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State Legislature redistricting deal coming together

ALBANY -– Lawmakers today huddled in private over a conceptual -– or if you prefer, virtual or even pending -- deal to make the once-a-decade process of redistricting the State Legislature just a bit more independent. Sources said an agreement could be voted on as soon as Monday.

A Capitol source described the proposed measure as complex at best, but said it is being drafted in such a way to give all sides -– lawmakers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and government “reform’’ groups –- a dose of comfort.

Lawmakers say the plan, or hope anyway, is to get a measure -– actually both a constitutional amendment resolution and an accompanying piece of law -– into print by Friday evening so the Assembly and Senate could take it up on Monday.

Still uncertain, as of today anyway, is whether the revised lines for the Assembly and Senate will be rushed into print so they can pass them on the same day.

The independent redistricting process –- just how independent it’ll be is still being drafted –- would not apply to this year’s reapportionment battle, but kick in after the next U.S. Census in 2020.

Loads of questions await the revised legislative lines.

On the macro level : Will the new process kicking in 10 years from now reducing at least some of the all-powerful control by the Legislature now over redistricting be enough to provide the political cover for Cuomo to avoid vetoing the lines?

On the micro level: Will Sen. Mark Grisanti see his proposed Senate lines shift back into part of Niagara County so that Conservative Party officials there could have a say in his political future after the Erie County Conservative Party refused to endorse his re-election?

-- Tom Precious

Audio from Albany: Phil Wilcox of upstate power plant union

As part of a regular weekly feature on the Politics Now blog, Tom Precious of The News' Albany Bureau posts an audio interview with a newsmaker from the Capitol.


This week we talk energy policy –- specifically, energy transmission –- with Phil Wilcox, the Western division business representative for Local 97 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a union that represents power plant workers from Buffalo to Albany.

Wilcox presents IBEW’s case against a plan by a Canadian and American consortium to construct a single transmission line, most of it underwater beneath Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, bringing power to New York City. The union, along with a number of New York-based power producers, wants the state, instead, to upgrade existing transmission lines to bring power to the city from western, central and northern New York.

The debate comes as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is proposing an "energy highway" for New York to improve the aging power transmission system -– a plan he has not yet fully flushed out but which will have important consequences for energy rates and job creation across the state.

--Tom Precious

Download audio

Politics chat with News Washington Columnist Douglas Turner at 2 p.m.

Kearns launches campaign with vow to vote against Silver

Don't look now, but a race for the vacant 145th Assembly seat is under way.

On the day that Democrat Christopher J. Fahey began running a series of television ads attacking Michael P. Kearns (a Democrat running on the GOP line), his opponent said he will unveil his own campaign with a news conference Wednesday morning.

"I will announce I will not support Sheldon Silver for speaker, and challenge my opponent to do the same," Kearns said.

Assemblymen from South Buffalo have a long history of opposing the speaker from Manhattan, dating to Brian Higgins, who joined a coup against him, and Mark J.F. Schroeder, who also voted against him.

Kearns plans a Wednesday morning press conference to detail his plans.

--Robert J. McCarthy

Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

Last week in Congress: How our representatives voted with analysis from News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski


WASHINGTON — Congress took last week off.

Well, not exactly. As usual, the President's Day week recess was an occasion for lawmakers to go home, meet with constituents and, well, raise money for the next campaign.

All of which raises an important question: Why does Congress spend so much time away from Washington?

The simple answer is: to meet with constituents and to raise money. But the real answer is more complex.

Continue reading "Analyzing the latest votes in Congress" »

Cuomo to DiNapoli: I'm not listening

ALBANY –- Tom DiNapoli may be the state’s comptroller. He may also be the sole trustee of one of the world’s largest public pension systems.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo said today he doesn’t feel like he has to discuss his plan to change that pension system with DiNapoli, who has angered officials in the Cuomo administration with his very public criticisms of Cuomo's call to hike pension costs for future government workers.

“I understand the comptroller’s political position and I understand his politics,’’ Cuomo told reporters today in Albany after a pension stump speech before a group of mayors from around the state. Both Cuomo and DiNapoli are Democrats.

But Cuomo said he has kept his discussions on the matter to the Legislature, and not DiNapoli, because “the comptroller really doesn’t have the vote on this.’’

“He has a political position, but no vote,’’ the governor said.

Earlier before the group of mayors, Cuomo lashed out at “special interests’’ –- read: public employee unions –- for opposing his plan to increase what future employees would pay to belong to the pension system or take an opt-out to enroll in a 401(k)-like plan.

“This is a company town, and they are the company,’’ Cuomo said of the labor groups fighting his plan. He said state lawmakers are giving unions “veto power’’ over the issue of whether the pension system should be changed.

But while the governor said higher pension costs “could bankrupt’’ the state and localities, he also floated the notion of bolstering pension benefits for government workers when the economy turns around. (Indeed, how much a government employer pays for the pensions of its workers is based not just on their own payroll levels, but also on the performance -– lagged and “smoothed out’’ over several years -– of the pension system's investments on everything from its cash holdings and stock portfolio to shares of apartment buildings and shopping malls).

To critics who say an improved economy could permit better pension offerings than the new Tier 6 plan he is promoting, Cuomo said, “Fine, then reduce it to the level you can afford today and if the economy turns around and if you have the money and if you want to raise the pension benefits down the road, raise the pension benefits, and that’s fine.’’

Sounds like a Tier 7 could be down the road for good times.

-- Tom Precious

Jerry Zremski's Week in Washington: Feb. 27


Five Questions with David Rivera

Every Sunday, we'll publish a quick Q&A with someone from the local political world. Instead of touching on the latest in policy issues and proposed legislation, the intent is to catch a glimpse of the person behind the title. The interviews are done via email.

Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera addresses his colleagues during a Jan. 24 session of the Buffalo Common Council. (Derek Gee / Buffalo News)

David A. Rivera

The basics
Age: 53
Job title: Buffalo Common Council member, Niagara district
Family: My wife, Esther; two sons, Joshua (wife, Norma) and Jonathan (wife, Stephanie); two grandchildren, JD and Alilah.
Education: Associate degree in social science
Party affiliation: Democrat
Previous work experience: I spent 25 years with the Buffalo Police Department. I started as a patrol officer and was later promoted to detective and then detective sergeant.
City salary: $52,000 + $1,000 stipend for chairing Claims Committee

Continue reading "Five Questions with David Rivera" »

Conservative leaders in tiff over Grisanti nod

 As Conservative leaders from Erie and Niagara counties continued sniping at each other this weekend over Erie's decision to endorse Democrat Charles M. Swanick for the State Senate seat now held by Republican Mark J. Grisanti, the state's top Conservative stepped in Saturday to make it clear where he stands.

"Niagara County has no official standing if, in fact, the district is all in the confines of Erie County," state Conservative Chairman Michael R. Long said. "None of Niagara County brings what Erie County does. It's like one county declaring war on another when they have no authority."

Long said Niagara County Conservative Chairman Daniel Weiss, who criticized the Swanick endorsement in a story today in The Buffalo News, was "acting strictly as an agent" of Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, a Grisanti ally.

The internal Conservative tiff stems from the decision of Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo and his Executive Committee on Thursday to back Swanick for the seat now held by Grisanti. Lorigo said Grisanti's vote to legalize same sex marriage -- after he promised Conservatives he would not -- led to the decision to back the Democrat.

That fired Weiss on Friday. In an indication of a significant party fracture, he accused Lorigo of cutting a deal with political operative G. Steven Pigeon, a longtime Swanick ally and former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party.

"The sad fact is that Lorigo abandoned Conservative principles long ago in exchange for patronage jobs and legal clients," Weiss said. "He is an embarrassment to the party."

Weiss continued to make the connection to Pigeon, a former employee of the Democratic Senate whom he said involved Lorigo in a deal that could cost Republicans control of the Senate.

"Chuck Swanick is a political opportunist and a fiscal nightmare who ran Erie County into the ground," he said. "And his mentor Steve Pigeon is a cheap political hack that lacks any true conservative principles.

"I'm also appalled at the lack of understanding of political ramifications statewide for this move that could see a return to downstate liberal control of the Senate," Weiss continued. "This again proves Lorigo stands for nothing but his own personal gain."

But Lorigo shot back on Saturday by pointing out he has never been on a government payroll.

"It's frustrating because it's not true," he said.

Lorigo also pointed to Maziarz as the impetus behind Weiss' blast.

And Long, who has had his differences with Lorigo, seemed to line up squarely with his Erie County chairman.

"I have a problem when one of my counties does that," he said. "The Niagara County chiarman has the right to disagree with any decision of the Erie County Conservative Party, but he has no legal authority to interfere."

-- Robert J. McCarthy

The Read: What they're saying about WNY

HuffPost poked a little fun at Byron Brown. The governor defended his promise for Buffalo. Mark Grisanti continued to make news. Here's a roundup of some recent political headlines from outside the WNY.

David Murray of the Huffington Post offers a tongue-in-cheek review of how municipal leaders fill up their annual “State of the City” addresses when many don’t have much good to say. He references Mayor Byron W. Brown’s Feb. 15 speech, in which Brown announced his call for local employers to hire at least one city resident this year. Brown’s announcement landed under the heading “Paint a picture of hope -- bold, yet fuzzy -- and then propose an idea so feeble that it makes people giddy.” - How to Write the State of the Town Speech, Feb. 22

Continue reading "The Read: What they're saying about WNY" »

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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.

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.

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 |

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 |