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Deals Emerge as Albany Legislative Session Moves Toward Conclusion


hall cuomo address

photo via The Governor's Office


After spending most of what was scheduled to be the last day of legislative session in stop-and-start negotiations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders appeared on Thursday to reach a framework deal on several big-ticket items, though legislators will continue to negotiate, debate, and vote on Friday.

After a few issues had been decided on Wednesday, concept agreements emerged Thursday on the process of stripping corrupt lawmakers of their pensions; extending mayoral control of New York City schools for one year; and increasing disclosure requirements for independent political committees.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie cautioned the deal was only a “framework” around 8 p.m. and cautioned he didn’t know when an official announcement would be made.

Legislators are expected to return early Friday to continue voting on a host of legislation--most of which is fated to only pass one house. As Cuomo, Heastie, and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan work through deals on a variety of issues, the two majority leaders will continue to discuss them with their conferences, but things tend to move quickly as session ends, with new legislation given little time for review.

The Thursday evening deal is likely to be touted as a significant movement toward fixing Albany’s ethics crisis, though reform groups and many legislators feel independent expenditures hardly rank as a major issue compared to other problems with Albany’s campaign finance laws and feel that pension forfeiture is a superficial response to an ethics crisis that needs systematic reforms. While it is a welcome additional punishment for unethical behavior, many say, it does not create the type of preventative measures to limit pay-to-play culture and conflicts of interest.

The Senate and Assembly reached a deal on pension forfeiture last year--the Senate passed it but the Assembly balked after facing pressure from unions that were concerned their members were subject to the change along with legislators. The current deal would see the Senate pass the Assembly version that has a narrower scope of who would be subject to forfeiture upon a corruption conviction.

Meanwhile, legislators say an extension of mayoral control will be tied to other issues that have not become completely clear. None of Thursday's deals are final as no bills have been printed.

The deal is also said to include the release of $150,000 in supportive housing funds. Cuomo included $1.9 billion in funding for supportive and affordable housing in the budget but left the details to be decided by a memo of understanding with the two legislative leaders. It appears Senate Republicans have balked at releasing all of the funds until they get a renewal of the controversial 421-a tax credit.

Advocates used the day to express exasperation with the deal-making process that routinely leaves major issues until the last minute, and beyond, with both parties taking issues hostage.

Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director of policy at The Coalition for the Homeless, lashed out at Cuomo on Thursday for not prioritizing the signing of the MOU to detail how to spend the $1.9 billion in housing funds.

“This is far more than a failure to effectively address homelessness - it betrays the hypocrisy underlying Andrew Cuomo's perennial empty promises to the homeless,” wrote Nortz. “Gov. Cuomo, whose promises to the homeless have as much credence as a degree from Trump University, needs to show that he understands that promises mean nothing if you can’t keep your word. Absent the execution of the MOU to release the funds he himself included in the budget, Gov. Cuomo no longer has any claim to be a friend to the homeless or an expert on the issue.”

Many legislators who care about the issue express a sense of resignation. Sen. Mike Gianaris, Deputy Democratic Conference Leader, said he hoped the MOU funds will still be available next year, saying that when Democrats win control of the Senate chamber they will make sure funds are allocated. In theory, the MOU could be signed any time, but virtually no one thinks it will be signed before January if it is not signed by the end of session this week.

Gotham Gazette reported earlier this week that the housing funds were being linked to the controversial 421-a tax credit by Senate Republicans. There is speculation they are holding on to the MOU to negotiate a 421-a renewal next year.

On ethics and campaign finance reform - like closing the LLC loophole, limiting legislators’ outside income, and more - good government groups are exasperated and have resorted to telling voters to simply vote out incumbents who haven’t supported reform.

Meanwhile, there has been a good deal of negotiation to try for a compromise on legalizing and regulating daily fantasy sports. Legalizing widespread car-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft appears to have hit a wall, however.

There was some progress made in both houses on other issues on Thursday. The Senate passed a package of legislation designed to fight opioid and heroin addiction, while the Assembly is set to take up the legislation before the end of session.

Senators also appear set to vote on a bill that would extend the time period residents have to sue after being exposed to contamination. Republican Sen. Kathy Marchione, who sponsors the bill in the Senate and represents Hoosick Falls, where there has been a water contamination crisis, amended her bill yesterday, decoupling it from the Assembly’s bill and thereby assuring its failure. Marchione faced intense pushback from Hoosick Falls residents and environmentalist actor Mark Ruffalo, among others. Late last night Senate Republicans restored the bill to its original form and appeared set to vote on it late Thursday evening.

The Senate also unanimously passed a bill that will require the state to pay for indigent defense services in all counties of the state. Sen. John DeFrancisco, the Republican sponsor of the bill, was lauded by a number of Democrats who he is normally at odds with. The Assembly is expected to pass the bill before the end of session--when that end will come is unclear as negotiations continue to tumble forward.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Much Undecided, Last-Minute Frenzy Starts in Albany


albany leaders cuomo heastie flanagan et al

Albany leaders (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)


The pace has picked up dramatically in Albany, where lawmakers had avoided any major legislative decisions since passing the budget in April. With three days left in session, dozens upon dozens of bills are being introduced, amended, and passed at a fever pace. And while a couple of deals among the governor and legislative leaders have been announced on somewhat high-profile matters, thornier issues still remain unsettled and many bills are likely to only pass one house before lawmakers leave the capital.

On Monday, with session scheduled to end on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote the Legislature an open letter setting a list of his priorities - included on that list was reaching a deal on a package of legislation to combat heroin addiction; increasing breast cancer screening; passing government ethics reform; combating the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision; improving safety at rail crossings; and updating the state’s alcohol control laws.

In his letter Cuomo framed the situation in Albany as particularly tough because of the national political environment, failing to mention the federal investigation into state economic development programming that has dogged that his administration and the fallout from various legislative scandals, including the conviction on federal corruption charges of two recent legislative leaders. Cuomo praised the Legislature for the work it already did, calling this year’s “one of the best budgets in modern history”

Cuomo wrote: “But with all we have done, we have more to do. As the old skeptic’s adage goes, “That’s great, but what have you done for me lately?” We can’t rest on our laurels – we have much more to accomplish this session. Right now, we have a chance to complete an ambitious agenda that will conclude one of the most effective and successful legislative sessions to date while improving the lives of millions of New Yorkers.”

Major issues absent from Cuomo’s to-do list include renewing mayoral control of New York City schools, which is set to expire June 30; agreeing on how to spend $2 billion in state funds to create and preserve supportive and low-income housing; the push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility; and a number of other priorities he touted in his State of the State Address in January.

By late Tuesday, Cuomo’s office had announced deals with the Legislature on three of the six items he outlined in his letter: rail safety; heroin addiction; and amending the state’s liquor laws.

The Senate showed some interest in moving on Cuomo’s push on Citizens United and independent expenditures as Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan introduced a bill on the issue.

However, good government groups that gathered in Albany on Tuesday said they didn’t have much hope there would be any major action on government ethics reform this year. They largely scoffed at Cuomo’s targeting independent expenditures, saying that more money floods into New York’s elections through things like the LLC loophole and political party committees. Cuomo has backed changes to the LLC loophole and putting limits on how much cash party committees can take in, but he has done little this session to advance bills related to the issues.

“We’ve pleaded, we’ve talked rationally, we have pleaded with legislators and the governor’s office,” Barbara Bartoletti of The League of Women Voters told reporters. She said it is time for New Yorkers to vote out incumbents who don’t support ethics reform.

Meanwhile the houses of the Legislature have tried to come to deals on a bill that would allow for-hire vehicle services like Uber and Lyft to operate in New York State; a bill legalizing and regulating daily fantasy sports gambling; and one to allow online poker. All three may be stalling, though there is still time for negotiations.

The Republican-controlled Senate saw the introduction of two bills of particular interest to residents of New York City. One bill would extend mayoral control of New York City schools by three years, but would have enacted the education tax credit opposed by many Democrats. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan had previously said he would only support a one-year extension of mayoral control while Cuomo and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have pressed for three.

Heastie rejected Flanagan’s proposal, telling reporters: “The Senate has the right to put in whatever bills they want to. I’ll be clear: Those proposals are a non-starter for us, so to me it was a waste of time to put those proposals in.”

A second straight one-year extension of mayoral control without anything else attached may be the best Mayor Bill de Blasio and his allies like Heastie can do.

The Senate also introduced a bill that would revive the controversial 421-a tax break for developers to build affordable housing, a program seen as key to the building of new affordable housing units in New York City. Heastie rejected the bill out of hand, union members have protested the bill did not have high enough wage standards. The program has been the subject of governmental and non-governmental negotiations for many months and there is no clear resolution at hand.

The fate of $2 billion set aside in the budget for supportive and affordable housing appears tied to the fate of 421-a, as Gotham Gazette reported on Monday. Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi told Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom, "The money for supportive housing has been thrown into negotiations that have little to do with it or are tangentially related.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 13


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

New York, the United States, and the world are focused on Orlando, Florida as the week begins after a gunman there killed at least 50 people and injured at least 53 more. In the late night hours of Saturday into Sunday, Omar Mateen opened fire at The Pulse nightclub, known to be a centerpiece of the city’s LGBT community. At this point the attack is being investigated as an act of terrorism and as motivated by hate toward the LGBT community - the shooter, who was killed by law enforcement during the attack, declared allegiance to ISIS and was said, by his father, to have held anti-gay anger. Read the latest from the New York Times here.

In New York City, elected officials, LGBT and Muslim community leaders held a Sunday evening vigil at Diversity Plaza in Queens to honor the victims of the Orlando attack. The Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council held an interfaith vigil outside Judson Memorial Church and at sunset, the City lit City Hall in rainbow colors to represent LGBT pride.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD officials updated the media on Sunday afternoon after the mayor marched in the Puerto Rican Day parade, explaining heightened security measures at LGBT landmarks across the city. City Council Member Corey Johnson announced plans for a Monday evening vigil outside the Stonewall Inn at 6 p.m. Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, among many others, will participate at about 7:30 p.m.

In terms of the week ahead in New York politics, many eyes are on Albany, where there are just three scheduled legislative session days left, set for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week. Mayoral control of New York City schools must be dealt with - it is due to expire at the end of June. There are a variety of other high-profile issues that may see legislation, but lawmakers might do a minimum and get out of town. All 213 seats in the Assembly (150) and Senate (63) are up for election this fall and legislators may be eager to devote their full-time attention to their home districts, campaign fund-raising, and re-election efforts.

Gov. Cuomo and the leaders of each legislative house’s majority announced a deal this weekend on expanding access to breast cancer screenings, a major priority for the governor. As the final days of session are upon us, we’re watching for possible agreement on several issues like the governor’s new campaign finance reform proposal; for-hire vehicle legislation to legalize and regulate services like Uber; and much more, including mayoral control of New York City schools.

In the city itself, the Mayor and the City Council agreed this past week on the outline of a city budget for fiscal year 2017, which begins on July 1 and the Council is expected to officially vote through the budget on Tuesday of this week.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - see 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?
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 On Monday morning, Mayor de Blasio will appear live on 1010WINS at 8:15 and WCBS Newsradio 880 at 8:25 to discuss the Orlando shootings. At 4 p.m. the Mayor "will hold a public hearing for and sign the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA). CJRA is comprised of eight bills – Intro. 639-B, in relation to requiring the NYPD to submit quarterly reports relating to the issuance of summonses; Intro. 662-A, in relation to requiring the NYPD to submit quarterly reports relating to the issuance of desk appearance tickets; Intro. 1056-A, in relation to penalties for violating park rules; Intro. 1057-A, in relation to the enforcement of criminal and civil offenses; Intro. 1058-A, in relation to the penalties for excessive noise; Intro. 1059-A, in relation to OATH procedures for certain quality of life offenses; Intro. 1067-A, in relation to the penalties for possessing an open container of alcohol; and Intro. 1070-A, in relation to the penalties for littering." City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who spearheaded the Criminal Justice Reform Act, will give remarks at the bill-signing.

At 9 a.m. Monday in Queens, City Council Members Dromm, Ferreras-Copeland and Koo will host an Anti-Discrimination Clinic sponsored by Project Reach and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Clinic will focus on leadership training regarding race, class, and gender and address different aspects of discrimination in the community.

At 10 a.m. Monday at 250 Broadway, the state Assembly will hold a public hearing on “Devising a Smart Supportive Housing Strategy for Ex-Offenders upon Reentry. The hearing, led by Assembly Correction Committee Chair Daniel J. O’Donnell and Transitional Services Subcommittee Chair Luis Sepulveda, is “to examine solutions to overcome the barriers faced by ex-offenders in need of affordable housing, a proven cost-effective vehicle for preventing the cycle of homelessness and recidivism among individuals who were formerly incarcerated.”

On Monday starting at 11 a.m., “activists and a broad and diverse coalition of community, labor, good-government and advocacy organizations will demand statewide election reforms outside the offices of the Board of Elections, Glenwood Management and hedge-fund backed Families for Excellent Schools. The demonstrations are part of a statewide Demand Democracy Day of Action that aims to raise awareness about the corrupting influence of big money in Albany and the urgent need for voting rights, campaign finance and ethics reforms.” The series of demonstrations will be led by “Activists and representatives from: Citizen Action of New York, NY Working Families, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, Strong Economy for All Coalition, and other organizations.”

On Monday at 12:30 p.m. schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña “will visit John Jay College of Criminal Justice with 60 middle school students to make a college access announcement.”

Also at 12:30 p.m. Monday, in Albany legislators and advocates will call for Senate passage of Hoosick Falls legislation, which would "extend statute of limitations to recover from polluters." The press conference will be led by Assemblymember John McDonald, Senator Kathy Marchione, Michele Baker, mom and Hoosick Falls resident, Environmental Advocates of New York.

At 1 p.m. Monday at City Hall, City Council Members Stephen Levin, Laurie Cumbo, and Helen Rosenthal, and advocates will hold a rally "to call on Governor Cuomo and New York State Legislature to help New Yorkers who lack stable housing by signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) this week to fully fund FEPS and pass legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi that will expand FEPS eligibility."

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, candidates in New York’s 13th Congressional District will debate at Riverside Church in a forum sponsored by AARP NY and several other organizations. Nine candidates are vying for the position, which is open for the first time since 1944. The debate will focus on issues regarding the needs and concerns of the older and diverse populations in the district, such as strengthening Social Security, supporting family caregivers, increasing pedestrian safety, ensuring retirement security, protecting against age discrimination, and increasing affordable housing.

At 6 p.m. Monday at the Stonewall Inn, there will be a vigil in honor of the victims of the Orlando shooting. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo are among those who will participate, around 7:30 p.m.

Also Monday at 6 p.m. at Pregones Theater in the Bronx, a community forum will discuss “improved relations between the NYPD and the mental health community.” Specifically, the event, being led by Community Access and focus on the NYPD having begun “training officers in a new way to approach those in mental health crisis, known as Crisis Intervention Team training (CIT)...With the help of community partners including Community Access, the NYPD launched a CIT training program in June 2015. To date, more than 2,200 officers have been trained.”

At 7 p.m. Monday, the Regional Plan Association is hosting “Reimagining 14th Street” at the TransitCenter, 1 Whitehall Street. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is among those who will speak.

Tuesday
Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Tuesday afternoon in Albany.

At 12 p.m. Tuesday in Albany, The Center for an Urban Future and NYATEP will host a policy forum on “how New York can strengthen connections between its signature economic development initiative and job training programs.” Featured speakers include Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Winston Fisher, Co-Chair of the NYC Regional Economic Development Council (REDC).

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet.
  • At 11 a.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet concerning the designation of the East New York Savings Bank, Parkway Branch Building as an historic landmark.
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to vote through the fiscal year 2017 budget.
  • The Council will hold a full-body Stated Meeting on Tuesday to vote through the fiscal year 2017 budget.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City & State NY will recognize its 2016 Class of Albany Rising Stars. The annual award reception will honor 40 of the state’s “brightest young professionals in politics, advocacy and business”.

Wednesday
Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday in Long Island City, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) and Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will host their annual Fair Housing Symposium and Tenant Resource Fair. Co-sponsored by the CUNY School of Law, the event will feature discussions on “combatting tenant harassment and source of income discrimination.” Legal and social service providers will also be present to assist attendees with their individual housing concerns.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet.
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet to consider all items reported out of previous Subcommittee meetings.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet.

Thursday
Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Thursday in Albany.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye will discuss NYCHA plans and challenges at a Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum. After Olatoye gives remarks, she will answer questions from moderators Erik Engquist of Crain’s and Ben Max of Gotham Gazette.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the city Department of City Planning will hold its second open house to gather input from local business owners and residents on the progress of the North Brooklyn Industry and Innovation Plan.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will hold a previously deferred oversight hearing on foster care and consider eight newly-introduced bills that would require the city to more closely monitor the welfare of children in foster care, among other things.
  • Also at 10 a.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet to discuss three bills that would require the Department of Consumer Affairs to provide seniors, women, and immigrants with outreach and education regarding consumer protection issues.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Higher Education will meet to review a bill that would establish a task force that would analyze ways to eliminate tuition at the City University of New York and develop proposals on the role the City can play in working toward that goal.

On Thursday at 7 p.m. the Queens County Young Democrats Celebrate Pride 2016 with special guests City Council Member Danny Dromm and Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer - Club Evolution, Jackson Heights.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: at 10 a.m., the Committee on Technology will hold a previously deferred hearing on two bills; one that would require all businesses to allow customers to dial 911 and another that would require the Commissioner of Information Technology to report on misrouted 911 calls near the geographic boundaries of the city.

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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 Amanda Sherwin and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Fate of $2 Billion in State Housing Funds Unclear as Session Nears End


cuomo heastie flanagan

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (l-r) (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, The Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature allocated $2 billion to spend on 100,000 units of affordable and supportive housing in this year’s budget, which was agreed to on April 1. But they failed to include specifics -- details of how that money would be spent -- kicking those decisions down the road. Now, two months later, they have yet to sort out the details and many stakeholders are worried no deal is in sight as the major negotiating parties face off over incongruous priorities.

Cuomo, a Democrat, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie must sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining how the housing money will be spent, and according to housing and homeless advocates, failure to do so by the quickly-approaching end of legislative session will mean the money remains in state coffers without benefitting homeless, low- and moderate-income New Yorkers.

“The money that is supposed to provide relief for the homeless would just sit there. It wouldn't go anywhere, it wouldn't materialize,” said Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, a Queens Democrat who said that advocates are right to be concerned that it won’t be sorted out before the end of session. “There is a deadline for this. Make no mistake. It has to happen before June 16.”

With only three session days left - Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this coming week - and leaders insistent they will leave town Thursday, advocates fear there may not be enough motivation and time for lawmakers to deal with the MOU and all the issues they’ve attached to it.

Four legislative sources tell Gotham Gazette that each house has tied the MOU to a number of thorny issues. They say Senate Republicans have connected the allocation of housing money to the renewal of 421-a. That controversial, lapsed property tax credit meant to spur affordable housing development has been the focus of a number of failed negotiations this year, and it appears getting to a deal on the credit remains a heavy lift. A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Assembly Democrats insist that some of the cash go to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), something that sources say rankles Cuomo as he sees it as directly benefiting Mayor Bill de Blasio, his erstwhile feuding partner. The city’s public housing stock has $17 billion in capital needs and city officials have said the state continues to under-fund NYCHA, even failing to release some previously promised money. Neither Heastie’s nor Cuomo’s office returned requests for comment.

Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, a Manhattan Democrat, recently wrote in an op-ed that appeared in AM New York that he wants $100 million of housing funds to go to NYCHA for serious repairs. Rachel Fee, director of the New York Housing Conference, also called for that commitment in a NY Slant op-ed.

Sources say Cuomo has not appeared to be in a rush to hammer out the MOU. The governor made affordable housing and fighting homelessness major policy points during his January State of the State speech, around that time criticizing de Blasio’s handling of rising homelessness in the city.

“Everything in housing is tied together: 421-a, NYCHA and [the MOU],” said Shelly Nortz, executive director of policy for Coalition for the Homeless. “I know there is no hope whatsoever it will get done after June 16,” she added referring to the notion that once legislators leave Albany they are unlikely to come to any policy decisions.

A coalition called The Campaign for NY/NY Housing, which fights for supportive housing - homelessness relief with social services built in - and counts over 100 interested groups in its ranks, has recently turned up pressure on Cuomo and legislative leaders with a major lobbying campaign designed to get them to act.

“We are very concerned,” said Laura Masuch, executive director of The Supportive Housing Network of New York. “We have 80,000 homeless in the state of New York and supportive housing is critical - especially for families with special needs. It takes a lot of time to open these units, so every day we wait is a day we don’t get a family off the street.”

Fee said that she is concerned the funds may be tied up for the long term if legislators fail to act this year.

“It’s not clear why lawmakers feel no urgency to spend $2 billion in housing funds,” said Fee. "My biggest fear is it will not get done this session and will get pushed to the end of the budget year [March]. This didn’t have to happen in session at all. It could have been negotiated during any of the days that passed since the budget was enacted. We need affordable and supportive housing right now.”

There is precedent for such a holdup. Cuomo and the Legislature drafted an MOU committing to spend bank settlement funds from JP Morgan Chase on housing in 2014, but it wasn’t until the following year’s budget that they actually detailed how the money would be spent. “History doesn't bode well for post-session MOUs getting done,” said Masuch.

Budget watchdogs have long decried the use of MOUs in budgeting because they lack transparency. Good government groups have campaigned to end the process, especially after pots of unitemized allocations played roles in the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Assembly Republicans have called for a system that tracks spending of large amounts of cash created in the budget, but Cuomo and legislative leaders have scoffed at the idea. Now another drawback of failing to allocate budgeted cash appears clear: the principals may never get around to figuring out how to spend it.

Nortz, Coalition for the Homeless, said that she sees the project as belonging to Cuomo. It’s a feeling shared by many advocates who campaigned to get Cuomo to invest in supportive housing last year. Cuomo also dedicated significant time in his January State of the State address to the housing money he was proposing.

A variety of rank-and-file legislators also put the onus on Cuomo because they feel that the specifics of the $2 billion plan wasn’t given priority in budget negotiations and was left to an MOU only because budget negotiations basically collapsed.

Nortz said that if the MOU isn’t signed before the end of session it will “raise real questions” about Cuomo’s commitment to the homeless and to affordable housing. “If he wants it done it will get done. This is the governor who managed to get the Senate to pass marriage equality; this is the governor who got a $15 minimum wage when he didn’t even believe in it a year before. We know what he can do when he wants to,” said Nortz.

Masuch, of The Supportive Housing Network, said she was heartened to see Cuomo take ownership of homelessness as an issue in his State of the State address. “We were very pleased, he talked lots about homelessness and housing. That was great, and now we need him to push leadership to bring it home and make sure it is their priority.”

Hevesi declined to place blame for the stalled negotiations. But he said he is more than disappointed to see the funding caught up in Albany’s routine “Big Ugly” end-of-session negotiations, where legislators wait until the last minute to hash out a mishmash of interconnected deals.

“Every year 19,000 more people become homeless in New York than stop being homeless,” said Hevesi. “We can't sustain that level of homelessness and we shouldn’t be waiting for help while thousands of more families are being destroyed.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Espaillat Unveils Plan to Address Child Care Costs


Espaillat news conference

Sen. Espaillat (photo: @EspaillatNY)


To address the city’s escalating affordability crisis, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, Democratic candidate in the 13th Congressional District, is unveiling a proposal to increase the federal Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

The announcement comes as the heated Congressional primary enters its final weeks. Espaillat’s campaign is announcing a series of policy papers in an attempt to separate itself in a race that has focused on political allegiances, polls, and fundraising. Other candidates vying to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel include Assemblymember Keith Wright, former Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell, Assemblymemeber Guillermo Linares, and Clyde Williams, former political director of the Democratic National Committee. Espaillat unsuccessfully challenged Rangel in 2012 and 2014. This year’s primary is set for June 28.

“I think there is a growing affordability crisis in the city and the state that has been framed around rent and the minimum wage, but not that fine-tuned to address issues young families face as far child care,” Espaillat told Gotham Gazette. “There are big costs these families face to live in the city while trying to raise kids. Some parents won’t go to work if they aren’t sure their children are receiving proper care.”

Espaillat cites a study by Democratic New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office that shows child care costs for city residents rising $1,612 per family each year. The study further shows that the average New York City family spends up to $16,250 per year on child care for an infant, $11,648 for a toddler and $9,620 for a school-age child. Gillibrand, like Rangel, has endorsed Wright in the congressional race. Espaillat said he had not spoken to the senator about his plan.

Espaillat’s plan would increase the CDCTC for families with children under four, allow families to claim 50 percent of child care costs up to $6,000 per child, and increase the maximum credit for families receiving federal, state, and city credits by 43 percent per child, making the maximum credit $8,775 per child.

Only families making under $30,000 a year with children under four years of age are eligible for the city tax credit. Families of all income levels with children up to the age of 13 are eligible for the state and federal credits, but the credits shrink depending on income. The state and city CDCTC are calculated as a percentage of the federal credit, so an increase to the federal plan would in turn boost state and local aid.

Espaillat’s policy paper estimates that “A family receiving the maximum federal, state, and city credits would receive $6,143-just over one-third the average price of child care for an infant in New York City. But a family earning $50,000 with a three-year-old child would only receive $2,400. This is a massive burden on New York City’s working- and middle-class families.”

Espaillat said he believes his proposal is one that could attract bipartisan support and gain traction in Congress because people across the country struggle to pay for child care. “This cuts across state and party lines,” Espaillat told Gotham Gazette. “This is like student loans; it has universal appeal whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or independent.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Bronx Council Member Preparing to Again Challenge Incumbent State Senator


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City Council Member Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste)


City Council Member Fernando Cabrera is preparing for a rematch with incumbent State Senator Gustavo Rivera in the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx, according to sources familiar with Cabrera’s intentions.

Cabrera did not have an easy go of things when he first challenged Rivera in the 2014 Democratic primary. Reports by various publications highlighted Cabrera’s connections to extreme anti-gay groups like The Family Research Council, his praise of Ugandan anti-gay laws, and his conservative voting record.

Cabrera lost the 2014 primary by 20 points. He told The Observer that he believed his loss was due to “the liberal media.” 

“He had the mayor, he had the borough president, he had county, he had all the unions, he had liberal media, he had the LGBT community–what was left?” Cabrera said, according to The Observer. “It was absolutely unfair. I think [the media] was very biased. It was clear, every time we tried to put our message out, it was not being put forth correctly or misrepresented.”

According to five sources familiar with his intentions, Cabrera plans to again challenge Rivera this year - a move that is causing tension with the Bronx Democratic County Committee, whose leaders were hoping to maintain peace between their elected Council member and senator.

Cabrera and his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He is in the midst of his second four-year term as a Council member and can run for one more in 2017. State Senators serve two-year terms and have no term limits.

“Whatever decision [Cabrera] makes the results from the last election are what they are, and I’m not sure they could be any different,” said Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx County Democratic Committee.

Asked whether he shares concerns voiced by other insiders that the time and resources of both elected officials, Cabrera and Rivera, would be better spent representing their shared constituents rather than battling each other, Crespo replied; “I would agree with that statement.”

Rivera said that while he welcomed all challengers he is taken aback by Cabrera’s candidacy because he thinks Cabrera’s beliefs fly in the face of those of Senate Democrats.

“Since I defeated Pedro Espada in 2010 I’ve been working consistently to return the Democrats to the Senate Majority, I’ve been fighting for my constituents, for tenants rights, for equality. We saw before how the Democratic majority was undone by a backroom deal,” Rivera said. “My opponent is someone who changed registration from Republican to Democrat, is anti-choice, anti-women, has dangerous views on the LGBT community, and has taken major donations from landlords while the rent laws are up [for reauthorization] next year.”

Rivera said he feels that Cabrera is the kind of politician who could jeopardize a Democratic majority, which the party is hoping for through this fall’s elections.

“We want to make sure when we get to the majority we can can do the right thing, and this endangers that,” Rivera said of Cabrera’s challenge.

Rivera is seen by many as an outsider to the Bronx County Democrats. He has openly clashed with Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., who holds conservative views similar to Cabrera’s, and has warred with Independent Democratic Conference leader Sen. Jeff Klein over Klein’s decision to split from mainline Democrats and essentially give Republicans rule over the chamber (even after Democrats won a numerical majority).

Rivera was further seen to have rankled the county machine when he supported his chief of staff, Katrina Asante, in the race to replace Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who was recently hired by the Cuomo administration, creating an open seat. County Democrats have rallied behind District Leader Jamaal Bailey, who is seen as a protege of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has endorsed him. Asante officially dropped her bid on Wednesday.

Norwood News reported in April that some involved in Bronx politics see Hassell-Thompson’s hiring and Heastie’s endorsement of Bailey as an undemocratic conspiracy parallel to the backroom maneuvering that allowed Bronx County Democrats to replace former Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson on the ballot with Darcel Clark, a Heastie ally.

Crespo refuted the idea, telling Norwood News, “The notion that the only way Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson could get something is by somebody asking, that’s nonsense. People either have too much fun believing somehow running strings everywhere."

While some insiders say Asante faced trouble raising funds due to Heastie’s support of Bailey, most insiders Gotham Gazette spoke to said they see Cabrera’s planned challenge to Rivera as unrelated.

During his last run for Senate, Cabrera voiced interest in joining Klein in the IDC and appeared to benefit from many of Klein’s donors. This year, with control of the Senate extremely tenuous, it appears unlikely the IDC will get involved in the race.

Gary Axelbank, a political observer and host of BronxTalk, said that he sees Cabrera’s run against Rivera as a boon for constituents. “When two elected officials from one district oppose each other, it's very healthy for constituents to have that sort of high-level choice. It speaks to the best of our participatory democracy.”

However, Axelbank noted that Cabrera turned down his invitation to a televised debate with Rivera in 2014. “We invited Councilman Cabrera to participate in a debate the last time these two ran against each other, but he declined to participate, which we found to be very disappointing. We plan to invite both the candidates to debate again this summer and we hope and expect that Councilman Cabrera will join us so that the voters have the best chance to make their choice."

Meanwhile, Rivera is not hiding the fact that he takes Cabrera’s challenge as an affront to not only his work but the work done by all elected Senate Democrats to win back the majority from Senate Republicans.

“It's more than a little offensive that this person is more interested in his political future than serving our constituents,” Rivera said.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Launches End-of-Session Addition to Stagnant Ethics Agenda


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Gov. Cuomo on Wednesday (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)


Last year, with ten days remaining in legislative session and confronted with a major ethics reform proposal from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters, "Let me make this as a blanket statement: It is late in the day for anything.”

On Wednesday, with only four days remaining of this year’s legislative session, Cuomo announced a new prong to his ethics reform agenda: an ambitious plan to better regulate the activities of political action committees and limit the impact of shadowy independent expenditures that he says are all too often not actually independent from the candidate they are supporting.

It is a late addition to a fairly long reform agenda the governor has done little to publically support.

After outlining his government ethics and campaign finance reform agenda is his January State of the State address, Cuomo has now held one public event dedicated to reform in the last five months. Speaking at Fordham Law School in Manhattan, Cuomo told the mid-day crowd that “the state Legislature is in session and they are in session until next week. They have plenty of time and they can lead this effort to reform or they can perpetuate the status quo.”

Speaking in bold terms, Cuomo announced an assault on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which found political campaign spending to be free speech, allowing a flood of outside groups, or independent expenditure committees (Super PACs), to spend limitless amounts of cash on elections across the country. The court did not rule limits on candidate campaigns unconstitutional, but did allow a system to flourish whereby affiliated, but “independent” groups can virtually circumvent those limits.

Decrying the influence of money and the monied on politics and resulting voter alienation that has occurred, Cuomo first unveiled an opinion from his counsel, Alphonso David, instructing state enforcement agencies on how to determine coordination between independent expenditure campaigns and candidates. Cuomo also outlined a bill that would create new regulations, transparency, and restrictions on independent expenditure campaigns that would look to prevent candidates from having direct control over Super PACs by appointing their allies to head them.

The governor made his announcement in New York City rather than in Albany where legislators were in session and appeared to reference Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom he has an ongoing feud with, on several occassion. Once of which was when he said to reporters after the event, “The press asks a politician, ‘are you going to set up an independent expenditure committee,’ and the politician will say, ‘I’m thinking about it.’ You basically asked if somebody is going to commit a crime, and the person said, ‘I’m thinking about it.”

The governor may have been referencing an answer de Blasio gave WNYC’s Brian Lehrer when asked if he was planning to utilize such a group in his 2017 reelection campaign. “Independent means independence,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “You would have to be an independent entity that is not associated, or affiliated, or cooperating, or facilitating with any candidate or any other group.”

When asked, Cuomo said he wasn’t focused on de Blasio. He also declined to provide examples of what led to his new action, saying that he did not want to accuse anyone of a crime, but that his office would provide examples.

The apparent reference to de Blasio, the incessant feuding between the two, de Blasio’s use of political nonprofits to boost his agenda, and Cuomo’s at times vague language led to some confusion about whether the governor’s new push would target issue advocacy campaigns like The Campaign for One New York, a group founded by de Blasio allies and lobbyists to further the mayor’s agenda. That group is currently under federal investigation as it closes down amid controversy.

Cuomo had a similar group called the Committee to Save New York that took money from business groups to lobby for the governor’s agenda. That organization shut down in early 2013 after calls for disclosure.

While Cuomo said after his speech that such groups would be included in what he was proposing, materials provided by the administration appear to show the governor’s legislation will only focus on independent expenditure groups that operate during electoral campaigns.

A Cuomo administration official later told Gotham Gazette that it would apply to groups that engage in political activity and that the administration is not prejudging what any group might do. Brent Ferguson of The Brennan Center for Justice said that he believed Cuomo’s legislation would only cover nonprofit advocacy groups, a certain class of 501(c)4s, if they engage in “political activity” during campaign season. Throughout his controversial use of The Campaign for One New York, de Blasio repeatedly pointed to it being in support of an agenda, rather than a candidate (so not technically a Super Pac). The group was of course supporting de Blasio’s agenda, though not exactly his reelection effort.

The bill does appear to have bearing to another of the several investigations targeting de Blasio. The United States Attorney is reportedly looking into whether a group opposing horse carriages in Central Park coordinated with de Blasio to attack mayoral candidate and former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Cuomo has enjoyed the backing of charter school and real estate groups that frequently use independent expenditure campaigns to boost their candidates. While Cuomo railed against the Citizens United decision, he said that within its constraints states could act to limit the impact of independent expenditures by cracking down on illegal coordination. He also said he wants to see Citizens United overturned.

The timing of Cuomo’s new push confuses and frustrates some reform advocates. They say Cuomo hasn’t rallied public support for his proposals to limit outside income for legislators, create a public campaign finance system, or to close the LLC loophole - all parts of his reform agenda unveiled in January.

Cuomo unveiled a package of eight bills designed to close the limited liability companies loophole late last month. The bills provided limits on donations from LLCs to various combinations of elected offices - the Governor was covered by all of them. They also require more disclosure from LLCs.

Advocates see independent expenditures as a minor issue in New York where Super PACs are not rampant in state elections. “Independent expenditures tend not to be particularly as big in New York as say the LLC Loophole or housekeeping accounts,” said Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to political party accounts not subject to the same campaign finance limits as candidate campaigns. “Here at the end of session I think lawmakers should be focused on ending corruption and this connects in the most tangential way.”

Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, complimented Cuomo’s efforts, praising “a novel and innovative campaign finance reform idea is a welcomed salve to the growing number of independent committees through which a select number of large donors control much of the political dialogue and activity.” Dadey said, though, that today’s announcement “should not distract from the more immediate task at hand of addressing the crime wave of corruption in Albany” and called for passage of previously proposed measures.

Some note that the push on independent expenditures may be a way to find common ground with the Legislature which has been fairly recalcitrant on reform issues.“The timing is odd in a sense because here we are at the end of session, the public is clamoring for Albany to address public corruption and the people at the Capitol are talking about anything else,” said Horner. “So to do it during the last week of session seems strange unless there is interest by the legislative leaders to do it. And if there is why not do the announcement in Albany?”

Both Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie released statements supportive of Cuomo’s efforts.

Flanagan’s arrived in media inboxes quickly after Cuomo’s event.

“Campaign and election reform is a key component of ethics reform,” Flanagan said. “Therefore, we welcome the opportunity to review and discuss the Governor’s proposal as part of our effort to arrive at a comprehensive reform package that rebuilds the public trust, and includes action on issues previously raised by members of the Senate Republican Conference.”

Heastie was also tentatively supportive while also touting the Assembly’s past work on election and reform issues. “We recognize the need for additional reform that will offer New Yorkers transparency and accountability,” wrote Heastie. “We agree with Governor Cuomo that this is a priority that must be addressed before the close of the 2016 session. It is our goal for the voters of this state to have full faith and trust in their government. There is no question that campaign finance reform and taking a hard line against corrupt officials who abuse the public trust are the keys to achieving that goal.”

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, welcomed the governor’s focus on independent expenditures but said he thought it was the wrong fight for the time. “We support the governor's call for curbing Independent Expenditures --- they are as bad as he says. But independent expenditures played no role in the Silver or Skelos' corruption capers, and play no role in the huge pay to play and conflict of interest scandal engulfing the governor's Upstate economic development programs,” Kaehny said in a statement. “The governor is not wrong in wanting to curtail the corrosive plague of Independent Expenditures, but he is also conveniently ignoring reforms that would directly address the multitude of concerns raised by the probe in the state's Upstate economic development programs.”

Cuomo and legislative leaders are expected to finalize any end of session deals next week - the last scheduled session day is Wednesday, June 15. Many believe that the only hope for government ethics reform is agreement on pension forfeiture for elected officials convicted of public corruption.

Horner said that he believes that Cuomo is allowing one of the biggest opportunities for major reform in decades to slip out of his hands. “The only reason any ethics reform passed in the last few years is because of the governor, but he has never been all in [this year],” said Horner. “This year we have our Watergate moment and we may end up with parking tickets for the burglars - nothing on the scale of what happened with Skelos and Silver.”

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Former Government Informant to Run for Old Assembly Seat


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Current Assembly Member Victor Pichardo


Former Bronx Assemblymember Nelson Castro wants his seat back. Standing in the way, along with the rigors of a campaign and the incumbent, is the fact that Castro served as a government informant for years - to avoid perjury charges.

In April 2013 Castro abruptly resigned his Bronx Assembly seat, shocking his colleagues and constituents by announcing that he had worked for the U.S. Attorney’s office and that his role as an informant was key to convicting former Assemblymember Eric Stevenson for taking $20,000 in bribes from businesspeople building a daycare facility. Castro told Gotham Gazette on Tuesday that he doesn’t believe that bit of his past will come into play as he challenges sitting Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, the man who won his vacant seat, in the upcoming September Democratic primary.

“The only perception that matters to me is that of the voters of the 86th district,” said Castro. “We're gearing up to run, and basically the reason why is that I can't come out of my house without people telling us, ‘We miss you. Why don't you come back?’”

Castro’s return to the political arena comes at a time when the capital is consumed by investigations by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Both recent legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, were sentenced on multiple federal corruption charges. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s massive economic development programs and members of his inner circle are under scrutiny. And, current Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie reportedly faces an investigation into reimbursements he received from the Bronx Democratic Committee. 

Castro said that he was motivated to run by what he sees as a lack of constituent services from Pichardo, who he says he does respect. Castro said constituents complain of long lines at the district office and having to make appointments to speak to anyone there. “I saw Victor and told him I don't think he's a bad kid but he needs to be more attentive to the district,” Castro said, adding that Pichardo is seen by many constituents as a staffer who reports to Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera, who has backed Pichardo in both of his electoral contests.

Castro faced questions from his colleagues and constituents after revealing he was an informant - questions about what his focus was when he was in office. During his last year in office Castro moved one bill. He was still a candidate in 2009 when he agreed to work as an informant and later ran for reelection while still in the same position.

For his part, Pichardo told Gotham Gazette that he is focused on finishing out session and working for the people of the Bronx in Albany. He doesn’t plan to be distracted by electoral matters until session is finished, he said. Lawmakers are wrapping up session in the capital before heading home to their districts and their reelection bids.

Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is Bronx County Democratic Chair, questioned whether Castro could legally run for office, given that he pled guilty to perjury. “I am fully committed to Victor Pichardo,” Crespo told Gotham Gazette.

A spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office declined to comment on Castro’s run.

Castro actually faced a number of scrapes with the law before running for Assembly in 2009. The Daily News reported that he was arrested for felony larceny in Michigan in 1989; he pled down to a misdemeanor. In 2003, he was arrested for grand larceny for collecting unemployment checks while being employed; he pled that charge down to petty larceny, repaid the funds, and served three years probation. In 2008, he was arrested for driving with a revoked license, and also had $3,000 in unpaid parking tickets.

As for the perjury charge that led to his work as an informant, Castro stresses that the actual case had nothing to do with his work in the Assembly. The charge stemmed from Castro’s involvement in a district leaders race. Ten people were registered to vote out of Castro’s one-bedroom apartment. Asked about the situation by a special referee, Castro claimed he had no idea that many people were registered to vote there. He also testified he didn’t know the man who in reality served as his volunteer coordinator. That testimony led to an investigation by the Bronx District Attorney and the charges that led to Castro’s agreement to serve as an informant.

“It was at a hearing that I committed perjury,” Castro told Gotham Gazette. I didn’t do anything fraudulent to become Assemblyman. I committed perjury and I lived through the repercussions and I am truly sorry.”

Some in the Bronx do see Pichardo as being ripe for a challenge. In 2014, Pichardo claimed victory over challenger Hector Ramirez by only two votes - after a recount. Ramirez accused Pichardo of subverting the vote. But, in the end Ramirez was charged with a 242-count indictment related to massive voter fraud. Some Bronx politicos believe the race was tighter than it should have been despite Ramirez’s alleged voter fraud.

A number of observers wonder whether Castro will actually carry his campaign through petitioning, how he will raise money, and if he has given any thought to what life would be like for him in Albany should he actually win.

Castro said he is used to being out of the good graces of the Bronx County Democrats and expects not to have any union support, often key to marshalling votes in Democratic primaries.

“I think people are afraid of what county can do,” Castro said, referring to the Bronx County Democratic Committee. “I’ve beaten them just by knocking on doors. I will have to do everything by hand. I won’t have unions, but I did it before. I’m not afraid of it.”

It is unlikely Castro will be the only entrant into the primary to challenge Pichardo, and his candidacy seems like a long shot, but there appears to be something else at play in Castro’s run: his desire for a platform to redefine himself. Castro told reporters he was “done with politics” while leaving court after his November, 2014 sentencing. He said he would focus on selling energy efficient light bulbs. But it appears life out of politics didn’t give him the redemption he was seeking.

“Part of why I am running again is to let me say my piece,” Castro told Gotham Gazette. “There was no wire,” he said referencing stories that he wore a recording device when dealing with his colleagues in the Legislature. “I guess I broke an unwritten rule that you are not supposed to turn your back on your buddies. Once I get to Albany I will know how to handle myself. I had no friends there last time. It's not a problem.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 6


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week we're watching the end of the legislative session in Albany - seven scheduled days left! - and the final city budget negotiations here in New York City.

There are seven legislative session days left in Albany, if lawmakers use all of them, including this week’s four meetings Monday through Thursday. Mayoral control of New York City schools must be dealt with - it is due to expire at the end of June. There are a variety of other high-profile issues that may see legislation, but lawmakers might do a bare minimum and get out of town. All 213 seats in the Assembly (150) and Senate (63) are up for election this fall and legislators may be eager to devote their full-time attention to their home districts, campaign fund-raising, and re-election efforts. [Read our rundown of the key issues at play that may actually get dealt with, and a few high-profile ones that seem to be completely off the table.]

We may see a city budget deal this week, well before the June 30 end of the fiscal year. There are whispers that the Council wants to vote a new budget through on Thursday at its full-body stated meeting, which could mean a deal-in-concept announced early this week. [Read our rundown of some of the final issues that have been sticking points and on the negotiating table.]

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - see 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?
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 9 a.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will speak at the Proud to Be Latina 6th Annual Empowerment Leadership Conference at New York Law School.

On Monday at 9:30 a.m. at the New York Public Library, "Mayor de Blasio will host a Global Mayors’ Meeting on Ending AIDS in Cities. The event is being convened by the Mayors of Paris and New York, UNAIDS, UN-Habitat and the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care, with the support of the M·A·C AIDS Fund."

At 10 a.m. Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is making an announcement at Walkway Over the Hudson State Park in Poughkeepsie.

On Monday morning at 10:15 at City Hall, “charter school leaders, parents of waitlisted kids, New York City Charter School Center officials, announce strong demand for charter schools and sky-high lottery and waitlist numbers,” according to City & State NY.

At 11 a.m., over 200 faith leaders from across New York State will “release a letter on Monday, June 6th addressed to Governor Cuomo, Senator Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Heastie calling on them to pass legislation that would raise the age at which youth are charged as adults in New York.”

Also at 11 a.m., Speaker Mark-Viverito will speak at a rally in front of Trump Tower denouncing "Donald Trump's outrageous claims about Indiana-born American Judge Gonzalo Curiel."

Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Monday afternoon in Albany.

Monday evening, Speaker Mark-Viverito and city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will appear at "I am Latino in America" with Soledad O’Brien at Museo del Barrio.

Tuesday
Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At 8 a.m., NYC Small Business Commissioner Gregg Bishop, City Council Member Robert Cornegy, and Jeff Merritt, the Director of Innovation for the Mayor’s Office of Tech and Innovation, will discuss “current regulatory issues small businesses are facing” at City and State NY’s “On Small Business” forum.

At 9:30 a.m., the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will hold a forum to “analyze how food policy advocates can use the 2016 Presidential and Congressional elections to advance policy goals of the various strands of the food justice movement.”

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet.
  • At 9:30 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will review a bill that would set a time period for places to be considered for landmark status and another that would establish “a publicly accessible tracking database of all commitments made by the city.” The Committee will also review several land use applications.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will hold an oversight hearing on reducing food waste in the city.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City Director of Food Policy Barbara J. Turk and Kathryn Edin, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University, will discuss “poverty and hunger” at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Wednesday
Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will review eight newly-introduced bills that would require the city to more closely monitor the welfare of children in foster care, as well as one resolution that would extend housing subsidy eligibility for youth who aged out of foster care.
  • Also at 10 a.m., the Committee on Public Safety and the Committee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a joint hearing to review two bills that would require the NYPD to more proactively prevent and regulate police misconduct.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the City Council will hold a celebration of LGBT pride in the Council Chambers featuring Council Members Daniel Dromm, Corey Johnson, Carlos Menchaca, Rosie Mendez, Ritchie Torres, James Vacca, and Jimmy Van Bramer.

Thursday
Both houses of the state Legislature are in session on Thursday in Albany.

“The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on June 9, at 10:00 AM.”

At the City Council on Thursday: at 1:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a stated meeting. As usual, it will be prefaced by the Speaker’s pre-stated press conference.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: at 1 p.m., the Committee on Technology will hold a hearing on two bills; one that would require all businesses to allow customers to dial 911, and another that would require the Commissioner of Information Technology to report on misrouted 911 calls near the geographic boundaries of the city.

On Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson will hold another Begin Again event, which allow residents the chance to easily clear summons warrants, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Bushwick.

Want to read more from Gotham Gazette? Choose from our most recent reporting on city and state politics and government here.

***
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 Aaron Holmes & Ben Max
@GothamGazette

For Review, Cuomo Chooses Outside Agent Over Existing State Investigators


schneiderman cuomo moreland corruption

Scheiderman, left, & Cuomo, center (photo via The Governor's Office on Flickr)


More than a month after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Bart Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor, would head an “independent investigation” into the Buffalo Billion economic development program, it remains unclear whether Schwartz has begun his work and the governor has repeatedly said that his contract with the state is still being finalized. The Buffalo Billion project and other pieces of Cuomo’s economic development programs have drawn scrutiny from the U.S. Attorney and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman due to allegations including bid-rigging that favored large Cuomo donors.

This past week, the State Inspector General’s office issued a report on the source of a leak about an investigation into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fundraising practices at the State Board of Elections. By all accounts the investigation was conducted expeditiously.The Joint Commission on Public Ethics is also involved in a de Blasio matter as it probes his allies’ lobbying practices. These matters, not to mention the existence of the Attorney General and Comptroller, make it clear that state government already has a number of investigative bodies that would not have required extended contract negotiations and monetary compensation to conduct an investigation of the Buffalo Billion. But, Cuomo decided not to call on an existing investigative body to look at all aspects of his major economic development programs.

Gov. Cuomo’s office did not respond to questions about why an existing agency was not selected. Schwartz’s office declined to respond to questions about whether he had a contract and how many staff he would bring to his review of state economic development programming.

Schwartz’s role is murky given that the U.S. Attorney and Attorney General are now both pursuing widespread investigations. It is unclear what he can do investigatively that won’t interfere with active probes. Government watchdogs say that Schwartz’s appointment would have had an impact when concerns about the bidding process were initially raised, but at this point many believe Cuomo is simply trying to obscure the scope of the federal probe and claim high ground as state integrity is questioned.

“Schwartz’s investigation was triggered by a criminal probe. If he had been brought in years ago, that would have been a different thing,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany.

Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor and head of Columbia Law School’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity sees value in Schwartz’s hiring. “There are two things Bart Schwartz brings to the table: independence and resources,” Rodgers said.

“JCOPE is constantly tagged as not independent, and the state IG is ostensibly independent although appointed by the Governor,” noted Rodgers, adding that Schwartz’s firm, Guidepost Solutions, “has all the experts he might need to examine such a complex system: lawyers, former law enforcement officials, computer people - people with a set of skills that the IG and JCOPE would be hard-pressed to bring together.”

While Cuomo has said Schwartz will take a soup-to-nuts approach to his review, no one will know exactly what he is tasked with and how his work will be done until his contract is finalized and made public.

Schwartz’s firm details its approach to internal investigations on its website:

“Guidepost Solutions is frequently called upon by businesses to conduct internal investigations into allegations or suspicions of corrupt or fraudulent conduct by employees. We rely upon our full-time staff of attorneys, forensic accountants, research analysts, field investigators and computer forensics experts to staff these assignments, and we work collaboratively with our business clients to develop an investigative plan that is appropriate to the suspected misconduct...Since most of our investigative professionals have had experience in federal, state and local law enforcement—as prosecutors, auditors and agents—our investigative strategies are developed with an understanding of the evidence that may be needed to support an eventual criminal prosecution.”

The section goes on to state that the team is “equally sensitive to matters of confidentiality and public perception.”

Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), said that Gov. Cuomo had a full menu of options to choose from before even considering Schwartz. “The governor had a toolbox he could have gone to to review this, but instead he went out and bought a new hammer.” Critics of the state's approach to economic development, including the Buffalo Billion, have repeatedly said that the state Comptroller should have more oversight of contracts and spending - something Comptroller Tom DiNapoli recently addressed in a series of proposals.

Horner said that the arrangement with Schwartz could technically allow Cuomo to address issues faster than if the IG’s office was investigating.

“Schwartz reports directly to him, so in theory it would all happen faster, although the IG did just turn a report around in a few weeks,” said Horner, referring to the investigation of the BOE leak. “The IG would have to issue a report and the IG would have to act.”

In other words, if the IG’s office was investigating the case the governor wouldn’t be able to fix anything until after a report was released, and the IG would have to recommend actions to be taken, which could include civil cases or referrals to law enforcement agencies for violations of the law, according to New York Executive Law section 53.

The Cuomo administration has said Schwartz will have the ability to review contracts and control cash flow, while also looking for larger fixes to the system, giving him a more proactive role than standard investigators. In an April 29 statement announcing his impending hire, Schwartz said that given the investigation and the administration’s desire to keep the Buffalo Billion program running, “they have asked me to commence an immediate review of all grants and approvals – past, current and future – in certain programs and operations,including the Buffalo Billion/Nano Economic Development Program.”

“It’s belt and suspenders, but I’d rather have it that way,” Cuomo told reporters in New York City last week, referring to redundancy and noting that he will consider making changes to economic development programs depending on the findings. Cuomo aides have periodically reminded reporters that Schwartz will also have direct approval of contracts and cash allocations. No one has confirmed whether Schwartz has indeed begun his work.

Last week, when asked if Schwartz’s report would be made public Cuomo appeared less sure of what Schwartz would be doing and admitted he had yet to secure a contract with him. “He is being hired as an independent to do an independent review,” said Cuomo. “I don’t know what his standard protocol is. I wouldn’t have a problem with [making his findings public], but I don’t know how he operates.”

Cuomo’s aides later clarified Schwartz’s report would be made public if it didn’t interfere with the U.S. Attorney’s investigation. It is unclear if there has been communication between Schwartz and U.S. Attorney Bharara’s office.

Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said he finds it a “stretch of the imagination” to think the governor could appoint someone to investigate the Buffalo Billion matter when the crux of the federal investigation appears to hinge on whether contracts were exchanged for major donations to the governor’s campaign.

“He could have asked the Attorney General and Comptroller to jointly choose an investigator and signed an MOU [memo of understanding] that would give them access to the documents they need. It would have been highly credible, people would believe it.” He noted that “most observers don’t think of the IG or JCOPE as independent” and so wouldn’t have the ability to “give the governor a clean bill of health.”

Rodgers said a joint investigation by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, both Democrats like Cuomo who are known to have strained relationships with the governor, could have appeared independent but the relational friction could have prevented the governor from wanting to hand them the keys to his signature economic development program. She noted both offices would have the resources necessary for an investigation the scope of the Buffalo Billion.

The main question surrounding Schwartz’s usefulness in the matter remains exactly what Cuomo has tasked him with investigating. Cuomo has repeatedly said that Bharara’s investigation focuses on two men, longtime associates Todd Howe and Joseph Percoco, something disputed by those familiar with the investigation.

On Thursday Cuomo was asked whether he has been told by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that its probe focuses on only a few people. Cuomo said that he hadn’t but that he believes the actions of a few people are at issue.

“Our investigator will talk to hundreds of people, but it’s about the actions of several people,” Cuomo said, adding that he would consider changes to economic development practices if Schwartz’s indicates they are necessary.

“There are major question marks around the scope of his engagement and the access he will get,” Rodgers said of Schwartz. “He has the tools and independence, but what was he asked to do with them? That is why it's so important we see a contract.”

While Schwartz’s role has remained unclear, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation into alleged bid-rigging in Cuomo’s economic development initiative appears to be quickly expanding; last week the U.S. Attorney’s office and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office conducted a joint raid on the headquarters of SUNY Polytechnic, the organization that oversees Buffalo Billion contracting. The raid appeared partly targeted at the office of Howe, a Cuomo ally and lobbyist, who has lobbied the administration while also representing semi-governmental entities and remaining close with key players in the Cuomo administration.

A recent Wall Street Journal story revealed emails showing that Howe, someone Cuomo himself has said is a target of the probe, had a close hand in guiding SUNY Poly head Alain Kaloyeros as well as directing conversations with the governor’s top aides about how to do so. Cuomo insisted last month that he wasn’t close friends with Howe. On Thursday he said otherwise, telling reporters “I know Todd Howe. I’ve known him for many years. He worked for nano, he’s worked on a lot of these projects. But it’s also irrelevant. If anyone does anything improper, they will be punished to the fullest extent of the law, period.”

Kaehny said that Schwartz’s appointment has in a way already failed the administration. “The problem Schwartz faced from the very first moment is that his client is the governor, and the people targeted by subpoenas are extremely close to the governor,” said Kaehny, adding that it is hard to have faith in an investigation launched by the governor himself. However, it won’t be clear exactly what kind of investigation Schwartz is undertaking until his contract is made public, if one is indeed signed.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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