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Senate Democrats: Now it's time for reforms

ALBANY –- State Senate Democrats had two years in power to pass meaningful ethics reform measures.

Now, a week out of power, they are stepping up efforts to pressure Republicans now in control to approve measures rejected over the past two years when they controlled the 62-member Senate.

“Keep your promise,’’ Senate Minority Leader John Sampson repeated several times to the Senate GOP, urging approval of a series of plans designed to make Albany more transparent.

But Sampson refused four times to answer reporters’ questions about why the Senate Democrats did not approve the bills when they ran the Senate for the first time in four decades. [The GOP took back the Senate in November and now holds a slim 32-30 margin].

Government watchdog groups for years have called for lawmakers to relax their grip on the once-a-decade reapportionment process, which will take place over the next year now that the 2010 census numbers have been released. The groups have been calling for an independent commission to redraw the legislative and congressional lines.

The redistricting commission measure was among the platforms pushed now by the Senate Democrats at a news conference Monday. They also want more information released about outside income of legislators, such as the names of clients of those lawmakers who work on the side as lawyers; the measure, though, includes some exceptions to still keep client names hidden.

The Legislature, when the Senate Democrats were in control, did pass an ethics-related bill. But former Gov. David A. Paterson vetoed it, saying it was too weak and too riddled with loopholes.

-- Tom Precious

Cuomo distances himself -- sort of -- from Senate Democratic renegades

ALBANY –- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he had no role and offered no support to a breakaway group of four State Senate Democrats who last week likely made his job of dealing with the Senate a little bit easier.

Four Democrats formed what they called an independent caucus in the Senate, which is now narrowly controlled 32-30 by the Republicans, saying they had lost faith in the Democratic leadership and were ready to vote on the merits of legislation and not based on party allegiance.

The move was immediately seen last week as aiding Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos and giving him perhaps another vote –- or four -– on controversial bills that the main Democratic conference might oppose as a bloc. That, in addition, could end up helping Cuomo on certain votes the Democratic conference would not be willing to give the Democratic governor.

Cuomo said he was only told about the move by the dissidents right before they held a press conference a few hours before his State of the State speech last Wednesday.

“I had no knowledge. I don’t approve. I don’t disapprove," Cuomo said Monday. “It’s, frankly, none of my business. It’s a separate branch. It’s a separate house. They’ll make their own political decisions, which obviously they have."

The four Democrats -– Senators Jeff Klein of the Bronx, Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Carlucci of Rockland County and David Valesky of Onondaga County -– released a report Monday showing what they said could be $312 million in “questionable" state spending and ways for the state to save money as it faces a $10 billion deficit. The ideas include things like limiting overtime by state workers and new “accountability standards’’ for outside contractors.

Klein said the group has not held any talks with Skelos or been given any promises, such as committee chairmanships or leadership titles that would reward them with additional stipends beyond their base pay of $79,500. Nor have there been any talks, the group said, about bigger staffs or nicer offices in return for disrupting the Democratic conference. He also said no one from the state Democratic Party -– which is run by Cuomo –- has asked the four to go back into the Senate Democratic conference.

Asked if he wanted to be treated as a new leader to the closed-door talks over policy and upcoming budget talks, Klein said, “This is a work in progress.’’

--Tom Precious

The News' Meyer discusses Pridgen's new role on Common Council

Brian Meyer, The News' City Hall reporter, talked about the Rev. Darius  Pridgen and other Buffalo politics as a guest of Eileen Buckley's on WBFO-FM 88.7 this morning:


Download the clip and take it with you

The politics of ranting -- and violent rage?

The shooting of Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in a rampage that claimed six lives Saturday, shook the souls of everyone who serves the public in this say-anything era.

That’s because what happened in Tucson could happen anywhere, at any time -– and because the devolution in discourse in America in recent years might just make it more likely to happen.

It’s unfair to blame what happened in Arizona on any one movement. Even back when the tea party was something for the history books, a small but growing number of politicians and blabbermouths posing as journalists were, more and more and year by year, demonizing those with whom they disagreed.

But the rhetoric has reached a crescendo in the Obama years.

For example, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., in 2009 stood on the House floor and said during a discussion on health care reform: "Republicans want you to die quickly."

And just last year, Fox News commentator Glenn Beck told his audience that "violence is the wrong way to go.” But then he asked his viewers: "You'd pick up a gun? Have you ever thought of that?" Pointing to pictures of President Obama and then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Beck added, without any evidence, “These people have.”

Politicians and pundits say things like that, no doubt, in hopes of winning votes or rating points or Web hits. But in doing so, they make unhinged anger seem cool.

Not surprisingly, the unhinged respond. Politicians on both sides of the political spectrum report receiving more and more threats in recent years –- and they were not alone.

Twice in the past two years –- and for the first time in 28 years as a professional journalist -– I’ve received threats that I had to report to federal authorities. One was a vague threat to the life of a politician. The other was a promise that I would soon be killed.

That was an idle threat, obviously enough, as most of them are. But it made me worry that it was only a matter of time before all the incendiary indignation inspired a madman.

That may be what happened in Arizona on Saturday. The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, seems to be a 22-year-old lost soul of no political philosophy but of insane imagination. For proof, note this quote from an Internet video he posted Dec. 15: “I can’t trust the current government because of the ratifications: the government is implying mind control and brainwash of the people by controlling grammar.”

It should be no surprise that someone who thinks that way would turn to violence.

But the questions America now faces are: Is the way we talk about politics now making violence more likely? And are we wrecking our own politics?

Clarence W. Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff investigating the Arizona shootings, thinks so. And he said at a news conference Saturday that the nation should “do a little soul-searching.”

“It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included,” Sheriff Dupnik said. “That’s the sad thing about what’s going on in America: pretty soon we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.”  

--Jerry Zremski

Team two for day -- mandate relief -- named by Cuomo

ALBANY -- In his second "team" problem-solving panel for the day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo this afternoon named the members of a group to brainstorm ways to reduce the number of state-imposed mandates on local governments and school districts.

The mandates, at least those ones required by Albany but with no financial help to pay for them, are costly drivers of local property taxes. Like a Medicaid team announced earlier in the afternoon, the mandate-relief team includes various stakeholders who normally don't see eye-to-eye on mandate relief -- including local government officials and union leaders whose members might have a stake in some of the mandated services.

The panel includes Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi. It must report back its findings by March 1. The team is headed by Larry Schwartz, a senior adviser to Cuomo who until Dec. 31 was the top aide to former Gov. David Paterson.

"The enormous burden of unfunded and underfunded mandates is breaking the backs of taxpayers, counties and municipalities across the state," Cuomo said in a statement. "These mandates are throwing budgets out of balance and sending local property taxes through the roof. This diverse team of leaders and public servants fulfills the commitment to bring stakeholders to one table in order to work together to deliver relief and results for New Yorkers."

From a Cuomo administration news release, here's the rest of the mandate relief team besides Teresi:

• Stephen Acquario, executive director, NYS Association of Counties

• Maggie Brooks, Monroe County Executive

• Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors

• Jeff Haber, New York State Association of Towns, executive director

• David Steiner, New York State Department of Education, commissioner

• Valerie Grey, New York State Department of Education, chief operating officer

• Robert Reidy, New York State Council of School Superintendents, executive director

• Kevin Casey, New York State School Administrators Association, director

• Timothy Kremer, New York State School Boards Association, executive director

• Andy Pallotta, New York State United Teachers, executive vice-president

• Steve Allinger, New York State United Teachers, director of legislation

• Fran Turner, Civil Service Employees Association, director of the Legislative and Political Action Department

• Kevin Law, Long Island Association, president

• Kenneth Adams, New York State Business Council, president

• William Mooney, Westchester County Association, president

• Micah Lasher, office of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

• Ed Malloy, Upstate Building Trades Association

• Carol Kellerman, Citizens Budget Commission, president

• Sen. Betty Little, recommended by the Majority Leader of the Senate.

• Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, recommended by the Minority Leader of the Senate.

• Assemblyman Denny Farrell, recommended by the Speaker of the Assembly.

• Assemblyman Mark Molinaro, recommended by the Minority Leader of the Assembly.

-- Tom Precious

Medicaid redesign team named

ALBANY -- Members of a Medicaid cost-cutting panel were unveiled this afternoon by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a downstate-dominated group of health care executives, union leaders, lawmakers and business leaders.

The Medicaid Redesign Team has several Western New York members, including Assemblyman Joe Giglio, a Republican from the 149th Assembly district who is an appointee of the GOP Assembly leadership, and Ann Monroe, the president of the Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York.

"This team is tasked with the challenge of reversing a decades' long crisis of overspending and waste in our Medicaid system," Cuomo said in a statement. "We need to come together to find solutions to bring costs down without compromising care for New Yorkers and that is exactly what this team is going to do."

The group is to present its findings for a "redesign'' of the health insurance program, which costs more than $50 billion annually, by March 1 so they can be incorporated into the 2011 budget.

Besides Giglio and Monroe, the other members of the panel, according to a release by Cuomo's office, are:

• Michael Dowling, president and CEO of North Shore LIJ Health system.

• Dennis Rivera, the former chairmain of SEIU Healthcare and currently the senior adviser to the International President of SEIU.

• Kenneth E. Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association.

• George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

• Dan Sisto, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State.

• Frank Branchini, president and COO of EmblemHealth.

• Eli Feldman, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Jewish Health System as well as the chairman of the Continuing Care Leadership Coalition.

• Carol Raphael, president and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

• Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor of New York City for Health and Human Services.

• Ed Matthews, CEO of the United Cerebral Palsy of New York City as well as the president of the Interagency Council.

• Dr. Nirav Shah, the newly nominated Commissioner of Health.

• Mike Hogan, the commissioner for the Office of Mental Health.

• James Introne, deputy secretary for Health and the director of Healthcare Redesign.

• Max Chmura, Acting Commissioner of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

• Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez, the newly nominated Commissioner of the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

• Lara Kassel, a coordinator at Medicaid Matters New York.

• Karen A. Ballard, president of the New York State Nurses Association.

• Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties.

• Dr. Jeffrey A. Sachs, co-chair of the JFK Jr. Institute for Work Education at City University of New York.

• Steve Berger, former chairman for the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century and a board member for the Partnership for New York City.

• Dr. William Streck, chair of the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council.

• Elizabeth Swain, CEO of the Community Health Care Association of New York State.

• Senator Kemp Hannon, former chairman of the Senate Committees on Health and Housing, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

• Senator Tom Duane, former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, who was appointed by Senate Minority Leader John Sampson.

• Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Health, who was appointed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

• Assemblyman Joe Giglio of the 149th Assembly District currently sits on the Medicaid Waste, Fraud and Abuse Task Force. Assemblyman Giglio was appointed by the Minority Leader of the Assembly.

-- Tom Precious

New Senate Democrats: We are Family

ALBANY -- Call them the Four un-Amigos.

Four new members of the Senate Democratic conference, including Sen. Tim Kennedy, a South Buffalo Democrat, were offered up to the Capitol press corps Thursday.

Their theme? They are all about bringing change to Albany, but aren’t joining the four Senate Democrats who a day earlier announced they had lost faith with their leadership and were forming their own new independent caucus. (The breakaway lawmakers Wednesday dismissed any comparisons to the “Four Amigo” Senate Democrat group that created considerable turmoil for the partisan conference in 2009.)

The new lawmakers on Thursday sought to portray their own independent streaks, though they insisted they are comfortable pushing their own change-agendas from within inside the conference of Democratic senators.

Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat who last fall defeated former Sen. Pedro Espada, the fiery and controversial figure recently indicted on corruption charges, said the Democrats had been "ill prepared to be in the majority." The Democrats lost their two-year-old control of the chamber to the Republicans, who now lead the Senate by a 32-30 margin.

"This is a different conference," Rivera said of the new blood and promises by Senate Democratic leaders to run things differently –- at least what they can run from their new minority position.

Kennedy, who replaces longtime Sen. William Stachowski, said his focus will be on job creation, property tax relief and efforts by the University at Buffalo to get more financial autonomy from the SUNY system as part of its ambitious downtown Buffalo expansion plans.

"Western New York lost its voice in Albany,'' Kennedy said. "I'm here to get it back."

Joining Kennedy and Rivera were Queens senators Michael Gianaris and Tony Avella. They talked of being on board with the agenda laid out in the State of the State by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though Rivera said he is withholding final opinions until he sees what plans Cuomo has in mind for school and health care cuts in the upcoming state budget deliberations.

-- Tom Precious

A White House press secretary from Buffalo?

Burton

Bill Burton, a 1995 City Honors School grad, came back to talk to students at his alma mater in 2008. File photo by Harry Scull Jr. / Buffalo News

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced his resignation today -- and a Buffalo boy could succeed him as President Obama's top spokesman.

Bill Burton, a 1995 City Honors School grad who grew up in North Buffalo, has served as Obama's deputy press secretary for two years. He previously was national press secretary for the Obama presidential campaign.

The affable Burton is well-liked by the White House press corps, but two others -- Josh Earnest, another Gibbs deputy, and Jay Carney, Vice President Biden's spokesman, are also thought to contenders for Gibbs' job.

Gibbs said he would leave by early February to become an outside political adviser to the president.

Burton remains close to his hometown, rooting for the Bills and returning to City Honors three years ago, where he told students: "You have a set of gifts and abilities you can use for whatever you want. You're all capable of being involved in something."

-- Jerry Zremski

State of the State chat

Review News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy's chat during today's State of the State address.

 

Gillibrand wins -- what? -- praise on "The Daily Show"?

First dismissed by some as an appointed senator who was no more than Hillary Lite, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand now seems to be the Capital's latest it-girl.

For proof, check out what Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" had to say about Gillibrand, D-N.Y., last night.

Stewart, famous for treating politicians with the disrespect that they've earned, instead showered Gillibrand with love during her eight-minute appearance on his show Tuesday.

"You are adorable,” Stewart said, praising the two-year senator for her role in passing a health benefits bill for 9/11 rescuers, legislation that Stewart himself has long pushed on his program. Stewart also had kind words for Gillibrand's work to pass legislation repealing the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military.

With Gillibrand beaming quietly at his side, Stewart slyly indicated that her accomplishments were out of keeping with the modern ways of Washington.

"What are you trying to pull, Gillibrand?” he asked. “I thought the idea was knee-jerk reactionary motions to keep political power, not the passing of things to improve people’s lives. You’ve got a lot to learn, Gillibrand.”

One thing she has learned, though, is to not try to compete with television's reigning king of political comedy. She kept her jokes to a minimum and dished praise all around -- to Stewart for his 9/11 advocacy, and to everyone else who had pushed that bill.

And when Stewart suggested that New York's senior senator, Democrat Chuck Schumer, was "made of spotlight-eating bacteria," Gillibrand gamely, and politically correctly, said: "Chuck is a great partner. We work very well together."

Here's Gillibrand's entire appearance:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Kirsten Gillibrand
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

 

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

[email protected]


Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

[email protected]


Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | [email protected]


Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | [email protected]

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