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Onion or corn: You decide

ALBANY -- Apparently, no one wants to offend onions or sweet corn.

A day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo refrained from taking sides in the new burning debate at the Capitol -- should the onion or sweet corn become the state's official vegetable -- the New York Farm Bureau is out today saying it is staying neutral in the raging controversy.

"Picking an official vegetable is a tough choice,'' said Farm Bureau President Dean Norton, adding his group is now seeking a "consensus'' from its membership. Norton even floated a third possibility: maybe a dark horse vegetable will emerge to pass the onion and corn.

Indeed, the Farm Bureau pointed out that onions and sweet corn may have their prominent place in New York agriculture, the biggest crop is cabbage. Yes, cabbage, all $101 million heads of them that were produced in 2007.

The onion versus corn fight began this week when a senator from Rockland County, David Carlucci, introduced the onion-for-official-vegetable bill while Finger Lakes area senator Michael Nozzolio went for sweet corn in his separate bill.

"I don't have a candidate yet in the race,'' Cuomo joked Wednesday when asked to select his winner.

If you've really nothing else to do, head over to www.facebook.com/NYFarmBureau to cast your vote. By mid afternoon, the powerful sweet corn lobby had a slight lead over the onion forces.

UPDATE:

Put Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat, in the corn column. His office this afternoon took the time to put out a press release making clear that he stands with the corn farmers in his district. "It's not that I don't like onions. I just believe we should celebrate our sweet corn,'' Kennedy said.

-- Tom Precious

Koch to Skelos: You are "dishonorable''

ALBANY -- Government watchdog groups are gearing up to begin computer-generated calls into the districts of Senate Republicans who they say have backed off a campaign promise last year to create an independent commission to draw new legislative lines in next year’s redistricting process.

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch this morning called Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos “an enemy of reform’’ who has “betrayed’’ his vow last year to make the redistricting process less partisan driven.

Koch, a Democrat, said the Republicans are at risk of holding onto the Senate – which they recaptured last year after two years out of power – because of widening gaps between Democratic and Republican voters.

“This is not a plot or a plan to reduce Republican representation,’’ Koch told reporters at the Capitol after a meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has vowed to veto any gerrymandered legislative lines.

“Are you asking me if anything would help Republicans? I doubt it,’’ Koch said.

The redistricting process occurs once a decade following the U.S. Census process. Senate Republicans say they have met their pledge by earlier this year okaying a resolution to amend the constitution to permit an independent panel to draw state and congressional lines. Because of the years it takes to amend the constitution, the panel under the Senate GOP plan would not be effective until after next year’s redistricting process.

By Albany tradition, the Democrats in control of the Assembly draw their own district lines and the Republicans running the Senate draw theirs. The governor must okay the new boundaries. If they are vetoed, the whole matter goes to a “special master’’ appointed by the courts to draw the lines. Critics say the process leads to widespread gerrymandering and incumbency protection.

Koch would not say yet whose Senate districts would be targeted for the robo calls beginning next week.

In a reply letter to Koch, Skelos wrote, “I am disappointed that your well-meaning crusade for reform has recently devolved into a series of increasingly bitter personal attacks. These divisive attacks don’t help us achieve our shared goal of redistricting reform, and they don’t serve the public well.’’

Skelos noted that Senate Democrats did not approve an independent redistricting bill when they were in the majority in 2009 and 2010, nor has the Assembly Democrats approved Cuomo’s redistricting proposal. He said a statement by a Senate Democrat about using redistricting to push Senate Republicans into “oblivion” question the motives of Senate Democrats now backing an independent panel. Koch, in his letter to Skelos, agreed that the comment by Democratic Senator Malcolm Smith was “stupid.’’

Koch wrote that Republicans aren’t alone in opposing the redistricting plan his group is advocating. He said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer told him in a phone call that a non-partisan commission could cost Democrats to lose three House seats in New York to Republicans.

“I told him if you believe in reform and good government that outcome resulting from a fair process should not be the reason to oppose the process,’’ Koch said he told Schumer.

Koch wrote to Skelos asking him to join his effort “instead of engaging in a dishonorable act worthy of a hack politician.’’

-- Tom Precious

Legislature pondering longer spring break

ALBANY -- OK, this is a story that can be spun a couple ways.

The State Legislature is considering extending its upcoming spring break for a second full week.

A dereliction of duties, some might scream.

Or, consider option two: a savings to taxpayers of tens of thousands of dollars in travel, lodging and food costs for the 212-member Legislature and many staffers who join them from around the state during session days.

With the budget getting done on time this year, some lawmakers have found themselves with a bit of time on their hands this week after years of doing budget dances well past the April 1 start of the fiscal year.

The Legislature is due to go on a spring break beginning April 14 and is scheduled to return midweek on April 27 for a two-day session. Talks began Tuesday between the two houses about taking off those two days to give lawmakers two full weeks off. No final decisions have yet been reached, lawmakers in both houses said Tuesday and again Wednesday. The Legislature ended this week's session earlier today; most of the sessions in the two houses were to honor visiting West Point cadets.

-- Tom Precious

Corwin making the D.C. rounds

   Republican congressional hopeful Jane Corwin is in Washington, meeting, greeting, making the rounds, and collecting a few dollars while she's at it.

   Sources close to the Clarence assemblywoman say she is meeting with various funding types and representatives of political action committees in a time-honored ritual for rookie congressional candidates.

   The highlight of her trip is a fundraiser Wednesday night at the Capitol Hill Club led by former Western New York Congressmen Bill Paxon and Thomas M. Reynolds. The event committee also includes Maria Cino, Dave Marventano and Sally Vastola, all former Western New York congressional chiefs of staff.

--Robert J. McCarthy

Former adviser to Buffalo mayor now running prison press shop

ALBANY -– It got a bit lost in the budget battles over the last few weeks, but Peter Cutler, the former communications director for Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, has formally landed in the Cuomo administration running the press shop in the state Department of Corrections.

Cutler, who once worked in the scheduling department of former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, began in early March as director of public information at the prison agency. He is making $100,000 annually.

The new Cuomo administration said in February that Cutler would be joining its team, but did not immediately say where he would end up.

Cutler takes over the communications work of an agency that will be closing an undetermined number of prisons in the year ahead. The new state budget deal calls for closing 3,700 beds; Senate Republicans, who initially said they wanted a direct say in which upstate prisons close, now say they trust Cuomo to make those decisions in what they insist will be fair –- both geographically and across Democratic and Republican Senate districts.

--Tom Precious

New Cuomo commissioners in line for confirmation

ALBANY –- The Cuomo administration is formally growing today with the expected Senate confirmation of two officials who will run the economic development and agriculture agencies.

Kenneth Adams, the former president of the Business Council of New York State, saw his economic development agency nomination sail through three Senate committees earlier today in advance of an expected full Senate floor vote later this afternoon.

Adams was nominated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to be the president and chief executive officer of the Empire State Development Corp., which is the state’s lead economic development agency.

Adams’ job makes him part cheerleader for the state with businesses looking to move to or leave New York state, and he will be involved with Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy in a plan approved in the budget to create 10 regional councils that will compete for $130 million in capital funding. The councils, not yet named, will act in an advisory capacity, and Adams said today part of their job will be to identify impediments to job growth within their region. Adams revealed few specifics about the new regional council approach; the Cuomo administration has said it will announce the new regional teams in mid-April.

The former Brooklyn businessman pushed a similar theme in his confirmation hearings as he did while leading the Business Council, the statewide business lobbying group. “Like the governor, I believe New York has no future as the tax capital,’’ Adams told a Senate Finance Committee.

Also expected to be confirmed today is Darrel Aubertine, a North Country farm owner and Democrat who lost his State Senate seat in last fall’s election, to be the state’s new agriculture commissioner. His nomination was approved this morning by two Senate committees.

UPDATE: Adams and Aubertine unanimously approved by Senate this afternoon.

-- Tom Precious

 

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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.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


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.

tprecious@buffnews.com


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 | jterreri@buffnews.com


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 | jzremski@buffnews.com

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