Google Analytics

by Jay Gallagher

Friday, February 26, 2010

Paterson makes it official: he's not running

Gov. David Paterson made it official this afternoon: he’s not running for another term.
“I am ending my campaign for governor,’’ Paterson said a news conference in Manhattan. “I cannot run for office and manage the state’s business at the same time.’’
The announcement by Paterson came almost two years after the former lieutenant governor took over the job after former Gov. Eliot Spitzer quit in disgrace because of a prostitution scandal. Paterson’s withdrawal seems to all but assure that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will be the Democratic nominee for governor this year, although Cuomo hasn’t yet formally announced his intention to run.
Paterson is the state’s first African American and first legally blind governor. He announced his decision not to run just a day after The New York Times published a damaging story about his potential involvement in an attempted coverup of a domestic-violence complaint against one of his top aides, David Johnson. Paterson asked Cuomo to investigate the allegations.
Paterson today denied he had done anything wrong.
“I have never abused my office. Not now, not ever,’’ he said.
Even before the domestic-violence scandal broke, Paterson looked like a long shot to keep the job he inherited. Polls showed him with record-low approval ratings and trailing far behind Cuomo in polls.
The most likely lineup of candidates for governor in the fall appears to be Cuomo versus former Suffolk County Congressman Rick Lazio, a Republican who ran against Hillary Clinton for a Senate seat a decade ago. Paterson said today he hasn’t decided whether to endorse Cuomo.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Paterson woes paralyzing state, league official says

Charges that Gov. David Paterson and State Police may have interfered in a probe of a domestic-violence incident is distracting the governor and Legislature from dealing with urgent matters like ethics reform and agreeing on a new state budget, the League’s legislative director said today.
“The only thing anybody is talking about in Albany now is this latest scandal,’’ said the League’s Barbara Bartoletti. “People in New York are suffering, and the last thing they need is inactivity in Albany.’’
The New York Times reported today that Paterson talked to a woman who claims she was beaten by David Johnson, a key Paterson aide. She initially sought an order of protection in State Supreme Court in the Bronx but later withdrew the request.
The paper also reported that unidentified members of the State Police visited the woman at her Bronx apartment - a visit she took as an attempt to intimidate her into dropping the charges, she told the paper.
In the wake of the story, Paterson announced he was suspending Johnson without pay and asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo - his likely opponent in a gubernatorial primary later this year - to investigate.
Meanwhile, activity on adopting a new ethics bill and a state budget appear to be stalled.
Paterson earlier this month vetoed a League-supported bill that would have forced lawmakers to disclose more details of their outside income and business dealings, reshuffle the agencies responsible for enforcing ethics laws and strengthen the Board of Elections’ power to enforce campaign-finance laws.
In a message accompanying his veto - later upheld by the state Senate - Paterson pointed out that the measure would not have changed the system for financing campaigns or imposed term limits on lawmakers.
“The Governor said he had a better idea, and now he needs to do it,’’ Bartoletti said.
She also pointed out that while the domestic-violence charges and speculation about Paterson’s future is dominating the Capitol, valuable time is passing in which adopting a new state budget. They are supposed to have a spending plan in place by April 1 and are struggling on how to close a potential deficit of $8.2 billion.
Bartoletti said negotiations over a new spending plan, which traditionally happen behind closed doors, should be held in public.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How far will these education reforms get?

The state’s new education commissioner, David Steiner, sounds like he wants to lead significant change in the state’s schools, although some doubt whether he will get very far.
“We have not taken responsibility for a coherent view of education,’’ the former dean of the Hunter College School of Education who took over as the state’s top education official last October, said at a forum today. “We have a lot of difficult thinking to do.’’
As he has been doing for the past few months, Steiner today called for a statewide curriculum that he said would help answer the question, “What is an educated citizen?’’ Now local districts decide much of what is taught is classrooms.
Steiner told a group at the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany that the state has been leaning too heavily on measuring outcomes - meaning test scores - and hasn’t paid enough attention to the content of what children learn, or on the training of teachers to improve interactions in the classroom.
“We deeply believe in this country in measuring,’’ said Steiner, who was born in New York but was educated largely in the United Kingdom. “So we will not look at anything we can’t measure.’’
When asked how he plans to implement his curriculum ideas, Steiner said it would be a long, difficult battle and that all sides need to be consulted.
One observer noted afterwards that someone with more of a management background than Steiner’s might have been in a better position to push for such changes.
Steiner barely mentioned, beyond saying he knows it’s a problem, the fiscal woes facing the state’s public schools. Gov. David Paterson has proposed cutting state aid by about $1 billion next year, or 5 percent. Many of the state’s more than 700 school districts have warned of sharp cuts in services or big tax hikes unless the Legislature restores the money. Lawmakers are supposed to make a decision by April 1.
“I am deeply aware of the massive budgetary challenges,’’ Steiner said, without detailing how he thinks they ought to be met.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

High court sides with judges

The state’s highest court ruled today that the Legislature should give judges a raise. But the reaction from a legislative leader indicates the jurists shouldn’t spend the money just yet.
The Court of Appeals decided, by a 5-1 vote, that the failure of lawmakers to raise judicial pay for 11 years violates the separation-of-powers clause of the state Constitution.
“We conclude that the independence of the judiciary is improperly jeopardized by the current judicial-pay crisis and that this constitutes a violation of the separation-of-powers doctrine,’’ Judge Eugene Piggott wrote for the majority.
The pay for 1,300 state judges has been frozen since January 1999, largely because lawmakers have tied judges’ salaries to their own, and any step to raise the pay of the Legislature has been considered politically risky.
State trial-level judges make $136,700 a year - a figure that 11 years ago matched that of federal District Court judges, but has since fallen far behind. The base pay of lawmakers is $79,500, although all 61 senators and about two-thirds of the 150 members of the Assembly get extra pay for so-called “leadership’’ and committee posts.
But the Court of Appeals judges today stopped short of mandating that the Legislature raise the pay of judges any time soon.
“Whether judicial compensation should be adjusted, and by how much, is within the province of the Legislature,’’ Piggott wrote. But since the current situation violates the constitution, “We therefore expect appropriate and expeditious legislative consideration.’’
However, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who in the past has blocked judicial pay raises in the absence of any agreement to hike the salaries of lawmakers, pointed out that “the decision does not mandate any action by the Legislature at this time.’’
He added that he agreed that the pay should be raised, and that “The Assembly will consider this matter when economic conditions improve.’’
In other words, don’t hold your breath.

Monday, February 22, 2010

League worries about secret budget process


The Legislature is back at the Capitol today, budget hearings are mostly over but there is still no indication that the key decisions will be made in public, the League’s legislative director said today.
“The public has a right to know in this difficult budget season what is happening,’’ said Barbara Bartoletti.
The hole in Gov. David Paterson’s budget proposal, which he said was about $1.4 billion two weeks ago, may have grown further, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said today.
He said tax revenues are continuing to slip so that the hole even if all of Paterson’s proposals for tax hikes and spending cuts in areas like education, health care and parks are adopted by the Legislature, a further $2 billion deficit needs to me made up.
Lawmakers are supposed to agree on a new spending plan by April 1, but few at the Capitol expect a deal to be reached by then.
Beyond the bad news likely to be contained in whatever spending plan is finally adopted, Bartoletti said she fears that much of the key decisions will be made behind closed doors.
At least one event will be public: the annual revenue-forecast meeting among experts from the state Budget Division, the Legislature, the comptroller and investment firms will be held later this week, most likely Thursday (nothing official yet.)
Then by Monday, Paterson and lawmakers have to announce an agreement on how much they think the state will collect in revenues next year.
This requirement was adopted several years ago to stop the squabbling over the admittedly subjective nature of tax collections since they depend on what happens to the economy.
But after that talks typically go underground until there is a deal.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Judge refuses to block Monserrate ouster

A federal district court judge today refused to issue a stay to prevent Democrat Hiram Monserrate of Queens from being expelled from the Senate.
If the decision withstands a potential appeal or other potential challenges, it will mean that his Senate will remain vacant until a special election is held March 16. That means neither party - the 31 remaining Democrats and the 30 Republicans - will have enough votes to pass legislation without votes from the other side, making any significant actions unlikely for the next month.
Attorneys for Monserrate, whom the Senate voted 53-8 to oust on Feb. 9, argued that the Senate had no power to eject one of its own members - only voters can do that, they said. They also contended that Monserrate had been deprived of due process.
The Senate acted after the first-term senator was found guilty of assaulting his girlfriend in December of 2008.
U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley agreed that voters should decide the issue, without the help of the courts, but that didn’t lead him to block Monserrate’s ouster.
“…The March 16 special election furthers the goals of Plaintiffs' current application to protect the voters of the 13th Senatorial District more effectively than judicial intervention," he said in his decision.
There was no immediate comment today from Monserrate, who has said in the past that he didn’t intend to run in the special election but would run for another term in November.
"While this Court concludes it has no legal basis to preliminarily enjoin the decision of the Senate, a 'fundamental principle of our representative democracy is, in (Alexander) Hamilton's words, 'that the people should choose whom they please to govern them,'" Pauley said in the decision.

Another shoe falls on Paterson

The other shoe from The New York Times dropped on Gov. David Paterson today, in the form of a story on its front page that portrays the governor as remote, unfocused and maybe even over his head as governor.
The story follows one two days earlier that said a former driver and now top aide, David Johnson, has been arrested for drug crimes and also involved in domestic-violence incidents.
The story represents another blow for the governor, who has even had trouble rounding up people to attend campaign kick-off events this weekend, has historic low poll ratings and is having difficulty raising money. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is far ahead of the governor among Democrats who have been asked by pollsters whom they want as their party’s candidate for governor in November.
Paterson often works short days, is unavailable for hours at a time, seldom talks to state commissioners and leans on advisers with little experience in government, according to the story. He has also spent thousands of scarce campaign dollars on bills from expensive restaurants and bars in Manhattan and a resort in Florida, the paper reported.
In response, Paterson spokesman Peter Kauffmann said the article “offers no explosive revelations about Gov. Paterson. Despite a nasty and seemingly coordinated effort to attack the Governor based on nothing but rumor and innuendo, what we are left with is a profile of a sitting governor tackling historic challenges in a time of crisis for our State.’’
Paterson told The Times that “This latest kind of bashing of me is a depiction of me in what is, in my opinion, a racialized, hypersexualized and more or less dissolute context.’’
He said he resented being profiled in a way “that it appears that all I am doing is drinking, chasing women, doing drugs.’’

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Should one man control so much money?

A report out today about the state’s well funded pension system could be fodder for the debate about whether one person should be in charge of the massive $129 billion common retirement fund.
A report from the Pew Center on the States found that New York is one of only four states whose obligations to pay the pensions of state and local-government workers outside New York City are fully funded. In fact, it has more than enough - 107 percent - compared to the national average of 84 percent, according to the report.
This is a little jarring because typically in most measures of fiscal health, like taxes imposed, debt owed and per-person spending, New York typically ranks near the bottom of states.
But the state’s pension system is set up differently from those in the rest of the country.
Here, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, an independently elected official, is the sole trustee of the pension fund.
In other states, when times have gotten tough, governments haven’t chipped as much into pension funds as needed to keep them fully funded. This has often happened because the governor of the state has a hand in deciding how much to set aside for pensions and doesn’t want to raise taxes of cut other spending to meet the long-term obligation.
But in New York, DiNapoli can resist such pressure, since he reports only to the voters. (OK, to be technical, he was appointed to the job by the Legislature after Alan Hevesi was forced to resign in 2007, but he has to face voters this year.)
That little parenthetical phrase might give you a clue that the New York system has had, shall we say, a few problems. Hevesi pleaded guilty to using assets of the fund for his own personal use. And investigators have also found that top officials at the fund accepted gifts from people who wanted a piece of it invested with them.
For some, the answer to the problems is to put a committee in charge of the fund, the way state teachers, New York City workers and public workers in most of the rest of the country have done it.
But today’s report shows the merit of keeping it as it is.
OK, the report also found that New York has put almost nothing aside to pay for the medical benefits of retirees. But then, neither have most other states.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

No sigh of relief from Paterson

If Gov. David Paterson is relieved that the long-awaited New York Times bombshell story focused on a top aide rather than on himself, he did a good job hiding it today.
Paterson, who made the round of talk-show circuit for the last couple of weeks decrying rumors about what the story might be about, issued a statement blasting The Times for the story about David Johnson, his former driver who is now considered one of his top advisers.
The Times disclosed that Johnson, 37, has been arrested twice for drug infractions and has been involved in three incidents where female companions say he assaulted them - one as recently as last October.
"The New York Times has chosen to splash his youthful offenses across the pages of its newspaper – even though the courts of our State have ordered them to be sealed,’’ Paterson said in a statement today. “Mistakes committed during one's youth are determined by law to be kept sealed for a reason – to give a young person a second chance at a productive life. I profoundly believe in this principle of redemption and giving young people a second chance.’’
He also pointed out that The Times presented only anonymous sources to buttress its case that Johnson had been involved in violent incidents with women.
“There is no independent evidence presented that would substantiate any claims of violence committed by David Johnson against a woman, a fact underscored by the absence of a single judicial finding that any such incident ever took place,’’ Paterson said.
The Times quoted anonymous officials as saying they feared that Johnson, who has limited policy-making experience, doesn’t have the background to properly advise the governor, who is faced with difficult tasks of persuading the Legislature to pass a balanced budget, as well as running for election in November.
But Paterson said he has full confidence in Johnson, who has worked for him for more than a decade.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Defiant gov rouses crowd

Gov. David Paterson managed to rouse a dinner crowd at the annual dinner of the Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus tonight with a defiant vow to run for full term in November despite dismal poll numbers and a nearly empty campaign war chest.
“I’m black, I’m blind, and I’m still alive,’’ he told more than 2,000 people gathered for the $175-a-plate charity event, who roared their approval.
They also reacted strongly to what has become his favorite line recently: “The only way I’ll give up this office is through the ballot box. The only way I’ll leave before then is in a box.’’
Paterson is the state’s first African-American governor, but polls show a majority of African-American voters don’t support him for a four-year term.
Paterson shared the head table with the three other people who are part of this year’s political melodramas in the state: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is widely expected to challenge Paterson for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who is mulling a run against Gillibrand. (Ford said this morning on Meet the Press on NBC that he’ll probably decide within a couple of weeks whether to run.)
All greeted each other civilly but paid little attention to their potential rivals during the dinner.
Paterson could barely be heard over the drone of conversations when he started his speech and rattled off numbers about the state’s fiscal woes.
“I will not let the state run out of money. Not on my watch. We will balance this budget,’’ he said, his voice rising, in what sounded like an attempted applause line. There was no reaction from the crowd.
But his underdog defiant tone played better.
Earlier, he told reporters that people at the weekend-long convention had been urging him to “hang in there.’’

Friday, February 12, 2010

Weekend preoccupations


Wonder what Albany insiders will be mulling this long holiday weekend? Here are a few likely topics:
-- Will Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr., Gov. David Paterson and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo manage not to try to throttle each other at the weekend’s Black, Hispanic and Asian Legislators’ conference that they’re all scheduled to attend? Ford is expected to try to beat Gillibrand in a primary in September and Cuomo is expected to announce his candidacy for governor as soon as next month.
-- What are prosecutors focusing on as the look at the recent deal to award the franchise to install video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Race Track to AEG Entertainment? Just a few days after the award was announced, Paterson sought political support from the Rev. Floyd Flake of Queens, who has a piece of the deal and is also one of New York City’s most powerful politicians.
-- Will a federal judge try to block the ouster of Sen. Hiram Monserrate of Queens from office? And will he scratch a special election Gov. Paterson has set for March 16 to replace the senator? Monserrate claims in court papers it is a civil-rights issue and that he was denied due process.
-- How much will get done in the Senate before Monserrate’s seat is filled, since neither party has a majority until he is replaced? Common wisdom: very little.
-- Who will appear with Gov. Paterson when he officially announces his candidacy for governor on the 20th? His father, former Secretary of State Basil Paterson, is behind him as is Rep. Charles Rangel, D-Harlem, but after that most well known Democratic polls have been running away from the gov as a sure loser.
-- Will The New York Times ever run its much-rumored story about Paterson’s personal life?
-- Where can the state possibly find the money to head off deep cuts in school aid and health-care spending and still close its $8 billion budget gap by April 1?
-- Is ethics reform dead for the year?
That’s enough to fill anyone’s head, as the folks who live here permanently get set to enjoy a week without the Legislature being in session.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Monserrate takes fight to court

A federal judge in Manhattan today refused to issue a stay blocking the removal of Hiram Monserrate of Queens from the state Senate, but set a hearing for next Thursday on the issue.

Monserrate, whom the Senate voted Tuesday night to remove from office in the wake of his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges, is challenging the decision in court, saying that only voters have the power to remove him.

In court papers filed today, Monserrate also asked U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley to bar a special election Gov. David Paterson has set for March 16 to replace him. He said he was denied due process.

"The office is up and running. I will be stopping in today to speak with the staff," Monserrate said after the court filing, according to the Associated Press. "I will continue to serve."

Monserrate said he won't be on the ballot for the special election, if there is one, but is expected to run for another two-year term in November. Most Democratic leaders in Queens have said they support Democratic Assemblyman Jose Peralta to replace Monserrate.

Last fall Monserrate was convicted of a misdemeanor assault charge after being caught on videotape dragging his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, through the lobby of his apartment building in December of 2008.

She was bleeding from facial cuts that eventually required 40 stitches to close. The couple said Monserrate accidentally cut her when he tripped while bringing her a glass of water. He was acquitted of four felony accounts that arose from the incident.

The Senate "did not have the constitutional or legal authority to expel Sen. Monserrate from office against the will of the people and even if they did have the power to expel him, the 'ad hoc' nature of how they did so was in violation of his due process rights," his lawyers argued in papers submitted to the court.

The vote to expel Monserrate, which passed 53-8, came after a probe by a special nine-member bi-partisan Senate panel. Monserrate refused to appear before the committee, which recommended that he be either censured or expelled.

Monserrate's ouster leaves the Democrats with a tenuous 31-30 advantage over Republicans. Thirty-two votes are needed to approve legislation.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A step backwards on campaign-financing limits?

Last month's Supreme Court decision that took the lid off campaign expenditures by corporations could have profound effects on New York politics, a panel of experts (plus me) said in a radio interview today.
The decision, a controversial 5-4 ruling, said that corporations, for the purpose of political speech, are the same as individuals, and that governments can't limit what they can spend to get their views heard.
This effectively removes the limits on independent corporate expenditures in political campaigns in federal and Congressional races set up in the 2003 McCain-Feingold law that was adopted by Congress. (Limits on donations to political campaigns were not affected.)
The ruling means that corporations can spend money not only from political-action committees, but directly from shareholder funds as long as the spending isn't coordinated with a candidate's campaign, said Stephen Gottlieb, a professor at Albany Law School. He and he rest of the panelists appeared on Susan Arbetter's "Capitol Pressroom'' show this morning that is heard around the state.
Loosening the reins on corporate spending could lead to an explosion of so-called "issue ads'' by independent third parties that could crowd out what the candidates are trying to get across, said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
He said that much as billionaire Tom Golisano spent millions two years ago trying to influence races, corporations could try to intervene to push causes they favor.
Business groups are still trying to sift through what doors the ruling might open to them. Opponents of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation that lies under the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley fear that the drilling firms could spend millions trying to influence the debate on what regulations the state should impose on their activities.
I pointed out that organized labor has generally had the best of businesses on issues they have clashed on before the Legislature for decades, but that this ruling could change that relationship.
Horner said that businesses have always spent a lot on lobbying and campaign donations, but have tended to split their spending on relatively narrow issues and seldom have worked effectively together to influence broader state policies.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Senate votes to oust Monserrate

The state Senate voted 53-8 tonight to oust one of its members, Hiram Monserrate, D-Queens, who last year was found guilty of assaulting his girlfriend.
The unprecedented action means that Democrats no longer have the 32 votes needed to pass legislation on the sharply divided chamber, which also has 30 Republican members.
No lawmakers spoke in favor of the resolution tonight, which was adopted after Democrats met behind closed doors for more than five hours to consider what to do. A motion to merely censure him was also on the table.
Monserrate and two of his allies spoke against the resolution to oust tonight.
“I was denied basic due process,’’ said Monserrate, who was caught on videotape on Dec. 18, 2008, dragging his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, through the lobby of his apartment building. She was bleeding from cuts to the face, which the couple said she received when he stumbled and inadvertently slashed her with a broken glass.
Monserrate was acquitted of felony charges related to the incident - which would have led to his immediate ouster - but was found guilty in October of one misdemeanor charge.
He has promised a legal fight to try to keep his seat.
He said lawmakers who voted to oust him are trying to “expiate all of their sins by making Hiram Monserrate a scapegoat.’’
Gov. David Paterson has promised to call a special election promptly to fill the vacancy. Queens Democratic Party leaders are backing Assemblyman Jose Peralta for the post.

Changes called for in reapportionment process

A lawmaker who helped craft new legislative and congressional districts nine years ago today defended the system at a forum co-sponsored by the League, while another lawmaker and the leading academic expert on state government said it needs to change.
“I favor the legislative approach,’’ said Assemblyman William Parment, D-Jamestown, who was the top Assembly Democrat on the Legislative Commission on Reapportionment in 2001.
He acknowledged that the current system, which puts lawmakers in charge of the process, aids incumbents and majority-party members at the expense of challengers and the minority parties. But he said he doesn’t have a problem with that.
“I don’t think you gain a great deal by competition,’’ he told a group of about 50 League members and others at the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, which also co-sponsored the event that was held to help the League celebrate its 90th anniversary. “That is heresy, I know.’’
But the state should change the current system to have a non-partisan commission draw district lines next year, said Gerald Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz.
“It would enhance the prospects for electoral competitiveness’’ and therefore the responsiveness of lawmakers to their constituents, Benjamin said.
The lines are scheduled to be redrawn next year based on this year’s census results. Since the Supreme Court’s “one-man, one-vote’’ ruling in the ‘60s, a panel of senators and Assembly members have set New York’s districts once a decade, with each house informally agreeing to approve the lines drawn by the other.
The result has been an important reason why incumbent so seldom lose races in New York, critics say.
“We need an independent redistricting commission,’’ said Assemblyman Daniel Burling, R-Wyoming County, who is slated to be the Assembly GOP representative on the reapportionment panel next year. “The Legislature has to have the internal fortitude to move ahead and do it.’’
But Burling said the only way the system is likely to change is if good-government groups and citizens demand it.
“We proposed changes. I don’t see the changes taking place,’’ he said. “But if they feel pain or feel threatened, they do things.’’
Going into today’s four special elections, Democrats controlled 110 of the 150 seats in the Assembly.
Jeffrey Wice, counsel to Senate reapportionment chairman Maleve Dilan, D-Brooklyn, promised the crowd “a much fairer, transparent and more deliberative process’’ than has been the case in the past.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Senate votes down ethics-bill override

The Senate defeated an effort to override Gov. Paterson's veto of the ethics bill this evening.
The override supporters got 35 votes to 26 against, but a two-thirds margin (42) was necessary for the measure to become law.
Four Republicans joined the Democrats to vote yes, but it wasn't enough to overcome opposition from most of the GOP members, some of whom said they hope to negotiate a tougher bill later this year.

Assembly overrides gov on ethics; Senate action unlikely

The Assembly today overrode Gov. Paterson’s veto of ethics legislation supported by the League, but the effort in the Senate was expected to fail.
The Assembly voted 136-2 to buck the governor on the bill, which calls for stepped-up enforcement of campaign-finance laws by the state Board of Elections as well as new oversight bodies to ride herd on lobbying, executive agencies and the Legislature.
Paterson vetoed it last week, saying it didn’t go far enough in requiring disclosure of business relationships of lawmakers and in limiting campaign donations, among other flaws. He proposed a compromise Saturday, but lawmakers weren’t interested.
“This is a beginning for a whole lot of reform,’’ said Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Peekskill, before voting for the override.
But approving the watered-down bill “means that ethical reform in this state is now dead,’’ said Assemblyman Greg Ball, R-Putnam County.
The bill was the best that could be expected to pass both houses of the Legislature, said League Legislative Director Barbara Bartoletti.
“Historically, one house of the Legislature would vote for (reform) while the other would vote for a different bill and we’d be left with the status quo,’’ she said.
“Because of the public outcry against ethical lapses, at last we can move forward on the issue,’’ she said, and restore “a modicum of integrity back to New York.’’
But in the Senate, lawmakers said Republicans and Democrats still remain divided on the measure, making an override vote unlikely. A two-thirds vote is needed to thwart the governor. There are 32 Democrats in the Senate and 30 Republicans.
The push for reform picked up steam last year when the former majority leader of the Senate, Joseph Bruno, was convicted of criminal charges of using his public office for his personal gain. Another former lawmaker, Anthony Seminerio, D-Queens, was sentenced last week to six years in prison on corruption charges.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Politics might derail budget

Getting a state budget passed this year and an ethics bill adopted could be further complicated by Gov. Paterson seeing political advantage in holding them up, lawmakers told a forum sponsored by the Albany County League of Women voters today.

“My fear is he will not want a budget,’’ Assembly Majority Leader Ronald Canestrari, D-Cohoes, told an audience of about 60 League members and guests.

Canestrari explained that as long as the budget is not settled, Paterson, who is running for a full four-year term in November, can criticize the Legislature for not doing enough to hold down spending. But he loses that issue once the spending plan, which is supposed to be in place by April 1, is adopted.

Paterson has proposed steep cuts in education and health-care spending, as well as new taxes on cigarettes and sugared drinks, to help close a potential budget deficit he estimates at more than $8 billion.

Canestrari said it was significant that for the first time in memory, Paterson aides didn’t brief legislative staffers on what was in his budget plan before the governor made it public, suggesting that he wasn’t interested in making a timely deal.

Another lawmaker at the forum, Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar, said that politics also seems to be behind the Paterson veto of an ethics bill supported by the League and most other reform groups.

“He did it for political reasons, period,’’ Breslin said.

Paterson said he vetoed the bill because it did not go far enough in reforming Albany, especially because it allowed lawmakers to appoint the panel that would have overseen their ethics - a system now in place that has been widely criticized.

But lawmakers said today it would have been far better to take the changes in the bill that the Legislature passed, including stepped-up enforcement powers for the state Board of Elections, and build on them.

But the politics of a veto were more attractive to Paterson, another lawmaker said.

“You want to keep it alive,’’ Assemblyman Jack MeEneny, D-Albany, told the crowd, referring to Paterson’s stake in keeping the ethics issue before the public. If he didn’t veto the bill, “it would all go away’’ and Paterson would lose a potent issue to use against the Legislature.

The League’s legislative director, Barbara Bartoletti, said she expects the Assembly to override Paterson’s veto of the ethics bill on Monday. But she and Breslin agreed the override attempt faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Redistricting forum set for Tues

The League of Women Voters of New York State Educational Foundation and the Rockefeller Institute of Government are sponsoring a forum next Tuesday on redrawing legislative districts following this year's census.
Reapportionment is always a contentious issue in Albany, with reform groups traditionally critical of lawmakers' gerrymandering of district lines for partisan advantage.
The topic is especially critical this year, since control of the state Senate (and therefore which party sets district lines) will be decided in the November elections.
Four lawmakers will speak at the event: state Sen. Martin Malave Dilan, D-Brooklyn; Sen. Andrew J. Lanza, R-Staten Island; Assemblyman Daniel J. Burling, R-Wyoming County; and Assemblyman William L. Parment, D-Jamestown.
Gerald Benjamin, associate vice president for regional engagement, SUNY New Paltz and Blair Horner, legislative director of New York Public Interest Research Group, will also speak at the forum, which is slated to run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Rockefeller Institute, 411 State St., Albany.
I spoke to Blair today, and he promised to have his famous power point presentation showing gerrymandered districts resembling Abraham Lincoln riding a vacuum cleaner, a claw and other interesting shapes.
The forum will be moderated by Susan Arbetter, Capitol reporter and public affairs director for WCNY. Afterwards, there will be a reception in honor of the league's 90th anniversary.
To RSVP, contact Michele Charbonneau of the Institute, 518-443-5258, or

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ethics bill, Senator's fate face Legislature

   Welcome to the Capitol Beat, the League of Women Voters of New York State’s new blog on Albany happenings.
   The league has been watching a couple of contentious issues at the Capitol likely to bubble to the surface next week: ethics reform and the fate of a senator who has been convicted of assaulting his girlfriend.
      Gov. Paterson Wednesday vetoed an ethics bill supported by the league that would have strengthened the campaign-finance-enforcement powers of the state Board of Elections, among other things. Paterson said the bill didn’t go far enough, for example still leaving the Legislature in charge of appointing the panel to oversee their own ethics.
      It’s unclear whether the state Senate will move to override the veto (the votes to do so seem assured in the Assembly) since Republicans and Democrats have to agree to support it. The league is working to facilitate an agreement among all parties so that the status quo won’t remain in effect.
    Senate leaders have promised that next week they will take up a resolution calling for the ouster of Sen. Hiram Monserrate of  Queens after his conviction on assault misdemeanor charges.
    The issue is a delicate one for Senate Democratic leader John Sampson of Brooklyn, who risks alienating Latino members if he lets the issue come to the floor, but strong pressure from most other sides to remove Monserrate.
   Next week is the last week the Legislature is in town before its annual winter break. Legislative Director Barbara Bartoletti, who was tending to her new grandson this week, will be back at the Capitol.
   We would love to hear any feedback you have.