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Cynthia Nixon Announces Democratic Primary Challenge to Governor Cuomo

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Cynthia Nixon (photo: Nixon campaign website)

After months of speculation, actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon officially announced Monday that she will run for governor, challenging two-term Governor Andrew Cuomo in this year’s Democratic primary.

Nixon’s announcement was all but expected, with her name circulating on the rumor mill for months and news reports just barely over a week ago that she had retained the services of two Democratic consultants with ties to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom Nixon has supported and been close with for years.

In a campaign video accompanying her announcement, Nixon positioned herself as a challenger from the governor’s left. “I love New York. I’ve never lived anywhere else,” Nixon said in the video, which features her wife, Christine Marinoni, who recently left a job with de Blasio’s administration, and their young sons Charlie and Max. “But something has to change. We want our government to work again, on healthcare, ending mass incarceration, fixing our broken subway. We are sick of politicians who care more about headlines and power than they do about us. It can’t just be business as usual anymore.”

If there was any doubt that Nixon would push Cuomo from the left, it’s dispelled by her choice of campaign treasurer: Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law professor who ran an upstart campaign against Cuomo in the 2014 primary and received more than a third of the vote. Not only will Nixon have Teachout’s support, but she will have significant advantages Teachout did not enjoy four years ago, specifically more time, name recognition, and fundraising prowess. Teachout is on board with Nixon's campaign, she will serve as its treasurer and a surrogate. 

"As I’ve gotten to know Cynthia, I have become convinced she is the right person to unseat Andrew Cuomo, eradicate the corporate corruption in Albany, and make New York a great place for all New Yorkers," Teachout wrote in an email blast to her supporters "In the past eight years, Andrew Cuomo has brought shame to New York and to the Democratic Party."

Nixon’s written campaign announcement touts her as “a strong progressive alternative to the incumbent, Andrew Cuomo, a centrist and Albany insider.” It goes on to criticize the culture of corruption in Albany, the failing city subways under the state’s watch, and the governor’s support for a power-sharing agreement in the state Senate which allows Republicans to control the chamber with the help of a renegade group of eight Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference. The Senate routinely shoots down legislation favored by progressives, prompting widespread consternation towards the IDC from Democrats on the ground.

The announcement also points to Nixon’s efforts to fight for equitable education funding and her advocacy for LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights. If elected, Nixon would be the first woman governor of the state, as well its first LGBTQ individual to occupy the office, the announcement notes. Nixon has been a long-standing outspoken advocate for public education and school funding, with close ties to advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education, which is a union-backed advocacy group.

With six months till the primary, Nixon has an uphill battle ahead of her. Cuomo has already built up a $30 million campaign war chest and locked up a handful of early endorsements from labor unions and progressive advocacy organizations. He has also embraced more progressive causes in his second term and is widely expected to explore a run for president leading up to 2020.

A new Siena College poll released Monday found that Cuomo is an early favorite for reelection, despite recent drops in polling, apparently over his handling of the MTA crisis and possibly in part due to the corruption trial of his former top aide, Joseph Percoco, who was convicted on three felony charges last week. Among registered Democratic voters, 66 percent said they would pick Cuomo. Only 19 percent said they would vote for Nixon, who, despite being one of the stars of the popular ‘Sex and the City’ television show, lacks name recognition across the state. Her campaign is just beginning, though, with the primary vote set for September 13. Nixon is also expected to pursue the Spring endorsement of the left-leaning Working Families Party, which could bolster her campaign among progressives.

The governor has brushed aside any concern about Nixon running for governor, telling reporters earlier this month, “On people who may or may not run for governor on both sides of the aisle, that’s up to them, and we’ll deal with it as the campaign progresses.”

Several hours after Nixon announced her candidacy, a statement was released by Cuomo's team, attributed generally to "a Cuomo 2018 campaign spokesperson," and saying:

"It’s great that we live in a democracy where anyone can run for office. Governor Cuomo has delivered more real progressive wins than any other Democrat in the country, including passing marriage equality, the strongest gun safety law in the nation, a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition, paid family leave, record setting funding for public education, expanding and protecting healthcare for our most vulnerable, and banning fracking. We look forward to building on that record as we continue to fight and deliver for New York families statewide.”

Mayor de Blasio has not said whether he will endorse Nixon, who campaigned for the mayor in 2013 and last year. “She is a strong, independent woman who makes her own decisions. So this is something you will have to ask her," de Blasio said on March 7, when asked about a then-rumored Nixon run. “What her choice is, whatever she does it is her own choice. It is as simple as that. I haven't spoken to her in a while. I'm not going to go into any private conversations with a friend. But whatever she does, she is going to be a politically active person. She always has been.”

On Monday evening, a few hours after Nixon's announcement, de Blasio said on NY1 television that learned of Nixon's campaign through the media and hasn't spoken with her in more than a month. De Blasio also said he is still not ready to weigh in on state elections. "I'm not involved," de Blasio said. "I did not know which way she was going to go with her decision."

Terry Gipson, a former state Senator, is also vying for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

[Read: Fierce Cuomo Critics, De Blasio-Allied Advisors Have Been ‘Ready for Cynthia’]

Nixon's campaign launch video:

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 19

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

It’s crunch time for a new state budget, which is due by the April 1 start of the new fiscal year. While a new budget won’t necessarily be done by then -- many years the budget has been late by days, weeks, or months (though under Governor Andrew Cuomo they have been on time or close to it) -- negotiations are due to heat up this week and there are promises that the budget will be done by March 30, before the Passover and Easter holidays arrive. 

This week and next will each feature four session days for the Legislature in Albany, which means ample opportunity for legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo to hold “leaders meetings,” also known as the “four men in a room.”

We’re also watching this week for further develops in the race for Governor. Cuomo has whirred his machine into motion after rumors became more real about Cynthia Nixon challenging him from the left in the Democratic primary. A Nixon announcement could come any day.

On the Republican side, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro has emerged as the GOP frontrunner, though he is not officially launching his campaign until April 2, he has said. Still, he’s made it very clear that he is running and he’s been racking up key endorsements from party leaders around the tarte, including, this past week, the Manhattan County Republicans.

City Council hearings continue this week on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget proposal. We’re watching those hearings and for further signs of where the Council will land on key issues that appear to have some conflict with the mayor, like what the city will put toward the MTA.

And the week will culminate on Saturday with the March for Our Lives, marches across the globe against gun violence and for gun control, inspired by and initially organized by survivors of the February 14 school massacre in Parkland, Florida. The main march will be in Washington, D.C., and there will be several marches in New York City.

There are many events to be aware of this week - 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:

A"On Monday, Mayor de Blasio and First Lady McCray will host a press conference to make an announcement about opioids. This event is open press. There will be Q-and-A." The event will take place at 11:30 a.m. at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island. "In the evening, the Mayor will appear live on NY1’s Inside City Hall. Later, the Mayor will attend the Feast of St. Joseph's hosted by the Democratic Committee of Richmond County. This event is closed press."

At the City Council on Monday, the Committee on Governmental Operations will hold a preliminary budget hearing at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the Law Department, the Board of Elections, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and Community Boards.

Also at the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “requiring the police department to submit reports on the enforcement of marijuana possession.”
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law extending rent stabilization laws, and to discuss a resolution “determining that a public emergency requiring rent control in the City of New York continues to exist and will continue to exist on and after April 1, 2018.”

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

At 9 a.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will host a roundtable discussion on the implications of Janus v. AFSCME for labor and public employment, at DC37. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will be among those who speak.

At 10 a.m. Monday,  “Housing Rights Initiative in partnership with the City Council’s Oversight & Investigations Committee Chair Council Member Torres, will announce a new investigation into Kushner Companies for falsifying permits with the City’s Department of Buildings and the impact it had on reducing the number of rent-stabilized apartments across New York City. New data uncovered by the Housing Rights Initiative found that Kushner Companies, which is owned by President Trump’s son-in-law and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, falsified at least 80 work permit applications across 34 buildings in its portfolio over a 4 year period. The new investigation will examine how the Kushner Companies may have averted accountability, harassed tenants, and reduced the stock of rent-stabilized apartments. Falsifying work permits with the City’s Department of Buildings is a crime and punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.” The press conference, to be held outside Kushner Companies Headquarters, 666 Fifth Avenue, will feature Housing Rights Initiative Executive Director Aaron Carr; Council Members Ritchie Torres and Keith Powers; and others.

Monday “at 5:30 PM, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will commemorate the rich contributions and history of Greek-Americans in the borough at his annual heritage celebration in the Courtroom at Brooklyn Borough Hall. The event is being held in partnership with the Greek-American Heritage Committee, an organization whose mission is to educate the public on Greek culture, literacy, and history across New York City. The festive occasion will feature Greek cuisine and libations as well as traditional dancing from the A. Fantis Parochial School in Downtown Brooklyn, D.G. Parochial School in Bay Ridge, and Hellenic Classical Charter School in South Slope. Joined by dignitaries such as Konstantinos Koutras, Consul General of Greece in New York, Borough President Adams will thank members of Brooklyn’s Greek-American community for their service to improving the lives of people across the borough.”

At 7 p.m. Monday, Manhattan Borough President Brewer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal with host a community meeting on 200 Amsterdam Avenue, at Rutgers Church.

At the City Council on Tuesday, the following committees will hold preliminary budget hearings:
--Finance and Capital Budget jointly at 10 a.m., regarding the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Design and Construction.
--Health at 10 a.m., regarding the Medical Examiner and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
--Justice System at 2 p.m., regarding the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and the Human Resources Administration’s Office of Civil Justice.
--Mental Health at 2 p.m., regarding the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Also at the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Finance will meet at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the transfer of funds between city agencies “to implement changes to the City's expense budget.”
--The Committee on Education will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “requiring the department of education to provide school-level data regarding students receiving special education services.”

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

On Tuesday, the Regional Plan Association will host “Next New York: How a Charter Revision could change the Future of our City” at 1 Whitehall St in Manhattan -- for RPA members or by invitation only. The event will feature discussion with Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and City Council Member Antonio Reynoso.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Center for an Urban Future will host “Scaling Up Small Businesses in Queens,” discussing the boom in small business in Queens and concurrent lack of expansion of those businesses. Featured speakers include SBS Commissioner Gregg Bishop and City Council Member Donovan Richards, along with Seth Bornstein, Executive Director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation; Yanki Tshering, Executive Director of the Business Center for New Americans; Gloria Abreu, founder of Family United Home Care; and Sean Peckett, co-founder of Soccer Friends USA. The event will take place at the Little Theater at LaGuardia College in Long Island City.

On Tuesday morning, Comptroller Scott Stringer will host an Irish Community Breakfast at the David N. Dinkins Municipal Building.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing at Spector Hall.

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

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Riders Alliance, Transportation Alternatives, and the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign will converge outside Governor Cuomo’s Midtown office to demand that congestion pricing be included in the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer "will host a Women’s History Month celebration featuring prominent local writers and performers: Aparna Nancherla, comedian, actress, and writer (seen in Comedy Central's "Corporate"); Abigail Pesta, journalist and author (coauthor, with Sandra Uwiringiyimana, of How Dare the Sun Rise); Pamela Sneed, poet, performance artist, and actor (author of the story collection Sweet Dreams); and Sheila Weller, journalist and author (author of Girls Like Us, a biography of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon). Each featured guest will read or perform from a recent work at the celebration, which will take place on the mezzanine of Manhattan's historic Municipal Building."

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, "Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at the Greek Independence Day Reception at Gracie Mansion. This event is open press. There will be no Q-and-A. Later, the Mayor will deliver remarks at the Shared Interest: Shared Planet gala. This event is closed press."

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Council Speaker Corey Johnson is expected to host a pre-stated press conference.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 9:45 a.m.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 10 a.m.
--The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss the City Council operating budget, and a resolution “approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.”

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

The MTA will hold a board meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a policy meeting at the High School for Fashion Industries in Chelsea.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir will host a discussion with MTA Chair Joe Lhota and MTA Board Member Veronica Vanterpool, talking about “what can be done to ensure the future success of the New York subway system.” The event will take place at the Museum of the City of New York, part of the “Only in New York” series of talks at the museum hosted by Maslin Nir.

At the City Council on Thursday, the following committees will hold preliminary budget hearings:
--Oversight and Investigations at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Investigation.
--Education at 10 a.m., regarding the School Construction Authority and the Department of Education.

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

Friday and the weekend
At 9 a.m. Friday, the Murphy Institute at CUNY will host “Promising Practices: Labor and Community Fighting Sexual Harassment in the Era of #MeToo.” Labor leaders and advocates will discuss “bringing strategies, resources, and creativity together to create an equity framework for fighting harassment in the workplace and community.”

At 9 a.m. Friday, the Association for a Better New York will host “New York City and the 2020 Census” at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown. Joseph Salvo, Chief Demographer for the Department of City Planning, will “discuss what's at stake, New York's history with census counts, and the federal process going forward.”

At the City Council on Friday, the Committee on Aging will hold a preliminary budget hearing at 10 a.m., regarding the Department for the Aging.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday morning at 10 a.m.

On Saturday, students and allies nationwide will participate in the “March for Our Lives,” to prevent gun violence in schools and elsewhere and to call on leaders to take action on the issue. In New York City, the main march will begin at 72nd St and Central Park West.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

What's The [Data] Point? $9.5 Billion, with Andrew Rein

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What's The [Data] Point? Episode 34 -- $9.5 billion with Andrew Rein [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

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$9.5 billion is the new Citizens Budget Commission estimate of the extra taxes New Yorkers will pay due to the cap on the state and local tax deduction, known as the SALT cap, enacted in the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The number comes from a new CBC report that looks at the federal tax reform -- which has serious implications for New Yorkers -- and what the city and state should do about it.

Andrew Rein led the writing of the report, which was influenced by a distinguished group convened by CBC right after the federal law was passed in December. Rein has had an amazing career in government, working in high-level positions at the city Department of Education and Department of Health, at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and for some major health and healthcare organization.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Molinaro Emerges on Top After Manhattan GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Forum

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Marc Molinaro (photo via Facebook)

Weeks before he is set to officially launch his campaign for governor, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro has all but claimed the Republican nomination, and on Wednesday, he locked up another endorsement putting him closer to the goal.

At a gubernatorial candidate screening Wednesday night at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan, Molinaro emerged as the top choice of the Manhattan County Republicans over state Senator John DeFrancisco and Joseph Holland, a former aide to Governor George Pataki.

Over the course of about 90 minutes, one by one, the three candidates pitched their qualifications and their electability to a gathering of more than 100 Republicans. The crowd cheered, and jeered, as the three each took their jabs at Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both second-term Democrats, and presented their vision for governing New York State. Though few concrete policy prescriptions were aired, the gathering seemed pleased to hear each candidate variously criticize the Cuomo administration for how, as Holland said, it “over-taxes, over-spends, and over-regulates.”

Cuomo has said he is seeking a third term this year, and has more than $30 million in his campaign account. But, given several issues, including the upstate economy, the MTA subway crisis, and, on Tuesday, the corruption conviction of Cuomo’s former top aide and closest confidante, Joseph Percoco, Republicans see an opening to win the governorship for the first time since 2002.

On Wednesday night in Manhattan, each of the three candidates had roughly 20 minutes to demonstrate how they’d reach what Manhattan GOP Chair Andrea Catsimatidis called the “magic 30 percent number” of New York City voters who could give them enough votes to beat Cuomo. While the governor is less popular outside the city, he relies on the five boroughs for a significant portion of his ability to win statewide elections.

Molinaro, who spoke last, framed himself as a committed public servant who would work with his opponents across the aisle, and has no interest in political posturing. “I think that we are paralyzed in New York by elected officials all too often working to posture instead of trying to produce real results,” he said.

Speaking first was Holland, a Harlem minister who has previously served as state housing commissioner under the last Republican governor, George Pataki, has never been in elected office but pitched himself as the “most electable” of the three candidates. His appeal, he slowly and deliberately said, breaks down to three P’s: Profile. Proven. Power.

“It’s a profile that I have which is unique, it’s a proven track record as an experienced outsider, and then the power to win at the ballot box in November,” he told the audience. Holland spoke of his past -- which includes playing all-American football, founding and running a homeless shelter, a law degree, and a career in the real estate industry -- and recounted a previous failed run for state Senate. He mentioned his upstate roots in Auburn in Cayuga County, and his time working for both the executive chamber and the state Legislature in Albany.

“I’m an outsider with experience, and ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, that’s what the electorate wants right now,” he said, referring to the election of Donald Trump as president. Noting that the party had never before nominated an African-American for governor, he promised a “fresh, bold, dynamic approach” that can forge a winning coalition of upstate and downstate voters.

In each candidate’s Q&A after their individual presentations, moderator Frederic Umane (the Republican Board of Elections Commissioner from Manhattan) asked how they’d raise the necessary funds to go against Cuomo’s $30 million war chest “without having to cook ziti,” in a reference to the preferred term for bribes used by Percoco and co-conspirators, as revealed through the federal corruption trial that just concluded.     

Holland admitted it would be a challenge, but said he’d tap his varied networks from his time at Cornell University, Harvard Law School, and his ties to the real estate industry. He pointed out, though, that “it’s more difficult until you’re the actual nominee.”

But when questioned on specific issues such as homelessness, the MTA, school safety, infrastructure projects, and public housing, Holland had few proposals. In each instance, he said he would work with the necessary stakeholders while avoiding the public spats that Cuomo has resorted to with de Blasio and others, and the open defiance of President Trump.

While Holland has no experience with public office, DeFrancisco, a Syracuse native, has served in the Legislature for more than 20 years. Armed with an acerbic wit and disinterest in political correctness, DeFrancisco took his turn at convincing the audience to support his candidacy. “I’ve had leadership positions in everything I’ve ever done,” he said, listing everything he’s done from being top of his class in high school and captain of his college baseball team to now, serving as deputy majority leader of the Senate. (DeFrancisco sought the position of majority leader in 2015 but lost that bid to current Majority Leader John Flanagan, who is among those to endorse the senator for governor.)

“President Lincoln once said that ‘If I had six hours to chop a tree, I’d use the first four hours to sharpen the axe.’ And my axe is sharpened and it’s directly aimed at our current governor, Andrew Cuomo,” DeFrancisco said.

Touting the 17 electoral victories over the course of his career, DeFrancisco said he could easily remain in the Senate for the foreseeable future. “But I find, as a legislator, you can only make changes along the edges. The real fundamental changes that have to be made, in my mind, only can come from the governor’s office,” he said.

DeFrancisco insisted that an earnest campaign based on building trust with voters could be successful. “Whether you’re from the far left, the far right, or in between, people don’t like the manner in which this person does business...it’s a very personal campaign against Cuomo,” he said.

In response to queries from the audience, DeFrancisco did take some policy positions but did not advance many new ideas. He said he is in favor of fracking, against congestion pricing, and for a set-aside of a percentage of income taxes to fund the MTA. He opposes term limits for statewide elected officials and state legislators, and is against the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for victims of child abuse to make claims. He called for cuts to spending and streamlining bloat at state agencies.

DeFrancisco also expressed confidence that Cuomo’s campaign funds weren’t a threat to him but rather a liability for Cuomo himself, alluding to the governor’s heavy reliance on campaign finance loopholes that has allowed large sums of money to flow to him from entities doing business with the state (Yet another aspect of the Percoco trial.) The senator noted that he already has about $1.5 million for his campaign.

“You can’t just be Mr. Nice Guy and be able to compete with his money and the negative things he’s going to say about you or his surrogates are going to say about you without fighting back,” he said. Proudly referencing a New York Times article from last year which referred to him as an “irascible straight shooter,” DeFrancisco said, “You couldn’t have a better contrast with an irascible straight shooter and a lying sack of you-know-what. That’s the race that you should have and I’m ready, willing, and able to do that.”

molinaro manhattan gopLast to speak but far from least was Molinaro, who charismatically sped through an almost bulleted list of positions he’s held, his accomplishments, and his reasons for running. The latest entrant into the race, Molinaro had just two months ago said he would not run, but as he explained Wednesday, he changed his tune after he received a flood of solicitations and endorsements from more than two dozen Republican county leaders and officials following Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb’s early exit from the race.

Those endorsements, including from Kolb, also mean that, coming into Wednesday night, Molinaro had already secured roughly 45 percent of the necessary votes he needs for the nomination from the Republican convention in May. Manhattan put him over 50 percent in terms of county chairs or delegations that have endorsed him -- while Molinaro is the clear frontrunner, votes still have to be taken at the convention.

“I have admittedly spent every day of my adult life in public service because I believe deeply in the responsibility to contribute to one’s community,” Molinaro said, hearkening back to when he was first elected at the age of 18 to the board of trustees for the Village of Tivoli on the banks of the Hudson River in Dutchess County. “Where I come from, you hold elected office because its an honor, it’s a duty, it’s a dignified responsibility,” he said.

Molinaro criticized the “new normal” of a pay-to-play culture in Albany and a state government that continues to “spend more than it can, tax more than it should and borrow to make up the difference.”

Emphasizing that the Republican Party can “breathe new fresh air into Albany,” he said he would work to empower state legislators if elected. Molinaro is a former member of the Assembly himself. He also said a successful campaign would have to be based on strong messaging that touches at the heart of issues affecting everyday New Yorkers, and by creating an extensive presence on the ground in communities.

“I think that our party has to assemble a ticket that reflects the complexion of New York, the people of New York. There needs to be a New York City voice,” he said. There has been no indication who Molinaro might seek as a lieutenant governor running mate.

Molinaro was also confident that he’d be able to elevate the importance of the Republican ticket beyond the confines of New York to bring in the funds that he needs to challenge Cuomo. “I have run for office for a while. I’ve always had competition. I have always raised enough to be competitive...I do believe I have the ability to nationalize this election,” he said. “I do, because I believe that our party wants candidates like us, to stand up nationally and say, ‘The Republican Party cares about people.’”

Asked how he’d approach working with Mayor de Blasio if elected, Molinaro insisted he’d rise above petty squabbles and wouldn’t seek to politically “outmaneuver” the mayor, as Cuomo has often tended to do with his fellow Democrat. (He did, however, smile cheekily as he said he’d work with anyone who is “honest and earnest,” clearly alluding to de Blasio’s checkered ethics record).

On the inevitable Trump question, Molinaro made no bones about supporting the president when he champions hard-working, middle-class Americans. But, he was clear that he disagreed with using the bully pulpit to belittle his opponents.

“You’ll always hear me say it the way I see it just like I think many people admire the way he says it the way he sees it,” Molinaro said.

Molinaro’s charm offensive was clearly effective. Within an hour after the forum, the Manhattan GOP’s executive committee had “overwhelmingly endorsed” his candidacy.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Progressive Groups Endorse Democrat in Key Westchester Senate Race

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Shelley Mayor, center (photo: @Shelley4Senate)

A coalition of progressive community organizations representing thousands of members across New York State will support Shelley Mayer, the Democratic Assemblymember who is running for an open state Senate seat in Westchester that could decide which party leads the legislative chamber.

Mayer is running against Republican Julie Killian for the 37th Senate District seat, in a special election scheduled for April 24. The seat has been vacant since January after its previous occupant, George Latimer, was elected Westchester county executive.

A Mayer victory in the district would likely give Democrats the numerical majority in the state Senate, paving the way for a unity deal between mainline Senate Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight senators who prop up Republican control of the chamber along with renegade Democrat Simcha Felder. A deal is on the table that parties other than Felder have agreed to pending the results of two special Senate elections, the highly competitive Mayer-Killian race and one in the Bronx, where Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda is all but guaranteed to win.

The state Democratic Party has begun to put its weight behind Mayer’s candidacy, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has also endorsed her. Earlier this week in Larchmont, Cuomo rallied with fellow Democratic elected officials in support of Mayer. “This is a crucial race and Shelley’s victory will help bring the Democratic Majority in the Senate we need to continue our proud legacy of fighting and advancing progressive change for New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday. (The Westchester County Independence Party has also backed Mayer.)

Now adding its voice to the growing support for Mayer is the “Progressive Power Coalition” of five community advocacy groups -- Make the Road Action, NY Communities for Change, Citizen Action of New York, Community Voices Heard Power, and VOCAL-NY Action Fund -- which will announce its endorsement of Mayer on Friday.

The groups cite, as reasons for their support, Mayer’s impressive record of fighting for working New Yorkers and immigrants, her support of campaign finance reforms that prioritize small donors over wealthy interests, her advocacy for expanding childcare, affordable housing and combating homelessness, and her leadership on protections against wage theft by bad-actor employers. Democratic control of the state Senate, currently Republicans’ only stronghold at the state level, is seen as key to ushering through a wave of progressive policies.

"Shelley Mayer is a powerful leader for New York State,” said Sojourner Salinas, a member-leader of Community Voices Heard Power from White Plains, in a statement. “She stands tall and firm on what we believe in: fighting for communities of color and low-income families of New York State on all the tough issues that we are being attacked on by the Trump administration."    

Members of the coalition intend to bolster Mayer’s campaign by mobilizing their base of activists to knock on doors, call constituents and get out the vote in the lead up to, and on, Election Day. Several of the groups are known for their abilities to have boots on the ground for such activities. Mayer is considered a favorite given the district’s Democratic enrollment advantage and recent election trends, including Latimer’s runaway victory over two-term incumbent Rob Astorino.

Mayer said in a statement that she was “proud” to receive the coalition’s endorsement. “Donald Trump's constant attacks on our values and the failures of his Republican allies in the State Senate have made this special election critical for our future,” she said. “I’m proud of my track record fighting for families and creating better opportunities for Westchester’s hard working families, and I will continue that work in the State Senate.”

Killian, Mayer’s opponent, is a former Rye City Council member and deputy mayor taking her second shot at the 37th Senate District, after failing to unseat then-Senator Latimer in 2016. Her campaign has focused on portraying Mayer as an Albany insider and on decrying the culture of corruption that has flourished in the state Capitol. Earlier this week, after Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, was found guilty on federal corruption charges, Killian’s campaign tweeted, “One would hope that today’s conviction of Gov. Cuomo’s top aide in a bribery scheme would help slow down Albany’s rampant corruption, but history sadly shows us that it will continue unimpeded. Only way to change Albany is to change who we send there.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Joseph Percoco, Former Top Cuomo Aide, Convicted of Fraud, Soliciting Bribes

percoco lawyer steps of courthouse

Joe Percoco behind his lawyer (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

The jury in the federal corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, returned with a verdict on Tuesday, finding Percoco guilty of two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of soliciting bribes, charges related to a pair of bribery and bid-rigging schemes involving firms seeking to do business with the state. Percoco was also found not guilty on three charges he was facing.

Over the course of more than seven weeks, the Percoco trial laid bare the inner workings of the state government and the lax regulations around government ethics and election financing. Prosecutors also touched on the functioning of the executive chamber, though no allegations of illegal wrongdoing were brought against Governor Andrew Cuomo, who once referred to his longtime friend Percoco as his father’s “third son.”

After closing arguments last week, the jury deliberated for eight days -- and deadlocked twice -- before coming to a mixed verdict. In total, there were ten felony counts against Percoco and three co-defendants, upstate business executives who allegedly paid Percoco more than $300,000 for his help in getting favorable treatment from the state government. Former lobbyist Todd Howe, the government’s star witness in the case, pleaded guilty to facilitating the bribes to Percoco along with seven other felony counts related to the schemes.

One of the bribery schemes involved the real estate developer COR Development and its executives, Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello, who were accused of bribing Percoco for assistance with labor unions on a real estate project as well as to obtain a raise for Aiello’s son. Both men faced charges of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, paying bribes to Peroco and making false statements to federal investigators. Although Gerardi was found not guilty of all three charges, Aiello was found guilty on the conspiracy charge.

The jury also deadlocked on two charges against Peter Galbraith Kelly, an executive from Competitive Power Ventures, an energy firm that was at the center of the second bribery scheme. Prosecutors alleged that Kelly organized a “low-show” job paying $90,000 a year for Percoco’s wife, which they said were actually bribes for Percoco. The jury’s decision led federal district judge Valerie Caproni to declare a mistrial for Kelly.

Percoco himself was found not guilty on the three charges, including extortion under the color of official right, conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right, and soliciting bribes related to the COR scheme. He could face 50 years in prison on the three charges on which he was found guilty. Percoco’s sentencing is set for June 11; he and his lawyer said outside the courthouse that they would explore their legal options, including “what we might do in terms of making motions and pursuing our appellate rights.”

At trial, prosecutors painted a picture of Percoco as the governor’s right-hand man, who could move mountains with a single phone call and who often bullied others in state government to do his bidding. The defense, however, sought to portray him as simply an “advance man” who managed events, scheduling, and day-to-day minutiae for the governor. The case was further complicated by the testimony of Howe, who was arrested midway through the trial after admitting to violating his cooperation agreement with the government. Although prosecutors, in their closing arguments, sought to downplay Howe’s role in the case, defense attorneys leaned heavily into the idea that Howe was a manipulative operator who was framing their clients for his own misdeeds.

“Joseph Percoco was found guilty of taking over $300,000 in cash bribes by selling something priceless that was not his to sell – the sacred obligation to honestly and faithfully serve the citizens of New York,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, in a statement after the verdict was announced. Berman said Percoco “corruptly chose to disregard” the fact that “government officials who sell their influence to select insiders violate the basic tenets of a democracy.”

Speaking with reporters outside the courthouse, Percoco said he was “disappointed” with the verdict, but betrayed little emotion as he said he would consider the options with his lawyers. “I am thankful to my wonderful legal team and I‘m thankful to my family and friends that have stood by me throughout this entire process and I look forward to them all standing by me as we go forward,” he said.

Barry Bohrer, Percoco’s defense attorney, questioned the jury’s divided verdict. “There is an inconsistency in the verdict as we read it,” he conceded, when asked by a reporter, “and we are...gonna review and figure out what it means and what options are open to us and we will pursue all available options.”

Asked if his client was a “victim of politics,” Bohrer declined comment, but said, “Look, it was a difficult time and place to be trying a case involving Albany politics, there’s no question about that. We think that it was a much closer case than some were led to believe and I think the jury’s verdict is a reflection of that and so we are going to look at any and all options going forward in terms of pursuing further review.”

A coalition of government reform groups called on the state Legislature and governor to pass reforms to prevent such corruption in the future. “Percoco’s trial spotlighted a state government riddled with pay to play, influence peddling and unethical behavior,” they said in a statement.

The groups -- Citizens Union, Common Cause/NY, League of Women Voters, NYPIRG, and Reinvent Albany -- are calling for strict limits on campaign contributions from entities seeking state contracts; restrictions on outside income for state legislators and those in the executive branch; and closure of the so-called LLC loophole which allows limited liability companies with hidden donors to contribute large sums of money to state candidates. They are also pushing for greater accountability and transparency within the state budget, contracting, and more teeth for state ethics watchdogs and agencies with oversight of state economic development spending.

Cuomo’s critics and opponents, including two Republican candidates for governor this year, pointed fingers at the Democratic incumbent for enabling a culture of corruption and called for an investigation into Cuomo allowing Percoco to use a government office while he was running the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign.

The governor responded to the verdict In a statement put out Tuesday afternoon:

"The jury has reached a verdict and I respect that decision. While I am sad for Joe Percoco's young daughters who will have to deal with this pain, I echo the message of the verdict - there is no tolerance for any violation of the public trust.

"There is no higher calling than public service and integrity is paramount - principles that have guided my work during the last 40 years.

"The verdict demonstrated that these ideals have been violated by someone I knew for a long time. That is personally painful; however, we must learn from what happened and put additional safeguards in place to secure the public trust. Anything less is unacceptable."

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: A Journalist Runs for State Senate

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

March 13, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: A Journalist Runs for State Senate, with Ross Barkan

ross barkan senate277px

Ross Barkan announced late last year that he was making the leap from journalism to running for elected office and entered the race in the 22nd State Senate District, a Brooklyn seat currently held by Republican Marty Golden that is on the ballot this fall. Golden is part of the GOP majority in the Senate that Democrats like Barkan blame for preventing a host of progressive legislation from moving through the Legislature.

Before he can directly take on Golden, Barkan must first prevail in the Democratic primary, where he faces Andrew Gounardes, an aide to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams who lost to Golden in 2012. (We had booked both Barkan and Gounardes for this episode, but Gounardes later said a work obligation came up, so Barkan appeared alone.)

In this episode, Barkan explains his rationale for running, how journalism has prepared him for elected office, his campaign platform, and more.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 12

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week we're awaiting gubernatorial campaign announcements from Republican Marc Molinaro and Democrat Cynthia Nixon.

As those election year moves happen, or don't, government is happening in Albany, where the Legislature will be in session four days this week as we enter crunch time for a new state budget, which is due by the April 1 start to the new fiscal year. One-house budgets are expected this week from the Assembly and Senate. The Independent Democratic Conference of the Senate may also put forth its own budget plan. As Governor Andrew Cuomo himself said this past week, once the one-house budgets are out, negotiations can really get going.

As Cuomo works on a budget, which may include a major overhaul of the state's tax system to respond to the new federal tax code, and waits to see if Nixon will challenge him in the Democratic primary, we're also waiting to see if former top Cuomo aide and brother-like figure Joe Percoco is convicted on any of the corruption charges in his federal case, which is in jury deliberations.

On Monday, however, Cuomo will wade deeper into his recent focus on NYCHA, which has been one of several areas around which his feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio has escalated of late and as he considers declaring a state of emergency at the housing authority -- see below for details.

As the week starts, we're also waiting for de Blasio to return from out of town, he's on a five-day, three-stop trip that has him returning to the city on Tuesday. On Friday, de Blasio left the city for Baltimore, Maryland, to deliver remarks at the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center Strategy Summit. On Saturday, he went to Austin, Texas, where on Sunday he was scheduled to "participate in a SXSW panel discussion with Mayor Adler of Austin, Texas and Mayor Wheeler of Portland, Oregon on the growing role of mayors nationally." The Mayor also made an announcement that New York will be among other cities that won't do business with internet companies that don't honor net neutrality.

On Monday, de Blasio will "attend a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ strategy session on the 2020 census and immigration...After that, the Mayor will travel from Austin, Texas to Washington, D.C. Later, the Mayor will deliver remarks at the National League of Cities spring meeting" at 4:45 p.m. Monday at Wardman Park Marriott in D.C.

Meanwhile, City Council budget hearings continue this week on de Blasio's preliminary budget plan -- details on those and a whole lot more below, via our day-by-day rundown

***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:

At 10:15 a.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo will hold a press briefing at NYCHA Jackson Houses in the Bronx. "Before the press briefing, Governor Cuomo will tour residences at the Jackson Houses."

At the City Council on Monday, the following committees will hold preliminary budget hearings:
--Public Safety at 10 a.m., regarding the NYPD and Civilian Complaint Review Board
--Veterans at 1 p.m., regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs
--Public Safety and Justice System jointly at 2 p.m., regarding District Attorneys and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor

Also at the City Council on Monday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

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

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

At 9 a.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will speak at Congressman Joe Crowley’s Annual National Women’s History Month Commemoration, at Bronx Botanical Garden.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at Access Denied Campaign Rally and Press Conference, 163rd Street Subway Station, 161st Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will be in Washington, D.C. Monday  for the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference. Brewer will chair a meeting of the Large Cities Council and participate in panel discussion on infrastructure.

At 6 p.m. Monday, First Lady Chirlane McCray will deliver an address to the New York City Bar Association about the ThriveNYC program. The address will be called “Breaking the Silence: A New Way Forward on Mental Health.”

At 6 p.m. Monday, there will be a march down 9th Street in Park Slope demanding greater safety for children and pedestrians on streets. The march comes in the wake of a hit and run in Park Slope that killed two children. The event is sponsored by Borough President Eric Adams and several community organizations, including Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Comptroller Scott Stringer will also participate, as well as Council Members Brad Lander, Carlos Menchaca, Antonio Reynoso and Mark Treyger.

At 7 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and EBC-Metro IAF Co-chair Rev. David K Brawley will hold the first in a series of forums on the Metro IAF “proposal to reconstruct NYCHA and build more senior housing.” The first forum will take place at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Brownsville. Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks.

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

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

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, "New York’s top environmental advocates will convene on the steps of City Hall to forcefully call on policymakers to tackle the city’s transit and environmental crises and pass the Fix NYC plan as part of this year’s state budget." Participants will include Environmental Defense Fund, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Move NY, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York League of Conservation Voters, New Yorkers for Parks.

At 11 a.m., Governor Cuomo will speak at a Planned Parenthood rally in Albany. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will also deliver remarks. And at 4:15 p.m., Hochul will speak at the Orthodox Union Student rally.

On Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Hispanic Federation, "First Lady McCray and Deputy Mayor Palacio will make an announcement about New York City’s assistance to Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery efforts."

At 12:45 p.m. Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will participate in a "panel on local infrastructure with Mayor Marie Melendez-Altier (Ponce, PR), Council Member Rachel Hundley (Sonoma, CA), and Council Member Rebecca Viagran (San Antonio, TX), during lunch session of the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference."

"House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-NY) will hold a press conference with students from the Renaissance School in Jackson Heights, local elected officials, and community activists from MomsRising on Tuesday, March 13, at 1:30 p.m. to demand congressional action on gun safety." City Council Member Danny Dromm will be among those participating.

At 2:45 p.m. Tuesday in Albany, "As part of Advocacy Day for #HALTsolitary, in which 300+ New Yorkers from across the state will convene in Albany to meet with 70 legislators, survivors of solitary, their family members, and other advocates will hold a speak-out and press conference outside Governor Cuomo’s office. The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) will also deliver a card inviting the Governor to spend 24 consecutive hours in solitary confinement in one of his prisons, as Rick Raemisch, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, did upon taking the job. (Mr. Raemisch’s experiences ultimately helped inspire significant reforms in that state that are similar to legislation pushed by CAIC.) This will be the second invitation; advocates delivered the first one just before X-mas but received no response. CAIC will also be calling on Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to enact the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A.3080B-Aubry/S.4784A-Parker)." The event is being organized by Vocal-New York, JustLeadershipUSA, and others.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will appear on NY1's Inside City Hall Tuesday evening.

Wednesday will mark one month since the school massacre in Florida, during which 17 people were killed, that has led to a student-led movement for gun control. There are 17-minute-long school walkouts planned all over the country, including in New York City.

At the City Council on Wednesday, the following committees will hold preliminary budget hearings:
--Environmental Protection at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Environmental Protection. The Subcommittee on the Capital Budget will join at 11:30 to discuss the DEP capital budget
--Housing and Buildings at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Buildings
--Sanitation and Solid Waste Management at 1 p.m., regarding the Department of Sanitation and the Business Integrity Commission
--Public Housing and Capital Budget jointly at 1 p.m., regarding NYCHA

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

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

On Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in Albany, "Legislators, families, providers and advocates will be urging the Legislature and Governor to reject the Executive Budget proposal to cap and cut child welfare services reimbursement to NYC, which includes child protective services and preventive services. New York’s child welfare financing structure, in place since 2002, incentivizes good outcomes by capping foster care reimbursement while reimbursing counties 62% of the costs for the services that keep children and youth safe and out of foster care. New York City has leveraged this funding stream to lower child protective caseloads, decrease juvenile justice detention and placement, dramatically reduce the use of foster care, and become a national model for its continuum of high quality, effective preventive services. The budget proposal puts the safety of children at risk." The event is being organized by Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a public board meeting at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr State Office Building in Harlem.

At the City Council on Thursday, the following committees will hold preliminary budget hearings:
--Land Use at 9:30 a.m., regarding the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Department of City Planning
--Criminal Justice at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Probation, the Department of Correction, and the Board of Correction. The Subcommittee on the Capital Budget will join at 11:30 a.m. to examine DOC’s capital budget.
--Land Use and Technology jointly at 11:30 a.m., regarding DoITT
--Hospitals at 1 p.m., regarding the Health and Hospitals Corporation

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Thursday.

On Thursday at 6:30 p.m. "What's Happening in Albany: The NY DREAM Act: A Panel Discussion with Candidates, Experts, and Activists" will take place at Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York in Manhattan. Empire State Indivisible is hosting, with panelists Zellnor Myrie, candidate for State Senate District 20; Luis Yumbla, United We Dream; Karina Davila, Yonkers Sanctuary Movement; and Yatziri Tovar, Make the Road NY.

On Thursday at 7 p.m. "at the Local 46 the Metallic Lathers Union (1322 Third Avenue), neighborhood organization Eastsiders for Sensible Development will hold a meeting with Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and Urban Planner George Janes to learn about the 370 ft tower in development on Third Ave between East 74th and 75th streets and what the Community can do about it."

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday, the following committees will hold preliminary budget hearings:
--Cultural Affairs at 10 a.m., regarding libraries and the Department of Cultural Affairs
--Youth Services at 1 p.m., regarding the Department of Youth and Community Development

At 9:30 a.m. Friday, City Council Member Carlina Rivera will deliver keynote remarks at the Bellevue Hospital Community Advisory Board Legislative Breakfast.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Let NY Vote will rally at Foley Square to urge the state legislature to early voting in the final state budget.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

Adding to the Menu at the Coming Museum of Political Corruption in Albany

museum of political corruption

(image: Museum of Political Corruption)

The New York State legislature is often cited as the most corrupt in the nation and Bruce Roter, founder and president of the board of trustees of Albany’s upcoming Museum of Political Corruption, wants to tell the story of how we got there and help the state change course.

A music professor by trade, Roter made a name for himself in the Albany area in 2012, when he led a successful grassroots campaign to bring Trader Joe’s to the capital region.

Roter has since turned his energy to a somewhat more ambitious endeavor: tackling New York state government’s reputed “culture of corruption” by building an interactive, state-of-the-art, national attraction in downtown Albany.

bruce roter“We want to make sure we do this right. We want this museum to be a source of pride for our downtown,” said Roter (pictured), who has been plotting, planning, and building support for the not-for-profit museum for a few years.

While the tentative open date for the brick-and-mortar location is in 2019, the museum team has kept the project in the limelight by hosting panel discussions and attending various events around town. On May 5, Nelly Bly’s birthday, the group will present its second annual Nelly Bly Award for investigative reporting, and a virtual exhibit may become available on the website soon. Susanne Craig of The New York Times was given the first Nelly Bly award in November 2017 at an event in downtown Albany.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Roter discussed the museum’s progress and importance, this year’s series of state government-related corruption trials, and a very special menu item that will be featured in the museum’s “Cozy Crony Cafe.”

The Q-and-A below is lightly edited for clarity.

Gotham Gazette (GG): We seem to be in an important moment in New York corruption history. The fate of Governor Cuomo’s former top aide Joe Percoco is being decided, two former legislative leaders will be retried this spring, among others. Have you been keeping up with the headlines?

Bruce Roter (BR): “I do try to follow when I can. It’s all very concerning, of course. On the one hand, it’s concerning, and on the other hand, I just remember that this is just one more stage in corruption that our state has had, and that’s the long-term view that we are taking.

“There are those who think that this is probably the most corrupt time that New York has ever had. That’s not the truth at all. One can look at other eras, the 1800s, the 1900s, the Tammany Hall period, and other periods like that.

“So I think we need a historical perspective when it comes to corruption, and thwarting immediate frustration. It didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to get solved overnight.”

GG: What’s the latest on the Museum of Corruption?

BR: “We’re moving forward. We are still seeking sources of funding. We do want to build a state-of-the-art museum in downtown Albany. We’re definitely taking the long-term view, not only of our project, but of corruption in general. We can’t simply look at any particular headline. We understand that to fix corruption, it’s going to take a long-term cultural change, and that’s what we hope our institution will do.”

GG: What birthed the idea to create a museum of corruption?

BR: “I think the idea originally started because there were so many headlines of corruption back in 2012 and 2013. What started off as just an idea soon blossomed into a full-blown project, once I began discussing this with others, who also thought it was an excellent and unique idea and a way that we here in Albany could contribute to ethical governance in our state. That’s when we got serious and became chartered and are moving this forward.”

GG: You are a music professor at the College of Saint Rose. Have you ever worked for government before, or is your interest in ethical governance a byproduct of growing up in Albany?

BR: “I actually grew up downstate and I’ve been here 20 years now. I’ve always had an interest in government and public affairs even in my own creative work as a composer. I’ve often been inspired by public causes. I’m the composer of a piece called the Camp David Overture for the Middle East Peace Accords.

“Several years ago, I was commissioned to write a piece for the Albany Symphony on speeches and writings of [President and New York State Governor] Theodore Roosevelt, and I became very inspired by him, especially Roosevelt’s call for the public to engage in the civil discourse of their community. So that’s what I’m seeking to do also.

“Also, I have to admit, I have also enjoyed being part of the public discussion when I organized a grassroots campaign to bring Trader Joe’s to the capital district.”

GG: Thank you for that…

BR: “Well, yeah, everyone thanks me for that. Your quite welcome, I’m enjoying it myself. It was just the gratitude that I received from the community for being involved with that that has spurred my continued interest in working for the community. I feel the best way I can do that is to try and find an educational way that we can address governmental corruption.”

GG: What’s the long game? Have you selected partners to run the museum while you are at your day job once you have a brick-and-mortar location?

BR: “The long game is -- obviously, we do have a board of trustees -- is to hire a full staff, including an executive director, who is knowledgeable about museum management, running our museum as a museum ought to be run. We want this to be a first-class cultural institution for our city and a tourist draw at that.”

GG: How will you keep up with the endless stream of headlines and corruption trials and incorporate them into the museum’s exhibits?

BR: “We will keep up. We want the museum to be current. There will be rotating or evolving exhibits that will address what is going on currently, even as we also take the broader, historic view of corruption that has gone on for centuries in New York, as well as understanding the causes of corruption, and what we can do about corruption.

“We do want to have in the museum what I’m calling Solutions Hall, where museum-goers will be invited to participate in discussing or uncovering solutions that can help us to achieve more ethical government.”

GG: Have any lawmakers have reached out in support of this idea or taken an interest in this project?

BR: “I can tell you that [Republican] Minority Assembly Leader Brian Kolb has been interested in our project -- along with some others. We are completely non-partisan and we want to make sure that we reach across the aisle and we want to bring all of our leaders onboard. Because this is not about a particular leader, this is about fixing our government and the public working with our leaders to create a better, more effective government.

“I can tell you that one of the initiatives in which we are currently engaged is a collection of quotes on ethical leadership. We’re seeking quotes from leaders in a number of different fields, including politics and sports and religion and education. We do want to collect these quotes and perhaps even put them into a volume some day. We already received a quote -- a handwritten quote at that -- from former President Jimmy Carter, we’ve received a quote from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and one from Congressman Paul Tonko -- here in the Capital District -- and from Assemblymember Pat Fahy, and also Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

“I want to make sure we have a wonderful, diverse representation of quotes on ethical leadership. Because even though we are a Museum of Political Corruption, we want to turn this around and make sure it leads to something positive.”

GG: Corruption is certainly not limited to government. Do you hope that the ideas that come out of this will produce solutions that transcend government and apply to other institutions?

BR: “Absolutely. I think it will. If we can address ethical leadership in one field, we can certainly address ethical leadership in every field. That’s of course why we want to get the leaders in the world of sports and arts and entertainment to engage with us in this search for bits of wisdom of how we can be more ethical in all facets of our society.”

GG: So is the objective to educate the public about corruption or to solicit feedback and crowdsource some solutions to the problem?

BR: “It’s both. Ultimately we want to educate and inform, but we also want to empower as well....For those people who are cynical and think nothing can ever be done and nothing can ever change, we hope that by the time they leave our exhibits, they too feel that they can make a difference in our society.

“We look at all of these headlines, and trials, and retrials, and with tremendous respect to everything that’s is going on with our legislature and our prosecutors, we also think the public needs to get involved too. Of course, the best way and the first way we get involved is at the ballot booth. That’s why we feel education is import part of any change.

“If there is indeed a culture of corruption in Albany, it’s going to take a cultural institution to fix it. And that’s what we are going to be: a cultural institution.”

GG: Having moved to Albany last year to cover the Capitol, one thing I was struck by is how dramatic state government is, from the castle-like building, to the theatrics that happen daily on the Senate floor. As someone with a music background, do you plan to incorporate art, music, and performance into the museum’s exhibits?

BR: “Of course! The whole discussion of public corruption can be held on so many levels. We’re going to have a Tammany Lecture hall in the museum where we can do panel discussions and public speaking, but can also do film theories or musical productions that address the subject as well. Art frequently has important things to say about what is going on in society. And so, I certainly want to encourage that.

“I could also see us engaging or commissioning visual artists to have an art collection. We are certainly going to have a collection of political historic cartoons. So very much, art definitely has something to say about politics, and we will incorporate that into our design.”

GG: Circling back to the current trials. Any new additions inspired by the trial of former Cuomo top aide Joe Percoco?

BR: “You can expect that on the menu for the Cozy Crony Cafe we will be serving ziti.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Fierce Cuomo Critics, De Blasio-Allied Advisors Have Been ‘Ready for Cynthia’

katz broad room mansplain

Rebecca Katz at The Broad Room (photo: Monica Klein on Twitter)

Actress and education activist Cynthia Nixon is reportedly close to launching a gubernatorial bid and may challenge Governor Andrew Cuomo in this year’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has long been rumored as a candidate for governor and is close to making an official announcement that she is running, according to NY1’s Zack Fink, who also reported that Nixon has tapped two prominent Democratic political consultants, and former campaign staffers to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, to help her prepare for a possible run. The two advisors, Rebecca Katz and Bill Hyers, lead the New York office of Hilltop Public Solutions, a political consulting firm that works with progressive candidates and includes de Blasio as a client.

“Many concerned New Yorkers have been encouraging Cynthia to run for office, and as she has said previously, she will continue to explore it,” said Rebecca Capellan, a spokesperson for Nixon, in an emailed statement to Gotham Gazette. “If and when such a decision is made, Cynthia will be sure to make her plans public.”

In an unrelated conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Cuomo seemed unconcerned about a potential run by Nixon. “On people who may or may not run for governor on both sides of the aisle, that’s up to them, and we’ll deal with it as the campaign progresses,” he said. On Wednesday, on yet another conference call press briefing, Cuomo was asked who he thought may have put Nixon up for running, and joked, “I think it was probably either the mayor of New York or Vladimir Putin. I am going to leave it to you, great investigative reporters to follow the facts and ferret out the truth.”

Nixon has also been a close ally of de Blasio -- she campaigned for him in 2013 and sat on the City Hall dais during both his mayoral inaugurations -- and it should come as no surprise that she would look to Katz and Hyers for their expertise. De Blasio relationships aside, a number of progressive Democrats have been looking for a strong primary challenger to Cuomo, including some of the same people who backed insurgent Zephyr Teachout in 2014, when the law school professor made things uneasy for Cuomo as he sought a second term.

Katz and Hyers are fierce defenders of de Blasio and his agenda, and are relentless critics of Cuomo, with whom de Blasio has had a long-running feud despite the fact that they are members of the same party and share similar positions on many issues.

That feud again escalated Wednesday as questions about Nixon’s potential candidacy gave the mayor another opportunity to criticize Cuomo, after which the governor called in to NY1 and bashed the mayor for too much talk, not enough action, and defended his own progressive record.

With an active presence on social media, Hyers and Katz have often shielded their former boss from criticism and also regularly strike out at Cuomo and his administration. Niether Hyers nor Katz responded to requests for comment for this article.

In January, for instance, when the federal corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, had just begun, Katz tweeted, “Worth asking what kind of press coverage this trial would get if it involved the closest confidant of the Mayor, and not Governor Cuomo’s second brother.”

When Teachout -- who managed to get a significant 34 percent vote share despite limited funds, no name recognition, and almost no institutional support -- criticized Cuomo for not calling special elections for 11 vacant seats in the state Legislature, Katz highlighted the comments for her 11,000-odd Twitter followers. “There's a lot going on right now, but don't miss this important @ZephyrTeachout thread. And then don't let Andrew Cuomo ever call himself a progressive Democrat,” she wrote.

In December, when Cuomo’s campaign was planning a birthday fundraiser for the governor featuring former President Bill Clinton, Katz wrote sardonically, “$50k to sit with the Governor. Cuomo, man of the people.”

In November, when the U.S. Congress was considering an overhaul of the federal tax code, Governor Cuomo criticized the “treasonous” Republicans from New York who voted for it. Katz, who also worked in the de Blasio administration for about 15 months before departing in 2015, added to her criticism of the governor for allowing Republicans to control the New York State Senate. “Wonder what he’d call a Democratic Governor who helped bring us a Republican State Senate,” she tweeted sarcastically.

Katz has also called out Cuomo for lying or flip-flopping on key issues. Last year, when the MTA was amid a growing operational crisis and the governor sought to shift responsibility away from the state, she tweeted, “Cuomo at launch of 2nd Ave Subway - it's me me me! Cuomo lying today 👇”

Recently, Katz spoke at a training put on by The Broad Room for women in politics, and discussed dealing with “mansplaining," which included having participants watch a clip of Cuomo talking.

Hyers has a slightly more infrequent presence on Twitter, and fewer followers, with about 2,600, but his anti-Cuomo tweets are no less acerbic, and he’s also been a willing Cuomo critic in the press.

In late November, there was yet another Cuomo-de Blasio dust up when the mayor said the governor’s apparent presidential ambitions were the only reason Cuomo was supporting a deal to reunite the mainline state Senate Democrats with the Independent Democratic Conference. De Blasio noted as example that Cuomo had failed to hold to an agreement in 2014 to help elect a Democratic majority to the state Senate, brokered when de Blasio helped Cuomo get the reelection endorsement of the Working Families Party.

In response, a Cuomo spokesperson hit out at the mayor for his failed 2014 attempt at flipping the Senate, which invited a state investigation of his fundraising efforts. Hyers was not happy.

“So were all supposed to buy that Cuomo didn't help the IDC for years? Are we all this stupid? This is very Trumpian…,” he tweeted.

On Wednesday, de Blasio laughed off the notion that he would again help Cuomo earn the WFP endorsement and ballot line.

Earlier that same November day, Hyers wrote, “So Cuomo land pushes stories about his Presidential ambitions everywhere then takes pop [sic] shots when the Mayor points it out?”

In July of last year, Hyers also weighed in on Cuomo’s effort to distance himself from the MTA’s problems, repeatedly criticizing the governor’s hands-off approach. He also pointed out the governor’s tendency at that time to avoid mentioning the president by name when being critical of the federal government. “Now I know why Cuomo doesnt mention Trump, he's going to adopt his flat out lying style,” Hyers wrote.

When Nomiki Konst, a correspondent with The Young Turks network and also a vocal Cuomo critic, said in July 2017 that the second-term Democrat did not have a base of supporters on the left, Hyers mused, “Wait, Cuomo is a Democrat? When did he switch parties?”

On Wednesday, de Blasio was asked if he’d encouraged Nixon to take on Cuomo. The mayor danced around the subject, praising his long-time friend and saying Nixon makes her own decisions, and that though he hasn’t spoken with her lately, he said, he also wouldn’t divulge the contents of private conversations. Including on Wednesday, the mayor has declined to endorse Cuomo for a third term, but has also shied away from definitively saying the governor deserves a primary challenge from the left. He did say he wants to see “real Democrats” in charge, and that he’d have more to say on the 2018 elections at a later date.

Hyers himself has acknowledged that he goes out of his way to take jabs at the governor. In late June 2017, a campaign ad for Democratic Congressional candidate Randy Bryce, an ironworker from Wisconsin known popularly as “IronStache” who is challenging Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan in this year’s midterms, went viral. Bryce’s campaign strategist was Hyers, which a reporter pointed out on Twitter with a link to a story about the viral ad.

“I do some things besides horseraces and heckling Cuomo,” Hyers joked, and Katz retweeted.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note- This article has been updated to note that Nomiki Konst is a correspondent with The Young Turks network, not a Democratic consultant. 

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