hit and for handing out bonuses to executives for their handling of it. The utility is also planning to spend $1.2 billion this year on upgrades to prepare for the summer heat.

NEW IN GOTHAM GAZETTE: A Culture of Sexual Harassment In Albany?

Several lawmakers, longtime Albany political operatives, and former staffers say that there is a “boys' club” atmosphere in the capitol where women are pressured to go along to get along. They blame a failed system of protection for women from unwanted advances and inappropriate behavior from male superiors -- including outdated and sometimes confusing requirements for reporting sexual harassment that fail to provide the kind of safeguards that exist in the corporate world. By David Howard King.

Other Stories We're Following

Unions Say City Owes Billions In Back Pay (Daily News)

Army Corps Envisioned Hurricane Walls For NYC 50 Years Ago (WNYC)

Female Parks Department Workers Stripped For More Work (Daily News)

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The names of elected officials secretly recorded by disgraced ex-State Sen. Shirley Huntley will be revealed this afternoon, thanks to a judge's ruling. Nine were recorded and eight are under investigation. Six of those being investigated are politicians, including Sen. John Sampson, who was arrested earlier this week. One of the charges Sampson faces is embezzling $440,000 from sales of foreclosed properties, and this has revealed a flaw in the way foreclosed homes are being handled. State officials are now looking at how the problem could be addressed. Sampson had tried to plant a mole in the Brooklyn DA's office to find out if he was under investigation, but that mole turned out to be an informant. His arrest may further dampen Democrats' chances at controlling the chamber.

Other Stories We're Following

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Kimani Gray's Parents To File Suit Against City (Daily News)

Report Sees Widespread Mold After Sandy (The Brooklyn Bureau)

NYC Set To Pass Sick Days Plan (Associated Press)

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State Sen. John Sampson was charged yesterday with embezzlement, obstruction of justice, and lying to investigators. Among those charges, prosecutors accuse him of trying to get a list of cooperating witnesses in his case so that he could "take them out." He faces up to 120 years behind bars. Also yesterday, Assemblyman William Boyland was charged with mail fraud conspiracy - for the second time. In the past seven years, 32 state level officials have been snared in corruption cases.

Other Stories We're Following

New York City Gun Giveaway Planned By Armed Citizen Project (Daily News)

Use Of Stop-And-Frisk Drops By Half (Wall Street Journal)

Senate Confirms First Black Women On Top Court (Albany Times Union)

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More details have emerged from the arrest of State Sen. Malcolm Smith and Councilman Dan Halloran. Four local Republicans were arrested as well, including the Bronx party chairman and the Queens party vice chairman. Another worked on John Catsimatidis's campaign but has now been fired. All six were charged with wire fraud and bribery. The senator was also charged with extortion. The money from the bribes was to come from state funding secured by Smith for upstate developers - actually an informant and undercover FBI agent - who would then pay the GOP leaders. Halloran was using council discretionary funds. Smith had previously survived a series of scandals and Halloran was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. This is just the latest in a series of Albany scandals.

Other Stories We're Following

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With Legacy On His Mind, Mayor Adds 78 More Schools (NY Times)

Who Policies Prosecutors? (WNYC)

Push To Address Possible Danger In Smoke Detectors (City Limits)

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A delay in its bidding process has left the state's Office of Medicaid Inspector General without private investigators who do the foot work rooting out fraud and abuse. Without them, the state is failing to recover tens of millions of dollars. The investigators are usually retired detectives. Also, the office has weakened its in-house enforcement, leaving many cases without a primary investigator or supervisor assigned. Meanwhile, the federal government is asking the state to return a $27.4 million reimbursement to Washington. An audit found an "extremely high" incidence of billing errors for services for Medicaid recipients who were in a state rehabilitation program.

Other Stories We're Following

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In Reversal, Liu Opposes Inspector General For NYPD (Wall Street Journal)

Tax Rebate Details Emerge (Albany Times Union)

Offstage, A Proudly Brash Quinn Isn’t Afraid To Let Her Fury Fly (NY Times)

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State Senate Republicans agreed yesterday to a power sharing arrangement with five dissident Democrats led by Jeffery Klein. Instead of being run by a majority leader, the body will be led by a revolving presidency held by Republican Dean Skelos and Klein. Leaders of the GOP and the Democratic group would have “joint and equal authority” over bills, committee assignments, appointments and budget negotiations. Some legislation the coalition is likely to back includes a minimum-wage increase and more lenient marijuana laws. Mayor Bloomberg's spokesman called the coalition “an example of bipartisan cooperation at its best,” but some Democrats criticized the arrangement a "coup." The other four Democrats are Malcolm Smith, Diane Savino, David Valesky, and David Carlucci.

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Republican Assemblyman Steve Katz is circulating a letter to his colleagues asking them not to reelect Assemblyman Sheldon Silver as Speaker, a position Silver has held since 1994.

"Mr. Silver’s actions in covering the sexual improprieties of Assemblyman Vito Lopez with taxpayer dollars by means of the 'Miscellaneous Contractual Services' account go against everything that we should be united against in a bipartisan manner," Katz writes. "While we may disagree on how to govern, the people of the state of New York deserve to have an open, honest, and transparent government."

Jimmy Vielkind of the Times Union recently documented how Silver and Assembly Democrats dodged any fallout from the Lopez scandal during the elections and actually added seats to their super-majority. It seems unlikely that Katz' effort will come to much but it keeps the scandal alive just a little bit longer. The matter is still reportedly being investigated by JCOPE.

Here is the full letter Katz is circulating among Assembly members:

To My Colleagues in the Assembly:

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The Cuomo Administration plans to try offering cash bonuses to Medicaid recipients who get regular check ups. The incentive will initially target 16,700 people with health problems like diabetes and hypertension. Meanwhile, community health advocates in the Bronx say more jobs for the community could improve the overall health of the borough. Also, the Health and Hospitals Corporation's inspector general will make more records available to the public after it was exposed to have failed to follow up on hundreds of cases.

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State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says the M.T.A.'s finances have improved after years of crises thanks to increased ridership, higher tax collection, and cost-cutting measures. But he noted that fare hikes outpace inflation and financing sources for future projects remain unclear. The legal challenge to the payroll tax was also raised as a significant hurdle. Meanwhile, the state budget has generally stabilized from the recent past, when it lurched from multi-billion dollar crisis to crisis, he said.

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The state announced on Friday it would restart the regulatory rule-making process over hydraulic fracturing, pushing back a decision about approval into next year. This comes after the move to study fracking's impact on public health. The industry is worried Gov. Cuomo may not approve the drilling after all.

In the Press...

An ugly message sent on marriage vote (Albany Times Union)

State Senate Democrats to get campaign cash lifeline from teachers union (Daily News)

In Southeast Queens, epicenter of housing bust, holding onto homes still elusive (WNYC)

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The state's new property tax cap succeeded in its first year in holding average property tax growth to 2 percent – 40 percent less than the previous ten-year average, according to this report by Gov. Cuomo's office. Out of 3,077 local governments and school districts proposing a levy in the past year, the study found that 84 percent reported a levy within the capped amount.

Other highlights of the report include:
· 642 of 678 or 95 percent of school districts stayed within the cap.
· 1,944 of 2,399 or 81 percent of local governments that reported a proposed levy stayed within the cap.

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Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist convicted of bribery this January, is cooperating with authorities. It isn't known who he'll be giving information about to prosecutors. In six years, 27 elected officials have been been charged in scandals, and that number is expected to grow with Lipsky's help.

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State agencies are in compliance with an executive order that vehicle purchases be alternative fuel vehicles, but guidelines about when to use which type of fuel are lax, according to this audit by the state comptroller.

Starting in 2005, 50 percent of all new light-duty vehicle purchases were required to be alternative fuel, increasing to 100 percent in 2010. Between January 1, 2006 and June 6, 2011, the authority purchased 731 light-duty vehicles, including 594 alternative fuel vehicles. The authority was not in compliance with the Order in 2006, but was compliant from 2007 through 2011. The authority has not developed any policy or given guidance to its employees on when to use alternative fuel E-85 in its vehicles. As a result, fuel selection is driven by employee choice rather than authority direction. For the three divisions tested, authority employees at locations with E-85 pumps used E-85 between 30 percent and 60 percent of the time.