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Cuomo not interested in identifying specific locations for casinos

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -– Identifying specific geographic locations for possible new casino sites is not the approach Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will take next year in negotiations with legislators over gambling expansion plans.

Cuomo told reporters today that he wants to have a more “open’’ process where casino developers who know the marketplace best can help the state determine where any new gambling halls might be located.

The issue will be a major sticking point next year as Cuomo and lawmakers debate whether to give a second passage to a change in the state constitution to permit up to seven full-scale casinos located on non-Indian lands. Some lawmakers want specific areas identified as definite potential sites, while others have talked about broader regions. If the second resolution is approved, then voters statewide would consider the issue in a November 2013 referendum.

“I would like to see a competition where we have the ability and opportunity to attract the most exciting, aggressive proposals from the best operators in the world. And then we get to pick among the best options and my druthers would be a more flexible, open process to get the best applications, the best plans that we can,’’ Cuomo said when asked if he wanted specific communities, counties or regions identified before lawmakers consider a second vote on the constitutional amendment resolution.

When the first resolution was passed last year, all sides said they were punting until 2013 on a number of details, such as possible locations, franchise fee payment arrangements to the state by operators and whether communities would get to hold their local referendum votes -– as done in some other states -– if the broader casino approval is given.

Under Cuomo’s plan, it would appear voters in a statewide referendum might not know what locations the state had in mind for casino developments at the time of their vote. “They could know regions or parts of the state, but I wouldn’t limit it by picking a location because that assumes you’re picking the best location from a market point of view. I would leave it to the operators, the experts, to say you tell me within these regions of the state where you think the best market is, where would you site it to maximize economic opportunities, maximize job growth, etc,’’ the governor added.

Cuomo was down on the idea of letting local communities hold their own votes after any statewide referendum to approve or disapprove a casino being located in their areas. He said the “will of the communities’’ can be included, for instance, in any competition the state might hold for operators interested in coming to New York.

“So, I believe communities should have a voice. Whether or not it’s a vote, I don’t know whether I’d get into elections and holding elections, but the feeling of the community is relevant and important,’’ he said.


Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Good morning,

This post is coming to you from the ninth floor of City Hall, where the Planning Board meeting is about to start.

Rocco Termini has just arrived to talk about the Houk Lofts on Grote Street, and Adam and Kim Weitsman are here to talk about their plans for a scrap metal recycling facility at Military and Hertel.

The Grote Street project includes the renovation of the Houk Wire Wheel building for office, retail and 23 apartments.

The proposed recycling facility has created some controversy  in the neighborhood, and the board is expected to table the matter today, because of environmental concerns. Opponents to the project have sent postcards urging residents to register their opposition. So far, there don't appear to be many opponents in the room yet, but it is still early.

Also today, the Common Council's committees meet, at 9:45 and 10 a.m., and at 1 and 2 p.m. On the Community Development Committee agenda, at 1 p.m., is an update filed by the Seneca Gaming Corp. about its activities at the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino downtown. It's not clear if it will be discussed or tabled.

Senate Democrats pick new leader

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Senate Democrats elected the first woman in state history as leader of a legislative conference group, removing Brooklyn Sen. John Sampson as their point person in dealings with Senate Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat who represents Yonkers and several other communities, will take over the Democratic leadership just a week after Republicans brokered a deal with five breakaway Democrats to help keep the GOP at least in partial control of the 63-member chamber come January.

Stewart-Cousins, an African-American elected to the Senate in 2006, won backing in a private vote this evening in Manhattan among white and minority members of the Democratic conference. Western New York's sole Democrat in the Senate -- Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo -- was among her supporters.

Cousins said she will use her post to push for a minimum wage hike, new gun control laws and fixing New York's incumbent-friendly campaign finance system. "I look forward to advocating for the progressive agenda that the people of New York have demanded,'' she said in a written statement tonight.

"Senator Stewart-Cousins has been a voice for the underserved and a champion for working families. Today, she earned her place in history by becoming the first female, African-American minority leader in New York state history,'' Kennedy said.

Sampson, who is African-American also, had a bloc of minority lawmakers backing his return to power in January, but Stewart-Cousins was able in the past week to put together a coalition of upstate and downstate senators to remove Sampson from power. The Buffalo News earlier today reported that her backers were convinced they had enough votes for her going into this evening's private meeting in Manhattan.

The Westchester Democrat comes to power at a unique moment in the history of the Senate as Republicans, who did not win enough seats in November to keep power, try to figure out precisely how the power-sharing deal they cut with the five breakaway Democrats will work. Many GOP lawmakers are not in favor of some of what Cuomo calls his "progressive'' agenda, including a likely gun control package, so Stewart-Cousins will be an important ally -- or not -- for Cuomo if she can broker deals with the renegade group of five Democrats to join with the main Democratic conference on issues too controversial for the Republicans to embrace.


Senate Democrats engaged in internal leadership battle today

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – There is much spin going on this afternoon, but proponents backing the bid by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins to become the new Senate minority leader say they are confident she will emerge victorious later this afternoon during a closed-door meeting in Manhattan among Senate Democrats.

The current Democratic leader, John Sampson, has been waging a non-stop fight to keep his job, but Stewart-Cousins, as of last night, had the backing of about 16 Democratic senators to win the post. Sen. Mike Gianaris of Queens is also pushing to become leader.

Backers of Stewart-Cousins, an African-American from Westchester County who was first elected to the Senate in 2006, say she is appealing to a cross-section of white and minority lawmakers from upstate and downstate. “Things can change,’’ a source close to the senator said this afternoon, noting final deal-making has not yet happened and senators might shift alliances during what could be a testy meeting.

Democrats are set to meet at 4:30 this afternoon to discuss the leadership situation. Backers of Stewart-Cousins, who represents Yonkers and a couple of other communities in Westchester County, say she would be the first woman to hold the one of the four top legislative leadership posts if she wins today’s vote by her colleagues.


Video: Jerry Zremski's Week in Washington

Republicans declare victory in 46th Senate district race

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – Ahead by a few dozen votes after a couple weeks of legal wrangling over the counting of paper ballots, Republican George Amedore is claiming victory today in his race against a Democrat to represent a sprawling new Senate district that stretches from the western reaches of Montgomery County in the Mohawk Valley to the Mid-Hudson Valley near Poughkeepsie.

We are still awaiting word from Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk if there are any other legal routes to consider. (It was a highly interesting race to watch for a bit, until Senate Republicans cut a deal with five breakaway Democrats to form a coalition chamber in the Senate.]

But Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was quick to give the nod to Amedore. “His electoral journey has been a long and winding road, but it ends today with him as senator-elect,’’ Skelos said in a statement.

UPDATE: Not so fast, say Senate Democrats. Gary Ginsburg, a spokesman for Tkaczyk, said there are still hundreds of contested paper ballots that judges at a mid-level appeals court have yet to consider.  "When all the votes are counted Cecilia Tkacyzk will be certified the winner of this election and will represent the residents of the 46th Senate district,'' he said.


Cuomo's spike of toll hike plan ends a bumpy journey

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The Thruway Authority’s plan to hike tolls on trucks by 45 percent has been a classic Albany roller coaster ride, culminating in today’s story that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is announcing a new proposal that calls for no toll hike.

Consider the ride:

Initially, officials said the Thruway had been mismanaged for years and that the $90 million from the toll hike was needed to stop the bleeding. They said at the time the increase had nothing to do with a potential $5 billion plan by Cuomo and the Thruway Authority to build a new downstate bridge over the Hudson River.

Next up came the acknowledgement that there was a connection: if the toll hike didn’t go through, it could lead to rating downgrades on agency borrowings – and that could raise the price of the bridge project.

In the early fall, the agency borrowed $1.1 billion on the bond market. It told investors -– in a legal document -– that it “has no reason to believe’’ that the toll hike plan as proposed would be scuttled. That document told investors the plan would go into effect in late September.

A series of delays, including two embarassing postponements with just hours' notice of Thruway board meetings in one week last month, became the obvious evidence that the toll increase was suddenly facing real internal troubles in the Cuomo administration. That led Donna Luh, a representative from Western New York on the agency’s board who serves as vice-chairwoman, to blast her own agency in an article in The Buffalo News. She said agency officials were keeping board members in the dark about the toll plan and that she no longer believed the increase was necessary.

At two recent events, Cuomo then began lashing out at the idea proposed by his own agency. At one event, he said such a toll hike could be “detrimental’’ to the state’s economy, followed by another event at which he told reporters the toll hike should only be considered as a “last resort.”


On gun control, a new beginning?

By Jerry Zremski

WASHINGTON -- The shock and revulsion that shook the nation after Friday's elementary school shootings in Connecticut shook the political world, too, prompting some Democrats to speak more boldly than they have in some time about gun control.

President Obama only hinted at the issue in his tear-filled statement on the deaths of 20 school children, six adults and a deranged 20-year-old shooter, saying: "We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."

But some other Democrats -- including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a possible presidential contender in 2016 -- took stronger stands.

"We as a society must unify and once and for all crack down on the guns that have cost the lives of far too many innocent Americans," Cuomo said in a statement. "Let this terrible tragedy finally be the wake-up call for aggressive action and I pledge my full support in that effort."

Still, gun control remains a politically difficult issue, with most Republicans firmly resisting any reinstatement of the long-expired assault weapons ban or any other measures to limit access to weapons.

"I think we have to be careful about new, suggesting new gun laws," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the incoming chair of the House Republican Caucus, told The Washington Post. "We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kind of actions and make sure that we’re enforcing the laws that are currently on the books."

Liberal Democrats, though, sounded as if they were ready to give gun control another try after years of leaving the issue on the back burner.

“We hear an awful lot about protecting the right to own a gun," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport. "Our nation has an equally somber responsibility to ensure that our children can go to school every morning and come home safely every night. I will always do everything that I can to ensure our children’s safety, and if that means that we place commonsense controls on guns, then that is the price I will freely pay.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E.  Schumer -- a New York Democrat who played a key role in the passage of both the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban -- said: "Perhaps an awful tragedy like this will bring us together so we can do what it takes to prevent this horror from being repeated again.” 

Some concrete challenges stand in the way of gun control, however. For one thing, Republicans control the House. And for another, Democrats such as Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, take money from the National Rifle Association.

Higgins, who took $1,000 in campaign money from the NRA Political Victory Fund in March, released a statement not mentioning gun control but saying: "As a father and as a husband of a public school teacher, I have to say that the word that comes most to mind at a time like this is ‘unspeakable.’ This is a tragedy of unspeakable proportion, an act beyond comprehension."

Hochul, who took $6,950 from the NRA Political Victory Fund during her recent losing campaign, did not release a statement in wake of the shooting. Neither did Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, who took $2,000 from the NRA.

NRA supporters tended to keep rather quiet on Friday, but former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, proved to be an exception.

"People want to pass new laws ... but this is a heart issue, laws don't change this kind of thing," Huckabee told Fox News.

Huckabee also tied school violence to efforts to remove God from the classroom.

"We ask why there's violence in our schools, but we've systematically removed God from our schools," Huckabee said. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"

On the other side of the political spectrum, though, Obama is likely to face new pressures from liberals and other gun control advocates to take a stronger stance than he has in the past on the issue.

In fact, that sort of pressure came immediately from one of the nation's most vociferous backers of stronger gun control legislation, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough," Bloomberg said. "We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership -– not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today." 

Video: McCarthy on fate of state's GOP

Can the Republican Party remain viable as the Democratic enrollment edge in New York continues to grow? The News' Bob McCarthy talks with Brian Meyer about his recent interview with the head of the state GOP:

Colin Quinn: 'I didn't know the governor was a psychopath'

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- If you are in the camp of New York residents who, as Siena College pollsters termed it last week, "loves" Gov. Andrew Cuomo, you might not want to watch this video. Still, we offer this, courtesy of Azi Paybarah's always-readable blog: 



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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 |