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Video: Week in Washington

Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski looks to inauguration festivities and the week ahead.

Video: Money & the mayor's race in Buffalo

News Political Reporter Bob McCarthy talks with Brian Meyer about early fundraising efforts in the race for Buffalo mayor. While it is still early, some interesting developments are unfolding:

Two months after election day, Democrats win state Senate seat

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The Democrats have picked up another victory in the state Senate after the opening of the final paper ballots in a still-contested race this morning in Ulster County.

Democrat Cecilia Tkacyzk will represent the sprawling Hudson Valley and Mohawk Valley 46th Senate district that Republicans created during last year’s redistricting process with the idea that GOP candidate George Amedore would easily win.

But Tkaczyk capitalized on the GOP’s failure to pay much attention to the race until it was too late in October; the Albany County Democrat had, in the end, a better absentee ballot strategy than Amedore, especially in the more Democratic-leaning southern end of the district in Ulster County. (That’s where the final ballots were counted this morning.)

What her victory means remains to be seen. The GOP is still in partial control of the Senate thanks to an unusual power sharing deal with five breakaway Democrats. For now, she gives Democrats another vote if close or controversial matters make it to the floor, such as on campaign finance reforms or a minimum wage vote. Her presence would also matter if the coalition deal between Republicans and the breakaway Democrats stumbles.

The 46th district was created specifically for Amedore, who was in the Assembly before his Senate run. The Senate GOP added a new seat to the Senate – making it a 63-member chamber – during last year’s redistricting process that was approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The district runs from west of Amsterdam in Montgomery County along the Mohawk River to a town a couple hours south in Ulster County.

“No one believed our campaign had a chance in a district hand-carved by Republicans, and yet the power of good ideas and a strong campaign proved itself,’’ Tkaczyk said in a statement this morning.

Senate Republicans have not yet commented on the results of this morning’s paper ballot count in Kingston in Ulster County.

Tkacyzk got sizeable financial help from Friends of Democracy, which was co-founded by Jonathan Soros, son of billionaire and Democratic Party donor George Soros. The younger Soros backed her effort in large part because of her support for creation of a taxpayer-funded campaign finance system in New York state. “Her win today is an unmistakable mandate to work to change the broken campaign finance laws that have shut out the voices of regular New Yorkers,’’ Soros said in a statement this morning.

The race had been undecided since November with both sides taking the fight to three levels of state courts over what absentee and affidavit ballots could be counted.

UPDATE: Shortly after noon, Amedore said the race is over. "The time for politics has ended and the time to govern is at hand,'' he said in a statement.


Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Good morning, 

At 10 a.m. today, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda will swear in 20 new police recruits at police headquarters. In December, 33 officers graduated from the police academy. 

At 11 a.m., the mayor's CitiStat team will question members of the Community Services Department, which is led by Otis Barker and focuses on youth employment, senior services, summer reading initiatives and recreational programming, among other things. A video of the meeting will be posted on the city's web site

And Council Member Darius G. Pridgen has introduced a measure of support for "Amanda Lynn's Law," which is sponsored by Sen. Mark Grisanti (S.1590) and is named after Amanda Wienckowski, whose death remains unsolved. Pridgen is also asking that the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office explain their autopsy findings in the case during a Council committee meeting.  

Grisanti's law would strengthen penalties for offenders who improperly dispose of human remains for the purpose of concealing a death. Pridgen's measure is below.  

Support for Amanda Lynn's Law by

DiNapoli says KeyCorp to disclose political activities

By Tom Precious

ALBANY - KeyCorp will disclose all its political spending, announced state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who has been using his power as sole trustee of the giant state and local government pension fund to push companies for greater transparency in their political activities.

The Cleveland-based banking corporation, which has a contract to run the state government's checking account for payroll and vendor payments, made the deal after DiNapoli filed a shareholder resolution to press the disclosure.

The pension fund, working with other major public and private pension systems across the country, has been urging corporations to disclose political activities in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision by United States Supreme Court. The KeyCorp decision comes after DiNapoli sued Qualcomm Inc. to try to force it to disclose its political donations.

The New York State and Local Retirement System that DiNapoli runs, the third-largest public system in the nation, has about $150 million in assets and more than one million members, retirees and beneficiaries. The Buffalo News last year reported on DiNapoli’s increasing shareholder activism activities in corporate boardrooms around the world on a host of social and financial matters. DiNapoli on Tuesday said the fund would freeze its holdings in companies that manufacture guns.

“KeyCorp has taken a positive step for transparency and corporate accountability by agreeing to reveal its political contributions,” DiNapoli said. “When companies make their corporate political donations public, shareholders can evaluate if their interests are aligned with management's. More companies should follow the lead of KeyCorp and voluntarily disclose information that shareholders have a right to know.”

Nearly 80 percent of Cuomo donations top $10,000 apiece

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo is relying on deep pocket corporations, unions and individuals to fill his 2014 campaign account, a new report shows.

The New York Public Interest Research Group reported this afternoon that 79 percent of the money raised by Cuomo since he took office has come from entities and individuals who have given him $10,000 or more apiece. At least 142 corporations, unions or individuals have donated at least $40,000 apiece and seven contributed between $100,000 and $500,000.

The governor, who has recently started a push for taxpayer funding for campaigns and lower contribution limits, reported Tuesday that his campaign account has more than $22 million in it.

Continue reading "Nearly 80 percent of Cuomo donations top $10,000 apiece" »

Live blog: CitiStat meeting on Public Works at 11 a.m.

By Jill Terreri

I'll live blog the CitiStat meeting this morning, in which Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak and his staff will answer questions from Mayor Byron Brown, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, Corporation Counsel Tim Ball, and Finance Commissioner Donna Estrich. These meetings are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., but usually start later.


Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Good morning, 

It appears that the Common Council has settled on a chief of staff. Majority Leader Demone Smith said that Rasheed Wyatt, who is a senior legislative assistant on the Council's central staff, will be selected to fill the vacant chief of staff position. 

Such an appointment requires five votes from the nine-member Council, and Wyatt appears to have the support he needs, Smith said. 

Smith is the leader of a six-member majority that includes Council President Richard Fontana of Lovejoy, University Council Member Bonnie Russell, Ellicott Council Member Darius Pridgen, South Council Member Christopher Scanlon, and North Council Member Joseph Golombek.

In October, Wyatt's promotion to his current position was confirmed by the Council without debate.

Wyatt would replace Kevin Linder, whose last day was Jan. 4. Deputy Chief of Staff Todd McAlister has been running the office since then. 

Also today, top officials from Brown administration will question Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak and his staff during a CitiStat meeting at 11 a.m. Public Works is a sweeping department whose work affects every city resident, from clearing streets of snow, paving, park maintenence and garbage collection. A live blog of the meeting will appear in a separate post on Politics Now

Earlier this morning, the Environmental Management Commission met on the ninth floor, where Chairman Joseph Gardella expressed frustration with the way the commission's input has not been sought on environmentally sensitive projects, such as the new South Buffalo Charter School

Lawyer Adam Walters, representing Niagara Metals, and West Hertel Association Chairperson Margaret Szczepaniec appeared at the meeting to express their concerns about a scrap metal recycling facility proposed for the corner of Hertel and Military. Ben Weitsman and Son of Buffalo would like to take over the former Auto City of Buffalo junkyard. The plan was delayed by the Planning Board yesterday, as the board told Weitsman representatives to do a further noise study. While some neighbors are concerned about the project, a few observers noted yesterday that Rocco Termini, who is investing $30 million nearby, did not voice any objections to the project at the Planning Board, where his project and the Weitsmans' project was on the agenda. The Common Council has also delayed action on the project. It appears no approvals will be granted until at least Jan. 29. 

Cuomo campaign rolling in money

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- As the Assembly was passing his gun control package late this afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported his campaign raised $4 million the past six months.

The governor now has $22.5 million on hand for his 2014 re-election effort, up from $19.3 million during the last reporting period in July, acccording to state Board of Election records.

To keep the balance high, the governor's campaign committee reported spending only $893,000 the past six months, including a $36,000 payment to the New York Yankees for a fundraiser.

In all, individuals, many with deep pockets who could afford to donate $25,000 or more apiece, gave $2.2 million to Cuomo the past six months.

Among the largest individual donors was Steve Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic Party chairman; he gave Cuomo $50,000 last week. M&T Bank boss Robert Wilmers tossed in $10,000 to Cuomo.

The hefty campaign account for Cuomo comes as the governor is pushing a new campaign finance plan that, when formally unveiled, will call for taxpayer funding of campaigns and lower limits on campaign contributions to candidates.


Cuomo quickly signs gun bill

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The gun control bill has been signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "I am proud to be a New Yorker today,'' Cuomo said.

The bill signing event, held in front of district attorneys and gun control advocates, featured speeches by Democratic leaders from the Assembly and Senate -- but Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos, whose house passed the bill last night, was not in the room.


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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 |