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Buffalo Billion Trial Begins with Differing Portraits of Former SUNY Poly Mastermind


cuomo and kaloyeros walking

Gov. Cuomo & Alain Kaloyeros (photo: The Governor's Office)


Lawyers presented starkly different portraits of Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, in opening statements of his corruption trial at federal court in Manhattan on Monday. Critics say the case -- and the related trial of Joseph Percoco, a longtime aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo found guilty in March of taking bribes -- show the governor’s multimillion-dollar economic development projects were fundamentally corrupt.

Kaloyeros rigged bids for development projects to avoid losing his job, expand his influence, and gain a promotion, Assistant U.S Attorney David Zhou argued.

“Kaloyeros decided that the rules didn’t apply to him, so he cheated and he lied to get the results he wanted,” the prosecutor said as Kaloyeros, sporting a blue suit and stubbly beard, sat at the front of the courtroom.

On the contrary, defense lawyer Reid Weingarten sought to depict Kaloyeros as a visionary who had personal flaws but committed no crimes.

“In truth, he’s not a saint. He’s a very, very complicated guy,” Weingarten said, adding that Kaloyeros, a physicist, had “wrought miracles” launching major tech projects in Albany. “What this case is about is the desire of Governor Cuomo to bring [Kaloyeros’] miracle to upstate New York.”

Federal prosecutors say Kaloyeros schemed to make sure a nonprofit charged with overseeing a huge swath of Cuomo’s development projects favored companies run by major Cuomo donors -- Louis Ciminelli of Buffalo-based LPCiminelli, along with Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi of Syracuse-based COR Development. The executives, who are on trial alongside Kaloyeros, have also pleaded not guilty to fraud charges; Gerardi is also accused of lying to FBI agents. Cuomo is not accused of criminal wrongdoing, but critics say that the Democratic governor knowingly presided over programs with insufficient checks and transparency, pushing through state funding, stripping the Comptroller of audit powers, and empowering Kaloyeros and others to run wild while his campaign coffers filled.

The prosecution’s case appears to hinge in large part on emails between Kaloyeros and the developers that allegedly show they conspired to rig the bids starting in 2013. LPCiminelli won a contract for a solar panel factory in Buffalo, as part of the governor’s Buffalo Billion program, the cost of which eventually rose to $750 million; while COR Development won contracts for a $90 million manufacturing plant and $15 million film studio, the latter of which the state recently sold for $1 after years of floundering.

Prosecutors say Kaloyeros ensured inclusion of measures like requiring the winner of the Buffalo request-for-proposals (RFP) to have 50 years of experience in an effort to ensure LPCiminelli would be the only company to even qualify to bid. In one email, he allegedly promised to “fine tune the development requirements” to guarantee only LPCiminelli could win, Zhou said on Monday.

However, Weingarten argued that emails between Kaloyeros and his client were perfectly legal.

He said for a nonprofit like the one doling out the upstate development grants, called Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, “the procurements can be any way you want them to be.” Weinstein added that the RFPs in the Kaloyeros case followed all procurement rules set by the federal government, Albany, and SUNY, which helped oversee the projects.

While Zhou highlighted Kaloyeros’ use of his personal email address instead of his SUNY account -- instructing one of his alleged collaborators, “please gmail, not email” -- Weinstein seemed to shrug off the matter.

It's "almost a sport in New York State government to put things on your private email so reporters can't get them,” the defense lawyer said.

Monday’s opening statements suggested the role of Todd Howe will be another turning point in the case.

Kaloyeros hired Howe, an Albany lobbyist and longtime member of Cuomo’s inner circle, to help work on the development projects -- and, prosecutors say, maintain friendly ties with Cuomo. Howe made a plea deal with the government, but is not expected to testify in the Kaloyeros case after he was arrested on new charges in the middle of the Percoco trial, where he was the government’s star witness.

Prosecutors say Howe helped Kaloyeros transform a SUNY college for nanotechnology into the sprawling SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, where Kaloyeros launched an array of ambitious public-private tech partnerships in addition to the LPCiminelli and COR Development projects.

“Kaloyeros developed a strong relationship with the governor’s office after he hired a lobbyist named Todd Howe for SUNY,” Zhou said. “Howe was the key to the governor’s office.”

Weingarten and the other defendants’ lawyers assailed Howe’s credibility. “He was a master criminal,” Weingarten said of Howe. “He deceived virtually every relevant person in this courtroom.”

Lawyers for Aiello, Ciminelli and Gerardi echoed Weingarten’s lines of reasoning. Discussing Aiello and Ciminelli, Aiello’s attorney Steve Coffey said they “hardly knew each other in 2013.”

“What they have in common is they’re developers. And they’re Italian,” though he said no more about their heritage.

Cuomo previously said Percoco, who was found guilty of taking bribes in exchange for preferential treatment for developers, was like a brother. And the Kaloyeros trial centers on the governor’s most vaunted development programs -- Cuomo regularly heaped praise on Kaloyeros and ensured that he had a great deal of power. But prosecutors have not implicated Cuomo in any of the alleged crimes.

However, his political opponents were quick to link him with the Kaloyeros trial on Monday.

Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, referenced the trial repeatedly as she unveiled a campaign finance reform agenda from the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, where Cuomo had promised eight years ago to clean up state government.

“Despite others’ attempts to politicize, the US Attorney and Judge have repeatedly said that campaign contributions were not unlawful and were not part of the alleged criminality,” Cuomo campaign spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in an emailed statement.

“Cuomo has enabled individuals who think that they must peddle influence and peddle resources and sell out New Yorkers to the highest bidder,” Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, said outside the federal courthouse during a morning press conference.

Zephyr Teachout, who previously ran against Cuomo for governor and is now running for attorney general, spoke to reporters just ahead of Molinaro.

“This trial illustrates that we have an underlying corruption and ethics emergency in New York State,” she said. “This trial shows the ways in which corruption impacts people’s lives.”

Asked for comment on the trial, the campaign of New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who is also running for state attorney general but is aligned with Cuomo, issued a statement touting James’ past anti-corruption work.

“Any act of corruption in government betrays the people of the state of New York and cannot be tolerated,” James spokesperson Delaney Kempner said in the statement. “As Attorney General, Tish will deploy the full arsenal of weapons at her disposal to fight corruption and will never shy away from tackling illegal behavior in government.” The statement did not directly address the Kaloyeros case.

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 18


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

The final three scheduled days of this year’s legislative session in Albany are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week. Will there be the annual “big ugly” mash-up of compromise policy passed on the final night of session? Stay tuned.

There are not very many issues that appear close to a compromise among Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, the Democrat-led Assembly, and the Republican-led Senate. But, most years the parties come to some agreement on a few big-ticket items. This year that could include sports gambling, decoupling teacher evaluations from student test scores, school area speed cameras, economic development transparency, criminal justice reform, gun control, and/or a handful of other items. Most signs have pointed to a limited, if any, big ugly, but machinations in Albany are difficult to predict, other than knowing that the details of whatever is passed will most likely not be given the proper public discussion or review before legislators vote it through.

As is the case every two years when the entire Legislature is up for election, but even more so every four years when the statewide positions are on the ballot, like this year, the session is clouded with political considerations. Senate Republicans, hoping to keep their one-seat majority through the fall elections, have little reason to say “yes” to anything that Democrats want. The ongoing saga of corruption trials involving state government also continue as a backdrop to government business this week.

Also this week: we’re hitting one week until the congressional primaries in New York. There are a handful of primaries in New York City where incumbents are facing spirited challenges. The most-watched primary is of course centered on Staten Island, where incumbent Republican Representative Dan Donovan is being challenged by former Representative Michael Grimm. The Democratic primary in that race, NY-11, is also worth watching, as the general election will be an important race in the larger picture whereby Democrats are trying to flip enough seats in New York and beyond to take control of the House of Representatives.

Several other city races on the Democratic side are interesting, and though incumbents are heavily favored, several -- like Reps. Joe Crowley, Carolyn Maloney, and Yvette Clarke -- have had to sweat more this year than in past cycles.

And there are of course primaries outside the five boroughs worth watching as they set the stage for key swing district general election battles.

Additionally on the elections front, we are of course continuing to watch the races for those statewide seats: governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general. Cynthia Nixon appears to have lost some momentum in the Democratic primary challenge to Gov. Cuomo -- can she regain some? What are the Democratic candidates for attorney general -- Letitia James, Zephyr Teachout, Sean Patrick Maloney, Leecia Eve -- doing to differentiate themselves and to introduce themselves to the many New York voters who don’t know them well? How is fundraising and ballot signature petitioning going for candidates?

We spoke at length with incumbent Democratic Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul this past week -- listen to the conversation: Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

And we spoke with Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro about his developing campaign platform, which is still devoid of most details but coming into somewhat sharper focus: On Taxes, the MTA & More: Molinaro Discusses Developing Campaign Platform.

As for city government, on Friday Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that this coming week he and NYPD officials will be announcing the results of the department’s 30-day review of its marijuana policing practices. It’s not yet clear which day that will occur. And, there are two more meetings of the mayor's charter revision commission this week.

There’s also a variety of City Council hearings this week and the usual bunch of singular panel and other events to be aware of -- see the 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:

Monday
At 6 a.m. Monday morning Mayor de Blasio will make a taped appearance on NPR's Morning Edition. In the evening, the mayor will make his usual weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall, in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany, the first of the final three scheduled days of the session.

At the City Council on Monday: The Committee on Civil and Human Rights will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “protections for workers under the city’s human rights law” and “prohibiting retaliation against individuals who request a reasonable accommodation under the
city’s human rights law.”

The corruption trial of former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, for bid-rigging, bribery, and other charges related to his work in Governor Cuomo’s signature Buffalo Billion economic development program, will begin on Monday in Manhattan.

Democratic attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout and Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro are both holding morning press conferences outside the federal courthouse. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon will present her campaign finance reform agenda at a press conference at Tweed Courthouse at noon.

And, at 12:15 outside the federal courthouse, “Government and budget watchdogs highlight corruption risks identified by bid rigging trial and call on the Assembly to stop stalling and pass transparency and accountability bills already passed by the state senate, and supported by state comptroller and over twenty prominent NYS organizations.” Participants will include Citizens Budget Commission, Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, Fiscal Policy Institute, and Reinvent Albany.

At 9 a.m. Monday, New America will host “2020 Census: A Tech Revolution or Risk” at NYU Law School’s Greenberg Lounge. Topics of discussion will include whether issues such as a citizenship question and a digitally-based census will lead to lower turnout among minority populations. Speakers will include U.S. Reps Adriano Espaillat and Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Joe Salvo of the Department of City Planning, and Steve Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition, among others. Dr. Christina Greer of Fordham University will moderate.

At 11 :15 a.m. Monday, "Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Rallies to Pass Red Flag Gun Protection Bill" at Nottingham High School in Syracuse.

On Monday at 12:30 p.m. in Bay Ridge, "members of the de Blasio Administration, elected officials and street safety advocates will gather at P.S. 264 Bay Ridge Elementary School for the Arts to urge for the passage of A7798C/S6046C, a bill that would preserve existing speed cameras near school zones while also expanding them to additional, high priority school zones where speeding is prevalent. Currently, A7798C/S6046C has bipartisan support in the state Senate and 33 co-sponsors. The bill has yet to reach the floor for a vote where only 32 votes are needed to pass any given bill. A7798C/S6046C passed the Assembly overwhelming in June 2017." Participants will include James P. O’Neill, Police Commissioner; Elizabeth Rose, Deputy Chancellor, Department of Education; Dr. Oxiris Barbot, First Deputy Commissioner, NYC Health Department; Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams; City Council Member Justin Brannan; Patrice Edison, Principal, P.S. 264; Zaman Mashrah, P.S. 264 Parent and Advocate; and Adam McLeer, Families for Safe Streets.

At 1 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will speak at a rally calling for the immediate release of Pablo Villavicencio, at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan. At 7 p.m., Johnson will attend the LGBT Center Garden Party, at Hudson River Park, Pier 84.

On Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver graduation remarks at three schools in Brooklyn: P.S. 279 Herman Schreiber; P.S. 198 Magnet School of Applied Learning in Arts & Engineering Graduation; and I.S. 340 North Star Academy Graduation.

On Monday at 1 p.m. at City Hall, family members of individuals killed by members of the NYPD and others will rally “to demand action from Mayor de Blasio” on police “accountability and transparency” for the officers who killed Eric Garner, Delrawn Small, Saheed Vassell, and others. Ralliers will call for “firings and release of information.” Participants will include Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Victoria Davis and Victor Dempsey, sister and brother of Delrawn Small; Eric Vassell, father of Saheed Vassell; other family members; City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Brad Lander; Communities United for Police Reform; Brooklyn Movement Center; Justice Committee; Picture the Homeless; and others.

On Monday afternoon, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will deliver brief remarks at the NYC Teaching Fellows welcome event.

On Monday at 5:30 p.m., Public Advocate Letitia James will deliver remarks at the Project FIND annual gala, at Fifth Ave Presbyterian Church.

Tuesday
At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, "On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner O’Neill will hold a media availability on marijuana enforcement. This event is open press. There will be Q-and-A." It will be held at the Thomas Jefferson Recreation Center. "Later, the Mayor and First Lady McCray will deliver remarks at the Parent Leaders Reception at Gracie Mansion. This event is closed press."

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Veterans will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “benefits counseling services for veterans,” “creating veterans resource centers,” “the creation of a veterans resource guide,” and “peer support services for veterans.”
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon
--The Committee on Sanitation will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “reducing permitted capacity at putrescible and non-putrescible solid waste transfer stations in overburdened districts.”
--The Committees on Governmental Operations and Women will meet jointly at 1 p.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to childcare, including laws related to lactation accommodations, diaper provisions, “providing on-site childcare for city employees,” and “permitting the use of campaign funds for certain childcare expenses.” Before the hearing, at 11 a.m., Public Advocate Letitia James will host a rally outside of City Hall "in support of on-site child care for municipal employees."
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

The retrial on federal corruption charges of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will begin on Tuesday in Manhattan.

"On Tuesday morning, First Lady McCray will host the City’s third annual “Baby Shower” event for incarcerated mothers and their families at Rikers Island. NYC Baby Showers are a part of the NYC Children's Cabinet Talk to Your Baby campaign...Later, the Mayor and the First Lady will deliver remarks at the Parent Leaders Reception at Gracie Mansion. This event is closed press."

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will lead two rallies Tuesday to pass the "red flag gun protection bill": at 10 a.m. at North Babylon High School and at 11:45 a.m. at Springfield Gardens Education Campus. And at 7 p.m., Hochul will recognize honorees at the NOW NYC Women of Power & Influence Awards.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, City Planning Commission Chair Marisa Lago will deliver keynote remarks at the Citizens Budget Commission’s Trustee Breakfast at the Harvard Club. “Topics for discussion will include the decennial census, zoning initiatives, and resiliency planning.”

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the League of Women Voters “will present its 2018 Distinguished Service Award to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide,” “at the League’s annual awards breakfast at the Roosevelt Hotel.”

"Senators Fred Akshar, George Amedore, and Chris Jacobs, co-Chairs of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, will hold a press conference on Tuesday, June 19th at 10 a.m. in Room 124 of the Capitol to announce funding for jail-based substance abuse treatment services. They will be joined by representatives from the New York State Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors, the New York State Sheriffs' Association, the New York State Association of Counties and several local County Sheriffs."

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Charter Revision Commission empaneled by Mayor Bill de Blasio will hold an issue forum regarding community boards and land use at the Pratt Institute. Comptroller Scott Stringer will be among those to testify.

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

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, JustLeadershipUSA will hold a demonstration at Foley Square as part of a statewide day of action to protest against the state’s bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws, and inaction on ameliorating the issues with those.

Also at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Stringer will host LGBTQ+ Pride Celebration Honoring the Fab 5 from Netflix’s Queer Eye, at Macy’s Herald Square.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Sexual Harassment Working Group will host “Fixing Albany’s #MeToo Problem: What’s Next?” at the Cooper Union in Manhattan. The group, consisting of seven women who experienced sexual harassment as staffers at the State Legislature, “will be releasing policy recommendations created after extensive dialogues with advocates and experts.” Panelists include Danielle Bennett, former administrative assistant to Assemblymember Micah Kellner; Elizabeth Crothers, former Assembly legislative aide; Leah Hebert, former Chief of Staff to Assemblymember Vito Lopez; Eliyanna Kaiser, former Chief of Staff to Kellner; Tori Burhans Kelly, former legislative aide to Lopez; Rita Pasarell, former legislative counsel to Lopez; and Erica Vladimer, former counsel for the IDC. The discussion will be moderated by strategist and columnist Alexis Grenell.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Implementation of Raise the Age: Challenges and Opportunities.” Speakers will include Martin Feinman of the Legal Aid Society, Felipe Franco of the Administration for Children’s Services, Faith Lovell of the Office of Corporation Counsel, Judge Edwina Mendelson, Gineen Gray of the Department of Probation, Nitin Savur of the Manhattan DA’s office, and Lisa Schreibersdorf of Brooklyn Defender Services.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, NY1 will host U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke and challenger Adem Bunkeddeko for a Democratic primary debate for the 9th Congressional District.

Wednesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday. This is the final scheduled day of the 2018 legislative session.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Hospitals and Mental Health will meet jointly at 1 p.m. at the Metropolitan Hospital Center on the Upper East Side for an oversight hearing regarding “the future of psychiatric care in New York City’s hospital infrastructure.”
--The Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “New York City’s emergency planning for coastal storms,” as well as to discuss a proposed law relating to “the use of outdoor residential fire pits.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the MTA will hold its monthly board meeting.

This week’s Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits will be recorded and published Wednesday, featuring scholar and columnist Nicole Gelinas discussing the latest on the MTA.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Statewide Local Development Corporation will hold a board of directors meeting at Empire State Development in Murray Hill.

At noon Wednesday, the Drug Policy Alliance and other advocates will gather at the City Hall steps to call on Mayor de Blasio to completely end the policing of marijuana, with no exceptions, and for other agencies “to address the harms caused by past arrests and adopt policies to align with the marijuana policy shift.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will meet at Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Economic Development and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing “assessing the zoning and financial incentives of the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health programs.”
--The Committee on Aging will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “senior center model budgets.”
--The Committee on Justice System will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “addressing the opioid crisis in criminal court.”
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “prohibiting single-use plastic beverage straws and beverage stirrers,” “allowing restaurant surcharges,” and “applications for retail dealer licenses for sale of cigarettes or tobacco products.”
--The Committees on General Welfare and Contracts will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “model budget for human services contractors.”

This week’s What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, hosted by Ben Max and Maria Doulis, will be recorded and published on Thursday and will feature New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

At 1 p.m. Thursday, the Charter Revision Commission empaneled by Mayor de Blasio will hold an issue forum regarding civic engagement and independent redistricting at NYU’s D’Agostino Hall.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will host an “ABNY Talk” on “Human Services and Unions” at LMHQ in the Financial District. Two talks will be presented: the first on “understanding human services in NYC,” delivered by former Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli; and the second on “the evolution of labor’s role in NYC,” delivered by Alan van Capelle, President of the Educational Alliance and formerly of 32BJ SEIU.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

***
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
@GothamGazette

Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul


mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


June 14, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul

kathy hochul 277

Kathy Hochul is in the fourth year of her first term as lieutenant governor, and, running alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo, seeking another term this fall. She's facing a primary challenge, however, from City Council Member Jumaane Williams. As she runs for reelection (the lieutenant governor and governor run separately in the primary but as a ticket in the general election), Hochul is touting the strength of her record as part of the Cuomo administration. She joined the podcast to discuss her background, the administration's work, especially in economic development, which she has a significant role in, the revitalization of Buffalo, which is in the congressional district she briefly represented in the House of Representatives, and much more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

On Taxes, the MTA and More, Molinaro Discusses Developing Campaign Platform


marc molinaro launch

Marc Molinaro (photo: Ben Max/Gotham Gazette)


Ask Marc Molinaro about nearly anything, and the Republican nominee for governor will likely bring the conversation back to property taxes and affordability.

“My focus, ultimately, will be to drive down costs on middle class New Yorkers,” he said in a Wednesday interview with Gotham Gazette. “That focus, again, has to be on property taxes because New York, unlike every other state in America, forces more of its state spending on property taxpayers. Property taxpayers -- small tax base; large, acute burden on individuals with no respect to their ability to pay.”

Molinaro, currently Dutchess county executive, has repeatedly sounded the theme since formally launching his bid for governor April 2. While he has largely spoken in sweeping generalities -- promising “bold” proposals to come during his nomination acceptance speech at the May 23 state GOP convention -- details are starting to emerge.

Molinaro said that in addition to making the state’s 2-percent cap on annual property tax increases permanent, he would seek to phase out the so-called “millionaires tax” if elected. The income tax rate for the top bracket -- which includes individuals making $1 million or more and couples earning $2 million or more per year -- went from 6.85 to 8.82 percent in 2009, and has been extended by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and a Legislature where each house is controlled by one of the two major parties.

“I would seek to have it expire over time,” Molinaro said of the millionaires tax. “I do think that there’s a way to make taxation in the state a bit more respectful of those who can’t afford it.”

He said he will release a detailed tax plan in the coming months. While Molinaro, like many other New York Republicans, has opposed the new, GOP-led federal tax overhaul because of its cap on local deductions, he has said New York must now work even harder to bring down the tax burden on its residents. He has also stressed that the state must reduce its burdens on localities -- often in the form of unfunded mandates -- so that counties, cities, towns, and villages can lower their taxes.

Molinaro, 42, has spent his entire career in politics, including terms as a member of the state Assembly and as mayor of Tivoli, where he became the youngest mayor in the country at age 19. He’s claiming the mantle of a regular New Yorker who gets the working and middle classes, comparing himself favorably to Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon, each of whom has much more wealth and fame. Molinaro’s tendency to talk at length about poor and struggling families in personal terms occasionally makes him sound more like a progressive Democrat than a fiscally conservative Republican.

“As a kid, I grew up on food stamps. I’m very sensitive to how the state treats those who are on the lower end of the income scale, living maybe in poverty or subsidized housing,” he said. During his nomination acceptance speech he raised his voice in declaring the he would “not concede compassion to anyone.”

He has made the state’s struggling dairy industry something of a focus. He allocated $651,781 of Dutchess County’s 2017 budget to protecting two farms there. He has been photographed hanging out in stables and often tweets about dairy. “Dairy day. I love dairy day. I miss dairy day. I should come back to Albany for dairy day,” he posted on Twitter earlier this month, in lighthearted fashion, while he has also tweeted about serious policy to help dairy farmers survive, such as through reducing regulations and taxes.

On the state’s minimum wage law, Molinaro voiced opposition to the recent increases. In 2016, Cuomo and state legislators reached a deal raising New York City’s minimum wage to $15 by the end of this year, with slower hikes in other parts of the state.

The Republican candidate, who also has the Conservative and Reform Party nominations, said he opposed the deal at the time and thinks the minimum wage “should be indexed to ebb and flow with the cost of living.”

“I also don’t necessarily agree that an unelected board of individuals should be able to establish statewide policy,” he added, in reference to the wage board that Cuomo had empaneled to help him craft the policy before he pushed it through the legislative process. “Those are decisions that ought to be made by citizens and their representatives.”

Asked whether he thought the state’s minimum wage should be lowered given broad economic growth, Molinaro replied with a laugh, “I’m not going to go there.”

The MTA is another area where Molinaro said he will roll out detailed proposals.

He said his priorities would be “depoliticizing” the authority’s board by giving members the power to fire the chair, currently Joe Lhota, along with conducting a thorough review of the MTA’s assets and creating a “road map” to improve service.

“Like Joe Lhota or not, the governor has too much influence,” Molinaro said, nodding to the fact that the governor nominates the MTA board chair, as Cuomo did with Lhota. “Far too many decisions are made without input from the MTA board…I would absolutely want to empower the MTA board to be able to fire the head of the MTA.”

Molinaro’s county includes the far reaches of the MTA transit system, and he is one of the executives empowered to jointly appoint an MTA board member. He often says that Dutchess is where “upstate meets downstate” and has joined the chorus of candidates and others criticizing Cuomo’s management of the MTA, especially the New York City subway system.

Molinaro did not comment, when asked, on MTA NYC Transit President Andy Byford’s new plan to fix service. He mostly spoke in broad terms about the MTA’s problems -- decrying its “ineffectiveness and erosion” -- but singled out service for people with disabilities as a priority.

“The fact is that if you are living with a disability or particular challenges -- special needs -- we don’t have adequate access, and that needs to be a priority regardless of where you live,” Molinaro said.

That belief connects to an initiative Molinaro launched in Dutchess -- which he made a point to again emphasize during the interview -- to improve services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program, called ThinkDIFFERENTLY, has featured events connecting people with disabilities with service providers and aims to help them develop job and life skills.

Molinaro said the program -- which has caught on in dozens of other localities -- would provide a paradigm for how he approaches disabilities as governor. Molinaro, whose daughter is autistic, often cites his experience as a father when discussing the issue.

“Whether it’s making the investments necessary to break down physical barriers -- making subway stops and platforms accessible -- or it’s saying to job creators, you need to do more to encourage employment for those living with disabilities or welcome those with special needs as consumers,” he said, “we need to educate and then we need to ensure that the system is easier to navigate.”

As might be expected for a relatively unknown Republican challenging a two-term Democratic governor in New York, Molinaro has trailed Cuomo in early polls. A Siena College poll released Wednesday, about five-and-a-half months before Election Day, showed Cuomo ahead of Molinaro 56-37, though the numbers showed an improving trend for Molinaro in the hypothetical matchup and the poll was celebrated by his campaign, which noted he is in better position than Republican challenger Rob Astorino was four years ago at the same time.

Like Democratic primary challenger Nixon, who also trails Cuomo in the polls, Molinaro has tried to put a dent in the governor’s numbers by tying him to corruption. Both challengers have pointed to the recent conviction of longtime Cuomo lieutenant Joseph Percoco and the upcoming federal trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute who oversaw some of Cuomo’s most ambitious development projects.

Those cases center upon proven and alleged abuses within the governor’s multimillion-dollar economic development programs, and the Percoco trial showed the former Cuomo government aide and campaign manager regularly using his executive chamber office while on leave to run the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign. Molinaro has put forth a variety of government ethics and campaign finance reform proposals thus far, some of which Cuomo has professed support for but not passed. The GOP nominee has said he would seek pay-for-play, or doing-business, campaign finance restrictions on entities seeking or holding state contracts, term limits for statewide elected officials and state legislators, and other changes to make government more honest and open.

Molinaro said the trials not only show issues of corruption under Cuomo’s nose, but that the governor’s approach to economic development is fundamentally flawed.

“I don’t believe the government should take taxpayer money and give it to private interests,” he said. “I don’t believe in cutting checks as if New Yorkers are [Cuomo’s] personal ATM. It’s not fair, it’s not appropriate and he doesn’t seem to know the difference between right and wrong.”

Asked how he would encourage statewide economic growth if he ended Cuomo’s development programs, Molinaro again pointed to tax cuts and lowering the cost of living.

“Drive down costs, make it easier for businesses to thrive,” he said. “That’s how you grow an environment that people can achieve greater success -- not by pickpocketing New Yorkers and giving it to political contributors.” Molinaro did not offer specifics.

He said that if elected, he would take a selective approach to Cuomo’s legacy, though he shied away from detailing what he would seek to undo. “My perspective is everything gets evaluated -- everything,” he said.

Molinaro did not answer a question about Cuomo’s gun control measures, including an expanded ban of assault weapons, known as the SAFE Act. While the governor has frequently touted the legislation as one of his main achievements, and New York City residents largely support it, it is considered highly unpopular upstate.

In a January interview, more than a month before the school massacre in Parkland, Florida and the movement it spurred, Molinaro had told Gotham Gazette, “Frankly, I do have concerns with how aggressive this governor has been. I think in some ways irresponsibly ignoring those that do support, as I do, the Second Amendment and forcing legislation without having the kind of local robust conversation necessary. I believe the constitution is as it’s written.”

The Cuomo campaign has seized on some of Molinaro’s more conservative positions, like on gun rights and his 2011 vote against marriage equality as a member of the Assembly, the passage of which is a top Cuomo resume item. Molinaro has said he has evolved on the issue. The governor’s campaign has branded him a Trump mini-me, though Molinaro has said he did not vote for the Republican president in the 2016 election.

In the Wednesday interview with Gotham Gazette, Molinaro did not list any other issue areas where he plans to roll out policy plans, though during his convention speech he appeared to promise a series.

Asked how, if elected governor, he would work with the state Legislature -- this fall, Democrats are likely to maintain their Assembly majority and Republicans are fighting against losing the Senate -- Molinaro said he would try to make the lawmaking process more inclusive.

He promised to end Albany’s “three men in a room” culture in which the governor and legislative leaders decide the budget and other important issues behind closed doors.

“I think the government can reach into the legislature and local communities to identify great thinkers, people who are engaged in trying to solve problems irrespective of party, and engage them,” Molinaro said. “That breaks down the power structure that has paralyzed state government.”

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

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State-Backed, Scandal-Plagued Entities Seek New Chapter


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Howard Zemsky, of ESD, in Buffalo (photo via the Governor's office)


Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute heading to trial this month for alleged corruption, was known for his luxury sports cars, self-aggrandizing boasts, and awkward social media posts.

The new face of the state’s tech development projects, Doug Grose, strikes a different image: subdued, old-school business executive.

Coming after Kaloyeros’ fall from grace and amid twin corruption trials, Grose’s appointment seems aimed at assuring taxpayers that state government is turning a new page when it comes to investing public funds in ambitious research and business ventures.

Last month, Grose became president of the Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road management corporations -- the state entities at the center of the Kaloyeros bid-rigging and bribery case. The two nonprofits have doled out state grants and overseen projects spearheaded by Kaloyeros, who was empowered by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and will be merged to form a new organization, called NY CREATES. Grose will be president of that nonprofit body once the ongoing process is complete.

Empire State Development, the state’s main economic development agency, partnered with SUNY to form NY CREATES -- or New York Center for Research, Economic Advancement, Technology, Engineering and Science. The new organization filed its certificate of incorporation with the state last month and plans to file for 501(c)3 status, according to an ESD spokesperson. Since shortly after the indictments of Kaloyeros and other top Cuomo aides, associates, and donors, ESD was charged with overseeing the nonprofits associated with SUNY and the governor’s extensive economic development programming. It was a move announced by the governor in response to the scandals involving some of his signature projects.

After the November 2016 indictments of Kaloyeros, former Cuomo top aide and campaign manager Joseph Percoco, and others, Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road became synonymous with corruption, leading to the effort to rebrand and reorganize.

Fort Schuyler awarded multimillion-dollar contracts that Kaloyeros allegedly helped rig in 2013 so they went to major Cuomo campaign donors. Along with Fuller Road, which was not named in the Kaloyeros indictment, Fort Schuyler has overseen hundreds of millions of dollars in state investment in the governor’s economic development programs, namely the Buffalo Billion. Some of them have been associated with SUNY Polytechnic, an advanced science research institution founded by Kaloyeros, a physicist.

As NY CREATES launches and seeks to attract both trust and partners, Grose is seen at ESD and elsewhere as the right person for the job. He insists NY CREATES will bring transparency to the economic development programs under its umbrella. Those range from a $1.5-billion computer chip center in Utica to a sprawling $24-billion nanotechnology complex at SUNY Polytechnic in Albany.

“How I want to run this has the elements of a business, with sound fiscal and legal controls and a focus on return on investment,” Grose told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

Grose’s long resume includes a stint as executive vice president of NanoTech Resources in 2004. Kaloyeros, who oversaw growth in the nanotech complex at SUNY Polytechnic, was Grose’s boss at the time.

“My leadership style is quite different,” Grose said of Kaloyeros. “It’s much more, I’ll say, business-based, and you got rewarded or you got in trouble if you didn’t provide the return on investment made.”

Grose, 68, came out of retirement to helm NY CREATES, which he said will pay him $280,000 a year. ESD and SUNY leaders and the former president of Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road, Bob Megna, worked to draft Grose. His job will have a tighter focus than that of Kaloyeros, who made nearly $1 million per year helming all of SUNY Polytechnic.

“I didn’t come here, honestly, for financial reasons. I came here because of an allegiance that I have to New York State,” said Grose, who was raised in the Mohawk Valley and earned multiple degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

He previously held numerous roles in the upstate tech industry, often overseeing public-private partnerships.

In 1979, he began a more than 20-year-long run at IBM, where he was in charge of chip production at labs in East Fishkill and Vermont, according to the Times Union. He came back to the company in 2004, helping lay the groundwork for a public-private partnership that has seen IBM establish a large lab at SUNY Polytechnic.

Grose is also a former CEO of GlobalFoundries, one of the biggest semiconductor makers in the world. It began receiving state funds and tax breaks in 2006, under then-Governor George Pataki.

Empire State Development touts GlobalFoundries as a success story. The company, which runs a computer chip lab called Fab 8 in Saratoga County, has created 3,500 jobs, according to the Albany-based Center for Economic Growth.

Grose has kept a low profile throughout his career. That marks a strong contrast with Kaloyeros, who was was known to speed around Albany in a Ferrari Spider. “Dr. Nano,” as his license plate said, made immature Facebook posts and was known for braggadocio, as the New York Times pointed out in 2002. After a Gotham Gazette profile in 2015, spurred by reports that SUNY Polytechnic had been subpoenaed, Kaloyeros offered, then rescinded an interview, citing the “threat of jail.”

While Grose sought to distinguish his style from that of Kaloyeros, he also had praise for SUNY Polytechnic’s former leader.

“He was a visionary in terms of what he wanted to create and he had big ideas,” Grose said of Kaloyeros. “Many of them came true.”

Asked about improving transparency into Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road (and, soon, NY CREATES) projects, Grose noted steps that boards of those organizations took before he came on about a month ago.

They voted to voluntarily conform to the state’s Freedom of Information Law in 2016 and 2017. A bill ensuring that FOIL applies to agencies like Fort Schuyler has been introduced in the state Assembly, though it is currently stalled in the Governmental Operations Committee.

Cuomo, a Democrat, appoints the head of ESD, currently Howard Zemsky. The governor in the past pushed both more funding through Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road and resisted calls to increase transparency and oversight of their projects. He also appears to have a fairly tight grip over what legislation moves through the Democrat-led Assembly. A variety of accountability measures that have passed the Republican-controlled Senate are currently stalled in the Assembly.

Recent months have seen Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road open their meetings to the public, and they have begun posting recordings of their sessions to YouTube.

However, hard numbers about Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road projects remain difficult to come by. Their websites do not detail how much money the state has actually invested in their projects so far, and they don’t show proof of job growth -- the stated goal of the those investments. One bill in the accountability agenda that has not moved through the Assembly is for a “database of deals” that would catalog such spending and its results across all state economic development programming.

Grose said NY CREATES will dispel the mystery. He said his approach is to make sure “there is no doubt about what an investment may be for and who’s involved and what the result is.” He did not provide specifics for what that will look like.

Asked how much debt projects under Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road have accumulated, Grose said, "I can't give you a sense. I have no context where I would say I've seen it all added up." Asked whether it would be fair to say the projects were facing hundreds of millions in debt, Grose replied, "I think that's an accurate portrayal." He added, "It’s related to building facilities in Albany. It’s basically paying back loans to build Albany campus facilities."

Cuomo has been keeping his distance from Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road and is yet to comment on NY CREATES. His office did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Shortly after the criminal complaint against Kaloyeros became public, the governor announced that Empire State Development would assume oversight of all the projects under SUNY Polytechnic’s aegis.

"I want the taxpayers of New York to know that every dollar is guarded and guarded professionally,” Cuomo said in announcing the move in September of 2016.

However, government watchdogs have decried that change -- and the creation of NY CREATES -- as inadequate. To groups like Reinvent Albany, Cuomo is doing too little, too late.

“Ultimately, we would look at NY CREATES as shuffling around the deck chairs on the titanically confusing and corruption-prone apparatus that the state has created to hand out tax dollars,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, which closely tracks state economic development efforts.

He noted that Cuomo has blocked the reform legislation that includes a bill to restore the state comptroller’s power to pre-audit state contracts over $250,000 that flow through SUNY-affiliated nonprofits -- a power that was stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in the governor’s first year in office, 2011. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has repeatedly said it should be brought back.

“Whatever marginal gain comes out of this is going to be so tiny as not to warrant the pixels on the press release that will come from it,” Kaehny said of NY CREATES.

ESD argues that NY CREATES is not just a rebrand, but that it represents a new way of doing business that will be more transparent and less conducive to exploitation.

Government watchdogs say irrespective of the bureaucracy surrounding development projects, under the status quo, Cuomo ultimately calls the shots.

Grose said he will be answerable to the boards of Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road and, later, the board of NY CREATES; ESD is getting a say in who joins the board of the new organization, and Zemsky will serve as an “ex-officio” member. “I also report to the chancellor of SUNY as a direct boss,” Grose said.

Grose indicated his vision is at least as ambitious as Kaloyeros’ was -- even if it comes without the boasting.

Grose plans to expand the scope of the state’s public-private tech partnerships to include educational institutions outside SUNY Polytechnic -- and even in other states.

He said he will continue Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road’s focus on nanotechnology, and seek to further develop its work in photonics, tech dealing with data transfer through light waves.

“I haven’t really focused on what’s happened in the last 10 to 12 years,” he said, alluding to the scandals. “My view going forward is to focus on core objectives and develop strong partnerships that have the right agreements that back them up.”

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

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New York Congressional Primaries to Watch Ahead of June 26 Vote


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Rep. Dan Donovan with President Trump (photo: @DanDonovanSI)


New Yorkers will head to the polls on Tuesday, June 26 to vote in Democratic and Republican congressional primary elections, determining which candidates will appear on the parties’ ballots in November’s general election. Not every one of New York’s 27 congressional districts is home to one or two primaries, but some districts are in the midst of competitive primary campaigns.

In New York City, where just one seat in the House of Representatives delegation is held by a Republican, there are several hotly-contested primaries, though only one race is expected to be competitive in the general election. The lone GOP-held seat is also the one where a tough general election is expected -- there is currently an intense primary on each side of the aisle in the 11th Congressional District, which includes Staten Island and a sliver of Southern Brooklyn and is represented by incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan.

A small handful of Democratic incumbents representing parts of the city are facing spirited primary challenges, largely from the left, though incumbents, as is almost always the case, are favored. Without public polling, it is often difficult to tell if challengers are breaking through at all, or how voters feel about their incumbent representative.

Candidates are campaigning feverishly leading up to the primary, which is expected to see fairly low turnout, though it may see a boost relative to past years due to the competitive nature of some races and the larger atmosphere surrounding “the resistance” to President Donald Trump.

While NY-11 will factor into the discussion for the general election, other congressional seats outside New York City will form the vast majority of those seen as the state’s swing districts, where either a Democrat or a Republican could win and influence which party controls the House in January.

While every one of the country’s 435 House seats are on the ballot this year, as they are every other year, there are some U.S. Senate seats up for election this year as well -- Senators serve six-year terms and states stagger the elections of their two Senate seats. This year, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is seeking another term and is being challenged by Republican Chele Farley in the general election.

In order to vote in the upcoming federal primaries, New Yorkers have to already be registered to vote and with the party holding a primary in their district. A closer look at the congressional primaries to watch leading up to June 26:

District 9
In Central Brooklyn’s District 9, 12-year Democratic incumbent Rep. Yvette Clarke faces her first primary challenge in six years. Adem Bunkeddeko, 29, was, until recently, an associate director at Brooklyn Community Services and, for five years, a member of Brooklyn Community Board 8, which includes Prospect Heights, Crown Heights and Weeksville.

He says he is running because “the political culture is so static” in the nation’s largest and most diverse city. Bunkeddeko’s platform includes the expansion of charter schools, legalization of marijuana, and an aggressive housing plan that, he says, would open paths to homeownership for families making between $30,000 and $80,000 a year.

Bunkeddeko has raised more than $200,000 in his bid for the Democratic nomination as of March 31. Clarke, meanwhile, has raised at least $600,000 in her bid for re-election. Almost 60% of Clarke’s campaign contributions have come from political action committees; Bunkeddeko has reported zero donations from PACs.

Clarke’s campaign highlights her introduction of legislation granting new legal rights to homeowners facing foreclosure, work on the Affordable Care Act, and support for universal firearm background checks. She also is a signatory to the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. Clarke has not stated her positions on other marquee Democratic issues like  legalization of marijuana and the abolition of ICE, though she has introduced legislation that would equip ICE agents with body cameras.

“Our community is under siege and has been for quite some time,” Bunkeddeko wrote on his website, with reference to the Trump administration. “More and more of our neighbors are finding inequality and injustice in Central Brooklyn (NY-9), and good folks are being pushed out in droves.”

District 11
In New York City’s only Republican-represented congressional district, Rep. Dan Donovan is facing a primary challenge from his predecessor, former Rep. Michael Grimm, who resigned the office three-and-a-half years ago just after winning reelection while under federal indictment. Grimm pleaded guilty to tax evasion and served time in federal prison. He now wants his old job back and is challenging Donovan in a Republican-heavy district where, unlike in most of the rest of the city, allegiance to President Donald Trump is seen as essential -- at least in the primary.

Grimm represented the mostly-Staten Island district from 2010 to 2015. In 2014, he was charged with 20 counts of fraud, federal tax evasion and perjury. He resigned in January of 2015, and served eight months in federal prison.

Grimm recently gathered over 3,000 signatures from those in the district, easily surpassing the 1,250 required to appear on the primary ballot, and, while Donovan has raised over three times as much money as Grimm, a recent NY1/Siena poll shows Grimm with a ten-point lead over the incumbent.

Differences between the candidates have been largely non-ideological — Grimm’s campaign website does not even offer a list of his positions, and Donovan’s stakes out his stances on widely-agreeable issues like Staten Islanders’ commutes (shorten them), taxes (cut them), and homeland security (protect it).

As representatives, Donovan introduced legislation this year to target federal funding for sanctuary cities, and Grimm, in 2013, urged the Department of Homeland Security to stop releasing low-risk undocumented immigrants from detention camps.

In 2012, the two worked together — Donovan as Staten Island District Attorney, Grimm as Congressional representative — on legislation to fight prescription drug abuse.

Both candidates have made a show of their support for Trump in the only New York City district he carried. While Grimm has attacked Donovan as a moderate who voted against the Trump tax reform package, Donovan has pointed to Grimm’s moderate record when he represented the district. Donovan introduced a bill that would mandate every post office display photos of the president and vice president.

Trump recently endorsed Donovan, tweeting that “There is no one better to represent the people of N.Y. and Staten Island (a place I know very well) than @RepDanDonovan, who is strong on Borders & Crime, loves our Military & our Vets, voted for Tax Cuts and is helping me to Make America Great Again.”

“Dan has my full endorsement!” he concluded. Donovan was quick to boast about the endorsement, while Grimm downplayed it.

The winner of the Republican primary will face the winner of a competitive Democratic primary in NY-11, which includes six Democrats. That pack is led by fundraising leader and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee endorsee Max Rose, a veteran who has raised more money as of the March 31 filing date than all of his Democratic competitors combined. Michael DeVito is also running an especially active campaign, while other Democrats include Omar Vaid, Zach Emig, Paul Sperling, and Radhakrishna Mohan.

NY-11 is on the Democratic Party’s “Red to Blue” shortlist of currently-Republican congressional districts that realistically may elect a Democrat in November.

District 12
Meanwhile, in District 12, covering much of Manhattan’s East Side and parts of Brooklyn and Queens, 34-year-old Suraj Patel, an entrepreneur and business ethics professor at New York University, is attempting to unseat 25-year incumbent Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

Patel has raised slightly over $1 million for his bid, nearly matching Maloney’s $1.4 million war chest -- a rare development for a primary challenger to an incumbent. Maloney retained the money advantage, at least as of the March 31 filing, and has significant establishment support for her reelection.

Patel was born in Mississippi to Indian immigrant parents, and has worked in various capacities in Barack Obama’s orbit, including as a volunteer on his 2008 presidential campaign.

“Our republic is broken,” Patel wrote on his website. “Big money has corrupted the system, there are too many obstacles to voting, and undemocratic policies like partisan gerrymandering have made our House of Representatives unrepresentative of the American people.”

The upstart and insurgent candidate challenging a well-established party representative is something Maloney has seen before. She last faced a serious primary challenge in 2010, when lawyer Reshma Saujani raised upwards of $1.3 million in a bid to unseat the incumbent. Nevertheless, Maloney prevailed with 81% of the vote.

Saujani endorsed Maloney in early March, according to the New York Post, as have several advocacy groups and unions, including 32BJ SEIU, the largest union of property service workers in America.

She is running on her consumer protection bona fides, experience “on the front lines in the fight for women’s rights,” and legislative work for paid parental leave, among other positions.

District 14
In District 14, covering northwest Queens and the eastern Bronx, 28-year-old organizer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is offering 56-year-old Rep. Joe Crowley his first contested primary in his 14 years in office.

Crowley has significant establishment ties: as the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, he’s the fourth highest ranking official in the House Democratic leadership and is frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Crowley runs the Queens County Democratic Party, with great influence over local elections, the courts, and government in Queens and beyond.

Crowley touts his support for equal pay legislation, co-sponsorship of legislation mandating universal firearm background checks, and authorship of an act providing tax relief for poor renters.

Ocasio-Cortez is challenging Crowley from his left as part of the slate of the Justice Democrats, a political action committee that supports progressive candidates who pledge to not accept corporate donations. She’s staked out her support for a federal jobs guarantee, the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and tuition-free public college.

Both candidates tout their immigrant roots — Crowley’s family is Irish, Ocasio-Cortez’s is Puerto Rican — and their support for Medicare-for-All.

The fundraising gap between the two candidates is significant — with $2.78 million on hand compared to Ocasio-Cortez’s $116,000, Crowley’s outraised his opponent almost twenty-four times over.

“It's a major David-vs-Goliath tale for the soul of the Democratic Party,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a blog post on Reddit. “We are going to have to choose whether we will continue down the path of corporate patronage or return to the Democratic spirit of our governance.”

Races Outside New York City: Districts 1, 19, 22, and 24
The Cook Political Report carefully designates “competitive” House races and lists a few New York races outside the five boroughs.

In Long Island’s 1st District, five Democrats are running for their party’s nomination. Perry Gershon, a former businessman who says he was inspired by Trump’s election to “set out to personally fight for change,” has raised more money than all his competitors combined. The winner of the contested primary will face off against two-term Republican incumbent Rep. Lee Zeldin, who co-sponsored a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and voted to defund Planned Parenthood.

Voters in the 19th District, which comprises of much of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills, will choose from seven Democrats competing for a chance to challenge incumbent Republican Rep. John Faso in the general election.

The district backed Barack Obama in 2012 but favored Donald Trump in 2016, and its past three representatives have been Republican. Most recently, Faso defeated Democrat Zephyr Teachout in 2016.

The Democratic candidates debated each other this past Thursday on WAMC, a public radio network headquartered in Albany, for nearly two hours, regarding topics ranging from the environment to health care.

In District 22, another vital district that the national Democratic Party is prioritizing, Assemblymember Anthony Brindisi is challenging Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney in what looks to be a tight race.

In District 24, which includes a chunk of central New York, Democrats Dana Balter and Juanita Perez Williams are competing for the chance to challenge Republican Rep. John Katko in the general.

Districts 22 and 24 are also on the Democratic Party’s “Red to Blue” list.

National
The Democratic Party is hoping to gain control of the House of Representatives through November’s general elections. Currently, the House is composed of 235 Republicans and 193 Democrats with seven vacancies. Democrats see several recent elections results, in New York and elsewhere, as encouraging in their efforts to flip the House this year, including through a few New York wins.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke at a rally last year with House Minority Leader Pelosi, of California, and other Democratic leaders to announce a movement to flip six New York House seats from red to blue. Cuomo vowed to unseat New York Representatives Lee Zeldin (CD1), John Faso (CD19), Elise Stefanik (CD21), Claudia Tenney (CD22), and Tom Reed (CD23), and Chris Collins (CD27). The districts represented by Reps. Stefanik, Reed, and Collins are generally regarded as safely Republican.

You can find your local polling station here.

***
by Jordan Kimmel and Daniel Yadin

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by Jordan Kimmel, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 11


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Tuesday will mark two weeks until congressional primary election day in New York: June 26. Until then, hotly contested races will feature intense campaigning, and there will even be a few debates. In New York City, there are a handful of House of Representative primaries worth watching, headlined by the Republican contest between Rep. Dan Donovan and former Rep. Michael Grimm. There are two Donovan-Grimm debates set for this week -- see details below -- among others on the Democratic side, where a few incumbents, such as Rep. Joe Crowley, are being challenged from the left in spirited campaigns (NY1 will be hosting several debates this week and next). There's also an open primary on the Democratic side in the mostly-Staten Island district that Donovan represents, the winner of which (Max Rose is seen as the favorite) may have a shot at a pick-up for the Democrats, who are hoping to swing enough seats in November to take control of the House at the start of next year.

Outside of New York City, there are a variety of other seats thought to be at play in the general election. In some, the upcoming primaries will have significant impact in selecting the candidates who will face off in the general.

Election season is also heating up for state-level offices, with a crowded Democratic field for attorney general now jockeying and the Governor Andrew Cuomo-Cynthia Nixon gubernatorial primary continuing to intensify ahead of the September 13 vote. Those two races, along with the state Senate primaries involving the eight members of what was the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), among others, are worth watching this week and beyond.

On the government side of the equation, there are four days of legislative session scheduled for this week in Albany, with just three more scheduled for next week before the end of the session. Will anything major get done this year? Usually, Cuomo and the Legislature come to an agreement on at least several big-ticket items to form a "big ugly" compromise of legislation at the end of the session, but there's a good deal of ill will this year amid Democratic reunification in the Senate and other election-year jockeying.

We're waiting for a city budget deal, which could be announced as early as Monday. Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson appear close to a deal on what will be a roughly $90 billion expense budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1.

Meanwhile, two public meetings are scheduled this week for the mayor’s charter revision commission, each one focused on certain issue areas -- see details below.

And it’s a busy week at the City Council beyond the possible budget deal, with a variety of committee hearings scheduled for oversight and consideration of legislation. Those and other events to be aware of in 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?
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The run of the week in detail:

Monday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

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

At 9 a.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo will be in Nassau County to makes an announcement in Plainview. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will be in attendance.

On Monday at 11 a.m. in the Bronx, Governor Andrew Cuomo, City Council Member Andy King and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will “hold a press conference...on the front steps of Evander Childs High School Campus...to announce legislation the governor has proposed for Gun-Violence Awareness Month,” according to King's office. Lieutenant Governor Hochul will also be in attendance, per her schedule.

Mayor de Blasio will make his usual weekly appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Monday evening in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

On Monday at 11:30 a.m., Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the opening ceremony of 3 World Trade Center. At 6:30 p.m., Stringer will attend the New York Board of Rabbis Humanitarian Awards Dinner.

At noon Monday, WABC radio will host a Republican primary debate for the 11th Congressional District between U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan and former U.S. Rep Michael Grimm, who is challenging Donovan for his old seat. The event will air live on the radio, and will be moderated by WABC’s Rita Cosby.

At noon Monday, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will host the “2018 Education Summit” at the George Washington Educational Campus in Washington Heights. The hosts “will provide an overview of the status of NYC School District 6 and the ongoing efforts to ensure educational equity and opportunities for students throughout New York’s 13th congressional district.”

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Dr. Joseph Salvo, Director of the population division at the Department of City Planning, will host “The Changing Demographics of Queens” at Queens Borough Hall, discussing both the changing demographics of the borough and “the importance of ensuring that the upcoming 2020 Census accurately counts Queens residents.”

On Monday at 6 p.m. at City Hall, City Council Member Andy King and other members of the Council’s Black, Latino & Asian Caucus “will celebrate African-American Music Appreciation Month with an awards ceremony...Honorees will receive a proclamation from the City of New York, the New York City 12th Council District Arts and Music Award and the Power Of Influence Award. To be honored are Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Winner Kendrick Lamar, Bronx native Fat Joe, former NBA player John Starks, the President of Urban Music at RCA Records Mark Pitts and others.”

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, First Lady Chirlane McCray will speak at City & State’s “Pride Power 50,” where the magazine will reveal its list of the 50 most influential LGBTQ New Yorkers. Also speaking is Emma Wolfe, Chief of Staff to Mayor de Blasio.

Tuesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to “education and outreach regarding single-occupant toilet room requirements,” “requiring carbon monoxide detectors in commercial spaces,” awning violations and programs for fixing them, and fire safety.
--The Committee on Transportation will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to parking.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Correction will hold a public meeting at 125 Worth Street.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, State Senator Catharine Young, Assemblymember William Magnarelli, and others will hold a press conference at the State Capitol in support of the “School Bus Camera Safety Act,” which “authorizes the installation and use of stop-arm cameras on school buses to detect and record vehicles illegally passing stopped school buses.”

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission will hold an “issue forum” related to election administration, voting participation, and voting access at 125 Worth Street in Manhattan. “The issue forum will feature experts...This meeting is open to the public. Because this is a public meeting and not a public hearing, the public will have the opportunity to observe the Commission’s discussions, but not testify before it.”

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

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Brooklyn Voters Alliance will host City Council Member Brad Lander and election lawyer Jerry Goldfeder for a discussion on the charter revision commission and how it could bring forth voting reform. The event will take place at the Brooklyn Central Library at Grand Army Plaza.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, NY1 will host U.S. Rep Carolyn Maloney and challenger Suraj Patel for a Democratic primary debate for the 12th Congressional District.

Wednesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Health will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “amending sex designation on birth records.”
--The Committees on Education and Youth Services will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “youth civic engagement opportunities,” and to discuss proposed laws relating to reporting requirements for public school PTAs and “requiring the department of education to provide information about the department of citywide administrative services civil service examinations to students.”
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “NYPD’s gang takedown efforts,” as well as to discuss resolutions calling on Congress to pass a federal version of New York’s SAFE Act, calling on the State Legislature and Governor to pass legislation establishing “a center for research into firearm-related violence and a firearm research fund,” and calling on the State Legislature and Governor to pass legislation relating to “the establishment and funding of the gun research safety fund.”

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 120 Broadway.

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

Thursday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Thursday. After Thursday, there will only be three scheduled days remaining in the legislative session.

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to street vending.
--The Committees on Women and Higher Education will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding childcare services at CUNY.
--The Committee on Economic Development and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “assessing the zoning and financial incentives of the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health programs.”

At 1 p.m. Thursday, the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission will hold an “issue forum” featuring “experts to discuss Campaign Finance. The meeting will be held at NYU’s D’Agostino Hall, 108 West Third Street. This meeting is open to the public. Because this is a public meeting and not a public hearing, the public will have the opportunity to observe the Commission’s discussions, but not testify before it.”

At 5 p.m. Thursday, activists and protesters will converge at the New York Public Library’s main branch for the “Tenant March against #CuomosHousingCrisis.”

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will host Council Member Rafael Espinal and “Nightlife Mayor” Ariel Palitz to discuss the work of the recently created nightlife mayor position. The event will take place at Stout in Chelsea.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association will host U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, former U.K. Supreme Court Justice Lord John Dyson, and former Canadian Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin for a discussion on “the importance of judicial independence to the rule of law.”

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Member Ben Kallos, and State Senator Liz Krueger will host an “Overdevelopment Forum” at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House on the Upper East Side, discussing “community initiatives, closing loopholes & our fight against overdevelopment.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday, NY1 will host U.S. Rep Dan Donovan and former U.S. Rep and challenger Michael Grimm for a Republican primary debate for the 11th Congressional District at the College of Staten Island’s Lab Theatre. NY1’s Errol Louis will moderate.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his usual weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday morning at 10 a.m.

At 7 p.m. Friday, NY1 will host U.S. Rep Joe Crowley and challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a Democratic primary debate for the 14th Congressional District.

***
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
@GothamGazette

Created in Budget, State Pay Commission Off to Slow, Rocky Start


Carl McCall Cuomo

Carl McCall (photo: Governor's Office)


The pay commission tasked with proposing salary adjustments of New York State legislators, statewide elected officials, and top executive branch employees, created in this year’s enacted budget, appears to be in a state of disarray.

The appointed chair of the commission, New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, announced in May that she could not serve on the commission, citing what she believed to be the unconstitutionality of a judge determining matters that could end up before her in court. She has not been replaced, and the commission has not held a meeting.

The commission, as laid out in the budget document passed in late March, is to be made up of five individuals: DiFiore, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller Carl McCall, and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson. McCall and Thompson are now chairs of the Boards of Trustees at SUNY and CUNY, respectively.

The commissioners have until December to submit recommendations for whether legislators in the Assembly and Senate, statewide officials (governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general), and certain executive branch officials should receive a pay increase, and if so, by how much. Legislators, who are elected every two years, have not had a base salary increase in nearly 20 years. A different effort at a pay commission went off the rails in 2016 when Cuomo, through his appointees, insisted on ethics reforms in conjunction with salary increases. The governor has said he supports higher salaries for lawmakers but that he also wants to see accompanying changes, and he has insisted that it is essential to raise the pay the state offers agency commissioners and top gubernatorial aides in order to attract top talent.

Along with salary, the new commission can also make other recommendations, such as the prohibition of outside income that Cuomo says is necessary, and its recommendations will automatically go into effect if legislators don’t act to prevent it before January 1, 2019.

The commission, in the midst of the ongoing drama, has not held a meeting in the more than two months since its creation.

A spokesperson for DiNapoli, Jennifer Freeman, said that there are no firm dates yet decided on for the first meeting, but that “dates being discussed are currently in July.” This would give commissioners approximately five months to deliberate and draw up recommendations. It is unclear what will happen with the position intended for DiFiore, and whether legislators may need to pass a bill to name a new commissioner before their session ends later this month.

State legislators receive a base salary of $79,500 per year, unchanged since 1999. Legislators are allowed to earn outside income, opening the door to conflicts of interest. Majority conferences also award stipends, colloquially known as “lulus,” to committees chairs, a practice that has been abused.

The system, as it stands, has been alleged to help foster a culture of corruption and limit the pool of individuals who will consider working in state government.

When the 2016 commission fell apart, good government groups criticized it and state leaders for failing to raise lawmakers’ salaries. Reinvent Albany, one reform group, is among those in favor of a pay raise, saying that the cost of living has risen substantially since the 1999 wage was set, and that the salary not keeping up with the cost of living leads to more lawmakers taking outside income.

“I think most people recognize that, in particular for the New York City members, that it’s awfully hard to make a living off the salary they make if they’re not holding outside jobs,” said Alex Camarda, Reinvent Albany’s senior policy advisor. “And there’s certainly been a desire by the good government community to see elected officials have their outside income curtailed so that they don’t have conflicts of interest when they are considering policy before the state.”

Citizens Union, another government reform group, said the prior commission should recommend pay increases but not tie them to other legislation, including ethics reform, to avoid any exchange of policies that have merit on their own and the typical Albany horse-trading. Though a deal that largely involves aspects of legislators’ jobs would be less transparently questionable than the 1999 trade that saw pay increase tied to legislation establishing charter schools in New York.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Ethan Geringer-Sameth, public policy and program manager at Citizens Union, said that CU’s position remains unchanged: that legislators should get a pay raise, that the pay raise should be decoupled from other legislation, and that the increase should be even higher if outside income is banned. The organization also wants to see a wide range of ethics and campaign finance reform enacted separately.

The U.S. Congress and the New York City Council both pay members substantially more than the State Legislature: members of Congress make $174,000 while members of the City Council make $148,500. The City Council, in 2016, voted to raise salaries substantially, from $112,500 to $148,500, while also banning almost all forms of outside income.

“Outside income was severely limited and the Council Members here in New York City got a substantial pay raise,” Camarda said. “And I think it serves as a model for the state as well as the U.S. Congress. And it would be good to put it to bed finally.”

Cuomo, as of two months ago, conditionally supports pay raises for legislators; the governor said in March that he would support pay raises for legislators if the budget was passed on time, which it was. The governor’s office appears to have reverted to a neutral stance on the issue.

“There is now an independent commission that will review legislative pay that has not increased for 18 years. We’ll leave it to the commission to decide – that is what is in the law,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens in an email to Gotham Gazette. Stevens declined to comment about what will happen with the commission post DiFiore has declined.

Through a spokesperson, DiNapoli declined to comment on the commission or his positions on the matters at hand. A representative for Stringer did not respond to requests for comment. McCall also declined to comment; a representative said that the commissioners are refraining from public comment before the meeting takes place. Thompson could not be reached for comment.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Attention Shifts to Assembly Hesitation on Accountability Bills Opposed by Cuomo


govcuomo speakerheastie

Speaker Heastie, left, and Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)


Amid open conflict with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, the Republican-controlled state Senate recently passed a package of bills aimed at shedding light on taxpayer-funded economic development projects, among other reform measures. The move helped reignite attention on the legislation and put pressure on the Democrat-led Assembly to pass bills it has previously supported.

The legislation includes the Procurement Integrity Act, which would restore the state comptroller’s power to review contracts before they are officially awarded, and the “database of deals” bill, which would create a public catalogue of economic development awards and their results. Such grants run into hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, though they are often largely hidden from the public and have been at the center of recent corruption charges.

Assembly support for the measures was strong enough that earlier this year they were included in the chamber’s one-house budget, as they were in the Senate’s, though they were not included in the enacted state budget after negotiations among the Assembly, Senate, and governor.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie praised the Procurement Integrity Act last year, saying, “Another set of eyes will make people feel better that, yes, things are done correctly.”

However, the bill hasn’t made it out of the Assembly’s Government Operations Committee -- even though the committee’s chair, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, is the very lawmaker sponsoring the legislation. The bill has 37 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly.

And as the June 20 scheduled end of legislative session approaches, the “database of deals” bill is stalled in the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Democrat Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn. That bill has 34 co-sponsors.

The reason for the hold-up? Advocates for the legislation are pointing at Cuomo, and his influence over Heastie.

“The speaker is jamming the bills because the governor wants him to,” said John Kaehny, executive director of government watchdog Reinvent Albany. “If those bills went to the floor of the Assembly, they would pass overwhelmingly.”

Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, a Democrat and main sponsor of the “database of deals” bill, echoed Kaehny’s comments.

“The governor does not want this bill moved,” the Buffalo-area representative told Gotham Gazette. “The question is, do Chair Weinstein and Speaker Heastie -- are they going to do the right thing or are they going to roll over and not move?”

Weinstein’s, Peoples-Stokes’, and Heastie’s offices did not respond to requests for comment. Questions around the bills, and whether Heastie and Assembly Democrats are willing to cross Cuomo, come as Democrats have a relatively recent “unity” pledge and coordinated campaign effort ahead of the fall elections.

The economic transparency legislation is seen by many as essential after corruption indictments centering on some of the governor’s most vaunted development programs.

Federal indictments in 2016 depicted a “pay-to-play” culture in which members of Cuomo’s inner circle received bribes or other perks in exchange for lucrative state contracts and special treatment meted out to developers in secret. Longtime Cuomo government aide and campaign manager Joseph Percoco was convicted of fraud and soliciting bribes in March. Former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros heads to trial later this month for allegedly helping rig multimillion-dollar contracts.

Both the Procurement Integrity Act (S.3984/A.6355) and “database of deals” bill (S.6613/A.8175) aim to address perceived flaws in how Cuomo has overseen funding allocations. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Cuomo has in the past dismissed calls to restore the comptroller’s pre-clearance authority on the applicable state-funded contracts, which was stripped from the office during Cuomo’s first years as governor.

The projects Kaloyeros helped oversee, including a $750-million solar panel factory in Buffalo, were tied to SUNY Polytechnic. While Kaloyeros was allegedly scheming to reward developers who had donated to Cuomo’s re-election campaign, the state comptroller had no insight into the process; the governor and legislative leaders took away his power to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, including for SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated non-profits, in 2011 and 2012.

The Procurement Integrity Act, introduced by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, would restore that power.

"One of the reasons why folks thought they could get away with something is that they knew nobody was really looking, other than the people on the inside who turned out to be benefiting from this," DiNapoli told Syracuse.com last month.

The bill would also authorize the comptroller to approve SUNY Research Foundation contracts valued at over $1 million and would bar state-affiliated nonprofits from doling out contracts unless explicitly authorized by law. Such non-profits are at the center of the Percoco and Kaloyeros cases, with an entity called the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation awarding allegedly rigged bids.

Last year, Cuomo’s counsel told Gotham Gazette the clean-contracting legislation “does not address the issue.”

“The proposed legislation…is both burdensome and duplicative,” Alphonso David said. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”

Still, basic information about the taxpayer-funded programs that Kaloyeros helped oversee, along with numerous other public-private projects, is not available to the public. The governor’s office publishes vague information about projects like the Computer Chip Commercialization Center in Utica, which has been variously described as generating 300 to 1,500 jobs and entailing investments from $100 million to $1.5 billion.

The “database of deals” would aim to fill in holes in public knowledge of such projects. It would list every taxpayer subsidy that corporations receive along with the number of jobs created and cost per job to taxpayers.

The Senate passed the “database” bill and the Procurement Integrity Act by votes of 62-0 and 60-2, respectively, on May 9. They were part of 11 total reform bills widely viewed as a snub to Cuomo, who fell out with the Senate’s Republican leadership amid political maneuvering in April.

“Because [Cuomo] went to war with the the Senate GOP, [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan put them up for a vote and -- no surprise to anybody -- they passed overwhelmingly,” Kaehny observed.

“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” Flanagan, of Long Island, said in a statement after the reform bills were approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds.” While pressure from the Senate GOP is unlikely to sway Cuomo, recent weeks have seen the governor change his stance on a variety of issues in the face of the Democratic primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. Observers have noted she’s pushed him left on policy like legalizing marijuana.

But while the actor and activist-turned-candidate has slammed Cuomo on corruption scandals in general, she is yet to make a cause of transparency and accountability reform legislation in particular.

Speaking on The Capitol Pressroom radio show on Monday, DiNapoli, a Democrat, voiced skepticism that the bills will pass the Assembly this session. Even if the Assembly approves the legislation, one of them -- the “database of deals” bill -- varies slightly from the Senate version and would have to be reconciled in conference.

“I’m the forever optimist, but it seems that the end of session is getting very bogged down and work’s not happening,” DiNapoli told host Susan Arbetter.

“My optimism is somewhat tempered by the seeming stalemate,” the comptroller added, referring to drama in the Senate. “At least, that’s how we ended last week. Let’s hope this week turns out a little differently.”

A number of advocacy and watchdog groups are organizing a final push for the “database of deals” and clean-contracting legislation, including a rally calling on Heastie to advance the bills on Thursday in Albany. Participants include Reinvent Albany, as well as Citizens Union, Common Cause NY,  League of Women Voters NYS, New York Public Interest Group (NYPRIG), and a variety of progressive advocacy organizations, such as Fiscal Policy Institute.

“There are many steps we should be taking, but the time is running out,” Assemblymember Schimminger said.

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

Teachout Launches Attorney General Campaign with Focus on Trump


zephyr teachout AG launch trump tower

Zephyr Teachout at her campaign launch (photo: Ben Brachfeld)


Zephyr Teachout, Fordham Law professor and 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, officially launched her campaign for New York State Attorney General on Tuesday near Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, promising to take a hard line on the “unconstitutional” policies of President Donald Trump while also taking on corruption in Albany and on Wall Street.

The announcement capped off nearly a month of exploration and initial campaigning by Teachout after the post was suddenly vacated by Eric Schneiderman, who resigned in May amid allegations, reported by The New Yorker, that he had physically and emotionally abused four women.

Teachout, who stepped down from her post as treasurer for the Cynthia Nixon campaign for governor to run for attorney general, listed her top four priorities in seeking to become the state’s top legal officer: “fighting Trump, taking on Albany corruption, fighting corporate scams and corporate monopolies, and spearheading the moral argument against mass incarceration,” but she largely focused her kickoff remarks on how she plans to take on the president.

“I have been in the legal fight against Trump’s lawless actions from the moment he was elected, and I am fully ready to lead that fight for the people of New York,” Teachout said. “I will be relentless, independent, ethical, and swift, acting without fear or favor. I will use law as a sword, not just a shield.”

In the wake of Trump’s election, Schneiderman constructed a national reputation as a crusader against the Trump administration, suing the administration in court over such policies and actions as the Muslim travel ban, EPA regulatory rollbacks, and the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, to name just a few.

But Teachout says that Schneiderman did not do enough, and that he did not use the strong anti-corruption and anti-fraud laws at the disposal of the New York Attorney General to prosecute Trump personally at the state level for activities related to his businesses. She said she spoke with Schneiderman twice, asking him to join a lawsuit against Trump on the basis of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, and the fact that the alleged crimes occurred in New York. She says that Schneiderman declined, and that he adopted a “defensive” litigation strategy instead of a more aggressive one targeting Trump personally.

“New York, which should have been the lead on a parallel suit, did not bring a case,” Teachout said.

Trump has controversially declined to divest from his businesses as president, raising constitutional questions due to foreign investment involved in his business empire, which includes real estate holdings in numerous countries. Teachout hopes to obtain a court order mandating that Trump divest. “The president and his businesses are not above the law,” she said.

“We will not wait to investigate. We will aggressively investigate violations of these laws and others,” Teachout said, referring to the state level anti-fraud laws, “digging into every file cabinet, finding every report tacked to the back of a real estate filing, always being ready to use our full criminal and civil powers to protect the rule of law for the people of New York.”

Teachout also differentiated herself in the Trump fight by saying she would go after New York real estate and finance, which she said was the “conduit” through which Trump was able to commit his alleged crimes.

“Trump’s power didn’t grow out of nothing,” she said. “It grew out of New York finance and New York real estate. So investigating his real power, his businesses, means being ready to look under the hood at New York finance and New York real estate.”

“It is through the Trump Organization, headquartered here in New York,” she said, “that he has turned the presidency into a personal ATM, engaging in business deals aimed at funneling money from foreign governments into his own pockets. Here, he has turned our democracy into a kleptocracy.”

Teachout officially joins a Democratic primary featuring Letitia James, the New York City Public Advocate, who has won the endorsement of the State Democratic Party, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and several labor unions, as well as Leecia Eve, a former candidate for lieutenant governor and advisor to Hillary Clinton, and, likely, U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, who is widely expected to enter the race.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Keith Wofford and other candidates from smaller parties in the general election.

The Working Families Party (WFP), the progressive third party that endorsed Nixon for governor, announced its intention to stay neutral in a primary involving James and Teachout, two candidates that the party has ties to. James, who won her first elected office on the WFP line, said soon after launching her campaign that she would not seek the endorsement of the WFP, which is locked in battle with Cuomo due to its endorsement of Nixon and the contemporaneous flight of Cuomo-linked labor unions from the party. The WFP hopes to give its ballot line to the winner of the Democratic primary and help that candidate win the general.

The gulf in policy positions between James and Teachout is also not as clear-cut as that between Cuomo and Nixon, and the campaign is in an earlier stage than the gubernatorial primary. Thus far, James and Teachout have avoided criticism of each other.

Teachout used the launch to bolster her credentials, highlighting her intimate familiarity with the law and her role in the Emoluments Clause lawsuit.

“Even before Donald Trump took office,” she said during a question-and-answer session with reporters after her prepared remarks, “I was in the fight against his coming corruption and lawlessness. I helped build the legal team and was on the legal team that brought the lawsuit against Donald Trump three days after he took office. When I talk to New Yorkers, one of the things they tell me is they want New York to stand tall for the rule of law, to be the living counter-argument, and not merely to be defensive as this threat comes towards us.”

Teachout’s campaign rhetoric suggests that she would continue the recent tradition whereby the New York Attorney General’s office is a bully pulpit from which to challenge entrenched power in both government and the private sector. Schneiderman and his two immediate predecessors, Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer, used the once sleepy office -- which has many less-headline grabbing responsibilities -- to loudly prosecute Wall Street and corporate malfeasance, and policies of the federal government that the office viewed as unconstitutional.

Teachout’s tweets of late have suggested that she would do those things, and also focus on state-level crime in the capital. She has made it clear that she would pursue an anti-corruption agenda in New York government, attempting to root out what has been a pernicious problem.

A series of tweets by Teachout on Tuesday morning urged voters to “care about your State AG” if they care about climate change, workers’ rights, “fraud, scams, and privacy violations,” “the crisis of mass incarceration and law enforcement accountability,” and if voters “want new, fearless 21st century trustbusting.”

Teachout has twice lost elections in recent years. In 2014, she ran and lost the Democratic primary for governor to Cuomo, though she unexpectedly won 34 percent of the primary vote against the incumbent governor, despite having little name recognition, funding, or media coverage.

In 2016, Teachout, with the endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders, ran for Congress in New York’s 19th District, a seat being vacated by Republican Chris Gibson. Teachout lost to Republican John Faso in the general election, 54 to 46 percent.

Despite these setbacks, Teachout was taking on something of a role of progressive icon in New York elections before launching her attorney general campaign. She endorsed Nixon almost immediately after she launched her campaign, and she recently endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Congress in the 14th District. Ocasio-Cortez is attempting to oust Joe Crowley, the head of the Queens Democratic Party who has been spoken of as a potential future Speaker of the House. The two campaigns may also now be advantages as she attempts to win a statewide primary, given that she has built some name recognition with voters, an extensive campaign email list, and ties to a variety of Democratic clubs and organizations.

Teachout said that she hopes to run a grassroots-oriented campaign, with the campaign’s “beating heart” consisting of volunteers. “In our first week, before I even announced publicly, we literally had thousands of contributions,” she said.

And, Teachout is running for attorney general while pregnant, joining a number of women to do so in both this election cycle and past.

“As many of you know, I am in the middle of my first pregnancy,” she said on Tuesday. “I have the future growing inside me, and with every kick I become more determined, and with every stretch I become more committed to fighting for freedom and justice.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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