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West Seneca teachers union blasts Dems' rejection of Kennedy

   By Robert J. McCarthy

   Teachers unions offer endorsement as a matter of course in New York State , and they usually don't make news unless they stem from big cities like New York or Buffalo.
   But the West Seneca Teachers Association's endorsement of State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy today gains lots of attention for its blistering attack on Erie County Democrats for endorsing party rival Betty Jean Grant over the South Buffalo incumbent.
   West Seneca Teachers Association President Joe Cantafio called the party's decision to spurn Kennedy representative of "everything that's wrong with politics today."
   "He has been out in front, doing what is best for our students. It is a disgrace," he said of the endorsement.
   Janet Utz, educational director for the New York State United Teachers union, said it was "absolutely stunning" that Kennedy failed to snare the party nod.
   "There has not been a better champion for public school children in Western New York than Sen. Tim Kennedy," she said.
   And retired teacher Bob McDonald siad it was "outrageous...ridiculous, misguided and downright foolish" that the party decided to back Kennedy's primary opponent.
   Kennedy, who was endorsed by the party in 2012, has run afoul of party leaders after contributing $85,000 last year to a political committee that worked against endorsed candidates.

Cuomo walking a political tightrope

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -– With the Working Families Party set this weekend to decide whether to give its gubernatorial line to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo or to someone else more in line with the party’s ideals, the governor has been steering to the left in what some political observers say is a transparent, last-ditch attempt to grab the small but influential party endorsement.

The latest example came Thursday when Cuomo said the coalition-style system that runs the State Senate will be considered “a failure’’ if it does not go along with his idea for a taxpayer-funded campaign finance system. This from a governor who, despite a campaign promise four years ago, let Senate Republicans draw their own district lines a couple years ago to improve GOP chances in key areas of the state. This from a governor who for four years has praised his self-touted accomplishments won with the backing of the small group of breakaway Democrats and Republicans who rule the Senate.

This also from a governor whose own government-funded web site features photograph after photograph of Cuomo at events with members of the coalition. And this, Republicans privately chuckled, from a governor who is running a television ad boasting of his ability to work across the partisan aisle to get things done.

The governor had his best opportunity to force Senate Republicans to go along with his taxpayer-funded campaign finance plan during the budget talks in March. With extraordinary powers given to New York governors in the budget process, Cuomo could have held up adoption of the budget as leverage to try to force reluctant lawmakers his way. But Cuomo insisted from the start that he wanted the fourth on-time budget in a row as a sign of progress in Albany.

Instead, the governor ended up with a pilot program affecting only the state comptroller’s race and only for this year -– a plan rejected by government watchdog groups and even the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli.

Now, just two months later, Cuomo is suddenly making sounds that he will help the Democrats take control of the Senate if the Republicans don’t go along with him on a broader campaign finance plan.

Cuomo administration officials said there was nothing sudden about the governor's warnings on Thursday, noting a 2012 "litmus test'' he issued on 10 policy proposals of his on which, depending on if a legislator opposed or supported them, he would base his political support of that legislator. One of those items at that time was a campaign finance bill; another was his plan to expand the state's abortion laws.

Officials also point to a Huffington Post piece he penned earlier this month about the need for a taxpayer-funded campaign finance system in New York. He said that "to end the session without the Senate majority coalition agreeing to public finance would be a true failure and a lost opportunity.'' The difference is, however, that on Thursday he said the failure to act on a bill would mean that the coalition itself is a "failure.''

About an inch behind the scenes in all this is the Working Families Party, which meets Saturday to pick a gubernatorial candidate. If it breaks with Cuomo and taps a liberal with a name or the right qualifications, the governor could find himself in the fall losing thousands of votesof by left-leaning New Yorkers, of which there are a few.

But does Cuomo face bumps with this path? Will it seem to some voters that he only started the idea of helping Senate Democrats regain control of the Senate when his own political fortunes with the left-leaning Working Families Party was put at risk? Will some New Yorkers recall the last time Democrats briefly held the chamber and the dysfunction that erupted and question why Cuomo might re-form his alliances with many of those Democrats from that period who are still in office today?

And what will this mean for Cuomo’s push for four years to try to convince voters that he can work equally well with Republicans as Democrats?

Senate Democrats in the main Democratic conference note that half their membership was elected after 2010 and that Jeff Klein, the current Senate co-leader who brokered the deal to share power with Republicans, was the floor leader during the time when Democrats ruled the chamber.

A spokesman for Senate co-leader Dean Skelos said the Republican Long Island lawmaker did not have any immediate comment to Cuomo’s “failure” remark. Senate Republicans are under intense pressure from the state Conservative Party, whose endorsement can matter in some of the GOP districts, to not go along with the publicly funded campaign finance plan.

But the other Senate co-leader, Klein, a Bronx Democrat, put out what amounted to a “head-scratching’’ reaction to Cuomo’s comments. Klein, in a written statement this afternoon, said that “in totality’’ the coalition -– his five Democrats and the Republicans -– “has been successful in passing marriage equality, the toughest gun law in the nation, fully funded, full-day universal pre-k and increasing the minimum wage and I’m proud of this string of successes.’’ He said he’d keep fighting for the campaign finance measure until the session ends; Klein and his fellow breakaway Democrats met privately with Cuomo earlier this week to discuss campaign finance and other issues.

More than one legislator has noted the coziness in the past couple weeks between Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, despite a rather bumpy start the mayor had in Albany -– and notably with Cuomo -- when he took office in January. Cuomo even put de Blasio’s mayoral seal alongside his on a press release his office put out today for Hurricane Sandy-related event today on Staten Island led by the governor and mayor.

De Blasio, in fact, has been working the phones in recent weeks to try to convince the Working Families Party, with which he has many allies given his liberal credentials, to stick with Cuomo in 2014.

At the Staten Island event, Cuomo told reporters he is “pessimistic’’ that the Senate GOP will go along with his campaign finance bill that many GOP lawmakers say their constituents do not support because it would allow taxpayer money to go to candidates with ideas they do not embrace.

“But it’s not over,’’ Cuomo said of the session that is scheduled to end June 19. And then he came out with a warning, albeit a vague one, about what might happen if the Senate GOP and the breakaway Democrats do not back the campaign finance plan. “If they do not pass public finance, I will consider the coalition a failure. I have said that, I repeat that, and I will act accordingly,’’ he said.

Precisely what he meant by “accordingly’’ was not elaborated upon by the governor.

Council to explore public campaign financing

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council on Tuesday took a step toward exploring the idea that taxpayers would cover at least some of the cost of political campaigns in the city.

The news was met with praise from Common Cause/NY, which has lobbied the state legislature to set up a system of public campaign finance, and has encouraged Buffalo lawmakers to do the same.  

"The Buffalo Common Council has achieved what the New York State Legislature could not: a significant step toward a meaningful system of public financing of elections," Executive Director Susan Lerner said in a statement. "Public financing holds public officials accountable to the people who elect them, not big donors who line their pockets. Common Cause/NY applauds Buffalo lawmakers, Majority Leader Demone Smith and CM Golombek in particular, for prioritizing the public interest, and working to empower voters to participate fully in our democracy."

The resolution that passed sets up a committee to look at creating a system of public campaign financing for contests for mayor, comptroller, Council and Board of Education. 

North Council Member Joseph Golombek reassured his colleagues that might be skeptical of the resolution that instituting a public financing system is still a long ways off.

Continue reading "Council to explore public campaign financing" »

Pridgen calls for mandatory parent assembly

By Jill Terreri

Council President Darius G. Pridgen is calling on the Board of Education to hold mandatory assemblies at the beginning of the school year in each school for parents or guardians. 

The assembly will help prepare parents for what the year holds, he said, adding that while some parents are involved, it's "criminal" what some parents are not doing for their children. 

The Council adopted the measure unanimously on Tuesday.

Pridgen, a former school board member, is recommending that the assembly cover the district's:

  • Parent involvement policy
  • Parent engagement strategy
  • Code of conduct
  • Parent Portal

Other topics include Common Core standards, and meeting with teachers.

The resolution was sent to Superintendent Pamela Brown and Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold.   

Astorino defends, explains Buffalo Billion remarks (Updated)


By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Democrats and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have been going after Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino since he recently raised questions about Cuomo's program to set aside $1 billion in special state aid for job creation efforts in Western New York.

In a letter to the editor sent this morning to The Buffalo News, Astorino explains that his remarks about the so-called Buffalo Billlion program have been turned into "gobbledygook by professional partisans" and that programs that rely on state taxpayer dollars for economic development do not address the main problems that make New York turn up as among the nation's least friendly states for businesses.

Here is his letter:

"My May 15 remark about the so called “Buffalo Billion” has been sliced, diced and puréed into unrecognizable gobbledygook by professional partisans, which is par for today’s political discourse.

What I said is that government programs -- like the Buffalo Billion -- are fundamentally unsustainable, and I stand by that remark. By all means, take the money; cash the check, but don’t think for a moment that it’s going to solve the prevailing problem in this state, which is that New York is anathema to business right now.

The question isn’t how many businesses can be created, but how many can survive, or even thrive, in this hostile tax and regulatory environment. There’s a reason the Remington’s of this world are leaving New York, and it’s not just the Safe Act. A sustainable plan to re-energize Western New York and other parts of the state requires a bold and fundamental restructuring of state government.

It demands lower taxes across the board, less government spending and a more business friendly regulatory environment. New York was just ranked as the state with the highest taxes and worst economic outlook in America. Until we address that, no amount of government largesse can revive us. If we want to bring jobs back from around the country, we need to compete with the states that are stealing them away."

UPDATE: -- During a brief session with reporters later at the Captiol, Astorino said programs such as the Buffalo Billion are "exactly what's wrong with the state.'' He characterized it as a program that dangles money to one community while failing to address more structural financial and economic problems facing the state.

Astorino said the Buffalo Billion may create new buildings, "but jobs that could be created may not be able to remain in a few short years'' because of high taxes and other job-killing problems in New York.

While the governor has talked of the state in the coming year or so having a $2 billion surplus, Astorino said the state's finances are on shaky grounds and that the Buffalo area may never see the full $1 billion commitment actually met. "They should cash the checks as fast as they can get them,'' Astorino said of recipients of the Buffalo Billion program.

Politics Now: Bob McCarthy examines the Cuomo/Hochul ticket

Gov. Cuomo's selection of Kathy Hochul as his running mate creates some interesting dynamics. The News' Bob McCarthy talks with Brian Meyer about recent developments:




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Kathy Hochul accepts lieutentant governor nomination at convention

A view from the press area during Kathleen Hochul's acceptance speech. (Tom Precious)

 By Tom Precious

MELVILLE – Kathleen Hochul this morning accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination to be Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s running mate.

“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to get out there," Hochul, an Erie County Democrat, told a cheering crowd at a Long Island hotel this morning.

Continue reading "Kathy Hochul accepts lieutentant governor nomination at convention" »

Video: Cuomo announces Hochul as lieutenant governor candidate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today that Kathleen C. Hochul will be joining him as his lieutenant governor running mate.

Hochul, former member of Congress and Erie County clerk, would replace Robert Duffy, the former mayor of Rochester. 

Cuomo made the announcement in a video that was played during the New York State Democratic Convention currently being held in Melville, N.Y. That video is embedded below:

"I am thrilled to be joining Gov. Cuomo and the entire Democratic team," Hochul is quoted as saying in a news release the New York State Democratic Convention. "Over the last four years I've witnessed unprecedented optimism and enthusiasm for our entire state, especially Upstate New York and in my hometown of Buffalo where we have seen an economic recovery that many politicians have promised but only Gov. Cuomo has delivered."

Peoples-Stokes to be co-chair of Cuomo 2014

By Tom Precious

Melville -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tapped Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, to be the co-chair of his re-election campaign. (Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. will be the other co-chair.)

The announcement comes after Cuomo said former Gov. David Paterson, who was once investigated by the governor when he was state attorney general, will become the state Democratic Party's new chairman. (He replaces Assemblyman Keith Wright, a Harlem Democrat; a few weeks ago, Stephanie Miner, the Syracuse mayor who has battled with Cuomo over public policy issues, said she was no longer going to be the party's other co-chair.)

Cuomo also announced that former Oswego mayor John Sullivan will be the head of the party's "coordinated campaign'' effort for upstate.

The appointment of Peoples-Stokes is a political boost for the Buffalo Democrat. Given the governor's hands-on style, few doubt who will be the campaign's real chairman: Cuomo himself.

“The 2014 campaign will give New Yorkers an opportunity to join in a statewide movement to continue and build on the success and progress of the past three years,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement. “I am pleased to announce a new all-star leadership team to guide Democratic campaigns and help bring New Yorkers together in all regions of the state. I welcome Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and John Sullivan on board, and I know their leadership and guidance will be vital in the months ahead.”

Cuomo taps Paterson to lead state Democrats

  By Robert J. McCarthy

   Former Gov. David A. Paterson will be the new chairman of the state Democratic Party.
   The party announced the move this morning as its delegates gather in Melville, L.I ., for the Democratic State Convention. It said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has turned to his predecessor as governor to lead the party, replacing Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright of Harlem.
   “Gov. Paterson is one of New York State’s finest public servants with a lifetime of fighting for a stronger and more progressive state, and there is no one better prepared to lead the state Democratic Party,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I am pleased to welcome him on board and look forward to working together with him to strengthen our state and our party.”
   Paterson accepted the Cuomo appointment with a statement lauding progress in New York under Democratic administrations.
 "At the center of the new Democratic Party is our economic credibility, where we have restored job growth in every region of the state, put hundreds of thousands of our state’s residents to work, and reduced the tax burden on New Yorkers to its lowest level in a generation, including the lowest middle class tax rate in more than 60 years," Paterson said. "Our opponents hail from the ultraconservative movement that has shamelessly embraced the Washington mentality of supporting anti-women, anti-marriage equality, anti-choice, anti-immigrant measures – all of which are truly anti-New York.
   "I look forward to working together this year with the governor to continue the momentum we have started,” he added.
   Cuomo's action installs a major figure as the head of the state party as the governor prepares to take on Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in this November's election. The surprise move to replace Wright follows the resignation as party co-chair earlier of this year of Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who battled with the governor on several fronts.


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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 |