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State releases partial gay marriage stats

ALBANY -– Nearly 5,000 gay people have wed since the state legalized marriage equality laws last summer, the state Health Department reported Wednesday.

The numbers are likely quite low since they do not include gay marriage ceremonies performed in New York City, which the state does not track. Besides that large reporting gap, the numbers also do not show a complete picture for other areas in the state because 20 percent of licenses recorded since July do not list the gender of the couples getting married; such information is voluntary on marriage licenses.

Given those caveats, the numbers released Wednesday show 7 percent of licenses issued from July through December were to gay couples. The gay marriage ceremonies slowed considerably in January and no numbers were provided for February.

The DOH numbers show 1,001 gay male couples were wed since July, while 1,416 female gay couples registered to marry.

The peak month? Last August, when 607 gay couples wed around the state.

The state could not provide a county-by-county breakdown.

-- Tom Precious

Kearns gains labor endorsements for Assembly

   The special election contest to fill the vacant 145th Assembly seat centered in South Buffalo is beginning to get serious -- complete with fundraising, door-to-door campaigning and endorsements.

   South Council Member Michael P. Kearns began touting union support Wednesday by announcing endorsements from United Steelworkers District Four and Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association IAFF Local 282 AFL-CIO-CLC.

   “I am honored to have the endorsement of both United Steelworkers District Four and Buffalo Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 282," Kearns said. "Support from these organizations and their middle class, hardworking members is what gives me the motivation to change the business-as-usual approach in government I have fought against in my time as a public servant.”

   Steelworkers spokesman Frank Hotchkiss also touched on Kearns'  middle-class theme.

   "Mickey has always been a leader in our community fighting for manufacturing and job creation," he said. "If Mickey is sent to Albany, he will continue to fight for middle-class taxpayers.  

   Thomas Barrett, vice president and chairman of the firefighters' political action committee, cited Kearns' commitment to firefighters and public safety.

   “A proven independent, we can count on Mickey to stand up for us in Albany like he has done for us in Buffalo, Barrett said.

   United Steelworkers District Four has more than 1.2 million active and retired members. Buffalo Professional Fire Fighters Local 282 has approximately 700 members.

--Robert J. McCarthy

Teacher evaluation deal Thursday?

ALBANY -- The governor's SUV is gone from his parking area outside the Capitol, and he is not expected back today.

So, for teacher evaluation watchers, sources say any announcement of a deal between the state and the New York State United Teachers union will be tomorrow at the Capitol. {Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed he will propose his own system for evaluating teachers -- and put it into the state budget plan -- sometime tomorrow if the sides can't agree by then.}

All sides say there are only some last-minute "language'' issues -- that famous Albany term -- separating the sides.

-- Tom Precious

Poloncarz: Arts and cultural funding set for year

Night lights 05
The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens in Lackawanna glows during its "Night Lights at the Gardens" event late last month. The light show continues through Saturday. (Robert Kirkham / Buffalo News)

Maybe next year.

That was the message Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz had for the Botanical Gardens in response to its request for operational funding from the county.

Poloncarz, in a letter to Botanical Gardens CEO David J. Swarts, called the Legislature's restoration of arts and cultural funding in the 2012 county budget a "remarkable achievement," but said there would be no more allocations for operational funding this year.

"Nevertheless, I regret to inform you that because of the fiscal challenges facing the county, I am unable to recommend to the Legislature additional funding for cultural organizations this year above what has been included in the adopted budget," Poloncarz wrote to Swarts on Feb. 12.

Continue reading "Poloncarz: Arts and cultural funding set for year" »

Audio from Albany: DiNapoli on relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo

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.

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ALBANY -- State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli insisted today that he maintains a good working relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but said he is concerned some of the governor's budget plans end up "encroaching upon our authority to look out for the taxpayers' interest."

The Democratic governor and Democratic comptroller, who have never enjoyed the closest of relations, the past week have been sniping at each other over several Cuomo budget proposals.

The governor wants to create a new pension tier for future government employees, who would have to pay more to their retirement plans or have the option of joining a 401(k)-like defined contribution system. The governor also wants to reduce the ability of the comptroller to conduct pre-audits of some state contracts to streamline the procurement process.

In an interview with The Buffalo News this morning, DiNapoli said he and Cuomo have a "good relationship." He acknowledged, though, that the two men have not personally talked about the governor's plans. A day earlier, Cuomo sought to downplay any talk of feud, insisting that while he disagrees with DiNapoli on some policy matters that he still thinks he has been a "good comptroller."

You can download this audio and take it with you by clicking here.

The comptroller today said there is a long history of "tension" between comptrollers and governors in New York.

"We're the oversight office. We're the ones looking over the shoulder of the administration," he said.

"There's always a sense the (gubernatorial) administration is doing it the right way and there's no need for anybody to take a look at what we're doing and the comptroller's office takes the position, 'Well, our role ... is to make sure things are done right."

"As long as that tension is a responsible one and not based on just trying to score points over each other, I think that's exactly what the system of checks and balances was set up to achieve," the comptroller said.

The comptroller dismissed criticism from the Cuomo administration and business groups that his opposition to the pension issue is driven by ties to public employee unions. He called those claims "a sound bite ... meant to obfuscate the issue."

"The governor's plan to let future workers join 401(k)-like systems would create risks for both the workers and taxpayers," he said. Over time, he said, retirement costs for the state and localities go up because of external forces on Wall Street.

Going to a defined contribution plan will "make even more people vulnerable," he said. He also said no one should be surprised by his stance since he ran for office in 2010 against Republican Harry Wilson. [That was the race in which Cuomo declined to endorse DiNapoli.]

"It's the platform upon which I was elected, and some of the groups that are attacking me are the same ones that endorsed my opponent," he said.

The comptroller also criticized the governor's plan to eliminate some pre-audits his office conducts on state contracts.

"Why only look after the fact that there may have been money wasted or a bad contract? That pre-audit authority allows us to deal with issues before they become issues," he said."To just take away the ability for us to do that pre-audit, I think, exposes taxpayers to some risk - unnecessarily," he added.

--Tom Precious

Bronx senator wants Grisanti incident investigated

ALBANY – A Bronx Democrat is calling upon the Senate’s top Republican to investigate the violent incident Buffalo Sen. Mark Grisanti got into last Friday night at the Seneca Nation casino in Niagara Falls.

“There are too many versions of what happened the night of February 10, 2012 in the Seneca Niagara Casino," Sen. Ruben Diaz wrote in a mailing Wednesday. Diaz noted the allegations of Grisanti’s wife being beaten up by two women while at the same time “there is another story floating around where many people are claiming that Senator Grisanti threw the first punch and that he hit a woman. If this is so, these are very serious accusations."

The request for an investigation by a special Senate committee was made by Diaz to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Diaz reminded Republicans of their expulsion of former Sen. Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat, in 2010 after his misdemeanor conviction involving an assault of a woman.

“I wish that Senator Skelos and members of the Senate would have taken Hiram Monserrate and his girlfriend Carla at their word and believed them, the same way they are believing Mark Grisanti," the senator wrote today.

“Senator Skelos already has decided to believe Senator Grisanti’s account,’’ Diaz added.

The Capitol bureau of the Buffalo News received five separate e-mails today from Diaz’s office today involving his request.

UPDATE: From Scott Reif, a spokesman for Skelos, came this response this afternoon that would kinda indicate the majority leader doesn't much care what Diaz has to say on the topic.

"This is the latest in a neverending stream of self-indulgent press releases from a Senator more interested in getting attention for himself, than getting the facts. It's not even worthy of a response,'' Reif said.

-- Tom Precious

Online comments complicate situation surrounding proposed Acropolis expansion

Comments posted online by a restaurant owner seeking the city's permission to expand his business may have thrown a wrench into whether his Elmwood Avenue establishment will be allowed to move ahead with plans.

Paul Tsouflidis, owner of Acropolis, has faced opposition from some neighbors primarily due to their concerns about loud noise coming from the business.

A recent meeting between Tsouflidis and some concerned parties, which followed a large public meeting Jan. 19, lead to a deal on terms that would allow the expansion to move forward, according to two city lawmakers.

But that changed when Tsouflidis took to Twitter and questioned terms that called for music to be completely shut off in the establishment after certain hours.

Tsouflidis
"We did have an agreement," Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera said Tuesday. "Twenty-four hours after the agreement, for some reason, Mr. Tsouflidis felt he could not abide by the agreement."

Continue reading "Online comments complicate situation surrounding proposed Acropolis expansion" »

Live blog: Mayor's State of the City (starts at 12:45 p.m.)

--Aaron Besecker
Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN

Cuomo weighs in on Grisanti incident

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has worked with State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti on everything from the gay marriage law to a University at Buffalo expansion plan, said he left the senator a message over the weekend but that they have not communicated since a Friday night brawl at a Niagara Falls casino involving Grisanti and a Seneca businessman.

"As I understand it, now there's an ongoing investigation into the matter. I don't have any comment on it. I do wish him and his wife the best," Cuomo said, noting that he had met Grisanti's wife in the past. "Obviously, I've worked with the senator on a number of matters, and I was concerned about the health of his wife, and I hope she's doing well."

--Tom Precious

Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

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

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WASHINGTON — Amid a series of largely predictable House votes on the budget process, both the House and the Senate last week finalized a hugely important piece of legislation: a bill reauthorizing funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and replacing the current radar-based air traffic control system with something more 21st-century.

And the votes on that FAA bill echoed one of the great debates that nearly killed the aviation safety legislation that the Families of Continental Flight 3407 pushed to passage two years ago: unionization rights for those in the transportation industry.

The issue was one of several that held up the larger FAA reauthorization bill for years -- prompting Congress to strip out the aviation safety issues and pass them separately, with a stopgap reauthorization bill, in 2010. But for a time it seemed that the labor issue could kill the Flight 3407 reforms.

In the end, the new FAA bill makes it more difficult for transportation workers to unionize -- and that led Western New York's three Democratic House members and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to vote against it. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., bucked the New York party line and supported the FAA measure.

Continue reading "Analyzing the latest votes in Congress" »

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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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