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Lawmaker to Cuomo: open the gates for Wallenda walk

ALBANY -- The state should not charge spectators attending the June 15 tightrope walk across Niagara Falls by daredevil artist Nik Wallenda, a Niagara County Republican state lawmaker says.

In a letter today to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed a measure last year okaying the stunt, Assemblyman John Ceretto of Lewiston said it would be a good gesture -- and good for the local economy -- for the state to drop admission charges for people going to the state park to view the Wallenda walk.

“Just as the early conservation efforts ensured public access to the majesty of the Falls, we must now work to make certain that all New Yorkers are welcome to this event,” Ceretto said.

Still no word if Cuomo will be attending the event.

-- Tom Precious

Block club, arts funding still up in the air

The Buffalo Common Council has scheduled a meeting Friday afternoon to approve a spending plan for the next fiscal year, though some details are still being negotiated.

Council leaders are talking with the Brown administration about money in three areas:

Continue reading "Block club, arts funding still up in the air" »

Court backs Senate GOP redistricting plan

ALBANY -- They've won in state courts. They've won at the U.S. Justice Department. And now they've won in federal courts.

A three-judge federal panel in Brooklyn has decided it is not going to intervene to stop this fall's elections from going ahead under the new district lines drawn by the Senate Republicans, who are using the addition of a new seat -- bringing the chamber up to 63 seats -- to try to retain their narrow margin of control over Democrats.

The obvious reaction from Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, the Legislature's top Republican: "I am extremely pleased with this decision, and it ensures the state can administer an orderly and fair election this fall.''

-- Tom Precious

Analyzing the latest votes in Congress

WASHINGTON -- Beneath the radar screen, and at least temporarily, it seems that the House is acting in a more bipartisan manner.

And Western New York's lawmakers fit into that short-term trend.

Last week, for example, all three local representatives who voted -- Democrats Brian Higgins and Kathleen C. Hochul, along with Republican Tom Reed -- supported reauthorizing the Import/Export Bank. They voted in tandem on a measure, which failed, to increase funding for the Economic Development Administration. They supported increased funding for community-oriented policing. And they rejected a 1 percent across-the-board cut in funding to Commerce, Justice and science programs.

Those votes may be just a quirk of the legislative calendar, which brought issues to the floor that New York Democrats and Republican could agree on. Or they could be a sign of evolution -- especially by Rep. Tom Reed of Corning, a conservative Republican who crossed party lines to join Democrats on some of those measures.

--Jerry Zremski

Here are the votes of Western New York's four members of the House of Representatives and the state's two U.S. senators on major legislation in Congress last week. A "Y" means the member voted for the measure; an "N" means the member voted against the measure; an "A" means the member did not vote.



* Economic Development Administration: The House rejected an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Michael H. Michaud, D-Maine, to the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Ac. The amendment would have increased funding for the Economic Development Administration by $38 million and offset the increase by cutting an identical amount from census programs. Michaud said his amendment would have continued "level funding for a program that is uniquely designed to address almost any economic development activity," including "chronically poor and distressed areas, post-disastrous economic recovery, and the consequences of plant closures or downsizing." An opponent, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., said the EDA was "a very, very political use of capital" that failed to help the economy.

The vote May 8 was 190 yeas to 218 nays.

Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, Y; Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, Y; Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, A; Tom Reed, R-Corning, Y.

Continue reading "Analyzing the latest votes in Congress" »

Audio from Albany: Senator Diane Savino, medical marijuana proponent

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 — Patients, health providers and lawmakers are making another uphill push today at the Capitol to have New York join 16 other states that have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The legislation has passed the Assembly four times already, but has been stalled in the Senate. While some district attorneys have supported the concept, others worry legalization for medical reasons could be a steppingstone to broader relaxing of the state's drug laws. Patients interviewed in the past, both self-described liberals and conservatives, say they have broken the law to obtain marijuana to help with everything from the effects of chemotherapy to chronic pain from car accidents, and that existing drugs are too expensive and have too many side effects.

SavinoToday we talk about the issue with the new sponsor of the measure in the Senate, Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat and member of the four-person Independent Democratic Conference, a group that has been allied with Republican senators on a number of issues over the past year. Savino, whose district also includes part of Brooklyn, argues New York is overdue in letting people with serious chronic pain and terminal illnesses, with the prescription from a doctor, use marijuana as part of their treatment options.

--Tom Precious

Listen to the full conversation with Savino here:

Download audio

Video: Scanlon officially tapped for South seat

***Updated 1:01 p.m.***

As expected, the Buffalo Common Council this morning appointed Christopher P. Scanlon to the vacant South District seat.

Scanlon, whose term runs through the end of the year, fills the post vacated after Mickey Kearns won a special election to the State Assembly.

Scanlon was appointed by a 5-3 vote, with Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera and Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto voting for former Kearns aide Matthew Fisher.

Listen to Scanlon speak with reporters after the vote:

Continue reading "Video: Scanlon officially tapped for South seat" »

Star power comes out against hydrofracking

ALBANY –- The stars are out at the Capitol. This time, the issue is hydrofracking.

“These jobs don’t stay in the state …This is a boom and bust economy,’’ actor Mark Ruffalo said of the hydrofracking industry’s effort to begin drilling for natural gas in the state.

Ruffalo is being joined today at the Capitol by Academy Award winning actor Melissa Leo and singers Natalie Merchant and Joan Osborne, among others, in an attempt to push the Cuomo administration away from its interest in pursuing hydrofracking for natural gas.

“It will be the doom of this governor and the doom of this state to roll out hydrofracking in this state,’’ warned Ruffalo, who lives in the Catskills area.

--Tom Precious

Jerry Zremski's Week in Washington: May 14


Five Questions with Darius Pridgen

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.

Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen speaks during a Jan. 24 meeting of the Buffalo Common Council. (Derek Gee / Buffalo News)

Darius G. Pridgen

The basics
Age: 47
Job title: Buffalo Common Council member, Ellicott district
Family: Father of three girls and two boys (all adults); grandfather of six.
Education: B.S. in criminal justice (Buffalo State); master's degree in organizational leadership (Medaille)
Party affiliation: Democrat
Other current employment: Senior servant of True Bethel Baptist Church
Previous work experience: U.S. Air Force; U.S. Postal Service; Spanish teacher at School 43
City salary: $52,000 + $1,000 stipend for chairing Legislation Committee

Continue reading "Five Questions with Darius Pridgen" »

The Read: Political chatter from elsewhere

Each Saturday on the Politics Now blog, you'll find a list of stories that caught the eyes of The News' political reporters. Here's a sampling of what they were reading this week:

"Obama sees a political charm in third visit," by Jimmy Vielkind, Albany Times-Union. Not once, not twice, but 24 times. That's how many times President Barack Obama has visited New York State since he's been in office, including his 2010 swing through Buffalo, Vielkind notes.

"For Obama and Cuomo, no bunny suits," by Larry Rulison, Albany Times-Union. Tyvek "bunny suits" were notably absent when President Barack Obama and Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a short tour of a clean room at a computer chip factor at Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering this week, Rulison notes in a piece that explains how the factory worked around the precaution.

Drilling Decisions – Cuomo’s green reputation hinges on hydrofracking decision,” by Jon Lentz, City & State. Even though the bar set by his predecessors isn’t very high, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s environmental legacy could come down to what the state does with regulating hydraulic fracturing, writes Lentz.

"Change is good; bureaucracy is not," by Glens Falls Post-Star. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's idea to create a new state agency to serve as a watchdog against abuse of disabled people under the state's care is already getting its rush of backing from legislators. But the Glens Falls Post-Star, seeming to recall campaign promises by Cuomo about shrinking the size of state government, calls for pause. 

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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 |