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Video: Jerry Zremski's Week in Washington

News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski returns, after a brief hiatus, with a rundown of his plans for the week. Up first: a story on Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus leaders' trip to the D.C. area to meet with Western New York expatriates.

Astorino "Clean Albany'' plan released (Updated)

By Tom Precious

Here are the 10 ideas Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino has for improving how the state government is run, as well as for improving its reputation and the public's trust.

In his written words, released this morning:

Term Limits - Limit statewide elected officials to two terms (8 years) and state legislators to four terms (8 years).

Limit Legislative Session - Convene regular session the first week in January and end on April 1, when the budget is due; Special session throughout the year can be called by a petition request from two-thirds vote of both legislative houses or by the Governor as defined in the State Constitution.

Independent State Commission on Public Ethics (I-SCOPE) to replace J-COPE. Five members appointed by judiciary with independent budget to receive and investigate complaints of official misconduct, including sexual harassment and assault.

Strengthen FOIL - Require proactive online posting of records and information required for release under FOIL requests; Information would be posted on single statewide database managed by State Comptroller.

Defined Contribution Plan for Newly Elected - Require all newly elected officials to join SUNY's Defined Contribution Plan instead of the existing pension system.

Pension Strip -Loss of taxpayer-funded pension for any elected official convicted of public corruption.

Prohibit Personal Use of Campaign Money - Establish clear guidelines to limit donations solely to election-related activities.

Ban Conflict of Interest Member Items - No "member items" to any non-profit or business affiliated with a state elected official or an immediate family member.

Replace Per-Diem System and require receipts for travel, lodge and food.

End Taxpayer-funded Vanity - Prohibit any building, facility or capital project that was paid for with taxpayer money to be named for any current elected official.

UPDATE: The state Democratic Party put out the following response this morning:

“Poor little Robbie – no one takes him seriously. He doesn’t even take himself seriously. If he did, he would tell Senator Dean Skelos to propose a law to enact his reforms now, today, before the legislature leaves town. After all, it’s Republican Dean Skelos and his colleagues in the legislature who he is calling corrupt and wasteful, not the Governor. If Robbie knew how State Government works, he would know that the Senate and Assembly set the rules of their house. So he should insist that Senator Skelos and the Republican-coalition controlled Senate change their ways and that they do it now. Or doesn't the highest-ranking Republican in the state take him seriously either??
PS. I bet Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins will join you in calling for the corrupt Senate Republicans to change their dirty practices and clean up Albany. She might even use you in her television ads.''


Video: Cheektowaga skirmishes could have broader political impact

If you think Cheektowaga politics affects only town residents, think again. The News' Bob McCarthy tells Brian Meyer some emerging skirmishes could have a far broader impact:


National Review lets fired staffer bash Chris Collins

By Jerry Zremski

WASHINGTON -- You might think that the right wing would like Rep. Chris Collins, the reliably Republican representative from Clarence.

But for the second time this week, Collins finds himself under attack from a right-wing institution -- and the latest attack is a doozy.

In a story on National Review Online posted Wednesday night a former Collins staffer whom the congressman fired not only takes on Collins for his support of the Export-Import Bank -- which Heritage Action for America did earlier this week -- but also hints that Collins is a racist.

"I was briefly employed by Collins in 2013 but was terminated after three months and did not leave on good terms with the congressman," the former Collins staffer, Christine Sisto, wrote. "My impression was that Collins had a steep congressional learning curve. His staff had to coach him to talk less about himself to constituents, and at one point he asked about 'a black' being on a Congressional committee after being told that the committee included several minority leaders."

Seeing this, Jim O'Donnell, a Democrat who is challenging Collins in November's election, pounced.

"I don’t know if these most recent allegations of racism are true, but I do know it is imperative that Chris Collins answers them immediately," O'Donnell said in a statement to the media. "I do know that the ability of congressmen and women to serve their country has nothing to do with their color."
To which Collins spokesman Grant Loomis replied: "It is sad to see a candidate use the false claims of a fired employee to score cheap political headlines.  These allegations are absolute lies and proof that political silly season is upon us."
Sisto's allegation is vague, to say the least. Called for comment at the National Review Washington Bureau Thursday morning, Sisto said she would get back to The Buffalo News later in the day, but she never did.
It's also highly unusual, to say the least, for a reputable publication to allow someone who has been fired by an individual to then write something attacking that individual.
It seems we won't know why the National Review allowed that to happen. Tim Cavanaugh, the venerable conservative magazine's news editor, did not respond to a request for comment.
But Lee Coppola, the former dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at St. Bonaventure University, was happy to comment.
"It seems to me the National Review checked its journalistic ethics at the door," Coppola said.  "A former staffer editorializing on her one-time employer in a critical piece of reporting does a disservice to any entity that supposedly holds itself out as covering national issues fairly and accurately."

Cahill stumps for money in Buffalo; fracking votes in Southern Tier

   By Robert J. McCarthy

   John P. Cahill, the Republican candidate for attorney general this year, is headed for the Southern Tier today after a day of fund-raising in Buffalo.
   And when he arrives in the Land of the Marcellus Shale, it's a good bet he will dwell on what is increasingly becoming a key plank of the Republican platform this year -- hydraulic fracturing. Indeed, Cahill said Thursday that he believes he offers a significant vantage point for addressing the topic as former commissioner of environmental conservation under then-Gov. George E. Pataki.
   "I'm one of those people who believes it can be done safely," Cahill told Politics Now. "I know what the agency can do and what it can't do."
   Cahill and all of his running mates are emphasizing "fracking" wherever they go on the campaign trail, especially in the Southern Tier. That's where one of the Northeast's most significant deposits of natural gas has been found in the Marcellus Shale field, but recovering it has not yet been authorized by the Cuomo administration.
   From his days at DEC, he said, he believes the department is more than capable of ensuring the process can proceed safely under proper supervision.
   "The Division of Mining has some quality people and they're good at what they do," he said, adding that the department can safely oversee extracting natural gas in the same way it has other extractions of minerals for generations.
   The Cuomo administration contends more study is needed before a decision on fracking can be issued.
   Cahill is challenging Democratic incumbent Eric T. Schneiderman this fall. Schneiderman was endorsed today by three county executives, including Erie's Mark C. Poloncarz.

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.''


Staffer, lawmaker thanked for saving assemblywoman from choking

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The Assembly today formally thanked staffer Bakary Janneh, as well as Assemblyman Sean Ryan, for helping to potentially save the life of a Brooklyn assemblywoman as she choked on a piece of fruit on the floor of the Assembly last week.

“We are gratefully relieved to see you here today and that you are okay,’’ Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said from the podium to Assemblywoman Annette Robinson earlier today during proceedings on the floor.

Ryan on Tuesday described how he saw the lawmaker, who sits next to him, was having trouble breathing and he realized she was choking. "I gave her the Heimlich and smacked her between her shoulder blades six times ... I used by Boy Scouts and high school training,'' he said.

But the food did not dislodge and Bakary Janneh, who works on the Assembly’s program and counsel staff, took over. When not helping to craft bills and policy for the Assembly, he is a local EMT volunteer. Silver praised Janneh fo his “calm, swift action’’ to help the struggling Robinson during what he characterized as a scary moment last week on the floor.

DiNapoli video shows another side of "Mr. Nice Guy"

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Here is the spoof video Comptroller Tom DiNapoli made and unveiled at last night's Legislative Correspondents Association annual show. Funny stuff, even if you don't know all the players.

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:


Five takeaways from Cantor's collapse

By Jerry Zremski

WASHINGTON -- It's never happened before. Never in the past has a top House leader gone down to defeat in a primary.

But that's just what happened Tuesday night to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. In a loss that's likely to reverberate through American politics for months if not years to come, Cantor fell to a tea party challenger, the ironically named David Brat, by a shocking 11 point margin.

What does it all mean? After hearing what sources have to say and after trying to fit this into the larger dynamics roiling American politics, here are my five takeaways:

1) All politics is local. The late Tip O'Neill famously said that when he was House speaker three decades ago, and it's still true today. Eric Cantor proved it be being as profoundly not local as any member of Congress. Whereas most lawmakers win the loyalty of their constituents by traveling their districts on a weekly basis, Cantor toured the country on a near-weekly basis, raising money for colleagues whom he thought could help him become speaker someday. And on primary day, while Brat was busy campaigning, Cantor was busy in Washington, returning to his Richmond-based district only at night for his supposed victory party. As blogger Erick Erickson said: "Cantor lost his race because he was running for Speaker of the House of Representatives while his constituents wanted a congressman."

2) All politics is transactional. In other words, every politician is only as good as the relationships he or she builds. And in the end, Cantor didn't build the right kind of deep, enduring relationships within the Virginia GOP that could have helped him in Tuesday's fight. That's because he's the type that tends to rise and fall fast in politics, in business and even in journalism: Someone who's smart and strong enough to create a great first impression, but whose cutthroat ways wear people out over time. According to Republicans and Democrats alike, that's just what Cantor and his people did. Former Rep. John J. LaFalce, who served with both Cantor and Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., noted on Facebook this morning the key reason why Graham fended off his tea party challengers while Cantor lost. "Lindsey is extremely likeable, the most important quality for any candidate to have. Enuf said." 

3) It's harder to be a local congressman these days. In Cantor's defense, he couldn't shower his district with federal money, which is what congressmen did for decades to win the loyalty of their constituents. But that was before the Republican House banned "earmarks," the pork-barrel budget items that always made local lawmakers look like heroes in earlier, less budget-conscious times. So Cantor's constituents would get no chance to see him cutting the ribbon on a new bridge or putting a shovel in the ground where a new federal facility would be built. Thanks to the GOP's own rules, lawmakers can't bring home the bacon anymore. They can't even bring home bacon bits -- and that fact hurts at election time.

4) Polls and ads don't matter the way they used to. Two internal polls showed Cantor up in the race by double-digit margins -- but those polls didn't reflect the electorate that decided to vote on Tuesday. Therein lies a lesson for every political operative in the country. With the nation so deeply split now between liberals and conservatives, and with so few independents in the middle, winning an election is now much more about turning out your troops than it is changing minds -- and if you doubt that, take a look at Barack Obama's two presidential campaigns. For that reason, polls -- which poorly reflect voter intensity -- are increasingly unreliable. So are high-priced television ads, just because there are comparatively few minds to change. Cantor proved that, flooding the airwaves to no apparent positive effect and fielding a "nonexistent" turnout effort while Brat just worked the tea party circuit to get his supporters to the polls on primary day.

5) Everybody will overreact to this. House Republicans, fearing that they could fall victim to a tea party wave, too, will be afraid to do any real legislating for God knows how long, knowing that any vote they cast can be held against them. That's particularly true on immigration reform, given that Brat portrayed Cantor as a supporter of "amnesty" for undocumented aliens. Tea party activists will overreact, too, thinking that if they could topple a giant like Cantor, they can topple anybody -- meaning many more such challenges will be likely in 2016. And pundits will overreact, too, sensing a national tea party wave when this is really just one shocking primary in one very conservative Virginia district.

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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 |