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Medical marijuana blinking game begins for real

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The sponsors of a bill legalizing medical marijuana made the midnight deadline to introduce a new version of the bill -- the fifth -- that bows to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on some of his ideas, but rejects a number of concerns he has publicly raised with the effort.

Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried amended their bill to, as Cuomo suggested, further limit the diseases or conditions for which the drug can be dispensed. Gone from the new bill is post-concussion syndrome, lupus and diabetes. But they keep intact the ability of patients to smoke the drug -- Cuomo wanted an oil-based or other liquid type form of the drug being available -- but the bill bans smoking in public places and, as previous versions, makes it illegal to dispense marijuana in a smoking form to anyone under age 21.

After Cuomo Monday characterized the lawmakers' bill as overly generous when it comes to how much marijuana could go to patients in a 30-day period, Savino and Gottfried, in their new bill version, reduced from two and one-half ounces to two ounces the amount of marijuana that a doctor can prescribe to a patient in a one-month period. There appears also to be some new maneuvering room by the state health department, which will draft the regulations to implement the bill if it is passed and signed into law.

Lawmakers also did not go along with Cuomo's call for a five-year sunset on the law. Savino and Gottfried both said that idea is unworkable and would serve to only keep private marijuana manufacturers from coming to New York to invest in the infrastructure to produce the drug.

The bill is now in the midst of a three-day aging process, meaning it will be live for a vote on Thursday, the scheduled end of session. If there is no deal between now and then by Cuomo and legislative leaders on a three-way deal, the key question becomes: will Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate co-leader Dean Skelos be willing to incur the governor's likely anger and let the bill out onto the floor for a vote? If it passes, that would put Cuomo, in an election year, in the position of possibly vetoing a bill that patients with cancer and AIDS have been lobbying to get passed and has attracted the backing of additional Republican lawmakers and the incumbent Democrat -- Eric Schneiderman -- and Republican challenger -- John Cahill -- for the state attorney general's post.

Some advocates are convinced Cuomo is doing his best to kill the effort, while the governor has maintained he is supportive of the idea but that there are law enforcement and other concerns to be addressed if the state is to begin the complex task of regulating a system of growing, transporting, and dispensing marijuana to potentially thousands of patients. Advocates say the way the new bill is crafted that New York would be the most heavily regulated of the 22 states, and the District of Columbia, that permit medical marijuana.

Sources said Savino and Gottfried held talks last night with the governor's office, but the bill they introduced before midnight cannot be called -- at this point anyway -- a three-way deal.





Church leaders urge Catholics to lobby Albany on tax break bill

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Catholic church leaders are making a last-minute appeal to parishioners this weekend asking them to help push the stalled Education Investment Tax Credit, which would give a tax break to people who give money to non-profit groups that, in turn, give donations to Catholic and other private -- as well as public -- schools.

What follows is a statement being sent by the Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the spiritual leader of Catholics in New York state, as well as all the state's bishops, that will be contained in church bulletins distributed this weekend to more than 2 million people attending services.

"More than 200 Catholic schools have closed in the last 15 years throughout New York State , as families and parishes, who strongly believe in the value of Catholic education, struggle to keep up with increasing costs. Many of our public schools also desperately need help.

To address these needs, the NYS Catholic Bishops joined a broad coalition of faith groups, community organizations and labor unions backing legislation called the Education Investment Tax Credit . The measure would encourage increased charitable donations to generate more private scholarships as well as dedicated additional resources to public schools. It also helps all teachers provide needed materials and supplies for every classroom in New York.

The vast majority of legislators support the bill. Why? It’s because the legislation will help all children, regardless of where they go to school. It’s a win - win for all families!

Although Governor Cuomo assured us he would fight to include the proposal in the state budget, in the end, we were left out.

As the legislative session ends in Albany this coming week, we pray that Governor Cuomo won’t let us down. W e ask that you join us in that prayer. Pray that Governor Cuomo will put children ahead of politics and fight for the Education Investment Tax Credit . We also ask that you contact him immediately with that same message.

You can send a message to the Governor through the website of the New York State Catholic Conference: Time is short. Please act today. God bless you.''


NY pols, this time Cuomo, give Colbert more easy (& spot-on) jokes

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- One reason some reporters appreciate Stephen Colbert so much is that some dream of being able to write their stories the way he spins the news. Alas, there are mortgages and college tuitions to still pay and so we can't.

But that doesn't have to stop us from at least showing you Colbert's take on the Empire State's seat of government. Albany has been a good source for him, what with his recent poke on the Senate debate over whether to make yogurt the official state snack. Last night, he offered up his take on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's recent Stanley Cup wager with California Gov. Jerry Brown.

No need for any more introduction. The Cuomo jokes begin at about two and a half minutes into this video:


Cuomo: Republicans bad, Republicans good

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Just a few days after calling for the ouster of Republicans from their power base in the State Senate, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday sought to characterize his relations with GOP lawmakers as vibrant and productive.

In Rochester, the governor was asked by a reporter if his call for a Democratic takeover of the Senate, done Saturday night to win the backing of the liberal Working Families Party, would make it hard to get things done in the Senate for the rest of the session.

“Oh, no. Look, we have a very good working relationship on both sides of the aisle,’’ Cuomo said. He noted that he invited Rochester Republican Sen. Joseph Robach to the public event he led on Wednesday. In contrast, at a similar economic development event Cuomo held in Buffalo after the Rochester event, no Buffalo-area Senate Republicans were visible, nor did Cuomo, as he did in Rochester, introduce any from the podium.

“We’ve reversed that partisanship that existed in Albany,’’ Cuomo said, adding his claim that gridlock has ended in Albany. “The lack of partisanship in Albany is something that I’m very proud of. Democrat, Republicans, we’re New Yorkers first and that’s how I govern and that’s what has turned this state around and we’re not going back,’’ he added.

The words were rather a sharp about-face from a video he sent to delegates at the Working Families Party Saturday night, when he said the Senate had been taken over by “ultra cons’’ from the Republican Party and that a Democratic takeover this fall is needed in the Senate.

The back-and-forth in Cuomo's words was not lost on his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino. "We now have two governors in Albany: Gov. Flip and Gov. Flop. They seem to rotate days,'' Astorino said.

Cuomo’s rhetorical dance Wednesday comes after Senate Democrats, upon returning to the Capitol this week, publicly welcomed the governor’s newfound political help; he has been a major helper for the Republicans for four years, including letting them draw their own district lines a couple years ago to favor GOP candidates. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, called Cuomo’s threat everything from “desperate’’ to “hollow.’’

Medical marijuana sponsors pushing ahead with legalization effort

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The legislative sponsors of an effort to legalize medical marijuana in New York say they will not be dissuaded in their effort by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that the state will conduct a clinical trial on the effectiveness of the drug for children who suffer from rare seizure disorders.

Sen. Diane Savino, a State Island Democrat, and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, said the governor’s latest plan -– along with a previously announced effort aimed at adult patients with certain health conditions -– does not swiftly enough address the medical needs by everyone to people with cancer to HIV.

“Nobody opposes the concept of clinical trials, but that trial has already been done in five states and produced little or no benefit,’’ Savino said of the new Cuomo effort, which was recently signed by the state health department and British drug company GW Pharmaceuticals.

“No one should assume that addresses the issue of medical marijuana. It affects only one group of patients with one illnesses and does not do anything for the tens of thousands of people with other health conditions,’’ she said.

Gottfried and Savino have begun discussions to create a same-as bill that will be ready for a vote before the end of session on June 19. The Assembly already passed a medical marijuana bill and Savino has said 40 senators have said they would vote yes on a bill if it hits the Senate floor. Several Republicans, including Western New York Republicans George Maziarz and Mark Grisanti, are co-sponsors of the Savino bill.

“Dick and I are in the process of moving forward to get the bills to match as soon as possible,’’ Savino said.

Gottfried on Tuesday declined to provide specifics of how his bill and Savino’s legislation will be amended to become same-as bills for a floor vote by the two houses. “Our hope is we have a bill that can be printed in both houses that could command a majority in both houses,’’ he said.

Gottried called a clinical trial a “good thing,’’ but cautioned, like Savino, that it will not address the need advocates say exists for people with health conditions who could be helped by marijuana instead of often costly and addictive pain killers.

In the history of bad bets ...

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Sometimes, there is not really much a reporter can add to a press release. Insert your own jokes:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced an interstate wager with California Governor Jerry Brown on the matchup between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, which begins Wednesday, June 4.

If the Rangers win, Governor Brown will send Governor Cuomo: · “California: A History” by Kevin Starr.
· Lumberg Organic Brown Rice Cakes, Lightly Salted.
If the Kings win, Governor Cuomo will send Governor Brown:· A Taste NY Gift Basket, featuring products from local businesses across the Empire State.
· A commemorative hockey puck from the 2013 "Hat Trick" of three on time budgets in a row.
Governor Cuomo said, "While 2014 is already a banner year for New York State hockey teams with Union College and Clarkson University as national college champions, the true icing on the cake would be a triumphant return of the Stanley Cup to the Empire State. Both the Rangers and the Kings have put forward spectacular championship runs and hockey enthusiasts from the East Coast to the West Coast can surely look forward to a hard fought series. However, given the tough, New York-resilient spirit with which the Rangers have advanced through the playoffs so far, I am wagering big on the Broadway Blueshirts with a Taste NY Basket of some of New York's finest products. Together with one of New York’s biggest Rangers fans, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, we look forward to receiving the proceeds of Governor Brown’s wager.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “Ice hockey is a way of life in the Empire State, part of a winter tradition that has been battled on lakes, ponds and rinks from Lake Placid to Long Island to Lake Erie for generations. In 1994, Governor Mario Cuomo and the New York Rangers delivered the Stanley Cup to New Yorkers. In 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Rangers will return the Cup to its rightful place, the great State of New York.”

The Taste NY Gift Basket will include:· Original Anchor Bar Buffalo Wing Sauce, Erie County
· Two award winning Ice Wines: The 2011 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from the Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Orleans County and the 2012 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from the Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards in Schuyler County
· Lupo's Spiedie Marinade, key ingredient for Binghamton's famous Spiedie Sandwhich, Broome County
· Gianelli Hot Italian Sausage, Onondaga County
· Sammy and Annie Food's Chicken Riggie Pasta Sauce Starter, Oneida County
· Parker's Pure New York Maple Syrup, Parker Family Maple Farm, Clinton County
· America's First Kettle Chip, Saratoga Chips, Saratoga County
· Apples from Fishkill Farms, Dutchess County
· Red velvet cupcakes from Make My Cake, Harlem, Manhattan
· Oysters harvested off of Long Island's shore, Braun Seafood Company, Suffolk County

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.

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.

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."

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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 |