Session’s out for summer! Lawmakers were cramming to pass the remaining items on their agenda this week like a college student during finals. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the big man on campus, has called this the most productive session of his tenure. But with one day left, the Senate has to be dragged back to the chamber to vote on anything, and it could be midnight madness for the Assembly, which expects to vote on bills well into the night. Fortunately, this class of lawmakers isn’t pass-fail, but there are Winners and Losers:
Can’t get enough of our winners and losers? Tune in to the “The Capitol Pressroom” with Susan Arbetter on Friday at 11:30 a.m. to hear about our weekly picks.
Preet Bharara – The hard-charging U.S. Attorney from New York’s Southern District scored another big win this week. Bharara ended a 3-year fight with New York City over pension benefits for police officers and other city workers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. The city had been crediting vets with reduced pension benefits until Bharara launched a class action lawsuit that was settled this week. Sitting down with Capital Tonight‘s Liz Benjamin for a rare television interview, the high-profile U.S. Attorney also fired a warning shot across the bow of state lawmakers this week when he said, “You can expect more cases to come, because there is a lot more corruption that has not yet been brought to light.” With state lawmakers in Albany this week for the end of session it is a safe bet that many saw the interview and are probably having trouble sleeping.
John Bonacic – Two out of three ain’t bad. The state senator had been pushing for three full-scale casinos in the Catskills for months, and the governor compromised, allowing for up to two in the economically depressed region. Bonacic, who chairs the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee, as well as the Judiciary Committee, used his clout to deliver what he hopes will be an economic boost for his district. And in a session that has been widely criticized as unproductive, Bonacic is now one of few lawmakers who can point to a big legislative win this year.
Dean Skelos – If there is one winner from the end of the session it is Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos. He controlled the agenda on all major issues from the expansion of casino gambling, to blocking the abortion provision of the Women’s Equality Act from coming up for a vote, to derailing efforts for public financing of campaigns. With Assembly Speaker Silver mired in the Lopez corruption scandal and Cuomo weakened after expending political capital to get the NY SAFE Act passed, Skelos was able to steer the end of session ship avoiding icebergs heading into next year – when he faces a difficult election cycle.
Bill Thompson – Endorsements do not a mayor make, but Thompson has been racking them up the last couple of months, and none was bigger than the United Federation of Teachers’ nod—arguably the most powerful union in the city with a formidable ground operation to boot. Thompson deftly carved a path to getting UFT, first picking up Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, then wooing American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and capping it off with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. Now comes the hard part: translating this outpouring of support into votes come September.
Harvey Weisenberg – The Legislature’s unofficial physical education coach helped get $90 million in funding restored to disabilities services that had been cut from the budget in March. Weisenberg’s indefatigable advocacy convinced both the Assembly and the Senate to back the bill with unanimous support. The governor huffed and puffed on the issue but could not blow the people’s house down. Weisenberg, a lifeguard in his native Long Beach, also pushed through a bill that would ensure convicted drunk drivers comply with a requirement that locks the car’s ignition if it senses alcohol on a driver’s breath. The bill is making its way through the Senate, where it is likely to pass this week. Now that’s a lifeguard.
Doug Blonsky – New York City Comptroller John Liu stuck up for the little guys by rejecting a $90 million, 10-year contract between the city and Blonsky’s Central Park Conservancy, with the hope that the wealth will be spread to other green spaces throughout the five boroughs. Specifically, Liu objected to a provision that would have lined the pockets of the wealthy conservancy by giving them a generous cut of money raised from concessions and events in the park. While Mayor Bloomberg claims that Liu has no legal basis for rejecting the contract, the city certainly could spread parks resources more evenly. Central Park’s endowment is already $144 million–not including a $100 million gift from a hedge fund manager in October.
Maggie Brooks – Sure, the state comptroller’s new list of distressed cities, towns and counties isn’t yet complete – but Monroe County is the worst one on the list so far, and that’s not the kind of news a county executive wants to see in the newspaper. Brooks defended her county, blaming state mandates and pointing out that she hasn’t raised taxes and that spending increases have been below the rate of inflation, but the criteria are the same for everyone, as a local lawmaker pointed out. The comptroller said his list would be a wake-up call – but apparently at least one elected official wants to keep sleeping.
Pedro Espada Jr. and Pedro Gautier Espada – It would be tempting to say that this week officially brought an end to the Espada dynasty in the Bronx, but given New York politics, you never know. In the bitter end, the former Senate majority leader’s 11th hour bid for a new trial was rejected not only as utterly baseless, but it could wind up getting him charged with submitting a false affidavit too. Four days after Espada père was immediately remanded to serve five years in prison, his son, Pedro Gautier, fanned the flames consuming the House of Espada, blaming his dad for leading him into trouble in a bid for leniency. The first father-son team to represent the Bronx in the Legislature, now the Espadas have the additional distinction of being the borough’s first father-son team of legislators to go to jail.
Mike Kink – Really, a case could be made for bestowing the dubious honor of “Loser of the Week” on any of the good government groups and activists who saw their efforts to enact statewide campaign finance reform once again go down in flames. That includes the deep-pocketed supporters of the effort, like Jonathan Soros and Sean Eldridge—the latter of whom could have really benefited from a victory as a credential in his bid to unseat Rep. Chris Gibson. But Kink, a former Senate Democratic staffer who is now the executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition, and 20 other protestors bore the most palpable brunt of the failed campaign, getting arrested for locking arms in front of Senate Coalition Co-Leader Jeff Klein’s office in a final act of despair after a long session of heartbreak.
Jeff Klein – This could well change today, but the Senate co-leader has received much of the ire from progressive groups for foot dragging on several items of the governor’s agenda. Fair elections activists staged a protest in front of his fourth floor Capitol office on Tuesday when it became clear public corruption would not pass, women’s rights groups said they would target him at the ballot box if the Senate would not vote on all 10 points of the Women’s Equality Agenda, and Democratic legislators grumbled that Klein’s disagreements with his co-leader, Dean Skelos, were to blame for a paltry agenda on Wednesday and Thursday. Klein could still come out of the session with significant victories on Friday, but he has already absorbed a lot of heat in a humid Albany June.
Tags: Bill Thompson, campaign finance reform, Capital Tonight, casino, Catskills, Central Park Conservancy, Chris Gibson, Dean Skelos, doug blonsky, Harvey Weisenberg, Jeff Klein, John Bonacic, Jonathan Soros, Liz Benjamin, Maggie Brooks, Merryl Tisch, Mike Kink, Monroe County, Pedro Espada, Pedro Gautier Espada, Preet Bharara, SAFE Act, Sean Eldridge, Shelly Silver, UFT, United Federation of Teachers, Vito Lopez, Women’s Equality Agenda