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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.”

New Gaming Commission board member offers reality check on casinos

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -– Sixteen months after the agency was created, the state Gaming Commission finally has a representative on its board appointed by the State Legislature.

Peter Moschetti, an Albany-area lawyer, was confirmed this afternoon by the State Senate to serve on the agency that will be selecting which developers will win the four commercial casino licenses up for grabs this year. The agency also regulates horse racing, Indian casinos, charitable gambling and runs the state lottery system.

In a Senate racing committee meeting this morning, Moschetti was asked by lawmakers about the expansion of casino gambling in New York. “I can see that it’s here. It’s coming. I think certainly there’s a great deal of opportunity for revenue. There’s also many pitfalls that go with that,’’ Moschetti said.

While noting the idea of the casino expansion is to create new economic development opportunities in some upstate communities, he said, “I don’t know if it’s the panacea that everybody thinks it is.’’

“Certainly, there’s an opportunity for revenue raising and jobs … Hopefully, it will work out well,’’ he added.

Moschetti was nominated to the post by Senate co-leader Dean Skelos. He previously had served on a state panel about a decade ago that regulated the state’s lobbying industry. He has been a trial lawyer, county prosecutor on Long Island and is an avid horse rider.

The Gaming Commission is dominated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s five appointees. With the confirmation of Moschetti, there is one slot -– to be filled by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver -– still open. The Albany Times Union recently reported that Silver has nominated former Democratic Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza for the opening, but she still needs Senate approval to take the post.

Byron Brown: No discussions on lieutenant governor's post

By Jill Terreri

Mayor Byron W. Brown said today that he has not had any discussions about being selected as Gov. Andrew Cuomo's runningmate this fall. 

“To be honest with you it’s not something I have thought a whole lot about," he said in an interview about the possibility of running for lieutenant governor. "It has not been discussed in any way, shape or form. The state convention is May 20th through the 22nd, and so again, it’s not really something that I am thinking about at this point.”

Asked to clarify what he meant when he said it hasn't been discussed, Brown said, “I haven’t discussed it with anyone who is in a position to do anything about it.”

Brown said he hasn't decided whether he'll attend the state Democratic convention. 

Given that the convention is less than three weeks away, does Brown think he would have been approached by now if he was going to be lieutenant governor?

“I would think so. I would certainly think so,” he said.  

Speculation about Brown's possible selection as lieutenant governor surfaced after there were questions about whether Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy would stay on for Cuomo's campaign for a second term. At a political event this week, Duffy declined to reveal his own political future. 

Brown did not rule out leaving, but said he enjoys the job he has now. 

"What I say to anyone is never say never," he said. "When opportunity knocks, not only do you have to be prepared for it, but you have to be open to consider it. That being said, my full focus, my 100 percent focus and attention is on the city of Buffalo and my job as mayor of Buffalo. My job of being mayor has got to be one of the best jobs in the entire world.” 

NYS inspectors check hundreds of crude oil tank cars, rail lines

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The state has announced another round of rail yard, freight cars and track inspection results as part of a program to boost safety of crude oil shipments handled via rail across New York.

Here is the release this morning from the governor's office:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced another round of targeted inspections of freight rail cars and track across New York State to ensure compliance with safety regulations for transporting crude oil through the State. The inspections, which covered nearly 700 tank cars and 152 miles of track across upstate New York, found numerous incidents of defective, broken or missing mechanical equipment and placards.

The inspections were completed on the same day that Governor Cuomo urged President Obama to take immediate federal action to replace outdated and dangerous crude oil tank cars. The Governor also sent the President the State's comprehensive crude oil transportation report, which was recently completed in accordance with an executive order issued by the Governor in January.

The report, which was put together by five State agencies, details ten critical federal recommendations and presents a package of state administrative, regulatory and legislative actions related to the transportation of crude oil by rail. Shortly after the Governor’s letter to the President, yet another crude oil train derailed and exploded in Lexington, Virginia, underscoring the urgency of the Governor’s call to action.

“New York State is not waiting for another potentially disastrous crude oil accident to take action and protect our communities,” Governor Cuomo said. “Our administration is continuing aggressive inspections of rail yards and tracks across the State, and we are heightening our preparedness through emergency drills and exercises. At the same time, I have urged our federal partners to overhaul safety regulations for the transport of crude oil, and will continue to push for these important changes. New Yorkers deserve nothing less.”

On Wednesday, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) completed a third series of targeted inspections at rail yards in the Capital Region and Western New York, as well as track inspections through nine counties, from Erie to Montgomery, of CSX's mainline, which is a crude oil route. Inspectors performed a mechanical inspection of DOT-111 tank cars, examining brakes and other safety equipment.

In NYSDOT inspection blitzes in February and March, numerous issues were found, including defective equipment, broken rails and non-compliant tank cars. Last week, inspectors from the FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) performed hazardous materials inspections of tank cars in Albany and Selkirk. These inspections ensure equipment is in line with regulations, including valves, valve closures, and placards and decals that describe the cargo being shipped, as well as checking dates for the last tank inspection and pressure test.

NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said, "Ensuring public safety is our number one priority, and inspection blitzes such as this help us discover and remove hazards before disaster happens. Governor Cuomo is leading the way in rail safety across New York State and we will continue to work with our federal partners to enforce standards for crude oil shipments."

Rail Inspection Findings

The latest inspections were conducted at the Kenwood Rail Yard in Albany, the Selkirk Rail Yard in southern Albany County, and the Frontier Rail Yard in Buffalo, and along 152 miles of CSX mainline track between Fonda and Alden.

Capital Region Inspections

· At the Kenwood Yard in Albany, inspectors examined 120 DOT-111 tank cars for mechanical defects, 80 carrying crude oil and 40 carrying ethanol. The inspection found five defects including one wheel defect and four worn brake shoes. On April 23, hazardous materials inspectors from the FRA and PHMSA examined 204 DOT-111 crude oil cars and found two defects, including one improper placard and one unattached lower outlet valve cover chain.
· At the Selkirk Rail Yard in Albany County, inspectors examined 103 DOT-111 tank cars carrying crude oil for mechanical issues and found no defects. On April 24, hazardous materials inspectors from the FRA and PHMSA examined 185 DOT-111 tank cars carrying crude oil and discovered five defects. Two defects involved lock pins for lower outlet levers that were not applied; two improper placards; and a broken safety chain for a lower outlet cap.

Western New York Inspections

· At the CSX Frontier Yard in Buffalo, inspectors examined 105 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars and found one mechanical defect, for a missing handrail bolt. FRA inspectors issued two violations to CSX for defects on two locomotives, including an ineffective handbrake which was past its required re-test date; and an expired date for re-calibration of the head-end box, which monitors air pressure for the braking system. Both defects were repaired before the train left the yard. On Wednesday, FRA hazardous materials inspectors examined 150 DOT-111 crude oil cars and found 11 defects with placards, which were damaged or worn. The FRA also issued a violation to shipping company ETC Endure Energy of Kansas, for a missing bolt on the manway access to the tank hatch area.

Track Inspections

NYSDOT inspectors also examined 152 miles of CSX mainline track in three segments from Fonda (Montgomery County) to Alden (Erie County). NYSDOT inspectors were accompanied by CSX for this inspection.

· Fonda to Oriskany (Oneida County) (62 miles): Inspectors found 10 non-critical defects including loose and missing bolts at switch points; and loose rail spikes on a short segment of track.

· Oriskany to Camillus (Onondaga County) (50 miles): Inspectors found one critical rail defect at a switch point, which required a 10 mph speed restriction. CSX immediately repaired the defect and the speed restriction was lifted. Inspectors also found 13 non-critical rail defects, including loose or missing bolts at switch points. They also found ten locations where the rail bed exhibited minor fouling, with wet mud coming up through the rock ballast.

· Chili (Monroe County) to Alden (40 miles): Inspectors found 12 non-critical defects at switch points including loose bolts at guide rails, adjustable braces and switch point stops.

##

U.S. Attorney seeks documents from state ethics agency

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has launched probes into corruption in Albany, has sent a subpoena to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics seeking information about allegations against public officials and lobbyists the agency has received since being created about two years ago.
Citing unnamed sources, the New York Post and Daily News both reported this afternoon that the Manhattan-based federal prosecutor wants information about probes JCOPE has conducted involving state officials, lawmakers and lobbyists.
The latest probe by Bharara comes just weeks after he sought -- and got -- a truckload of materials from an anti-corruption panel that Gov. Andrew Cuomo formed last year and shut down after cutting deals with lawmakers as part of the budget for a limited, pilot program for taxpayer-funded campaigns and tougher anti-bribery penalties. Bharara has raised questions about Cuomo eliminating the Moreland Commission at a time when the panel still had open investigations underway.
John Milgrim, a JCOPE spokesman, declined comment other than to say that his agency "routinely works with other law enforcement agencies on various cases.''

GOP chairman: What did the president, er, governor know, and when did he know it?

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Here is a portion of a release/statement today from Ed Cox, chairman of the state Republican Party, on the controversy brewing over Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Moreland Commission. The panel was prematurely disbanded last week as part of a possible political deal, according to a U.S. Attorney who has since gotten his hands in the past 24 hours on the commission's documents.

As an aside, might some Democrats whisper to the history-deprived that Cox is the son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon?

Either way, the situation has given Republicans -- chiefly GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino -- an issue that New Yorkers should expect to be hearing about into the fall.

The Cox statement:

Chair Ed Cox today called on Andrew Cuomo to reveal precisely who in his administration interfered with the Moreland Commission and why.

"Andrew Cuomo's meddling corrupted his own corruption commission," said Cox. "The Governor must reveal who in his office interfered with the Moreland Commission, how they did so and for what reasons."

The Moreland Commission on public corruption is shutting down this week and US Attorney Preet Bharara will be receiving all of its case files. Speaking to WNYC yesterday, Bharara did not rule out an investigation of Cuomo's office.

State plans new multi-state lottery game

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – Looking to raise cash for the state, the New York Gaming Commission is moving ahead with a plan to enter a new multi-state lottery game that promises jackpots of up to $1,000 a day for life.

The game, Cash 4 Life, was tentatively approved at a recent gaming commission board meeting but published as a proposed rule this week.

The game offers a top jackpot that pays $1,000 a day for life.

Well, with one chilling condition. "In the event that a winner dies prior to the expiration of 20 years, the prize winner's estate would be paid the unpaid portion of a guaranteed prize amount," a state document reads.

The new game, if given final okay by the state, will have drawings every Monday and Thursday. Bettors will have to pick five numbers out of a field of 60 and one additional number out of a field of four.

The estimated odds of winning the top prize: one in 21,846,048.

For the state, Gaming Commission officials estimate the new lottery – to be run with some states now in the Powerball and Mega Millions consortia – will bring Albany about $9 million a year in additional lottery revenues.

Document dump: Group releases DOH inspection reports on abortion providers

By Tom Precious

ALBANY –- The group that sued New York State over Health Department inspections of abortion clinics this afternoon released the documents that it says shows a lack of interest on the state's part in checking up on procedures by abortion providers.

The Chiaroscuro Foundation, which seeks to lower the number of abortions performed in New York, released the large batch of documents -– found here -- that were the basis of a New York Post story earlier this week.

The Post reported that eight of 25 abortion clinics that come under the jurisdiction of the state Health Department inspections had no visits since 2000 and that another five were inspected once during that period.

The issue has quickly worked itself into the state’s gubernatorial campaign. Republican Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino today called on Dr. Nirav Shah, the state health commissioner, to resign over the matter. Astorino released this video today.

In response, the Health Department released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

“The State Department of Health vigorously and aggressively investigates any and all allegations  of physician misconduct, or complaints against a facility under its direct supervision. This includes 22 complaints since 2005 against the 25 DOH-regulated facilities that provide reproductive health services -– all of which will also be subjected to re-inspection within the coming days.”

Bill Schwarz

New York State Department of Health

Another view of today's NY beer/wine/spirits summit

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – As the beer, wine and spirits industries meet today in Albany to talk about their booming businesses in New York, an alcoholism treatment advocate said he hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo and industry executives also address the problems of underage and problem drinking.

“There’s a correlation between increased access to alcohol and problem drinking and underage drinking. As the industry thrives or as the industry becomes stronger in new York, I would hope that the social conscience of the industry would trend in the direction of supporting underage drinking prevention, supporting access to treatment and community-based treatment and recovery programs," said John Coppola, executive director of the New York State Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers.

The alcoholic beverage industry has been booming in recent years – Cuomo today said job growth has doubled in four years – thanks, in part, to state policies that have encouraged the growth of such businesses as farm breweries and distillers.

Coppola noted that the state Gaming Commission Wednesday is holding a hearing with gambling addiction treatment experts in advance of decisions the agencies will make later this year to increase by four the number of Las Vegas-style casinos in the state. “We really haven’t seen that kind of effort from the alcoholic beverage industry,’’ Coppola said.

Coppola said he is more worried about worsening underage drinking problems as a result of large, national alcoholic beverage interests than many of the kinds of new businesses opening in New York in recent years, since many of these Empire State producers are small and make higher-end products with product price tags that are beyond the reach for many teenagers. He said dealings he has had with the smaller producers is that most are “very responsible.”

“As we call attention to how strong this industry is becoming in New York and if it’s good for the economy and people are being responsible, fantastic. On the other hand, we have massive marketing efforts in magazines, billboards and TV that are clearly marketing underage drinking … I would not lay this at the feet of smaller, niche beer and wine folks. I don’t think they’re directly marketing to kids,’’ he said. “That being said, I would hope that their voice is strong, that they set a good example and I would hope the governor and others hold the industry as a whole to some sense of responsible advertising and responsible distribution of their product."’

 

New union president sees a new NYSUT coming

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The new leader of the state’s teachers union sees her labor group becoming an even more powerful voice in Albany with increased engagement of parents and other stakeholders to affect state policies.

“When we call up for a rally you will see rallies that fill up the streets in Albany,’’ said Karen Magee, a longtime public school teacher in Westchester County who, over the weekend, ousted longtime New York State United Teachers union Richard Iannuzzi as president. She is the first woman president of the 600,000-member union.

If there was any warming of relations between NYSUT and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it was not showing on Monday. When asked, Magee said she had received no phone calls from the governor since her election by NYSUT delegates on Saturday. In the 2010 election, NYSUT sat on the sidelines in the governor’s race.

This year, she said Cuomo and the likely Republican gubernatorial candidate, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, have until NYSUT’s governing board meets in August to gain an endorsement.

Right now, after several years of battles with Cuomo over everything from teacher performance evaluations to charter schools and school funding, Magee said Cuomo faces a stiff wind with teachers across the state. “Unless there is some significant change, I can’t imagine our teachers would even consider endorsing the governor,’’ Magee said in a phone interview Monday.

Could the union back Astorino? “The field is open as to who we endorse,’’ she said, adding that she does not know enough about Astorino's education policies.

Some union leaders over the weekend said delegates were impressed by Astorino’s recent decision to keep his children in public school from taking the Common Core assessments last week.

Magee said such decisions are up to parents. “As teachers, we have to support whatever parents choose for their children,’’ she said.

Magee said NYSUT will be fighting in the last couple of months of the legislation session to get Common Core standards delayed for the sake teachers. She said teacher performance reviews should not be based on tests that do not count for students.

NYSUT, she said, lost 35,000 members in the past five years due to cuts in the growth of spending or actual reductions by the state and districts on schools. In the meantime, she said, NYSUT had become a “top down’’ organization that “lost focus of the engagement of the membership.’’

Cuomo insisted during budget talks that the teacher evaluation issue not be a part of delays made to the Common Core standards. The day the budget was passed, though, he sent signals of being open to discussing the issue with lawmakers in the next couple months; he has not been specific about what he believes should change in the way of teacher evaluations.

Magee said she believes Cuomo has realized it makes little sense to delay the impact on students from the Common Core tests but not on the performance evaluations for teachers. “I think he finally has found out how incongruous that thinking was,’’ she said.

At the minimum, NYSUT wants a moratorium on the state standardized tests being used to judge performance levels of teachers. If NYSUT had its way, she said, “I’d like to see us rethink the entire process,’’ she said, so that there is not a “one size fits all’’ approach to evaluating teachers across the state in different teaching situations and different disciplines.

 

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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.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


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.

tprecious@buffnews.com


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 | jterreri@buffnews.com


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 | jzremski@buffnews.com

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