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Campaign Committees Operate With Little Oversight, Groups Say


Photo by flickr.com/401(K)2012, used under Creative Commons license


ALBANY, N.Y. — Modest, crunchy former Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of the word scofflaw.

In Hawkin’s case, his committee hasn’t filed reports since 2011 and, even though it’s allowed to file a no-activity statement, it hasn’t, according to campaign finance records. Records also show that Hawkins 2010 campaign committee has $12,906 on hand, though Hawkins says the real number is a lot lower.

“My treasurer was a volunteer who just got overwhelmed,” Hawkins explained. “She said we had $12,000 on hand, but we have about $1,000.”

Campaign committees have long operated without much scrutiny from the public or regulators, including by the state Board of Elections, which is charged with overseeing them, according to good government groups.

The groups say the BOE’s enforcement is so lax that the only action they take regularly is issuing relatively small fines that range from $100 to $1,000 to those who don’t file on time. They also say that the BOE is not even trying to catch major offenders like corporations that routinely donate money well over New York’s already extremely high contribution limits.

As the state heads into the peak of election season, campaign committees are being scrutinized anew.

Last week, the New York Public Interest Group released a study that aimed to highlight the failure of BOE enforcement actions, showing that 2,328 campaign committees had failed to file activity reports for the July period. Hawkins’ name appears on that list right along with disgraced former state politicians Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate.

NYPIRG - $31M in Campaign Funds Missing in Action

The BOE disputes the assertions of good government groups, arguing that it has been aggressive in enforcing campaign finance laws.

“Since 2006, we have initiated 5,042 lawsuits against candidates and committees seeking more than $1.5 million in court-assessed fines for failure to file campaign finance disclosure reports,” the BOE said in a statement. “While we are criticized for seeking fines of only $1,000, that is the maximum allowable under current law. In addition, we average more than 4,000 enforcement actions each year, which stop short of litigation because the committees or candidates make their filing.”

The BOE also said it had referred more than 900 cases involving candidates and committees to the Albany County district attorney between 2007 and 2010.

Hawkins said the BOE has routinely notified him and his treasurer of deadlines. He said he is currently trying to figure out the accounting mess and file with the BOE.

“In my experience, they fine you, and for the little guy $500 is a lot, it hurts. But in some ways it’s inexcusable,” Hawkins said.

Bill Mahoney, legislative operations and research coordinator for NYPIRG, agrees that the current system is harder on the little guys. He also says he is aware of a number of candidates who were being fined and didn’t even know it because their treasurers had moved, retired or had other problems.

“They sent notices to old addresses, issued fines and didn’t even follow up as to why they hadn’t filed,” Mahoney said. He also noted that the regulations the BOE enforces are frustratingly lax.

“We’ve come to a point where you have to be walking away with the money and not telling anyone for it to be illegal,” he added.

New York has the laxest limits on campaign contributions of any state in the nation. The state BOE is overseen by two Republicans and two Democrats who need three out of four votes to take significant enforcement action. Good government groups think the BOE routinely avoids going after the big fish because it doesn’t suit them.

Two Freedom of Information Law requests made by NYPIRG to the BOE show that the only enforcement actions taken by the BOE since 2007 for violations of the campaign finance laws were fines for late filings ranging from $100 to $1,000.
 
"An examination of committees that haven’t filed recently shows that even in this area, the Board has not met its responsibilities to enforce the law,” the NYPIRG study says. The report also asserts that more than 2,300 committees — which have collected more than $31 million — "have still not disclosed any transactions made during the six months covered by the July filing period." Many of those same committees haven’t filed required disclosure information for more than a year.

NYPIRG routinely evaluates corporate donations and sends the BOE a list of apparent violations — donations that are over the limits, missing addresses of donors, missing names and so on.

Letter to BOE 11 5 09

NYPIRG says it can take years to hear back from the BOE and, when it does, the message is often that a routine audit of entities was done, any issues were addressed and that the matter has been resolved.

BOE Donation Overages 2006 + 2007 Response

Mahoney notes that a number of corporations listed in their complaints have continued to give higher than allowable contributions throughout the years despite multiple complaints.

Additional information obtained by NYPIRG through other FOIL requests shows that the BOE has not taken action against corporations for any of the violations NYPIRG has pointed out. In fact, the FOILs do not show the actions the BOE claims to have taken by referring cases of major campaign finance scofflaws to the Albany County district attorney.

Speaking of Monserrate and Espada — it has been a while since they last filed, and they had significantly more money on hand than Hawkins. Monserrate’s committee, Monserrate 2010, last filed with the Board in 2010 when they reported having $46,731.51 on hand. Espada for the People reported having $62,593.51 on hand in a 2008 pre-primary filing.

During Espada’s entire sordid term in the Legislature, reporters would routinely call the BOE to see if his committees had filed or paid fines. The answer was almost routinely no, but that negotiations were continuing. Now Espada has been convicted on federal fraud charges for stealing $500,000 from the the publicly- funded health clinic he ran — and there is still no official reporting of where all his campaign cash has gone.

Neither Espada nor Monserrate or representatives of their campaign committees could be reached for comment.

“The fact that the Board does not perform any audits raises the disturbing possibility that some of these candidates have simply pocketed the money,” Mahoney said in a statement. “While the vast majority of these filers may not have engaged in serious violations of the law, the Board’s anemic oversight and enforcement creates the impression that non-compliance with the law carries little risk of real consequences.”

Another legislator who has yet to file an activity report, Assemblyman William Boyland, is facing federal bribery charges on allegations he solicited a $250,000 bribe from two undercover FBI agents. Prosecutors allege that Boyland asked for the cash to pay off legal bills from an earlier bribery indictment that he was acquitted of. (Boyland did not comment when he was arraigned on the latest bribery charges in November; his attorney said they would "defend this case.")

Boyland’s committee, William F. Boyland Jr. Reelection Campaign, last reported having $39,950 on hand in July 2010.

Messages seeking comment were left at Boyland's office and with a representative, but were not returned.

One of the BOE’s many defenses of its enforcement has been that it is understaffed.

“Since the law was changed in 2005, and local filers were required to file with the State Board, our total number of filers has increased more than seven-fold, going from 1,716 in 2004 to more than 12,300 last year,” wrote BOE spokesman John Conklin. “During that time the resources allocated to the Board by the state have not kept pace with that increased workload. The suggestion that we have not asked for additional resources is simply untrue.”

Mahoney says the BOE has done little to publicize their need for more staffing.

And, in 2007, the BOE was given funding to beef up its enforcement staff by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Barbara Bartoletti, of the New York State League of Women Voters, recalls working on Spitzer’s transition team and advocating for more enforcement at the BOE. In the end, $1.5 million was allocated in Spitzer’s first budget so that the BOE could hire 11 full-time enforcement staff.

“They just didn’t have the political will to use it. The status quo works for them,” Bartoletti said.

A year later, with Gov. David Paterson in charge and with a gaping hole in the state budget, he swept unused agency funds — including the BOE’s — back into the general fund.

 

New York State Government


Legislative Gazette - The Legislative Gazette is the weekly insider's newspaper for the state government, founded in 1978 and put together by student interns as part of the State University of New York. Its Web site is useful for keeping track of the news that might fly under the radar screen of the mainstream press.

NY Public Payroll Watch - A product of the Manhattan Institute, a think tank on public policy, this website provides news clips, links and updates to track labor issues that affect the cost of NY local and state governments.

NYS Department of Labor - Job openings are updated daily. Also information on youth careers, community service center, labor market, and unemployment insurance.

NYS Senate - Senate schedules, info on legislation and all the other workings of NYS gov't.

NYS Unified Court System - Info by judicial district. Great links to law libraries and legal research.

Open Book New York - This site, created by the New York state compotroller, is designed to help visitors find out how the state government spends taxpayer dollars. The site allows searches of current state contracts and of how much various state gencies spend on salaries, travel and other expenses.

Top Stories of 2011


betting
Round and round it goes.

A number of our pundits made some big bets last year, pushing all their chips into the center of the table, only to see them swept up by the dealer. Perhaps the best example of gambling on the wrong outcome was Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., whose prediction was short and to the point.

"There will be a fight in the senate for gay marriage and it will fail to pass again. So my prediction is there will be no gay marriage in 2011," Diaz told us by phone from his holiday party last year. There was a fight in the Senate but little did Diaz know that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would craft a deal with both sides of the aisle, a deal that saw same-sex marriage become the law of the land. It doesn’t seem many people knew the kind of political force Albany was dealing with before Cuomo took the reins of power in 2011.

Going with his heart over his better judgment, Terry O’Neill, founder of the Constantine Institute, misread the cards for his friend Albany County District Attorney David Soares and said he expected, “Andrew Cuomo to appoint Albany County D.A. David Soares as commissioner of criminal justice services.” Soares very publically earned the ire of the Cuomo administration this year when he refused to prosecute peaceful protestors at Occupy Albany.

Roberto Perez, keeper of The Perez Notes Blog, nearly hit the nail on the head last year when he predicted embattled NYC Schools Chancellor Cathie Black would resign. But he sacrificed a safe bet for the sake of snark by adding that Black would join, "the Cuomo administration, after realizing that there is more dysfunction within the New York City school system than there is in Albany."

That isn’t to say no one got it right. A number of our pundits foresaw, as BronxTalk host Gary Axelbank put it, "The bloom will come off the rose or, more accurately, the rose will come off the bloom as the truth will begin to emerge about the Bloomberg administration." Whether the "truth" emerged or not, Axelbank wasn’t alone in foretelling the declining popularity of the Bloomberg administration through missteps and scandal during 2011.

Perhaps the most telling comments came from John Petro of the Drum Major Institute. Petro focused on the income disparity in the city, foreshadowing the major rallying cry of Occupy Wall Street. "In the city, where the wealthiest one percent takes home 44 percent of all income, the gap between the rich and the poor will widen. Jobs will be created, but largely in low-paying sectors like retail and home health care. No one will point out the obvious: a $7.25 minimum wage is completely insufficient for New York City." Petro got it wrong, however, when he predicted that the living wage bill would pass the Council. That is a battle that will continue to play out in 2012.

Who would our political pundits put their money on in 2012, what trends will pay off, what is a sure bet for the new year? What would make a good parlay? Read on dear reader, our political tip sheet is yours to peruse.

Councilman Ydanis Rodriquez

Once the weather warms up, I think we're going to see a huge surge in activity from the Occupy Wall Street movement. My prediction is that by working together with elected officials, OWS will influence the budget process. Organizing with thousands of city residents, the movement will stop the Mayor's pattern of balancing the budget on the backs of working and middle class New Yorkers. Apart from Occupy Wall Street, I also predict that State Senator Adriano Espaillat will soon be changing his title to Congressman Adriano Espaillat, taking his long history of great work for Northern Manhattan and the Bronx to Washington, D.C."

City Comptroller John Liu

With tough budget decisions ahead in 2012 our office will maintain its focus on paring dollars from unnecessary outside contracting, saving pension cost with investment reforms, and finding waste with thorough auditing of city agencies.

Councilman Jumaane Williams

1. The Mayor will wake up sometime near the middle of the year and say, "Wait, you mean I'm the Mayor of the entire NYC and not just the 1%? Why didn't anyone tell me?”

2. My favorite sports team, the Knicks, will continue to trade for the oldest and most injured among us.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

This year, we have taken major steps to market The Bronx, attract new businesses, support our existing businesses, and grow the overall economy of our borough, and in the coming year my office will continue fighting for the economic development of our borough. Although we face challenges in our education, economy, among other things, it is time to let the world know once again that the Bronx is a place of success. In addition I, along with all 1.4 million Bronxites, have World Series number 28 in sight this new year and feel confident that our Bronx Bombers will repeat their 2009 performance.

Gene Russianoff, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign

1. Sadly, the fare will go up at the end of 2012. That's the MTA plan. Last time, in December 2010, the 30-day unlimited MetroCard went up 17%. If that happens again – and there are fare hikes, as planned, for every two years – be prepared for a $167 30-day card in 2017. A good time to be in the 1%.

2. There will be some good news for long-suffering bus riders: You will soon be able to use your cell or smart phone to tell how far your bus is from your stop in real time. A new "Bus Time" program goes Staten Island-wide in January 2012--and then around the city.

3. "Poetry in Motion" – subway car ads featuring works from Shakespeare to Frost – will return from retirement. You may get stuck in a subway tunnel, but it will be your chance to catch up on the likes of Langston Hughes or Emily Dickinson.

Colin Campbell keeper of The Brooklyn Politics and reporter for The Politicker.

1. All hope for independent redistricting will turn out to be mere naive wishfulness -- redistricting will be just as partisan next year as it's always been.

2. Andrew Cuomo will schedule the special election to replace former State Senator Carl Kruger this Spring, and the race between Democratic Councilman Lew Fidler and Republican attorney David Storobin will be a close one, won by single digits (I'm clueless as to who will win it though!)

3. The Republicans will draw a new majority-Asian State Senate district in Queens. While they'll have a shot at winning it if Republican Councilman Peter Koo runs, the more important reason for drawing this district will be to provide the argument that the Republican map better protects minority representation when the inevitable lawsuits come a knockin'.

4. Mitt Romney wins New York's Republican primary next April. This is a pretty easy prediction so I can say I got at least one right should the other ones go awry haha.

Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG

The new ethics law required the Board of Elections to establish new rules for the disclosure of independent expenditures on state races by January 1st. The Board will start the year off on the wrong foot by failing to meet this deadline. Two weeks later, the January filings will reveal that hundreds of donors gave more than the legal limit in 2011. The Board will take no action. They will also fail to do anything when these filings reveal that several elected officials used their campaign coffers for personal purposes, such as funding their legal defenses.

Councilman Stephen Levin

I predict we will have really good legislation coming out of the Council. Two bills I look forward to having hearings on involve street vendors. They receive thousand dollar fines for minimal violations. Hopefully it will come to a vote. Small things like having their cart over a subway grate, or not properly displaying their license can get them a thousand dollar fine, and these guys only make $15,000 a year. It is outrageous.

Sen. Liz Krueger

I predict the governor follows through on his commitment to veto LATFOR’s lines if they don’t meet independent standards.

I hope the Governor will make as passionate a commitment to moving on public financing of elections as he did to same-sex marriage last year.

I was told my official response should be that I will run [for mayor] if I am drafted, and up until this point it has been working.

Barbara Bartoletti League of Women voters

I predict Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have yet another session that by his terms will be successful. It might not be successful by our terms, but he will have a successful session one way or another.

Deputy Minority Leader Sen. Neil Breslin

I have two predictions—the courts will decide the lines and give us fair redistricting maps and the N.Y. Giants will win the Super Bowl

Sen. Gustavo Rivera

I predict... I will have several new Democratic colleagues in the New York State Senate.

I predict... We will pass a real health exchange for the state of New York.

I predict... The Occupy Wall Street movement will stay strong and continue to influence national dialogue on issues of economic inequality.

Barbara Bartoletti League of Women voters

I predict Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have yet another session that by his terms will be successful. It might not be successful by our terms, but he will have a successful session one way or another.

Adam Lisberg, editor City & State

At the risk of looking like more of a fool than usual twelve months from now, here are a few thoughts on the year to come. Despite all the turmoil and change of the last year, the one common theme is I expect the status quo to stay the status quo:

- The mayoral race will stay largely quiet. Just as the rumors always swirl about a business-backed would-be Bloomberg jumping in as a Republican, rumors will also swirl about a black or Latino challenger to try to undercut Bill Thompson among Democrat primary voters. Neither will happen. The existing major candidates have worked too hard, scrubbed their records too clean and raised too much money to let an interloper disturb their grim dance. You will hear names popping up. Don't waste your time worrying too much about them.

- Comptroller John Liu will still be comptroller. And since he's never officially declared for mayor, he has no reason to drop out, despite the growing federal probe into his fundraising. His chances will shrink, not because he really fears the feds, but because the institutional and union supporters he needs will shy away from investing in a candidate with a target on his back. Liu is too single-minded and ambitious to rule out anything in his future just because the feds have a target on his back and are trying to get underlings to flip on him. Unless Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara caught Liu on a wiretap directing illegal fundraising in his own words, he is unlikely to get indicted. And I believe Liu is too smart to have done that.

- Gov. Andrew Cuomo will not fall to earth. He is too skilled a politician to believe his own press, and is too focused on the mechanics of governing to let his attention wander. He knows there are forces that hope he settles into a sophomore slump, so he will stay focused on getting results and keeping on top of every potential threat. Beginner's luck wears off, but he knows the finish line wasn't the budget, the tax deal or gay marriage -- it will be New York's economy and job market in 2014. Or 2016.

- New York's media will stay robust and vibrant, even as more and more New Yorkers shift from reading newspapers and watching TV. A new iPad model and other competing tablets will give more people a reason to get their news in mobile form, not in an old format they have to buy every morning or sit down to watch. Yet the profusion of emerging sources of credible and interesting media will continue to grow -- as Capital New York did, and BuzzFeed might, and other startups dream of -- giving everyone in New York an explosion of good options. That's good news for new media outlets, bad news for old media empires, and scary news for journalists who hope to one day have an employer that contributes to their 401(k).

John Petro, Drum Major Institute

Wall Street bankers may have breathed a sigh of relief upon the clearing of Zuccotti Park, but as warm weather returns to New York the Occupy movement--or some new variation of it--will once again take to the streets of New York City and the capitol to shed light on worsening inequality and the indefensible concentration of wealth among the state's wealthiest. New mass protests in 2012--routinely numbering in the tens of thousands--will dwarf this past Autumn's marches in Lower Manhattan, and Democrats all across the country will benefit from the national attention on issues of inequality, economic justice, and fairness.

With the passage of gay marriage last year, the city's stop and frisk policy will become the new prominent social justice issue in New York. Calls for a federal probe into New York City's unjust stop and frisk policy will intensify, though it is unclear whether the the U.S. Attorney General will actually undertake such an investigation. However, the increased scrutiny of the policy will put pressure on 2013 mayoral contenders to take a position on street stops.

New York City's living wage bill will be passed and promptly vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg. The City Council will then overturn this veto.

The state's minimum wage will get a boost later this year, with a higher wage set for New York City (San Francisco has a minimum wage of $10.24, New York City's is $7.25). This new wage will be indexed to inflation.

New housing construction will pick up in New York City by the middle of 2012, as the surplus of new condo units begins to dry up. Developers will begin to draw up plans for new residential towers, but the lack of financing will continue to be a problem.

Governor Cuomo will back down on his calls for independent redistricting as lawmakers draw up their own new maps.

The "fast-tracked" Tappan Zee bridge will come to a halt as concerned citizens rightly introduce lawsuits intended to ensure that mass transit is an integral part of the new bridge. In the end, federal grant money may appear to help make mass transit on the Tappan Zee a reality, once again making Cuomo look like a winner.

Finally, with the MTA set to lose about $320 million in revenue due to the partial repeal of the payroll mobility tax, congestion pricing will again emerge as a smart solution to funding the region's vital mass transit system. Governor Cuomo will drive to the capitol in one of his muscle cars to sign the bill allowing the city to set up a congestion zone.

Eye on Albany


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City Council Stated Meeting Reports Archive


Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for what is called the Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. A report on the meeting is posted the next morning.

November 18, 2010
Council Approves Agency Merger

By approving the merger of two agencies dealing with young people, the City Council hopes New York will better serve troubled kids, save money and shut a notorious detention center.

October 28, 2010
Council Unveils Domestic Violence Stats

Following a recent rash of brutal hate crimes, the City Council moved to put statistics on bias attacks and domestic violence on line.

October 14, 2010
Council Tries to Plug Some leaks

City Council tried to plug leaks in the city's water supply yesterday with a package of conservation bills. But several Republicans say they go too far.

September 30, 2010
Green Light!

Shining a light on electricity usage, the City Council approved a package of legislation Wednesday that aims to increase efficiency, including a bill requiring commercial properties to use light sensors.

July 30, 2010
Council Moves to Increase Recycling

The City Council passed several bills yesterday to boost New York's low recycling rate and keep trash out of the landfill. Members also OK'd two controversial development projects.

May 26, 2010
Fines for Unlicensed Plumbing

The City Council approved a bill yesterday to increase fines for unlicensed plumbing and fire suppression work.

February 4, 2010
Council Creates Path to Citizenship

The City Council is considering a proposal aimed at helping some immigrant children in foster care remain in the country.

January 22, 2010
The Council's New Order

Kicking off a new term, the City Council finalized its new committees yesterday -- but not without drama. See who is in and who is out.

January 7, 2010
2010 City Council's First Day

The new City Council, flush with 13 new members, re-elected Council Speaker Christine Quinn. But the vote was not without emotion and drama.

December 22, 2009
Broadway Triangle Approved by Council

The City Council approved a controversial rezoning, which community members cast as a political deal despite its promise of affordable housing.

December 15, 2009
Kingsbridge Armory Defeated by the Council

In a rare move against a major project, the City Council rejected a proposal to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, putting the debate over paying living wages under a citywide spotlight.

December 10, 2009
Green Building Bills Approved by the Council

The City Council passed legislation requiring energy audits for large buildings -- a move that some critics say weakens a key part of the mayor's sustainability plan.

December 1, 2009
Clearing the Way for Open Grills

The City Council yesterday banned those opaque sheets of metal used as security gates on businesses around the city, but the measure will not go completely into effect until 2026. Council also approved its final legislative response to the deadly fire at Deutsche Bank in 2007.

November 17, 2009
Easing Parking Rules and Opposing Gas Drilling

In its first meeting since the election, City Council took aim at the administration's policies on issuing traffic tickets, passing four bills, including one the mayor has vowed to veto. The council also approved a new police academy and went on record against drilling for natural gas in the city's watershed.

October 29, 2009
Hines Midtown Tower Approved

The City Council approves a 1,000 foot tower in Midtown, which will include additional space for MoMA, a hotel and luxury residences. The council also took aim at mortgage foreclosure consultants.

October 15, 2009
Council Bans Flavored Tobacco

Just weeks after the federal government banned flavored cigarettes, the City Council goes a step further.

October 1, 2009
Graffiti Cleanup and Rezoning Sunset Park

The City Council attempts to make graffiti cleanup faster and rezones a large swath of Sunset Park.

September 18, 2009
Sitting in Smog on the Way to School

The City Council approved a bill yesterday making a student's ride to school a little cleaner. Check out that and more in this week’s Searchlight on City Hall.

August 21, 2009
City Council Requires Pharmacies to Translate

Handing out its own prescription for language access, the City Council approved legislation Thursday requiring large pharmacy chains to provide translation services in the city's most popular languages.

July 30, 2009
Coney Island Gets a Facelift

In an attempt to revitalize an area long known as "America's playground," the City Council approved a 27-acre redevelopment plan to turn Coney Island into a year-round destination, full of retail, hotels and entertainment.
Call it Las Vegas a la Brooklyn.

June 11, 2009
Dumbo's Dock Street Project Approved

In a rare move, the City Council approved a development project despite the vocal opposition of the local council member. Councilmember David Yassky opposes the project, known as Dock Street Dumbo because, he says, it will permanently taint the view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

May 21, 2009
Keeping Eyes on the Tenant Watch List

Patrick and Tari Kelly had no idea they were blacklisted.
They were Midtown subletters for two years, until their temporary landlord decided to renovate the building. They moved to Queens and six years later tried to relocate again to Washington Heights.

May 7, 2009
Scratching Out Etching Acid

Carving out another obstacle for graffiti "vandals," the City Council approved legislation Wednesday requiring that merchants selling etching acid keep purchasers' personal information for a year.

April 3, 2009
Council Moves to Protect Access to Clinics

In an attempt to clear a path for patients at reproductive clinics, the City Council approved legislation strengthening the city's clinic access law, allowing police to arrest protesters that harass those seeking medical care.

New Council Bills - 05/31/06

Hybrid Taxis - 05/24/06

Taxi Bills 05/10/06

Emerging Business Enterprise Bill 05/10/06

Gas Station Regulations 04/26/06

Stadium Financing 04/26/06

Street Electrocutions 04/05/06

Yankee Stadium 04/05/06

Lobbying Reform 03/22/06

The Council's Budget 03/22/06

Quinn's First Veto Override 03/01/06

Land Use and New Bills 02/15/06

Rules of the Council 02/01/06

Appointments of New York City Council Standing Committees 01/18/06

Quinn Elected as Speaker 1/04/05

Three Veto Overrides 12/08/05

Rejecting Landmark Warehouse in Brooklyn 11/30/05

Donations from Labor Unions 11/16/05

Financing for West Side of Manhattan 10/27/05

Health Insurance for Grocery Workers 10/11/05

Day Labor and Hindu Holiday 9/28/05

Green Buildings and Human Rights Law 9/15/05

Grocery Store Health Care 8/17/05

Free Sunday Parking 7/27/05

2006 Budget 6/30/05

Garbage Plan Revisited 6/23/05

Garbage Plan 6/08/05

Bathroom Parity 5/25/05

West Side Stadium Financing 5/11/05

Pollution; Allan Jennings Censure 4/20/05

AIDS Housing 4/12/05

School Construction 3/23/05

Child Safety 3/09/05

Defibrillators 2/16/05

West Side Rezoning 1/19/05

Gun Control 1/05/05

Film Tax Credits 12/15/04

School Nurses 12/07/04

Endangered Species 11/23/04

School Crime 11/14/04

Campaign Finance 10/27/04

IKEA Store 10/13/04

Filtration Plant 9/28/04

Church Parking Zoning 9/09/04

Overdevelopment Measure 8/12/04

Car Alarm Ban 07/21/04

Brooklyn Rezoning 06/28/04

Building Codes 06/07/04

Contract Reform 05/19/04

Equal Benefits Bill 05/05/04

Airport Lease 04/21/04

Budget Modification 03/24/04

Council's Costs 03/10/04

Lead Paint Veto 02/04/04

Lead Paint Law Passed 12/15/03

Rezoning Staten Island 12/03/03

Tish James Sworn In 11/19/03

Absentee Landlord Tax 11/06/03

Landmarking Cathedral 10/24/03

Newsstand Bill 10/15/03

Sports Fan Bill 09/30/03

Accessible Taxi Cabs 11/17/03

Adopt-A-Park 08/19/03

City Hall Shooting 07/23/03

Illegal Awnings 06/25/03

Water Filtration Plant 06/12/03

Budget Negotiations 06/05/03

Sales Tax Increase 05/28/03

Emergency Center 05/14/03

Tax Increases 05/05/03

Park Slope Rezoning 04/30/03

Welfare Education Bill 04/09/03

Environmental Bills 03/26/03

Anti-War Resolution 03/12/03

Contraception Bill 2/26/03

Cell Phone Bill 02/12/03

Good Government Bills 01/29/03

What's My District?


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Is Cuomo Losing Democratic Legislators?


p.s. 11
Gov. Andrew Cuomo marches in the Puerto Rican Day parade.

To a number of advocates and lawmakers, the end of legislative session this week not only represents a chance to see several important issues resolved but provides them with their first chance to gauge the trust, the investment they have put into Gov. Andrew Cuomo and to reflect on the leadership he has offered in return. With major deals in Albany still pending, some remain unclear exactly how they feel, but black and Latino lawmakers from New York City increasingly believe that Cuomo misled them -- or at least they didn't get what they were expecting. Although no one would go on the record to voice their concerns--behind the scenes their frustration is boiling over.

Today legislators are expected to vote on "the big ugly," the end-of-the-year deal that contains a property tax cap, a bill changing tuition rules for the city and state universities and a rent law deal that has been slammed by tenant advocates. And even now all the details are not clear.

With major cuts to education, health care spending and other social safety net programs across the state, as well as funding to New York City in the budget, minority legislators as a whole wanted Cuomo to make it up to them, to deliver on a promise that he is a Democratic leader who cares about issues important to downstaters, working class, the poor and black and Latinos. Most think he hasn’t done that.

An Uneasy History

Cuomo has had problems with the minority community, going back to his 2002 gubernatorial primary challenge to the state's first major black political candidate, Carl McCall. Cuomo dropped out of the primary, and McCall went on to lose to Gov. George Pataki. When he ran for governor eight years later, Cuomo was criticized for not picking a lieutenant governor of color or from the city. After his election, Latino politicians criticized him for not placing any Latinos in major cabinet positions.

Many of these legislators and some advocates then pinned hopes for having their faith in Cuomo restored on the last week of session. They even warned Cuomo that their support hinged on what he delivered on rent laws. It was a lot to wish for, perhaps, and almost impossible to achieve.

When Cuomo withdrew from the Secure Communities program, a move lauded by Latinos in the state, a number of city lawmakers said privately that they felt that the move was only the "tip of the iceberg," something Cuomo had to do to show that he was paying attention to their community. Rent laws would provide the real test, not only of Cuomo’s relationship with blacks and Latinos but also of how progressive he would be.

"Andrew has the chance to be the leader of the Democratic Party," Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, told Gotham Gazette earlier this month. "Andrew has a chance to do something Democratic, unlike what he has done up to now, which has been very Republican. He has a chance to do something for the Democrats with rent."

When McKee got wind of the agreement Cuomo had reached with the Assembly and Senate Republicans, it was clear he felt Cuomo had failed. He said Cuomo "sold us out," and that the bill was an "unmitigated disaster for tenants."

Sen. Adriano Espaillat visited the Assembly to glean details from members just after they had been briefed by their leadership. He told reporters quickly afterward that he wasn't sure what Cuomo had given up "to the other side," was worth what Democrats got in the rent deal.

What McKee and a number of Democratic legislators from the city wanted was a clearer effort to repeal vacancy decontrol so that apartments are not taken out of rent stabilization when they are vacated and the rent is $2,000 a month or above. One Senate staffer described the effort to do away with vacancy decontrol as "like Republicans pushing to ban abortion. It isn't going to happen, but we have to push for it."

Tenant advocates also hoped to change the process by which landlords can take apartments out of rent control by making improvements to the building—or by simply reporting that they have. The wanted the state to have to check to see whether reported improvements actually took place.

Lawmakers and advocates were ecstatic last week when they heard that Cuomo had threatened landlord groups that he would declare an emergency and kick rent control into the hands of the New York City Council. The move apparently led to some concessions but not the kind advocates were looking for.

Rent Regulation, Cuomo Style

Although the deal is still reportedly being tweaked in the backroom, no drastic changes are expected. And this is what we know so far:

The 421-a tax credit, which gives developers a tax break for setting aside 20 percent of a building for affordable housing, will continue for four years. Vacancy decontrol will still exist, but the bar will be set a little higher. The rent threshold for removing an apartment will go from $2,000 to $2,500, and maximum annual income will increase from $175,00 to $200,000. There is supposed to be a new measure to check on the work landlords claim to have done, but exactly how that will happen isn't yet clear. The rent laws will expire in four years and will be combined with the property tax cap in a bill that will expire in five years.

Republicans in the Senate were seen as getting more from this deal than downstate Democrats. As for Cuomo, who had said only that he wanted "stronger" rent laws and who made a tax cap one of his top three priorities, it seems that he came out of the deal fairly happy. He told reporters at a scrum yesterday, "You probably have to go back 30, 40 years to find a rent regulation bill that does as much for the tenants. You always try to do better, but the best bill in decades, I think, is pretty good."

Earlier in the day, the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus held an emergency meeting to discuss the rent deal. Then caucus chair Assemblymember Karim Camara and Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries, both of Brooklyn, met with the governor. They exited the meeting with little to say.

Jeffries told reporters, the "deal as it is remains as it is," but said it may need "clarity and strengthening." Instead of criticizing Cuomo, he blamed Senate Republicans, whom he called a "wholly-owned subsidiary” of real estate interests.

Cuomo told reporters his rent deal increased the rent threshold for vacancy decontrol by 25 percent. "Maybe you flip it the other way and say, was there anything that would make you happy?" he said of disgruntled advocates and legislators.

As it stands, legislators don't seem willing to call Cuomo out publicly on the deal. Some are still waiting for all the final details, and others still seem a bit off guard.

"It's hard to have a complete assessment of the governor's performance with so much undone," said Sen. Kevin Parker. "He is taking his final now, he has a chance to significantly improve his grade."

Another senator from the city, Gustavo Rivera, still holds out hope that the rent deal will somehow be stronger than the details that have so far been made public.

"I believe that with the governor's support we can pass stronger rent laws that will protect my constituents and those in rent regulated units throughout the state. There has been speculation about what the final product will look like in terms of the rent regulation legislation -- but nothing concrete. Proposals that do not end vacancy decontrol simply do not do enough to end predatory practices by bad landlords in the Bronx and throughout the city," he said.

Others, such as Assemblymember Rory Lancman, believe Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did their best on the rent deal. "At the moment we have a Republican Senate that is eager to see rent regulation expire because then gold would rain down upon them from real estate industry. We’ve got to take what improvements we can get and live to fight another day," he told Liz Benjamin. "Hopefully, we can revisit this issue with a Democratic majority in the Senate in two years. If anyone thinks that [Silver], with full support of Democratic conference, hasn’t gotten the best deal that can be gotten, I think they’re being unrealistic."

Cuomo’s Edge

Even if the city Democrats decided to directly challenge Cuomo, it is questionable how successful they would be.

Cuomo is hugely popular; people are writing articles touting him as the most successful governor in America, and his name is being bandied about as a 2016 presidential candidate. Most Assembly members and senators from the city view the Republican majority in the Senate as the main impediment to a better rent law and other legislation that they think would benefit their constituents. If they want to retake the majority, Cuomo may be the best tool they have.

The Senate Democratic leadership has told its members all year not to rock the boat, but to let Republicans be active in the hope the GOP will screw up and New Yorkers will vote them out in 2012. The Democratic leaders fear any repeats of their two years in the majority when they could not keep their majority together -- largely because of too many unpredictable legislators from the city. This year, they are trying to do better. In fact they had their ducks in a row on marriage equality -- knowing where all their members stood on the issue long before even the possibility of a vote became a reality.

Meanwhile , rumors run rampant among legislators and advocates that Cuomo made a weak on rent regulation to guarantee a vote on same-sex marriage, or that it’s all part of a Machiavellian scheme to help keep Senate Republicans in the majority. Regardless of rumor, the plain truth is that so far Cuomo's agenda has not meshed with that of the city legislators of color. Cuomo is a fiscal conservative, and his stance against the millionaires tax and for major budget cuts is not what many of their constituents want. But without more leverage it isn't clear how these legislators are going to get their way or get along with the governor for the rest of his term.

Late on Wednesday night, the senate moved to pass its fifth temporary rent extender. Espaillat and a number of Democrats voted against one of the extenders earlier this month as a sign that they wanted in on negotiations. Cuomo responded viciously saying that the legislators were shirking their duties--despite the fact that Cuomo and advocates had said there would be no great danger if the laws lapsed temporarily.

A frustrated and tired Espaillat rose to explain his vote last night saying hopefully that the senate's repeated failure to pass a more permanent measure indicated, "perhaps there is still room to negotiate," to win greater reforms. The extender passed unanimously.

Cuomo Takes His Issues to the People


cuomo
Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor
Yesterday Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his 'People First Tour' to rally support for his legislative agenda.

With 19 days left in the legislative session and the budget signed, sealed and delivered, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that he plans to tour the state with his cabinet to build public support for his legislative priorities. Those priorities -- a property tax cap, same- sex marriage and ethics reform--all face major hurdles in the legislature, a legislature that Cuomo can no longer sway with promises of favors and restored funds in the budget. Cuomo must now rely on the power of his popularity -- according to most opinion polls Cuomo enjoys a 70 percent approval rating among voters.

For weeks after the budget passed advocates wondered when Cuomo would take to his bully pulpit and start pushing for the legislation he spoke about during his campaign: gay marriage, an ethics bill, redistricting reform, rent law renewal and a property tax cap. On Wednesday some of those advocates were disappointed that their issues were not at the top of the list.

Some saw Cuomo's move as a sign that backroom negotiations have broken down, that Republicans in the Senate are stonewalling Cuomo on ethics and marriage equality while Assembly Democrats are blocking a tax cap. But things aren't as clear as they might seem. Cuomo insisted at the news conference on Wednesday that the tour was part of his plan all along and that he had not faced any sort of setback in the negotiations.

"From the early days of my campaign, I have said we need to bring the people back into government," Cuomo said. "That is what we did during the budget process, and we achieved historic reform. Now, we must do it again in order to keep moving forward. The people want their property taxes capped, they want Albany cleaned up through real ethics reform, and they want marriage equality. We are going to engage the people of this state to build a broad coalition behind this agenda so that these reforms are not just talked about but actually passed this session."

Despite his high poll numbers, some legislators doubt that Cuomo has the leverage he needs to force the passage of his favorite legislation. The passage of the budget removed Cuomo's main sticks and carrots; without them, they say, his hand is weakened. And they note that some politicians who had already made public promises to support some of these policy initiatives now seem loathe to back them.

Sen. Neil Breslin, deputy majority leader to the Democratic conference, said that he feels that gay marriage and ethics reform will not get any hearing in the Senate until the end of session, and at that point he isn't sure what the senators will do. But, he said, "The Senate Republicans are up against the wall." Republicans have to decide whether they should keep their promises and bring things they oppose to a vote or simply deny them a vote. Either way they will likely feel a negative impact at the polls sometime down the road.

Marriage Equality

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos pledged during his campaign -- and has repeated it since the Republicans won back control of the Senate last November -- that he would allow gay marriage to come to a vote and let his members vote their conscience. Skelos even said he would allow Democratic Sen. Tom Duane, the only open gay senator, to carry the bill, even though the bill would normally be carried by someone in the majority.

But so far there is no marriage equality bill in either house. The Assembly in the last few years has repeatedly passed a bill, only to see it languish or fail in the Senate. Those backing the measure may be delaying the introduction of the legislation until public pressure generated by Cuomo stirs up more support.

Even if Republicans do not simply block-vote against the measure as they did in 2009, few observers expect more than a small handful of Republicans to vote for the bill. It also remains unclear how many Democrats are on board; Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat, has become the most outspoken member of legislature to oppose the measure, and Sen. Joseph Addabbo also voted against the measure early in the roll call -- a vote some credit with setting off a domino effect that led to the measure's defeat.

Eight Democrats voted "no" -- Adddabbo, Carl Kruger, Darrel Aubertine, Diaz, Shirley Huntley, Hiram Monserrate, George Onorato and Bill Stachowski. Only four of those Democrats remain in office. Addabbo and Huntley have indicated they may have changed their stance since the last vote.

It is unclear, however, whether passing gay marriage on their watch or presiding over another year of its failure will do Republicans more harm or good.

"I think they are forced to bring this to a vote," said Breslin. "They've said they will bring it to the floor, and the Democrats are much better than we were before. If they [Republicans] block-vote against it I think they will suffer negative effects in close districts."

Cuomo is counting on his coalition of gay rights groups and celebrity supporters to help push public support to a boiling point that legislators simply can't ignore. First, though, someone will have to introduce a bill.

Ethics

Cuomo's ethics package would require legislators -- including tose who are lawyers -- to disclose more about their outside sources of income and empanel an independent commission to investigate ethics violations. It reportedly faces most opposition from Senate Republicans. "The Assembly and the governor have a full agreement on an ethics bill. The issue is getting the Senate on board," Assembly Speak Sheldon Silver told reporters in April. In the past, Silver, a trial lawyer, has blocked moves to have lawyers disclose outside income. Skelos also is also a trial lawyer.

Cuomo has repeatedly threatened to empanel a Moreland Commission, which would have sweeping authority to investigate corruption in the legislature, if the legislature does not pass an acceptable ethics package.

Still, there has not been much movement on the issue. Skelos continually insists to reporters, "There will be an ethics bill passed by the end of session." But Skelos has not allowed a series of Democrat-sponsored ethics bills to make their way through the legislative process. They have not been discussed in committee and are simply rotting on the vine.

To combat this, on Wednesday Democrats held an interactive public forum to discuss their bills and get the public's opinion. Good government groups testified and were cautious not to alienate the big boys at the negotiating table: Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats. They made sure not to label anything a make or break to ethics legislation.

"We need to make sure people can trust the state legislature again," said Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who defeated the notorious Sen. Pedro Espada in the Democratic primary last year and took part in Wednesday's forum. "We need to have this discussed publicly. The Republicans made a commitment to ethics and redistricting reform."

Rivera said he wants to be able to discuss his bill, part of the package of ethics reforms the Democrats have put forward, which would increase financial and client disclosure requirements. "If they think it can be made better, let’s discuss it in public. I know they ignore us when it is useful for them," he said.

Tax Cap

The property tax cap may not have much to do with New York City, yet legislators have tried to tie the issue to the renewal and possible strengthening of New York's rent reguations. Cuomo has said that he supports the "strongest possible" strengthening of the rent laws, but he did not make them the focus of the announcement of his tour. He has refused to name what specific measures he does or does not support when it comes to renewing and strengthening rent regulations.

Senate Republicans are opposed to strengthening rent laws and have even introduced a bill that would weaken them. Sen. Catherine Young has introduced a bill that would allow landlords to deregulate apartments much more easily than they can now. On Wednesday Sen. Liz Krueger questioned Young's motives for introducing such a bill. Young, who represents western New York, where rent regulation is not much of an issue, declined to say who lobbied her to support the legislation. Cuomo may be shying away from a full court press on the issue because he does not want to anger Senate Republicans who have greatly benefited from campaign donations from the real estate industry.

As for the tax cap, that would limit any increase in property tax rates to 2 percent per year or the rate of inflation, Senate Republicans passed Cuomo's program bill as one of their first legislative actions this year. The Assembly has not moved on the bill, and Silver says he intends to introduce his own version of a cap, with tweaks. Legislators are afraid a strict property tax cap would hurt schools and public services while still forcing localities to pay for unfunded mandates from the state.

Skelos has refused to negotiate on the cap with Silver, while Cuomo has said he prefers his own bill but would be willing to hear other ideas. Fred Dicker of the New York Post reported this week that Senate Republicans only passed Cuomo's version of the bill because they know it won't pass in the Assembly. "I think Republicans are really nervous on the tax cap," said Breslin.

Redistricting Reform

Cuomo did not make redistricting reform a major feature of his initial tour announcement. The measure would take the drawing of district lines out of the hands of the legislature and create an independent body to oversee the task. As it is now the redistricting process allows the majorities in both houses of the legislature to draw up districts that lean toward their base. This helps their incumbents stay in office. Experts say that this process has kept Republicans in control of the State Senate.

Many see the redistricting issue as a key to the Senate Republicans' survival and yet Skelos and a number of his members signed former Mayor Ed Koch's pledge to support independent redistricting. Despite that, Skelos has insisted that passing a law to redo the redistricting process would be unconstitutional. Instead, the Republicans in the Senate passed a motion that would change the redistricting process through a constitutional amendment. That will take years and multiple sessions of the legislature to complete, meaning the new, supposedly fairer districts would not kick in until after the 2020 census.

Koch and his supporters said that Skelos' measure was stalling tactic. They want Cuomo to help them pressure Skelos into action by pledging to veto any district lines drawn by the old process. A veto would then leave the courts to draw up the district lines -- something that would likely also not favor the Republicans. So far, though, Skelos hasn't budged.

Cuomo has not made his stance on his independent redistricting a focus of his public outreach. When reached for comment on Cuomo's tour and the list of his priorities a spokesman for Koch's group NY Uprising noted that Cuomo did make ethics reform a major part of the unveiling of his tour.

With 19 legislative days remaining observers agree that Cuomo needs to get the wheels moving on his key legislation. Breslin, though, thinks Cuomo has time on his side -- "I think most of this legislation will be rushed through at the end of session. If it doesn't come up I think the governor will be more than happy to keep us here until these issues are resolved."

Cuomo Cultivates His Media Messenger


messenger

Tom Robbins, formerly of the Village Voice, had an interesting prediction for Gotham Gazette in 2010: "Andrew Cuomo launches his campaign for governor and tells Post state editor Fred Dicker that he's going to be nothing like Spitzer. ‘You and Eliot really got off on the wrong foot, Fred, and I’m not going to let that happen with us,’ he vows. ‘No governor in his right mind wants both you and your boss Rupert as enemies. I learned that from my father.’ In the following weeks, Dicker runs off a string of exclusive stories based on insider tips from the AG’s office and Cuomo campaign."

That exact series of events probably did not take place in real life, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo apparently has won himself the unwavering support of the New York Post's Albany editor, Fred Dicker, and the Post's editorial page. The cozy relationship between Cuomo and Dicker, with Dicker getting loads of information from the close-lipped Cuomo administration but attributing barely any quotes to Cuomo, leaves other Capitol reporters feeling a bit burned and skeptical about the openness of the Cuomo administration.

Virtually all politicians want to control the media and get their message out, but Cuomo seems to have taken this to a higher level, refusing on the record communication with some of the state's leading news outlets, favoring a single sympathetic reporter and using advertising to press his case.

The Governor's Outlet

So far, Dicker seems a major beneficiary of Cuomo's approach. Dicker, a 30-year veteran is known as a dogged, opinionated Capitol reporter. Along with his column for The Post he also has an A.M. radio talk show that is must-listen radio for Albany insiders.

"All you have to do is read the New York Post to see how often Freddie and Andrew talk, though the attorney general has, over the last couple of years, rarely been directly quoted," said Wayne Barrett in a blog post titled "Andrew Cuomo Hanging Out With BFF Fred Dicker Not Good News for Other State Democrats" dated July 29, 2010, documenting the perceived close relationship between Dicker and Cuomo.

"Since Cuomo announced his candidacy, the governor-to-be, who still won't appear on NY1, has gabbed four times on Dicker's Talk 1300. In fact, he's so comfortable on the show that he sounds like he thinks he's still whispering off the record to his trusted confidante," Barrett continued.

NY1 keeps a "Cuomo Clock" that tallies the number of days Cuomo has not appeared to do an on-air interview with the network. The clock sits somewhere around 1,524 days as of writing.

Barrett wasn't the only one concerned with Cuomo's connection to Dicker last year. Remember Carl Paladino? Paladino and Dicker got into a heated exchange during a meeting of the business council last year. The men exchanged words about assertions Paladino had made about Cuomo's love life and about investigations Dicker was supposedly doing into Paladino's daughter. After Paladino threatened to take Dicker out, his press secretary Michael Caputo accused Dicker of "working for Cuomo." Paladino called Dicker a "stalking horse," for the Cuomo campaign.

Rex Smith, editor of the Albany Times Union, a paper that Dicker derides on his radio show, says that Dicker's coverage has "driven entire episodes at the Capitol."

One good example might be the "Trooper Gate" scandal. The Albany Times Union had reported on Bruno's use of state vehicles -- apparently thanks to a tip from the Spitzer administration. Dicker's relationship with Gov. Eliot Spitzer was extremely contentious, so Dicker quickly took the side of Republican Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

"Fred's coverage is extremely lopsided and favors whatever the Cuomo administration is fanning for. It seems to me it has been that way for years. I think the Cuomo administration uses Fred as a wall post so people can see what they are planning," said Smith.

Smith said that Dicker's "standards for sourcing" allows people to say things they wouldn't if their names were attached it. This means the Cuomo administration and its friends can drop stories in Dicker's lap with impunity and still deny they have a close relationship with Dicker.

"To Fred's credit," said Smith, "he gets strong tips from people -- legitimate tips."

Dicker did not return requests for comment.

From the Editorial Page

The Post does not seem to mind shifting its positions to accommodate Cuomo. In the dispute over changing the last in first out rule for teacher layoffs, for example, the Post jumped suddenly from supporting Mayor Michael Bloomberg' support for ending seniority based layoffs to backing Cuomo's position.

Of course, the Post editorials could reflect sincere belief or an eagerness to support the governor after four years of turmoil in the state's executive branch.

"The governor is a popular guy," said a source who was the subject of a Post editorial that appeared just as Cuomo's irritation with this individual reached its peek.

"I think there is a sense of 'Let’s give the guy a chance,'" the source continued. "This governor is particularly skilled at certain things. But I think his manipulations have cost him with the press."

The source cited early revelations about Cuomo's ties to the Committee to Save New York and its reluctance to register as a lobbyist as an example.

Cuomo has made his relationship with the press and the media in general a cornerstone of his governorship. Even before he officially announced his candidacy for governor, Cuomo worked hard to tightly control his message -- and then get that message out. In that he seems almost the opposite of his predecessor David Paterson, who seemed to delight in on off-the-cuff conversations with reporters and on talk radio.

Cuomo announced early on that if labor challenged his position on budget cuts, he would a counter with his own ad campaign. Through the Committee to Save New York he has done just that. Meanwhile people who disagree with Cuomo publicly can expect a quick -- and harsh -- response.

All this -- and the Post's role -- came together in a dispute that involved the Committee to Save New York. It became known earlier this year that the group was not registered as a lobbying organization.

From the start, the Post rushed to the defense of the Cuomo administration and the Committee to Save New York. When Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group brought up the fact that the committee was not registered as a lobbying group even though it was technically functioning as such, the Post reacted with an editorial titled "Cynical Moralists," slamming Horner.

"So the committee's enemies -- backed by an ostensible voice of reform, the New York Public Interest Research Group, and other so-called good-government groups--are muttering about a supposed unholy secret alliance between the new governor and the business community," the editorial read.

The Post wasn't terribly concerned that the Committee to Save New York was not registered as a lobbyist and attacked Horner for pointing it out. But it took a very different stand when Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education protested Cuomo's budget cuts. The Post's editorial "Pigs in Saints' Clothing" pointed out that Easton is not registered as a lobbyist.

"Walk just about any capitol corridor in Albany, and odds are you’ll trip over lobbyist-without-portfolio Billy Easton, of the fraudulently mislabeled Alliance for Quality Education," said the Post. "We say without portfolio because, while rare is the legislator whom Billy hasn’t buttonholed lately, he has yet to register as a lobbyist this year."

Budget Brickbats

When chief Judge Jonathan Lippman submitted a budget that did not contain the level of cuts Cuomo had asked for, the Post again jumped to the governor’s aid.

"Lippman essentially stuck his thumb in Gov. Cuomo’s eye -- budgetarily speaking," the editorial said. "The new governor asked for restraint, and the jurist said, 'Maybe for thee but certainly not for me.'"

As the budget season has worn on, the Cuomo administration has begun to join in with the Post; Cuomo's press secretary, Josh Vlasto, has been blasting targets for the slightest annoyance.

Horner earned Vlasto's scorn for opposing legislation Cuomo proposed that would put caps on awards for medical malpractice suits. (Horner worked for Cuomo when Cuomo was attorney general.) Vlasto "called Horner a "mouthpiece for trial lawyers."

Horner shot back e-mailing The Observer's Azi Payabarh saying, "Pretty funny the best insult a career mouthpiece can come up with is to call someone a mouthpiece. It's not about personal insults, it's about the cruel impact that could result from the deal cut by the governor."

Vlasto denied that the Cuomo administration has any sort of special relationship with Dicker but did not provide any statement.

Horner said that a lot of people want to see Cuomo succeed -- himself and NYPIRG included. "We are the groups cheer leading the governor on a lot of issues like independent redistricting and ethics reform," he said.

However, Horner added, "I think personal attacks are beneath the office of the governor. I thought that last year when we had a governor attack us in the state of the state and I think it this year. The governor's office has always cracked down hard on criticism -- this isn't kick the bean bag. Unfortunately, it is their job to undermine the policy difference but if you want good public policy you need to talk to both sides."

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who sat on Cuomo's Medicaid redesign team, got his taste of the administration's tactics when he said he didn't agree with the group's quick approval of Cuomo's plans and didn't think the recommendations would actually save the state as much money as the committee claimed it would.

Vlasto went back to work. He told the New York Times that Gottfried is a "protector of Albany status quo and special interests."

Gottfried and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver released a statement the next day expressing their support for the design team's work.

"There is a difference between contentious policy disagreements and getting personal. I think we are starting to see that he is a bit thin skinned," said the source.

Getting Personal

Shawn Barry, of Voices of Community Activists and Leaders, a group that is protesting Cuomo's budget cuts said he thinks the vitriol does not help the debate. "It does seem there is a level of intimidation, a level of being vindictive. I think that came out of the campaign when anyone who issued the faintest criticism of his campaign got phone calls from the governor's aides. The sort of ad hominem attacks on the Dick Gottfried and Blair Horner -- there is a way to disagree with them to debate the substance of the critique without directly attacking the person especially people who have such long respected careers as those guys."

So what does all of this mean? Cuomo, who enjoys a 70 percent approval rating, seems quick to scuttle any dissent. For now, he only need rattle his saber to frighten off legislators, who currently have zero political capital, and he has successfully countered the arguments of opposition advocates with editorials in the Post and tongue lashings from Vlasto.

Some question, though, whether this can last. They think Cuomo is growing thin skinned and that his "my way or the highway" approach is actually fanning the fires of opposition. Sixteen protesters were arrested at the Capitol late last month, and groups that oppose cuts to education, school aid and services for the poor are stepping up their campaigns and pushing for the governor to keep a tax on the richest New Yorkers, something Cuomo has vowed he will not do.

Barry said the cheerleading for Cuomo in the press has made it difficult to get any dissenting message out. Cuomo hasn't even commented on the protests in the Capitol that led to the arrest of 16 activists.

Barry notes that polling shows that while Cuomo is popular his budget cuts are not. "When people are asked about the substance of the governor's agenda he no longer has majority support," Barry said. "His personal popularity continues to be high but there is this echo chamber ... a feedback loop. Some parts of media just feeds on itself. People hear the governor is popular and doing great things and that reinforces his popularity."

He believes this has made it nearly impossible for ideas other than the governor's to make it into the main-stream media.

"We are not getting any substantive evaluation of who benefits from Cuomo's agendas," Barry said. "The media drives the agenda. Some journalists go from mere reporting to pushing political agenda and political ideology. I don’t think that contributes to a healthy debate for New York State. You see it with Fred Dicker and Bill Hammond who do a mixture of opinion and reporting."

Barry isn't the only one who thinks as the Wall Street Journal wrote: "As the budget deadline draws closer, and policy hot spots have inflamed, the Cuomo administration is feeling a not-so-gentle tug back to earth."

"The governor loves to appear on Dicker's show and his inner circle loves to source Dicker. If there is news you first read about it from Fred Dicker. The governor knows knows how to spin media and manipulate public image of the administration, he may be more particularly skilled at doing it but it does not mean all the public on board or he is infallible," said Barry. "He may seem like he is Teflon on the surface but it seems like the criticism is sticking."

Uncertainty at Empire State Development Corp Continues


NYDEV
Photo (cc) beanhead4529
Atlantic Yards, now under construction in Brooklyn, is one of the Empire State Development Corp.'s more controversial projects.

From 2000 to 2010 New York's spending on economic development tripled and yet private sector employment dipped by 2.1 percent during the same time period.

Now Gov, Andrew Cuomo wants to reverse both trends. In his budget speech he stressed the need to expand the state's economy. "We need jobs and we need revenue," he said "Longterm, it's jobs, jobs, jobs."

In the same speech in January, though, Cuomo called for reducing capital spending on economic development and for cutting the operations budget as well.

To accomplish this, Cuomo has set out a few broad strokes, such as improving the business climate and cutting taxes. He has named former Business Council CEO Ken Adams as the new head of the Empire State Development Corp., which is charged with overseeing economic development across the state.

Cuomo has outlined a number of proposals that he says will get the organization back on track toward creating jobs and attracting and fostering new businesses. Past that, it is unclear if Adams or even the Cuomo administration knows what, exactly, they are going to do to turn around the corporation, which has been seen in recent years as ineffective, scattered and bloated.

Neither Cuomo nor officials at the Empire State Development Corp. would comment for this story.

Going Local

Legislators are anxious to find out what Cuomo has in store. In particular, they want more information about Cuomo's plan to create 10 Regional Economic Development Councils staffed by representatives of local businesses, government and academic institutions. The administration describes the councils as a "one-stop shop" for all the state's economic development programs. The councils are expected to initially receive $200 million in funding.

According to the Cuomo administration, these councils will put an end to the trend that saw state spending on economic development increase from $448 million in 2000 to $1.6 billion in 2010 while private sector employment decreased. According to Cuomo's administration, programs like the Empire Zone program, which gave tax credits and other benefits to lure projects into the state, did not have to account for whether they created job. While the state tried to create jobs on one hand, some in the administration says, Albany's mandates were cumbersome to business and ignored the realities of different parts of the state.

But legislators and economic development experts alike remain unsure exactly how the planned councils will function -- which programs they will bring together, how they will do it, how their success will be measured and where the power will lie in overseeing them.

"We don't have the information," said Sen. Bill Perkins, who sits on the authorities committee. "What are these regions? What is the plan? I am curious. I won't say suspicious, but when someone withholds information I have to wonder 'why?'"

Brian Sampson of Unshackle Upstate, who once worked for ESDC, said he thinks the councils will bring everyone together and improve efficiency "so that businesses in New York can grow faster. There won't be that 6- to 10 -month wait while things get sorted out. You will have the people with local knowledge at the table."

Development for Whom?

Development covers a wide variety of projects and endeavors, from enticing Jet Blue to expand its operations in the city, to boosting downtown Rochester, to helping cutting edge entrepreneurs -- and to building a basketball arena and luxury housing development in downtown Brooklyn.

As to which type of project he might favor, Adams, who has yet to be confirmed as ESDC chairman, remains a question mark. legislators and the business community think he is friendly to big business and supportive of Cuomo's desire to reduce the burden of doing business in the state by cutting taxes and red tape.

"There are those of us who believe that job creation and opportunity are best handled by small businesses, and I don't know if Ken really comes from that background," said Perkins.

"I think Ken was appointed as a signal to the business community that New York wants to create a pro-business environment. I don't think Ken would embrace something called the millionaire's tax," Perkins added. Neither does Cuomo.

Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy has been assigned to oversee the development councils, but they also are supposed to be part of the ESDC, making it unclear who will be in charge of what. Duffy has been traveling the state with Adams to "find the key decision makers for each region," as he told the Long Island Business News.

"Ken Adams is a great guy, but the question is, 'What is his role?'"said Andrew Rudnick, CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. Rudnick has worked with Adams before as both represent business organizations.

"We have an ESDC board chair who has yet to be named, and initially we heard before Ken Adams was named that the ESDC would be lesser in some way. So you have to know how will the responsibility be spread out between the regional councils and ESDC central. You don't know if he is the right man for the job until you know what it is."

ESDC's Record

To appreciate why changes to the ESDC matter so much you have to understand what the ESDC has done up until this point, but many experts say that, too, is hard to quantify.

The ESDC was created in 1968 primarily to oversee the construction of subsidized housing projects. As an authority, the ESDC can issue bonds to fund major projects without voter approval, and it also has the ability to use eminent domain. That has been a hot topic because of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.

In 1975, after nearly entering bankruptcy because of mismanaged projects, the ESDC was retooled to fund general economic development projects across the state. Gov. Mario Cuomo used the corporation to finance the building of 30 prisons, doubling New York's prison system.

The ESDC's mission is largely determined by the legislature. The Senate and Assembly approve plans to provide incentives to lure business to certain areas and then the ESDC has to carry out the plans. The ESDC also works on major projects like Atlantic Yards where business organizations come to the corporation and ask for assistance with a major project.

The ESDC has been involved in other major landmark projects across the state, projects such as the revitalization of Niagara Falls and the planned construction of a new Pennsylvania Station, the Javits convention center, and the planned work on Governors Island. It has also been in charge of federal funds to rebuild Battery Park.

The ESDC has come under major criticism in its role for Atlantic Yards. Homeowners and property rights advocates say the organization justified the project and seized to benefit one major company rather than the many small businesses that have been forced to relocate to make way for the project.

In its other role -- overseeing programs created by the legislature -- the ESDC has faced major criticism for its handling of the Empire Zones, a program developed to attract companies to upstate. It isn't clear that any of the major tax breaks and funds it handed out led to any significant job creation. Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who was staunchly anti-big government, famously received $3 million in tax breaks from the state but only created 25 jobs.

Over the years, as happened at a number of other state authorities, the development corporation's independence led to unchecked expansion and inner chaos. An audit by then State Comptroller Alan Hevesi found 70 ESDC subsidiaries.

The last several years have been particularly difficult for the ESDC. The agency has had six heads in the last four years, largely a result of the turmoil in the governor's mansion.

This, Rudnick says, has hurt the ESDC. "The last few years have been tumultuous," he said. "The ESDC's impact has been limited by the revolving door in the state government and ESDC heads, and by budgetary problems at the state. The ESDC has been limited by having its directives given by the budget office."

He explained that budget concerns have led to tax breaks being limited or rescinded, and other programs being altered.

The corporation's efforts have been described as scattered at best. "I worked for the Urban Development Corporation, and [former Gov. George] Pataki changed it over to the ESDC," said Sen. Kevin Parker, "but I think they could have saved the cost on printing new letterhead and just called it the Upstate Development Corp. As it relates to my district, I haven't seen any benefits from the ESDC -- the state's biggest, flagship economic development corporation. Their goal should be creating stable jobs with benefits, but I think the resources are going upstate, and yet I don't see very much being created upstate either."

To do that, Parker said, ESDC should focus on smaller companies. "They haven't focused on small businesses," he said. "Businesses that have 100 and less employees create 80 percent of the jobs."

Sampson agrees that the ESDC has ignored small businesses. 'I think the ESDC has focused on chasing larger companies, the same companies that everyone else is going after and that, honestly, Tennessee, Texas and other states have a better chance at getting because they have a better business climate." The ESDC has landed some big companies tech companies like the chipmaking company Global Foundaries upstate.

Helping small business, according to Rudnick, simply has not been part of the development corporation's objective. "I don't think ESDC has been tasked with helping small businesses," said Rudnick. "Small businesses need start up money, and the state hasn't been in that role -- they issue bonds for capital projects. There are smaller, local agencies to help small businesses."

Moving Forward

Rudnick does believe, though, that the ESDC needs to refocus its values and core mission. "The ESDC needs new criteria. Most economic development experts would tell you that they no longer use the standard of how many jobs are created, which is what the ESDC uses. Instead, you look at quality of job, investment opportunities, the scope of a project and the potential for using green technology," he said.

Rudnick, Parker and Sampson all share a similar hope for the agency's future -- that the new regional zones will allow businesses all over the state to be better served, to bring people with local knowledge together to help them figure out how to grow.

"We need to get all different agencies speaking the same language," said Rudnick. "I've not seen one project that required just the ESDC. They may need energy or workforce development funding, and it's like the United Nations: Each agency speaks a different language about incentives. They are all saying something different and we need them to be on the same page."

Parker hopes Cuomo's new approach will get the agency on track. "The realities in Brooklyn-- Bensonurst, and Bath -- are totally different, and I think that these commissions will reflect that and show how the agency works in different environments. The mission should be creating good jobs with benefits, and I haven't seen them do that."

Sampson would like to see the ESDC working with local universities to harness new business models and the green energy opportunities. Not surprisingly, he also wants to see ore focus on upstate.

"Legislators from downstate need to realize a vibrant economy upstate is important for the downstate economy," said Sampson. 'Upstate has so many resources: agriculture, skilled labor and universities. We need to work with the universities, partner with them to create jobs, to plant seeds."

While Parker is concerned about what the ESDC will do for downstate, he also has his eyes on upstate. "I want to see the ESDC get involved with the green economy, partner with upstate universities where green jobs are spilling out of the universities and into tech parks," said Parker. 'They need to look at investing in creating our own green technology. Not only creating solar panels, but the blades for windmills."

As to whether any of this is part of Cuomo's plan, no one knows. As Sampson said , "We think we will hear more details soon."



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