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Gov. Cuomo yesterday vowed to keep pushing his legislative agenda in face of "scandal mania." He's been using the recent wave of "quote, unquote scandals" to push ethics reform, but still wants movement on his other priorities, such as women’s equality, the creation of a local government panel, and casino gaming. He also blamed the press for letting scandals become all-consuming. Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos is using the investigations as a reason to oppose public financing, saying it will put public money into the hands of untrustworthy people. Cuomo yesterday revealed a proposal for one of his priorities, reforming the Long Island Power Authority, calling for a three year rate freeze and a takeover by Public Service Electric & Gas Co. of New Jersey.

Other Stories We're Following

City Board Of Elections Warns Of Mayoral Election Disaster (Daily News)

Advocacy Group Opposed To Flushing Meadows Soccer Arena (Capital)

Bloomberg Defends Queens Soccer Stadium (NY Post)

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The City's plan for spending federal disaster recovery aid has been approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The first $1.7 billion in federal funding will be released this summer. Most of the funds, $648 million, will go to repairing homes and strengthening them against future flooding. There is also funding for low income rentals subsidies, city infrastructure and loans for businesses. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and HUD secretary Shaun Donovan are scheduled to announce the plan's approval today at City Hall. Those looking for grants will be able to apply by calling the city's 311 help line or by going to nyc.gov.


Other Stories We're Following

Peralta Won't Comment on Legal Fees (Crain's)

State Senator Huntley Sentenced to a Year For Corruption (NY Times)

In Wake of Scandals, Cuomo Defends His Ethics Agency (Capital Tonight)

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Senate Republicans held a hearing today on the New York City public campaign finance system in what seemed as an attempt to beat back the push by a number of advocacy groups and legislators for the state to adopt a similar system. Things probably didn't work out as Republicans had intended.

Testimony was by invite=only and a number of good government groups protested their exclusion.

Outside the small hearing room, six Senate sergeants-at-arms guarded the doorway. The public was told there was no room for them and were barred entry.

"Let us in!" protesters shouted, the words thundering through the room from outside each time someone entered, causing consternation among speakers and legislators. Protesters discovered that the windows were open to the room and started their chant quietly outside the window. Some threw money and asked, "How much do you want to let us in? What does it cost?" Sergeants-at-arms were called in to drive away the protesters. They shut the window and eventually State Troopers responded.

The push for campaign finance reform has come as a slew of Demcoratic legislators have been arrested by federal authorities on corruption charges. But Senate Republicans continue to be the main benefactors of large corporate donations that are currently allowed in loopholes under current law.

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The 14-month wait for a new state inspector general is over.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Catherine Leahy Scott to the position today. Scott had been acting inspector general.

The vacancy at the IG's office was created when Cuomo appointed then-IG Ellen Biben as executive director of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics — a move that cause some to question whether JCOPE was actually independent of the executive branch. Biben worked for Cuomo during his time as attorney general.

It just so happens that Biben is now officially stepping down in her position at JCOPE to pursue work in the private sector. Biben's departure from JCOPE comes on the heels of the resignation of JCOPE Chair and Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore. DiFiore left to pursue her reelection bid.

JCOPE has had more than its share of troubles since coming into existence last year. Its biggest case so far has languished as its report about the Assemblyman Vito Lopez scandal has remained out of public sight thanks to a request from the Staten Island district attorney, who is reviewing whether to bring criminal charges against Lopez.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo's open.gov.ny just got a major data dump. The transparency section of the site has been updated with campaign contribtuion and expenditure records dating back to 1999, lobbying and enforcement data from the Joint commission on Public Ethics, attorney registrations as far back as 1898 as well as a log of state employee phone numbers.

"Today, we have added millions of records on campaign finance, lobbying, ethics enforcement, the state budget, and other information related to public integrity," said Cuomo in a statement. "It is another example of how the State is using technology to bring the people back into government – empowering voters, strengthening our democracy and promoting transparency and accountability in the Empire State.”

Cuomo touted his new open-date tool in his State of the State Address in January of this year and officially launched it in March. The Cuomo administration has been criticized for a lack of transparency. Cuomo officials have fought to keep some records from his time as Attorney General secret and Cuomo's promise to make his schedules public has been seen as incomplete by many in the press. The administration also keeps close tabs on press calls.

But a number of open data enthusiasts trumpted the latest data push from the administration.

"Credit Governor Cuomo for using the state's powerful open data website, Open NY, to make it easier for New Yorkers to find and use the state's wealth of information. Data set by data set, Open NY is giving New Yorkers a more complete picture of how our government works," said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, in a statement.

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Tagged in: Gov. Andrew Cuomo

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The state has reimbursed New York City $47 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved funds for the costs of a program that helped homeowners recover from Hurricane Sandy.

The Rapid Repairs program assessed damage to properties and provided eligible repairs such as restoring heat, hot water and electricity.

"I am pleased to direct these funds back to the Department of Environment Protection for the work that was carried out under the Rapid Repair Program, which was then developed by the State and FEMA into the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) Pilot Program for similar needs beyond New York City," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg used his statement on the reimbursement to rebuff criticism that the city should have provided temporary housing for people whose homes were too devastated to live in or whose homes were infested with mold. Rapid Repairs did not deal with mold infestation.

“Rapid Repairs – which restored heat, hot water and electricity free-of-charge – provided homeowners with an important head-start in the recovery process, which is still far from over," Bloomberg said in a statement. "As we continue the hard work of recovery and rebuilding, there is no doubt that helping people get back into their housing via Rapid Repairs was a better use of taxpayer money than a massive temporary housing program. I want to thank the entire team at FEMA who worked with us to make the program possible, and these reimbursements, along with the first round of Federal aid, will ensure the City can continue to address housing, business and infrastructure needs in the hardest hit communities.”

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The federal government has approved the state's plan for spending $1.7 billion in funds to help communities rebuild from Superstorm Sandy.

New York City is covered by a separate plan that officials say was submitted this week and will be approved soon.

Congress approved a plan setting aside $50.5 billion in Sandy relief for all impacted states. New York is expected to get around $30 billion of those funds eventually.

The state's plan provides block grant funds that are designed to be more flexible than other FEMA loans and insurance plans. "We got to communities and we say, 'You tell us what you need to restore your community,'" Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference earlier today announcing the federal government's approval of the state plan.

He was joined at the press conference by Shaun Donovan, the secretaroy of Housing and Urban Development, and Sen. Chuck Schumer.

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Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and his conference presented a package of reform legislation last week that includes creating a system to recall state officials. One thing that is not on the Republican's to-do list is public financing of campaigns.

"It is the same old, same old public financing pitch" Kolb said of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's plan for a public campaign finance system. "That idea is not going to happen upstate beause people don't want tax dollars going to campaigns."

Senate Republicans are also against public funding of campaigns and are holding a hearing in New York City in May to look at corruption in the system. The city's public finance system has been held up as a more ideal system by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Democrats.

When asked if he expected to hear stories about political corruption, Kolb responded: "I would hope so. This keeps being used as a model for reform, but we've seen that there have been problems. Look at John Liu and the irregularities with his fundraising, and he is using the public system. You also have the problem of having only rich people being able to run for public office. Bloomberg can write a check and go after a legisaltor who did something he didn't like. He can take the regular guy right out of the mix. So, I think we should have public hearings."

As for a recall system, Kolb says he does not think being able to recall officials will create instability in Albany or the need for more campaign cash. Kolb points out that 19 other states have the ability to recall officials, and around 12 legislators have been recalled in 36 recall elections that have taken place. The New York law would require a pettition with signatures equaling 20 percent of the voters in the official's last election.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended their temporary shelter assistance program for victims of Sany by 28 days at his request.

That means those displaced by Sandy can continue to stay in participating hotels and motels.

FEMA will call applicants who are eligible for the extension to alert them that their new checkout date is May 29.

Those displaced by Sandy can use the following methods to apply for assistance::

· Registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov;
· Registering via smartphone or tablet by using the FEMA app or going to m.fema.gov; or
· Registering by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362) (TTY 800-462-7585). For 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362.

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The long-vacant Kingsbrige Armory is again the focus of a redevelopment project designed to bring much-needed jobs and economic stimulus to the Bronx. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bronx officials announced yesterday that they have a deal with a developer to turn the massive ice center with 9 regulation ice rinks for skating and hockey and a 5,000 seat arena. The $275 million deal is expected to create 267 permanent jobs and 890 construction jobs. The plan will need approval by the City Council before moving forward. In 2009 Bloomberg and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. clashed over a proposal to turn the site into a shopping complex. Diaz and Bronx residents were concerned the project would create low-paying jobs and conflict with local businesses. The fight eventually spawned the city-wide push for the living wage. The developers of the ice center have signed an agreement promising to pay workers $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 an hour without, as well as giving Bronx residents hiring preference.


Other Stories We're Following

Cancer Rate 15% Higher Than Normal For 9/11 Responders (Daily News)

Petraeus to Join CUNY as Visiting Professor (NY Times)

New York City Storm Victims May Get Federal Reimbursement For Repairs (NY Times)

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The state ethics panel tasked with policing corruption in Albany has a new chairman.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has appointed Daniel J. Horowitz as chair of the Joint Commission On Public Ethics. He replaces Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who resigned and is preparing for her relection campaign in November.

The apointment of DiFiore, an elected official who raised compaign cash, as JCOPE chair, created a fair bit of controversy.

Politics on the Hudson pointed out that DiFiore's fundraising took off after her appointment as JCOPE chair. A number of those contributions came from elected officials.

A JCOPE spokesman told Politics on the Hudson at the time that they were vigilant about who they accepted cash from and that DiFiore would return money. “If someone raises something that gets by and it’s appropriate, then the money would be returned," the spokesman said.

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The Community Outreach Unit run by the New York City Council has served as a public relations machine and boosted the name recognition of Council President Christine Quinn thereby helping her mayoral bid according to The New York Times. The unit that has organized rallies and sponsored education fairs has a payroll that tops $1 million. Employees of the unit include a former Quinn campaign aide, a political operative from a union whose support Quinn has courted and a former spokesman for a Quinn ally. The employees have not been shy about their enthusiasm for Quinn. Quinn told the Times that she is "proud" of the unit. While a great deal of councilmembers interviewed by the times had no idea what the office did others said the office was designed only to serve Quinn.


Other Stories We're Following

Tough New Test Spurs Protest (NY Times)

Minor Parities Ramp Up Opposition Wilson-Pakula Act Repeal (NY Times)

City Opposes Bill Requiring Wheelchair Accessibility For New Cabs (NY Times)

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Just sitting down with my cup of New York State produced Chobani Greek lemon yogurt when up pops a release from the Cuomo administration announcing that New York is now the top yogurt producing state in the country. Huzzah!

New York officially overtook California as the top yogurt producer in the country this year.

As Cuomo points out, New York's dairy farmers are the reason for New York's yogurt domination and as both a connoisseur of yogurt and someone who grew up on a farm and surrounded by dairy folk I can attest that both yogurt and dairy folk are sometimes hard to please.

But Cuomo apparently delivered for both sects, promising during New York's Yogurt Summit to strip restrictive regulations on farms and provide more cash to help ensure that dairy farms do not taint local water supplies with waste runoff.

“The new New York State is a place where businesses can grow and thrive, and the fact that New York State is now, for the first time ever, the nation’s leader in yogurt production demonstrates that our efforts to open the state’s doors to business and grow the private sector are truly working,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Our state government is working closer together with the private sector than ever before, rolling back bureaucratic red tape and addressing the burdens that are facing job creators. With New York State officially being crowned Yogurt Capital of America, it is clear that our approach to growing the economy and creating an entrepreneurial government is paying off.”

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Tagged in: Gov. Andrew Cuomo

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Corruption in Albany Means Tons of Cash For Legal Fees

State officials have spent nearly $7 million of campaign cash on legal fees related to criminal and ethics investigations into them since 2004 an analysis by The Daily News and the New York Public Interest Group finds. Senate Democrats have proposed a rule banning legislators from spending campaign cash on legal fees. The analysis found that lawmakers have spent $2 million of campaign cash on legal fees in the last two years alone. That spurt is boosterd by former Sen. Carl Kruger who spent $1.5 million of his campaign cash on legal fees. Kruger is currently serving seven years in prison after pleading guilting to a number of corruption charges. Other major spenders are former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former Controller Alan Hevesi and Assemblyman Vito Lopez.


Other Stories We're Following

Senate Blocks Drive For New Gun Control (NY Times)

Cuomo on Background Check Defeat: 'Sad Statement on Power of Extremists' (Gotham Gazette)

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unveiled three new proposals to deal with corruption in Albany.

Cuomo's first proposal would create an independent enforcement arm in the State Board of Election that is overseen by Democrats and Republicans, who would be able to block investigations.

The governor said the BOE's enforcement has been "toothless," adding that the agency needs reforms "above and beyond this" but said an independent enforcement arm would be a good place to start.

Secondly, Cuomo proposed ending the Wilson Pakula law.

"You've heard of pay-to-play, this is pay-to-run," Cuomo said of the recent case of Sen. Malcolm Smith, who was arrested on allegations he tried to bribe his way onto the Republican line for New York City Mayor.

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Legislators returning from a spring break that saw the arrest of two of their colleagues on corruption charges find themselves in a new Albany where ethics reform is at the top of everyone's to-do list. And everyone has got a plan.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver unveiled his plan for public financing of campaigns today that includes six-to-one matching funds that would be paid for by taxpayers who opt in on state tax forms and with money recovered from securities fraud.

Silver's plan did not address the Wilson Pakula law that allows for cross-party endorsements. The law has come under scrutiny since state Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, was arrested on corruption allegations that he tried to bribe his way onto the Republican line for New York City Mayor.

The group that took perhaps the biggest hit from the recent scandal was the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference that had appointed Smith the chair of their five-memmber conference.

The IDC expelled Smith and, last Friday, issued its own campaign finance reform plans.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has named Tom Prendergrast as the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Prendergrast is filling a vacancy created by Joe Lhota who left to run for New York City mayor on the Republican ticket.

Prendergrast is a former MTA executive and has worked in transit for most of his career.

Here is Cuomo's statement on Prendergrast:

Tom Prendergast is a consummate public transit leader who is the ideal candidate to oversee the nation’s largest transportation system,” said Governor Cuomo. “The MTA plays a vital role in New York’s economy and the daily lives of the millions of commuters who use its services. Tom has vast experience in infrastructure and transportation and has spent years managing commuter railroads as well as New York City’s subways and buses. From the track bed to the budget to modernizing our system for the 21st Century, I can’t imagine anyone having a better understanding of how the region’s vast system operates and the challenges that it faces.

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Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn said yesterday that she wants the city to control the Metropolitan Transportation Authority which is currently run by the state. "The MTA chair is appointed by the governor. The mayor has a minority of the appointments on the MTA board. The majority of the new members are appointed by the governor and county leaders outside of our city," Quinn said. "This has resulted in an MTA that doesn't respond quickly enough to the needs of New Yorkers and the changing face of our city." Transportation advocates have criticized Quinn's plan. Quinn also said that by 2023 no New Yorker should have a commute of more than an hour in any direction.


Other Stories We're Following

Man Faces Hate Crime Charges in Brooklyn Burning Spree (NY 1)

New Yorkers Brace For Cuts to Unemployment (NY Times)

Cuomo's Re-election Machinery Already at Work (NY Times)

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Today's Lead Story

Weiner's Return?

Former Rep. Anthony Weiner's admission in a New York Times Magazine article that he is considering a run for mayor has jolted the current pack of candidates. Weiner has considerable baggage to overcome as he resigned from Congress in disgrace after lying about sending sexually explicit internet messages to women. Weiner's wife Human Abedin has remained supportive of her husband throughout the ordeal. Even Weiner's possible opponents acknowledge he is a shrewd politician who can run a serious campaign. Most major candidates gave statements that indicated they weren't particularly concered with Weiner's entrance into the race. Comptroller John Liu playfully welcomed Weiner but warned, "Just stop Tweeting."


Other Stories We're Following

Cuomo Blasts Washington's Compromise on Gun Control (Buffalo News)

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo fired the first salvo today in what he says will be an ongoing campaign against public corruption.

Cuomo was joined by a number of county district attorneys at a press conference at his Manhattan office today where he announced a push to create a "Public Trust Act" that would increase penalties for existing public corruption laws and establish three new criminal acts: bribing a public official, scheming to corrupt the government and failing to report corruption.

Legislators convicted of corruption charges would be banned from holding office and would not be able to do business with the state.

"The public expects honesty," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said at the press conference, "and it's time our laws caught up with reality."

Asked by reporters why his proposal didn't include giving more power to the attorney general to investigate corruption, Cuomo said that today's announcement was "step one."

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