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Yesterday the Campaign Finance Board denied $3.5 million in matching funds for John Liu's mayoral campaign, citing evidence of pervasive violations of campaign finance laws. It is largest penalty in the history of the program. Liu's lawyer called it a "death penalty." The campaign has already spent hundreds of thousands on legal fees and only has $1.5 million left. Liu argued that the irregularities were due to the make up of his donors, who are "overwhelmingly immigrant and first-time donors to any campaign." But a probe by the firm Thacher Associates found straw donors and other problems with the campaign's fundraising.

Other Stories We're Following

Court Strikes Down New York City’s ‘Prevailing Wage’ Law (NY Times)

City Asks Top Court To Review Big-Soda Ban (Wall Street Journal)

Reform Group Ponders Endorsement Of Former Benefactor (Crain's)

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Last-Ditch Effort For Campaign Finance Reform Fails in Senate 

Senate Democrats tried to bring a campaign finance proposal to a votethrough a hostile amendment last night but the measure failed. Republicans ruled the amendment not germane but Democrats requested a vote of the entire chamber to rule on whether it was appropriate. Thirty legislators voted to support the amendment. Those legislators included the four members of the Independent Democratic Conference who have come under attack by advocates for not bringing campaign finance to a vote. Sen. Malcolm Smith who last caucused with the IDC voted against the amendment. Smith is currently under indictment for fraud and bribery. Sen. Ruben Diaz, who conferences with Democrats, also voted against the measure. All of the Republican conference voted against the amendment. Democrats had a press release ready blaming the Republican/IDC conference for the amendment's failure but all of the IDC did vote for the amendment

Other Stories We're Following

Thompson to Unveil Plan for Housing Authority Today (NY 1)

Assemblyman Cut Off For Bringing up Lopez During Debate (Lower Hudson Journal)

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Cuomo to Investigate Legislature 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that he could not come to terms with the state legislature on campaign finance reform and anti-corruption legislation and as a result will empanel a Moreland Commission to investigate campaign finance practices at the State Board of Election. Cuomo has long threatened such a move but after a session marred by multiple indictments of sitting legislators on federal corruption charges, Cuomo pledged he is prepared to act. Cuomo said a deal with the legislature failed because he felt they wanted to police themselves. A Moreland Commission would not be able to prosecute legislators but could refer cases. "I want to restore a level of trust," said Cuomo. 

Other Stories We're Following

Teachers' Union Backs Thompson's Bid For Mayor (NY Times)

State Expected to Reduce Role of Long Island Power Authority (NY Times)

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By Maya Miller and Latima Stephens

As the budget dance enters its final steps, advocates still have some moves left for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

At least 200 adult literacy advocates congregated at City Hall Park today to protest cuts to at least three education programs. Joined by Comptroller John Liu as well as Council members Gale Brewer, Sara Gonzalez and Matthieu Eugene, those in attendance said they are in it for the long haul.

“It’s a fight every year to get the City Council and the mayor to work together to put funding back in the budget,” said Sierra Stoneman-Bell, co-director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition.

The most recent budget put forth by the Bloomberg administration would cut approximately $7 million from the adult literacy programs. As a result, the cuts would eliminate 7,000 seats saved for helping New Yorkers learn English, which those at the protest said is vital to their and their families' livelihoods.

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The state's ethics commission issued a report yesterday that not only detailed a torrent of inappropriate behavior by Assemblyman Vito Lopez but that tore into Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his staff for shielding the lawmaker. At one point after two women made sexual harassment complaints against Lopez the report states that Silver's office relocated the women to other positions which enabled Lopez to hire two more women who he also harassed. The report details Lopez asking a staffer to give him eye drops for pink eye, demanding staffers share hotels with them, forcing them to feel his tumors, looking for a large apartment in Albany to share with one of them and perhaps most shockingly Lopez demanded a female staffer continue massaging his hand after the woman told Lopez she was uncomfortable because she had been raped in college. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics' report was released after a special prosecutor found no criminal wrongdoing by Lopez or Silver. Lopez issued a statement saying he was under attack by people wishing to destroy him. JCOPE's report was released by the legislature after facing mounting pressure. Members of the legislature also tried to redact large swaths of the report relating to the performance of Assembly staffers during the matter. JCOPE, which has members appointed by Silver, did not authorize an investigation into the behavior of Silver and the Assembly in the matter. Yesterday, Silver's spokesman defended him in a statement and Silver renewed his call for Lopez to resign


Other Stories We're Following

Weiner Said to be Struggling to Find Campaign Staff (NY Times)

State Reviewing Pay For Fast-Food Workers (NY Times)

Judge Blocks City Plan For New Taxis (NY Times)

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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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The Senate elections committee will hold hearings on corruption in the New York City public campaign finance system at 11 a.m. tomorrow. Oral testimony is by invite-only, and it just so happens that a good number of campaign finance experts from New York are not welcome to speak.

Bill Mahoney, New York Public Interest Research Group's number-cruncher extraordinare, just happens to be one of those campaign finance experts.

"Oral testimony is by invitation only," Mahoney said. "I suppose they are not interested in hearing from actual New Yorkers who have been effected by the system. They just want to hear people criticize a system that works better than ours."

Members of some of the state's largest government watchdog groups wrote the committe chairs — Sens. Thomas O'Mara and Diane Savino — to ask to be allowed to testify but they were not allowed to give oral testimony. The groups include Common Cause/NY, The Brennan Center, Citizen Action New York and Center For Working Families. 

When asked about why good government groups were not allowed to give oral testimony, Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif replied:"I don't believe that is accurate. Dick Dadey, from Citizens Union, is on our confirmed speaker list."

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The campaign manager and a fundraiser of New York City comptroller John Liu were found guilty yesterday in a trial over illegal contributions to Liu's campaign. Jia Hou, Liu's campaign manager and Xing Wu Pan a fundraiser were found guilty in a scheme to use straw donors to with thousands of dollars in matching funds from the city for Liu's campaign. Hou and Pan were found guilty of wire fraud while Hou was also found guilty of obstruction of justice and making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Both face up to 20 years in prison and will be sentenced after the mayoral primary. Their attorney's say they plan to appeal. Liu is currenly running a campaign for mayor. Prosecutors portrayed the Liu campaign as condoing the behavior of Hou and Pan. Liu held an emergency press conference last night. Liu noted the investigation has been going on for 4 years and that his phones have been tapped. “They can look at anything and everything they want," Liu said. "I’ve got nothing to hide. I’ve got a clear conscious. And we are gong to present a very strong case directly to the voters of New York City.”




Other Stories We're Following

Bloomberg Unveils His Last City Budget Amid Race to Succeed Him (NY Times)

Business Owners Take Aim At Proposed Smoking Laws (NY Times)

Grieving Mother Tells of Son's Police Stop (NY Times)

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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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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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STOP-AND-FRISK ON TRIAL: A federal judge begins hearing key testimony today in a trial to determine whether the New York Police Department has been unlawfully targeting blacks and Hispanics with its tactic of stopping, questioning and frisking people on the street. The New York Times writes that the outcome "will help define the terms under which the department patrols large swaths of the city long after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg leaves office." The U.S. District Judge in the case, Shira Scheindlin, has expressed misgivings about the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactics (Bloomberg, The Associated Press).

LIU DECLARES: Comptroller John Liu (@JohnCLiu2013) officially declared that he is running for mayor on the steps of City Hall in front of hundreds of people Sunday. Striking a populist tone, the Democrat took aim at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's as beholden to the wealthiest New Yorkers. Liu defiantly cast the legal cloud surrounding an investigation into his campaign's fundraising as a result of his willingness to stand up to powerful interests. "When you go after powerful people and rich corporations, they're going to come after you," he said in his speech (Wall Street JournalThe New York Times, many others).

Other Stories We're Following

Cuomo And State Lawmakers In Deep Budget Talks (Capital Tonight)

State Senate Underdog Drives Campaign Finance Reform (Associated Press)

School Aid Could Be Restored Under State Budget (Gotham Schools)

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State Looks For Quick Action on Gun Laws 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to toughen New York's gun laws and according to The Times Union Cuomo wants to do it as soon as next week. A source told the times union that a gubernatorial aide presented Senate Republicans with a draft of proposed gun legislation on Wednesday but Republicans turned it down. Republicans deny turning down any legislation. A myriad of Assemblyman have confirmed they were asked to stay in Albany on Wednesday in case a special session came to fruition this week but now all eyes or on Dec. 28. Cuomo has said he will address the issue of gun violence in his Jan. 9 State of the State Address but with the action in Albany it seems like something could happen much sooner. Cuomo has said he wants to eliminate loopholes in the state's assault weapons ban. Meanwhile, the Times Union reports that the same venue Cuomo will give his State of the State address in next year will also scheduled to host a gun show two weeks after the speech




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Hypothermia, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning on the Rise


Following Hurricane Sandy the City has seen a rise in carbon monoxide poisoning and hypothermia cases due to city residents living in unheated homes, or simply living on the street. The New York Times reports that the number of cold-exposure cases tripled after Sandy as compared to the same time frame last year. The City Health Department issued a letter warning doctors and health care providers of the issue. Carbon monoxide poisoning was 10-times higher the week of Hurricane Sandy and continued at an elevated rate due to people heating their homes with unsafe alternative methods. The findings seem to give further weight to recent pleas from advocates for the city to deploy temporary housing in areas hard-hit by Sandy. 




In the Press...

Bloomberg Lobbies Washington For Storm Aid (NY Times)

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City Comptroller John Liu has issued this statement on his support of holding the New York City Marathon this weekend: 

Earlier this week, I stated support for keeping the New York City Marathon, which is a huge economic generator for the City, on schedule assuming that the City’s infrastructure would be able to support the race and New Yorkers’ safety can be ensured.  Unfortunately, it has become apparent over the last couple of days that there are still large parts of the City where recovery efforts are falling short, where fellow New Yorkers remain hungry and cold, and where there is now more and more looting. As I have traveled throughout the boroughs since Sandy struck, it has become clear that the Marathon would compromise the City’s ability to protect and provide for the residents most affected by the hurricane. Recovery efforts must come before the Marathon and it's time to re-evaluate whether the resources needed for the Marathon can really be spared on Sunday.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Julie Menin have both come out against holding the marathon this weekend. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended it. 

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Today's Lead Stories...

Council Hearing on Policing


The City Council held a 6-hour hearing on police tactics yesterday that focused on stop-and-frisk. Four bills were mainly at issue. One bill would require officers to identify themselves and provide their name and rank during stops. Another bill would require officers to inform suspects of their right to refuse a search. Another bill would establish an Office of the Inspector General to oversee the police department. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Chief Ray Kelly were not present at the hearing and they oppose the measures. Bloomberg's council Michael Best argued that the council does not have the legal authority to legislate police tactics. Council Speaker Christine Quinn declined to say whether she supports the package of legislation. 




In the Press...

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Members of the city’s Sikh community are calling on the New York Police Department to lift its restrictions on the type of turbans that officers can wear and the length of beards they can keep.

Sikh organizations held a news conference at the offices of City Comptroller John C. Liu today announcing an initiative to bring pressure on the NYPD to change their rules.

The NYPD currently allows Sikh officers to wear a dark-blue “patka” — a head garment commonly worn by younger male children of the faith — underneath their official police hats.

“I know lots of Sikhs who want to join the NYPD, but don’t because of this regressive policy,” said Prabjhot Singh Narula, the co-founder of the Sikh Coalition, in a statement.

Liu has said he would also petition the police to change the regulations.

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