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Jerry Zremski's Week in Washington: March 26


Five Questions with Rich Fontana

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.

Buffalo Common Council President Richard A. Fontana during a Jan. 24 Council meeting in City Hall. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Richard A. Fontana

The basics
Age: 39
Job title:Buffalo Common Council president, representing Lovejoy district
Family: Wife, two children.
Education: Bachelor's degree in business management from Buffalo State College
Party affiliation: Democrat
Previous work experience: New York State licensed Realtor, restaurateur
City salary: $52,000 + $10,000 stipend as Council president

Continue reading "Five Questions with Rich Fontana" »

Politics Now: McCarthy on Kearns' victory

Cuomo: good better than on-time

ALBANY – Early, early, early. That’s been the mantra for weeks by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators about getting the 2012 state budget done before the March 31 deadline.

On Friday, Cuomo appeared to be trying to downplay expectations, which at one point had soared to the point that some officials were boasting a budget would have even been in place by now.

“It doesn’t need to be early from my point of view … I’d like to see it on time if we can. Most importantly, I want to see a good budget. Whether we get it done on time or not is less important to me than whether or not it’s a good budget,’’ Cuomo said this morning on the Capitol Pressroom, a public radio show.

Cuomo did say there are “significant issues’’ still on the negotiating table, though he did not get into specifics on what major issues still separate the sides.

One matter being pushed by Assembly Democrats is to get money for pork barrel spending, or member items, a process that allows individual legislators to steer state money for specific projects in their districts.

Asked about that matter, Cuomo said, “I don’t support new member items in the budget, so they’re not in the budget at this time.’’

“New’’ is an interesting word, especially since some lawmakers are pushing for restoration of member item spending previously approved in past budgets – let’s call it “old” – but not spent.

Then there is the out Cuomo left himself by saying member items are not in the budget “at this time.’’ As in, stay tuned.

-- Tom Precious

Tier VI wars rage on

ALBANY –- The wounds are apparently still quite fresh, with the union displeasure over last week’s Tier VI pension vote continuing.

Read for yourself and get a nice flavor for money and politics and policy.

First up in this afternoon’s back-and-forth comes this entry from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

"In recent days, the United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, and other unions withdrew their support for this weekend's 25thannual Somos El Futuro conference in Albany because they are angry about the passage of pension reform. We think the unions' actions are unfortunate, and don't want the conference to suffer as a result. We both support the Somos El Futuro Conference and, as such, we will be donating $72,000 to Somos El Futuro and the scholarship to make up for the donations that the unions withdrew. Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, who is Chairman of the New York State Senate/Assembly Puerto Rican & Hispanic Task Force, was instrumental in arranging this contribution."

That was followed by this thank-you from Ortiz, a Brooklyn Democrat:

“On behalf of the New York State Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican & Hispanic Task Force, I sincerely thank Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg for their generous donation in support of our 25thAnniversary Somo El Futuro Conference. This donation will allow us to continue our work to provide opportunities for our youth, which is of vital importance for the economic future and well-being of our state.”

“Once again, Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg have demonstrated their leadership in addressing the needs and issues of importance to the Hispanic community. Although we may not always see eye to eye, the Governor and the Mayor have shown that they are willing to step up and give a helping hand when politics gets in the way of doing the right thing.”

“In addition, the Governor has been a long time friend and supporter and we are honored to present him with the Visionary Leadership Award at the Gala as planned.”

That was then followed up by this entry from the New York State United Teachers union:

In response to the statement issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York State United Teachers today released the following letter sent March 20 to Assemblyman Felix Ortiz on the Somos el Futuro conference:

March 20, 2012

The Honorable Felix Ortiz, Chair

NYS Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force

Room 825

Legislative Office Building

Albany, NY 12248

Dear Chairman Ortiz:

Thank you for your invitation to this year’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force Spring Somos El Futuro Conference 25th Anniversary Celebration and for your offer to recognize me at the chairman’s VIP reception.

NYSUT has long been a strong supporter of the New York State Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force’s Somos El Futuro event and a strong supporter of expanding access to education and other opportunities for Hispanics across our state and nation. 

Unfortunately, given the disheartening votes taken against the interests of educators and students by the members of the Task Force, I feel it inappropriate for me to participate in this event this year. 

Last year, the state Legislature slashed $1.3 billion in aid for schools and passed a property tax cap that has resulted in increased staff reductions and program cuts in school districts across this state.  And, just last week, the state Legislature passed a Tier VI retirement plan that requires greatly increased contributions for future workers while significantly reducing their benefits.  In the end, this plan will result in greatly reduced retirement security for future workers. 

On behalf of the more than 600,000 members and our Board of Directors, NYSUT is very disappointed that so many of the members of the New York State Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force have chosen to hurt future workers and the ability to attract professionals to choose careers in public education.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns, or would like to discuss our relationship going forward.


Richard C. Iannuzzi


No one ever accused Albany of being subtle.

--Tom Precious




Council accepting resumes for South District seat

With Michael P. Kearns leaving City Hall for Albany, the Buffalo Common Council has the power to appoint his successor.

(Kearns filed his letter of resignation, effective the end of business Wednesday. Read it here.)

The city is advertising the South Council seat vacancy, and interested parties must submit a letter requesting appointment and a resume by the close of business April 5.

In order to qualify for the appointment, under city code, applicants must be Democrats (same affiliation as Kearns) and live in the South Council District. (Here's a district map.)

Materials should be sent to the City Clerk's Office, 1308 City Hall, Buffalo, N.Y., 14202.

The term of any appointee would run through the end of the year, with the seat up for election in November for a full term starting Jan. 1, 2013.

--Aaron Besecker

Follow me on Twitter: @BeseckerBN

Weinstein declines, Mills still pondering congressional bid

   With State Sen. Patrick Gallivan out of the GOP race to challenge Democratic Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul this fall, voters in the new 27th Congressional District are still waiting for the picture to clarify.

   On Wednesday, it did -- if only just a little.

   First, Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein officially said he would not join the contest. While he had been prominently mentioned under previous reapportionment plans, new lines eliminating his home turf from the new district had deemed him an unlikely candidate in the eyes of most political observers.

   Meanwhile, County Legislature Minority Leader John J. Mills of Orchard Oark said he will reveal his intentions on Monday.

   "With lines becoming final just two short days ago, he has accelerated his exploration, and will come to a final decision on Monday, March 26th, exactly one week after the formal district lines were released," said spokesman Brian Fiume. "Legislator Mills feels strongly that this size of this district and the various communities and interests it contains deserves a proper exploration period.  Logistically, Legislator Mills knows he has the support structure and organization necessary to gather the appropriate amount of petition signatures in a suitable time frame if he decides to announce as a candidate."

   Former County Executive Chris Collins is expected to announce his candidacy late this week or early next week, while Iraq War veteran David Bellavia has already joined the race.

--Robert J. McCarthy

Audio in Albany: Sampson expects Cuomo to back Senate Democrats

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.

ALBANY – Despite sour relations between his colleagues and the governor, the Senate’s top Democrat said he expects Gov. Andrew Cuomo will endorse Democratic senators in this fall’s elections.

Click here to download this audio.

“The governor is a Democrat, and I expect him to endorse Democrats,’’ said Senate Minority Leader John Sampson in an interview this afternoon with The Buffalo News.

The Brooklyn Democrat’s comments came less than a week after Cuomo infuriated Senate Democrats over the deal he signed with Senate Republicans for new district lines – set to be in place the next 10 years – that favor the GOP in their attempt to keep control of what will be a 63-member chamber.

Sampson’s restraint on answering several questions was telling, however. Asked if he believes Cuomo wants Democrats to re-take the Senate or if he has done anything to indicate he wants the Republicans to lose control, Sampson said both times: “You have to ask the governor.’’

Allies of the governor have expressed displeasure with the Senate Democrats and say Cuomo would be comfortable if the GOP retains control of the chamber.

“Members are disappointed with the governor,’’ Sampson said of Cuomo and the redistricting deal he made with the Senate GOP. “But, hey, that’s politics … We’ll get over it.’’

Sampson also expressed displeasure with being cut out of closed door talks over the evolving state budget. The negotiations have been conducted in secret by Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Sampson said he has not talked to Cuomo in two weeks – a critical time in the formation of last week’s deals on redistricting, changes to the state pension system and the budget.

“As a leader I would like to be at the table to voice my concern about issues that my conference feels are very important to the state of New York,’’ Sampson said.

But, he added of Albany’s never-ending three-men-in-a-room system, “It’s three individuals in a room making decisions. It’s how it used to be in the past.’’

Sampson said Democrats will be targeting Buffalo Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti over a number of issues, including why the proportion of minority constitutents in his district dropped under the newly drawn lines from 37 percent to just five percent. “What’s the problem with that? He should be able to represent all constituents in that district,’’ Sampson said.

-- Tom Precious

Skelos chats budget, minimum wage, Senate special election

ALBANY – The Legislature’s top Republican said the sides are getting closer to a state budget deal, but there is still no overall agreement on the actual size of the fiscal plan.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said today he is “still optimistic’’ for an on-time budget before the April 1 fiscal year start. Also still up in the air is how state money will be distributed to the state’s 700 school districts – always one of the last and most contentious issues before budget deals.

You can download this audio by clicking here.

The Long Island Republican said he also thinks Gov. Andrew Cuomo is cozying up to legislative requests to make public how billions of dollars in proposed transportation spending will be distributed on specific construction projects and with “parity’’ between upstate and Long Island roads and bridges and New York City transit projects.

Skelos said he is also “fairly confident’’ a plan by Cuomo to let him transfer some state money around different agencies later in the year without separate legislative approval will be removed in the final budget deal.

Speaking outside the Senate chamber, Skelos said lawmakers are also pressing to have more legislative input in decisions by Cuomo’s regional economic development councils, including legislative say on composition of the panels and on the “mega-projects’’ the different commissions want to fund.

 -- Tom Precious


It's budget time: warnings, blow-ups, fog

ALBANY – State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is warning Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers not to go on a last-minute spending spree just because tax collections are running higher than earlier projected.

While total tax receipts for the month of February were $172 million higher than estimates, DiNapoli cautioned the numbers are bit skewed, in part, because the administration budget office already re-calculated the revenue numbers twice since the budget was adopted last March.

“We should continue to be cautious about revenue assumptions for the coming year,’’ DiNapoli said today.

The warnings come as lawmakers and Cuomo are trying to negotiate the final details of a 2012 budget for the fiscal year beginning April 1.

Negotiators said there was a blow-up at last night’s meeting between top fiscal staff, and hallway chatter is well underway about whether lawmakers want to give Cuomo bragging rights for too early of a budget adoption this year.

Cuomo, lawmakers in both parties say, is pressing to have budget bills printed in time for the constitutionally mandated three-day “aging’’ process to give the public, special interest groups and others time to go through the bills. Cuomo was stung last week by watchdog groups and editorials for the last-minute, under-cover-of-darkness ways in which a number of important issues – including new district lines for the Legislature – were approved.

Uncertain, though, if the aging goal would apply to district-by-district school funding computer runs. The details of such mothers’ milk of politics – education aid – usual doesn’t emerge until minutes before lawmakers even see them before floor votes are held.

Still not resolved this morning are “table targets,’’ which are the fiscal numbers the various legislative conference committees will be give to tinker around the edges of the overall spending plan.

-- 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.

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 |