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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.

Sources: Senate, Assembly sponsors agree on same-as medical marijuana bill

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The Senate’s lead sponsor of a measure to legalize medical marijuana has amended her bill in a way that is designed to address concerns raised by some legislators, paving the way for a possible vote by both houses of the Legislature on the long-stalled effort before the 2014 session ends in the next two weeks.

Sources say changes introduced by Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat, are expected to be matched on Monday with amendments to the Assembly bill by its lead sponsor in that house, Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat.

If a final deal is struck, the two houses could vote on the bill as early as this coming week, though it remains to be seen if the Senate's Republican leaders will let it to the floor for consideration by the full Senate.

The Assembly has already passed a medical marijuana legalization bill, but the legislation did not match changes Savino had made some weeks ago designed to lure more lawmakers onto her bill. As a result, Savino and Gottfried need to match their bills, which they did on Friday, sources say. (The Assembly for years has passed a medical marijuana bill and appears willing to go along with what Savino can get through her legislative chamber.)

Savino says she has 40 senators she is counting on as yes votes, and the newly amended bill includes 26 co-sponsors, including Western New York Senate Republicans George Maziarz and Mark Grisanti of the Buffalo area and Joseph Robach of Rochester.

Savino and Gottfried last week both said they were negotiating a set of new amendments to introduce a same-as bill. If approved, the new measure would be sent for consideration by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been moving on a separate track that advocates say is too restrictive and time-consuming to get the drug to qualified patients.

The new version of the legislation tightens some rules as to the conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana, eliminating psoriasis from the list, but keeping in such conditions as cancer, HIV, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and adding Huntington’s disease to the list of covered conditions for access to the drug.

It establishes rules to prevent what could be seen as marketing marijuana to teenagers, and keeps in place a previous ban on smoking of marijuana for approved patients under the age of 21. The new bill also sets limits on the levels of THC – the compound in the drug that gets people high – for oil-based medical marijuana; such forms of marijuana are used in Colorado and California to treat children with rare and debilitating seizure disorders.

The new version also sets more rules on doctors dispensing the drug, including requiring them to state such things as the dose and variety of marijuana to be used by a patient. It requires, for instance, specific doses directed at treating “the patient’s specific certified condition.’’

The amendments also put pressure on the state Health Department not to delay implementation of the program, if it is approved by the Legislature and Cuomo, and places an expedited process for the department to get the drug into the hands of patients in serious, debilitating states of health; sources say that provision is designed to ensure that children suffering from the rare forms of seizures can get access to the oil-based form of marijuana soon.

A number of Western New York parents have been lobbying for the bill for their children, and some have begun the process of moving to Colorado if New York does not legalize medical marijuana for their children.

The amended bill also gives a percentage of money the state receives under the program to state and local law enforcement efforts.

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

Council's Police Oversight panel to focus on policy

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council's Police Oversight Committee is preparing for its first meeting next week, and Chairman David Rivera made clear today what the committee will not do. It won't investigate officers or reveal details of matters that could turn into a lawsuit for the city, he said.

"Our goal is not to investigate police officers," said Rivera, who is also a former officer. "Our goal is to assist them."

The department is in the midst of turmoil over several unrelated incidents involving officers.

In the wake of a disturbing cell phone video of an officer assaulting a man in handcuffs and an unrelated incident in a bar that left a man in a coma in which two officers were present, many Council members did not see a reason to revive the long-dormant committee. They changed their opinion last week.  

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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 |