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The once and future Democratic majority in state Senate

One party rule: coming to a state near you - real near you.

Reports The New York Times:

An analysis of population shifts since this decade began suggests that Democrats are poised to gain as many as six seats when legislative districts are reapportioned after the 2010 census. That would give them an ample margin to untangle the 31-to-31 tie that has stalemated the Senate for three weeks.

"There is a very large population growth downstate in New York City and Westchester and a very large decline upstate,” said Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College, who conducted the analysis for The New York Times. “Basically, this is a rerun of 2000 ...”

Given the Republicans’ slippery hold on the Senate seats they carved out in New York City (last November they lost one of four and almost lost another) and upstate’s declining share of the state’s population, Dr. Beveridge said, “it’s possible that after redistricting the Senate would have 38 Democrats and only 24 Republicans.”

In Nassau and Suffolk Counties, the population stayed the same in the 1990s, but was expected by demographers to rise after 2000. Instead, the population of Long Island, where Republicans have lost two of the nine seats since 2007, has shrunk. Even bigger declines were recorded in traditionally Republican strongholds upstate.

So, bottom line, Dems control the Assembly and they will likely control the Senate, as well, thanks to more downstate representation.

That leaves the governor's job as the only open seat, so to speak. Republicans have won the seat aplenty, but with the state going increasing blue, that will be more and more of an uphill fight.

Then again, the GOP has one thing going for it - the Democrats.



Problems with Pigeon's PACs

One of the things Tom Golisano and Steve Pigeon harp about when talking about the need to reform state government is transparency.

In fact, one of Responsible New York's eight objectives listed in its mission statement is True Government Transparency.

So it is no little irony that Pigeon has been something less than transparent in the way he has reported the financial activities of two political action committees he controls.

In fact, Pigon's PACs have been downright deceptive, if we are to believe the Erie County County Board of Elections, which has been investigating the financial doings of Citizens for Fiscal Integrity and People for Accountable Government.

Two things jump out in a story by my colleague, Matt Spina.

First, Pigeon's two PACs have filed only 11 of 43 required financial disclosure reports dating back to 2005. And half of those were filed late.

Pigeon claims the PACs were not required to make some of the filings because the committees were not active in some election periods. The state election law is clear: you are required to file a report for all periods. The only time you're allowed to not do so is when you file a statement saying the committee was inactive for the period in question. Pigeon's PACs made so such filings.

Add to this the fact that the state Board of Elections obtained six judgments against the Pigeon PACs for failure to comply, and has taken other enforcement actions, as well.

Sorry, Steve, but when it comes to the meaning of the election law, I'll take the Board of Elections word for it, not yours.

The Board of Election's second major finding may be even more troublesome, that the PACs failed to initially disclose $45,750 in contributions and more than $53,000 in expenses, including contributions to other candidates.

The Board of Elections determined this by subpoenaing the committee's bank records and comparing it against what the PACs had filed in their financial disclosure reports. The two election commissioners put it this way:

“The information we have so far indicates there have been multiple violations of the election law,” said Dennis E. Ward, Erie County’s Democratic elections commissioner. “The most serious involve significant amounts of money going in and coming out of the committees that have not been reported. That indicates false reports were filed.”

“The committees are used as vehicles in which money is laundered and given to candidates in greater amounts than what they’re legally entitled to receive,” said Ralph M. Mohr, the Republican commissioner for Erie County.

Folks, this is serious stuff.

It would be regardless whose PACS they were.

That the committees are controlled by Tom Golisano's right-hand man makes these findings a big deal.

That Pigeon has his eye on one of the top staff jobs in the state Senate, perhaps chief legal counsel for the Republicans if they manage to regain control, makes these findings a big deal.

That Pigeon is constantly trolling the local political waters  trying to influence who gets elected to conduct the people's business makes these findings a big deal.

It's not as though Pigeon has a pristine track record.

Tony Masiello decried the "thug mentality" he said had permeated the Erie County Democratic Party by the end of Pigeon's tenure as chairman. Then there's the shenanigans last fall in the campaign against Sam Hoyt.

Pigeon's response to the Board of Elections findings is typical. He claims he is following the law and attacks those who find fault with his actions.

Sorry, Steve, but you've got some 'splainin' to do, as Ricky used to tell Lucy.

Rudy's call for reform

Rudolph Giuliani has called for a state constitutional convention in this op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Giuliani Over the course of New York’s history, our state has held seven constitutional conventions, one as recently as 1967. Calling another convention would be an extraordinary step, but it is a necessary and effective way to overcome the challenges we face.

Giuliani outlines seven reforms he'd like to see come out of a constitutional convention, whose work would be subject to a voter referendum. His wish list touches on the budget process, term limits, campaign finance and the drawing of state Legislative district boundaries.

Jim Dwyer of The Times has a really good column that traces New York's ills to the gerrymandering that goes on.

For decades, all the fiefs in Albany lived under a political truce that allowed the Democrats to have the Assembly and the Republicans to have the Senate, with the governorship up for grabs. They did this with maps.

Every 10 years, when the results of a new census came out, each party got to draw districts that suited its political needs. And governors, who could have campaigned to unseat legislators from the other party, generally sat back and did nothing to interfere with the power-sharing arrangement. (Mr. Spitzer, during his year as governor, had started to disrupt it, until he was caught paying for sexual services.)

This is how a cartel operates, not a democracy.

Instead of price-fixing, it was vote-fixing. Both sides retained their seats, with the rate of incumbent re-elections hovering around 98 percent.

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News is reporting that Rick Lazio has a provocative idea of his own:

Not content to let his potential rival for the GOP gubernatorial nod (Giuliani) corner the market on beating up the state Legislature and suggesting fix-Albany plans, Lazio today called for doing away with the Senate and Assembly altogether and replacing it with "a new legislative branch comprised of a single body."

What do you think, folks?

Politics in City Hall? You bet!

The news is that Common Council members want the feds to roll up their sleeves and take an unprecedented look at how City Hall spends block grant dollars and operates its two primary economic development agencies.

Reports my colleague Brian Meyer:

Five Buffalo lawmakers are calling for the federal government to conduct a full-blown audit of the city's anti-poverty programs.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's has already issued a report that highlighted 19 deficiencies in the way Buffalo has spent block grant money. But members of the Common Council's ruling majority don't think the federal report went far enough in scrutinizing spending and lending practices at the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. and the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.

The city lawmakers are sending a letter to HUD Inspector General Kenneth M. Donohue Sr., asking him to take the "extraordinary step" of performing a "full and complete audit."

The irony is the Brown administration claiming it's all political.

"This is yet another example of Council Member Kearns' thinly veiled political agenda masquerading as good government," said Peter K. Cutler. "With Mickey, it's all politics, all the time."

Now, it's pretty obvious that the call by Kearns and Delaware Council Member Mike LoCurto, among otheers, for a federal review serves Kearns' political interests, given that he's running against Brown for mayor. No disputing that.

But, come on.

First off, after Brown got elected, he hired his campaign manager as his deputy mayor. Deputy Mayor Steve Casey is now functioning, so far as we can tell, as campaign manager. A perfect circle.

Together, Brown and Casey have politicized City Hall beyond its normal state of affairs, which is saying a lot. Just ask all the city employees being "encouraged" to work on Brown's re-election campaign, right down to "suggestions" of how many hours a week they might "volunteer" and what days and times they might do so.  

Second, given that federal audits have time and time again found fault with the city's management of the block grant program -- 19 serious problems, according to the latest review -- and the fiasco involving One Sunset, does anyone seriously believe there are not problems worthy of a look-see beyond what the understaffed city comptroller can provide?

Keep in mind that the first response by the Brown administration to the critical HUD audit issued this spring wasn't to call his people together to talk about how they could fix the problems. No, it was to pick up the phone and try and silence the local HUD office.

State Senate in need of adult supervision

Tom Precious sets the scene in Albany when our so-called leaders attended to the people's business yesterday:

Pandemonium ruled in the State Senate this afternoon, when both Republicans and Democrats claimed ownership of the historic chamber -- shouting over each other as they sought to run separate and simultaneous sessions.

The details would be laughable if they weren't so sad.

"You're out of order. Don't you call me out of order," Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Democrat, snapped at Sen. George Winner, who the Republicans tapped to lead the floor fight as presiding officer.

He did so from below the chamber's podium, which the Democrats had seized earlier in the afternoon.

"I don't understand what their point was other than trying to establish that they were in charge," Winner, still clutching his small gavel, said as he worked his way down a packed hallway after the session.

No word on whether the tit-for-tat included discussion of whose mother wears army boots.

You know how bad it is when the Assembly looks like the model of productivity and Speaker Sheldon Silver comes across as a responsible, can-do leader.

How many of you think Tom Golisano and Steve Pigeon look like white knights these days?

Tommy Boy, by the way, is dismissing rumors he is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in his adopted state of Florida. The Rochester -- I mean, Naples -- billionaire told News Political Reporter Bob McCarthy that his Responsible New York plans to turn its attention to the State Assembly once things quiet down in Albany.

"Responsible New York, once this thing settles down, will focus on the Assembly," he said.

Is that to say Golisano intends to do for the Assembly what he's done for the Senate?

Anti-bonus bill passes Assembly

A bill to prohibit bonuses to management and other non-union employees at state authorities - including the New York Power Authority, which handed out nearly $40 million in such pay this past decade - passed the state Assembly 122-0 yesterday.

The bill is sponsored by Sam Hoyt. A companion bill in the Senate is one of many measures on hold because of the coup chaos. 

This revolution is being televised -- on YouTube

I'm going off point today to talk about something different -- the way the social media, starting with Twitter, is playing a central role in the upheaval in Iran and the manner in which other online media, including YouTube, is providing the public around the globe with a street-level view of events.

In the view of

What is happening in Iran -- an uprising against a truly evil theological dictatorship -- is happening in large part due to social media. We are virtually seeing a revolution in real time.

Whether it's Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, immediate online reports from newspaper, or various blogs, the time gap between an event and its reporting has closed to dramatic levels.

This is historic. The implications for media and freedom are enormous.

So what's going on? Let's start here, with 10 compelling YouTube videos from the streets, as compiled by Mashable.

As we reported earlier this week, thousands of Iran-related videos are being uploaded to YouTube every day, revealing first-hand accounts of the crisis to the world. Some are incredible, some are eye-opening, and other shock you to your very core.

Elsewhere on the site, Mashable reports on these eye-popping statistic:

The use of Twitter has been immense #IranElection has been a top trending topic for days, as have terms like Iran, Tehran, Ahmadinejad, and Mousavi. But while there have been 10,000 to 50,000 tweets at any hour mentioning “Iran”, it peaked yesterday (Wednesday) at 221,744.

Want to get in on the action, at least from a reader's perspective? Here is how to track developments in Iran on Twitter and social media.

Here's are some informative reads on the role new media is playing:

New York Times: Twitter on the Barricades: Six Lessons Learned.

Daily Kos: Iran, a Twitter coup

InvestorSpot: Facebook revolution ratchets up.

CNET: Google, Facebook rush Iranian language support.

Jeff Jarvis: The API revolution

And finally, a good aggregator of news, tweats, etc. recommended by Jarvis. Folks, this is a face of future media.

Interesting stuff. Think we could tweet our way to a revolution in Albany?

By the way, if you want to follow me on Twitter, go here.



Yahoo! continued

The Buffalo Geek has some salient thoughts on the apparent decision by Yahoo! to locate a server farm (1) in WNY and (2) in Lockport.

Says the Geek:

As I described last month, if a data center project of this scope is properly sited and planned, it can have a positive multiplier effect on the local economy.  Yahoo! is building these regional data centers to support their plans in the cloud computing space and the potential for independent application development firms and support industry is quite lucrative with this business model.

Placing the data center in Lockport, away from the academic clusters and other related industry limits the potential for spinoff, such as it is.  While Lockport is a much better choice than Pembroke or Cambria, I wonder why New York State did not encourage Yahoo! to locate its facility in the urban core of Buffalo or Niagara Falls or even Amherst. 

Oh, wait…I know!  It’s because we don’t have a plan.  Practicing ad hoc economic development is no way to go through life, guys.  Here’s a lesson for local leaders, if you’re going to give away over $1MM in incentives per job created, you have the responsibility and right to dictate some of the criteria for site selection.

The Geek is right -- this region does not have a plan, or a strategy, when it comes to economic development. What it does have is a lot of businesses getting tax breaks and big power discounts because, well, they're there for the taking.  

Global warming, WNY warning

Sobering, even scary stuff.

Thirteen federal agencies have spent the last year and a half working on a consensus on how global warming is, and will affect the United States, and how it's playing out in regions around the nation. A report is out that John Holdren, President Obama's science adviser, said is the “most up-to-date, authoritative, and comprehensive” analysis of the impacts of human-caused global warming on the United States. 

I took a look at the report with an eye on what it foretells about Western New York.

Most striking is how fast the temperature is going up.

Worldwide, the average temperature is up 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. Here in the Northeast, it's risen 2 degrees since 1970. In the winter, it's gone up 4 degrees.

Put another way, global warming is already coming home to roost in our neck of the woods with more of a vengeance than some other parts of the US of A. For once we're ahead of the curve, and, as our luck would have it, this is one instance where we're better off being behind the eight ball.

The consequences of these rising temperatures include more extreme weather, in the form of very hot summer days and heavy downpours. In fact, "very heavy precipitation," as the report calls it, has increased more dramatically in the Northeast than any section of the country in the past 50 years.

A continuation of rising temperatures would result in our region being less hospitable to some forms of agriculture, although it will extend the growing season. It won't be good for cows producing milk, fruit trees and, well forget about locally produced maple syrup.
We'll get less snow, which some might cheer, but not those who ski. Better make plans for a trip out West, although things will be tougher there, too. Better to try farther north. I wonder if they have any ski slopes along, say, James Bay.

The warmer temperature also will hurt air quality, especially in populated areas.

How does that play out?

Well, in Chicago, for example, heat waves killed 100-plus people a year back when Jimmy Carter was president. By 2055, well within the lifetimes of many of you readers, more-frequent, intense heatwaves are projected to kill 375 to 700 a year, depending on just how much many more emissions we pollute our environment with.

Hartford, whose climate isn't that much different than ours, would see the temperature top 100 degrees about 30 days a year.

No thanks.

Another thing that jumped out at me was the impact on water supplies. We'll experience higher temps, more people living in hot, dry places like the Southwest, and growing demands for electricity that will need water for its production.

Hmmm, let's see, whose got water?

Why, we people around the Great Lakes.

Who's gonna want it?

Everybody else.

Sounds like we might have an H20 version of a food fight in our future.

This report is pretty readable and digestible as these things go. Here are some links worth checking out:

Four page fact sheet on the Northeast.

Four page executive summary for the United States.

Full report.

Read on.



Coup dividend for Golisano

As Tom Golisano has learned this week, you win some (last week's coup) and you lose some (this week's counter-coup).  Kind of like the playoffs -- when his Buffalo Sabres makes them.

Golisano can chalk up as a win the actions, or inaction, of the state Board of Elections Monday, as reported by my colleague Matt Spina.

A Democrat on the state Board of Elections accuses the board’s Republicans of backing off on a potential investigation into the actions of B. Thomas Golisano and G. Steven Pigeon during last year’s state legislative races.

Douglas A. Kellner said the commissioners, meeting behind closed doors last month, had agreed to refer the complaints to the Albany County district attorney for potential criminal prosecution. Agency lawyers even met with the prosecutors on the matter.

But when the commissioners met Monday, their decision was recalled in hazier terms.

You could see this one coming. Golisano becomes the GOP's new best friend and all of a sudden, the Republican commissioners on the Board of Elections have selective memory loss.

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