By Sabina Mollot
After an all-nighter in the Capitol, Governor Cuomo signed off on a budget that included none of the ethics reforms he claimed he’d be willing to pass during his state of the state address in January.
Those reforms included closure of the LLC Loophole, which currently allows nearly limitless donations from limited liability corporations, limiting legislators’ outside income and stripping pensions from any legislator who’s found guilty of corruption.
Following the 17-hour session that led to the budget’s signing on Friday morning, a groggy State Senator Brad Hoylman told Town & Village that even after two major scandals last year, nothing’s changed in Albany when it’s time for negotiations.
“The budget process doesn’t lend itself to transparency,” said Hoylman. “It’s still the same three men in a room.”
He then blamed the Republican majority in his own house for not allowing the proposed reforms to reach the floor.
“It was not introduced as part of the final budget package even though the governor included it in his proposal,” said Hoylman. “So it’s a big disappointment. Even if the speaker of the Assembly and the governor want something, the way the budget negotiations work is the Republicans can hold out and prevent anything from moving forward if they care strongly enough about it.”
He figured that the effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 factored into the negotiations, “edging out ethics reform” as a priority.
“I hope the public outcry that follows will push legislators to do the right thing before the end of session,” he added.
Hoylman, a Democrat, has sponsored legislation that would strip any crooked lawmaker of his or her pension, and said he still is holding out hope that it could be passed separately before the end of the legislative session in June. Skelos, he pointed out, is entitled to $95,000 in pension benefits. That the reform “didn’t see the light of day is particularly galling,” Hoylman fumed.
Spokespeople for Governor Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not respond to requests for comment on the budget.
Michael Whyland, a rep for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, did get back to us to point out that the Assembly had previously passed the ethics reforms in its own house.
“The Senate made it very clear they were not interested” in them. “We need a partner in the Senate to make it happen and we’ll continue to push for these reforms in the coming months,” he said.
Whyland added that last year some reforms were passed, including greater income disclosure. “So let’s see how well that reform is working,” he said.
Hoylman, however, doubts his bill will go anywhere unless Democrats can regain some footing in the Senate through the special elections on April 19.
The elections are to replace former Senate Leader Dean Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Both former power players are expected to be sentenced soon for their bribery and kickback schemes.
In Skelos’s Long Island district, the race is between Democrat Todd Kaminsky, who’s currently an Assembly member, and Republican attorney and law professor Chris McGrath, the former of whom Hoylman supports.
“He’s a former prosecutor who put a senator on trial so he’s tailor made for the job of cleaning up Albany,” he said of Kaminsky.
In Silver’s Lower East Side district the race is on between Republican Lester Chang, Democrat Alice Cancel and Working Families Party candidate Yuh-Line Niou, and Hoylman has endorsed Niou. However, Hoylman acknowledged that Niou’s party makes her a longshot. “It’s an uphill struggle for someone who’s won the Democrat line as her opponent has done,” he said.
Cancel was recently bashed in a New York Post report as being a hand-picked crony of Silver. The Times reported that while Cancel works for Comptroller Scott Stringer, he’s endorsed Niou.
Additionally, while the Lower East Side race is less of a game changer than the Long Island one with the Assembly already being overwhelmingly Democratic, TenantsPAC has also endorsed Niou.
Mike McKee, TenantsPAC’s spokesperson, said this was after interviewing her and also setting up an interview with Cancel to which she was a no-show.
“We finally got an email from one of her people saying she was too busy knocking on doors to meet with us so she obviously wasn’t interested in an endorsement,” said McKee of Cancel.
When asked about this by T&V, Cancel’s husband and campaign spokesperson John Quinn, said Cancel, who’s a diabetic, had become ill lately from the stress of regular campaigning.
“She wasn’t eating and she was so focused on this, she was collapsing,” Quinn said. As for the allegations of being pro status quo, Quinn denied that as well.
“Everyone down here (on the Lower East Side) was connected with Shelly. We worked with Shelly but Alice has taken different positions than Shelly. She’s not Shelly’s hack. (Former Council Member) Margarita Lopez would never have supported her. Rosie (Mendez, Council member) would never have supported her.”
Quinn added that Cancel has seen some support from politicians in Queens and the Bronx and over the years as a district leader, has fought for tenant rights, including helping in an eight-year court battle to prevent an octogenarian from being evicted from her NYCHA apartment due a paperwork snafu.
Meanwhile, TenantsPAC has also thrown its support behind Kaminsky, raising $5,000 for the candidate so far with the goal of raising $6,000 more by the primary and phone banking and door knocking in the district.
“If we ever want to pass pro-tenant legislation, we need to help Todd win,” the organization wrote on its website.
McKee, however, put it this way: “If we don’t turn the Senate, we’re finished.”
He said there are 4,000 voters who live in buildings in Skelos’ senate district in stabilized apartments and, he added, “we’re targeting them.”
If Kaminsky does win, it will still be 32 Republicans and 31 Democrats due to one of those Democrats, Simcha Felder caucusing with Republicans.
But, McKee, explained, “This election is crucial in terms of November to flip the Senate.” He added that a high turnout is expected for the April 19 election since voters are expected to be out in force anyway because of the presidential primary.
“There are a million more people who voted in 2012 than in 2014, a nonpresidential year,” McKee said.
The winners of the special elections can still be challenged in a September 13 primary, followed by a general election in November.