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Rob Astorino Calls For West Africa Flight Bans to Prevent Ebola

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 10:50

Rob Astorino speaks about Ebola today. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

While many elected officials have sought to downplay the actual risk of the deadly Ebola virus spreading in the United States today, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino today called for the Federal Aviation Administration to ban flights from West African nations to the United States.

“God help us if Ebola comes into New York because we were afraid to offend someone,” Mr. Astorino said near the United Nations building.

Mr. Astorino, the Republican candidate for governor, assailed the systems currently in place to stop Ebola’s spread from nations like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — noting that a Liberian man who is hospitalized with Ebola in Dallas simply lied on a paper questionnaire when he left the virus-stricken nation. He also pointed to airlines like British Airways and Air France, which have stopped flying to those nations, while the U.S. has declined to impose restrictions.

“That’s madness,” he said. “It defies common sense then that we would allow air travel form Ebola-stricken nations until airport screenings are guaranteed to be foolproof. So I therefore call on the FAA today to halt air travel between New York airports [and West Africa] until proper protocols are in place.”

But critics of a flight ban say it would hamper aid efforts in West Africa, where the spread of the virus has been spinning out of control and where health and hospital standards make it hard to contain the illness, which is spread through bodily fluids. Mr. Astorino argued that wouldn’t be the case.

“We should allow our healthcare workers, epidemiologists, to be over in West Africa and have safe return with the right protocols,” he said.

There are virtually no flights that travel directly from the United States to the West African nations most affected by Ebola — the man who brought the virus to Dallas connected in Brussels first. But when travel is booked on a single ticket through a connection, U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection can track that it originated in Liberia, according to the Washington Postallowing for increased screening, or, as Mr. Astorino favors, a ban.

But asked whether passengers — especially those who had been willing to lie about Ebola exposure — would simply travel to another nation first and then on to the U.S. on a separate ticket to skirt the ban, Mr. Astorino said West African flights heading not just to the U.S., but also to Europe, should be grounded.

“That’s where we’ve got to focus, internationally, our efforts on preventing the outbound flights from going to Europe and going to America, so it becomes a contagion,” he told the Observer. “I’m not concerned about political correctness. We shouldn’t worry about offending anyone right now, because if we worry about offending someone right now we’re going to have very possibly this spreading throughout the United States, and then wondering why it was allowed to happen.”

The FAA or the U.S. government would not be able to ground flights from West Africa to nations other than this one, of course. Asked if doing so would leave residents of West Africa feeling trapped, Mr. Astorino again reiterated that he’s not worried about offending anyone.

“I’m not concerned about offending or political correctness, I’m concerned about containing a virus that is spreading rapidly and is causing fear and could lead to panic,” Mr. Astorino told the Observer.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, asked about Mr. Astorino’s push to ban travel to West Africa, said he didn’t think it would work — citing those concerns about skirting the ban by flying elsewhere first.

“I don’t think it works mechanically to say, ‘shut off entry from any country,’ because what happens is you just fly to another country and you then you come in from that country,” Mr. Cuomo told reporters today. “So you can’t come in from Liberia. OK, so I’ll fly to Paris, I’ll come in from Paris.”

Mr. Astorino joins several Republicans, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, in calling for the flight restrictions, which the Centers for Disease Control has insisted would not be helpful.

This story has been update to include comment from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Colorado’s Governor Flipflops on Marijuana: Reckless, Not Reckless, Reckless Again

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 08:04

(Photo: Getty)

Colorado is a politically signficant and interesting state. A few months ago,The New York Times’ Frank Bruni described it as “a battleground and a bellweather.” It is the former because unlike other important states like California, there is still statewide political competition in Colorado. It is the latter because numerous key issues including immigration, environmental concerns and marijuana legalization have particularly acute bearing on Colorado. Colorado is also governed by John Hickenlooper, the kind of innovative, and even quirky, politician that seems to be much more common in the west than in the northeast.

Politics in Colorado are probably best known nationally because in 2012 it became one of two states (the other was Washington) to legalize recreational marijuana. Governor Hickenlooper opposed that initiative and remains concerned about the consequences of legalizing marijuana. During a recent debate with his Republican opponent Bob Beauprez, in a statement that was reminiscent of John Kerry being for the war before he was against it, Mr. Hickenlooper, spoke about Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana, “To a certain extent you could say it was reckless. I’m not saying it was reckless because I get quoted everywhere. But if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have done it. I opposed it from the very beginning. What the hell. I’ll say it was reckless.”

Governor Hickenlooper appeared to be confused about whether or not legalizing marijuana was reckless-unprecedented might have been a better word-but what he seemed to be really saying was that he was not sure what position on marijuana would most help him in a tough reelection campaign. The initiative passed in 2012 with 55% of the vote, but with a somewhat different electorate expected to vote in 2014, one that like 2010 will probably skew older, marijuana is complicated issue for Mr. Hickenlooper. Judging from that quote, it is clear that Mr. Hickenlooper has some reservations about legalizing marijuana, but it equally clear that he knows some of those reservations are unfounded. “To a certain extent you could say…I’m not saying it was,” are not the kids of phrases used by a man who has great confidence in what he is saying. They are also the words of somebody who is following, not leading, public opinion.

These comments by Governor Hickenlooper were made the evening after the Supreme Court ruled against appeals by Indiana, Virginia, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Utah to allow the banning of same sex marriage. That decision by the Supreme Court may not have formally marked the end of the marriage equality debate, but it came close. Ten years ago it was far from clear which side would win the fight for marriage equality. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision was a clear nod to the victor.

Marijuana legalization may be at a similar point. Reforms in laws regarding medical, and now recreational, use of marijuana are strong evidence as to what direction the marijuana debate is moving. Mr. Hickenlooper’s opposition to the legalization of marijuana is not new; and it is, at least to some extent, based in legitimate questions of governance. Nonetheless, Governor Hickenlooper’s opposition to legalization is largely a reflection of the time in which he came of age politically. Age replacement was a major engine behind public support for marriage equality and will likely have a similar effect on the debate around legalizing marijuana.

Democratic politicians like Mr. Hickenlooper struggle to find a position on marijuana that does not alienate either older voters who are more likely to oppose legalization or the many voters who cannot fathom why smoking pot is illegal. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has moved forward with legalizing medical marijuana, but has referred to legalizing the drug for recreational use as a “nonstarter.” That position is expected to be tested as legislation to legalize recreational marijuana is likely to be introduced in Albany next year. California’s Jerry Brown has raised more specific concerns about expanding his state’s legalization beyond medical use, posing the question “How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

At 56, Mr. Cuomo is the youngest of these three governors. The next generation of Democratic governors and politicians are likely to take a different view, reflecting the demographics of the changing electorate. According to a recent poll, 49% of Americans, and more than 50% of those younger than 65, support legalizing marijuana. Once the momentum for marriage equality grew strong enough the laws changed very quickly, almost leaving even progressive politicians behind. Marijuana legalization may be reaching a similar point. When that happens Mr. Hickenlooper’s current position will be the one that is politically reckless.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.

 

Letitia James, Charting a New Path for Public Advocate, Holds Her Fire at City Hall

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 23:24

Public Advocate Letitia James endorsing Congressman Charles Rangel in June. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Mark Green delighted in bloodying his knuckles against Rudolph Giuliani. Betsy Gotbaum shunned the spotlight as Michael Bloomberg threatened the existence of the very job she was elected to perform. Bill de Blasio yanked the spotlight back and used the post to springboard across Centre Street to City Hall.

Letitia James, the newest public advocate, is still carving out an identity nine months into her tenure as the first public advocate to serve with a mayor belonging to the same political party. A liberal Democrat like Mr. de Blasio, the public advocate-turned-mayor, Ms. James has not warred with City Hall like her predecessors, who were Democrats charged with serving as ombudsmen in the shadows of two imposing Republican mayors.

The idea of a public advocate not acting as a mayoral bête noire is a bit jarring to long-time observers of the office.

“I hope she’ll evolve and do more oversight of and investigations into city services and corporate misconduct rather than coming across like merely a vice president or deputy mayor,” said Mark Green, the city’s first public advocate and an endorser of one of Ms. James’ rivals last year.

As Comptroller Scott Stringer, yet another Democrat and self-identified progressive, appears to revel in tweaking City Hall at every turn, Ms. James’ reticence is raising eyebrows. A voluble, Bloomberg-bashing pol when she served in the City Council, Ms. James was strikingly mum as Mr. de Blasio drew criticism for placing a phone call to police after a top ally was arrested early this year. Months later, as Mr. Stringer hammered the mayor over his alleged tardiness in submitting prekindergarten contracts to him for review–the universal pre-K program is an unequivocal centerpiece of Mr. de Blasio’s agenda–Ms. James aggressively defended the mayor.

“I know they are dedicated to excellence: nothing less, nothing more than pure excellence,” she said in late August.

Ms. James, an attorney by trade, has chosen instead to hone in on a wide variety of fairly substantive pet issues that Mr. de Blasio ignored during his one term as public advocate. Though those close to Ms. James say she harbors many of the same mayoral ambitions as the once unknown Mr. de Blasio did, she will likely not be able to mount a viable run until 2021, when Mr. de Blasio is term-limited.

Barring unforeseen circumstances or a surprise re-election defeat, Ms. James is set to hold the post for eight years, which means she will have more time to burnish her reputation and move away from simply wielding the office as a blatant campaign tool–something Mr. de Blasio was accused of doing.

“Tish James has been an effective watchdog for working families across New York City. By strengthening the office’s policy, legal, and constituent services functions, she has helped improve the lives of New Yorkers — from school lunch for students to body cameras for NYPD officers to protections for subway riders — the work of the Public Advocate’s office has resulted in real change across our city,” said Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman for Ms. James.

****

The office of the public advocate was created in 1993 and is little understood by most New Yorkers two decades later. After the City Charter was revised in 1989 and the old Board of Estimate was eliminated, the City Council decided to rename one of the last vestiges of the Board, the City Council president, the public advocate.

By this time, the City Council had the newly-created speaker post, making the president’s role redundant. Some in the council argued the office should have been abolished altogether, a contention that Mr. Bloomberg revived again as Ms. Gotbaum, a Democrat, irked him.

The public advocate, the first in line of succession to the mayor, is bestowed with certain powers: she can introduce legislation, investigate agencies, sit on the city’s pension board and handle constituent complaints like a glorified council member. Callers to the office, aides say, are often the most desperate; usually they are people who have not been helped enough by their local lawmaker.

Compared to the mayor and comptroller’s offices, the public advocate’s budget is meager. Mr. de Blasio boosted Ms. James’ budget from $1.6 million budget up to to $2.3 million for this fiscal year, after Mr. Bloomberg had slashed it. The office still employs less than 40 people.

“The role of public advocate is pretty difficult to define and measure because the budget is so incredibly small. A lot of New Yorkers have expectations of what they want the public advocate to do but if you look at the number of staff, it’s amazing the office can actually run,” said Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University.

Ms. James, unlike Mr. de Blasio in his public advocate days, now presides over City Council meetings as a non-voting member. It’s not clear Mr. de Blasio ever wanted to–or was welcome to–preside in Christine Quinn’s City Council. The old speaker, an ally of Mr. Bloomberg’s, feuded with Mr. de Blasio and eventually lost to him in the 2013 mayoral race.

Ms. James at her inauguration with his Dasani Coates. (Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office)

Observers of the office say Mr. de Blasio wielded it as an effective bully pulpit but accomplished little in substantive change. He rarely introduced bills–Ms. James just passed one–and harped on national issues like the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, while also creating a popular list of the worst landlords in the city.

Those who worked for him at the time said Mr. de Blasio was a savvy opportunist, employing a robust press shop–future Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing was one top press secretary–that obsessed with trying to insert the public advocate into the headlines. Mr. de Blasio sent scores of critical letters to city agencies, proactively hunting for news coverage in a way that Ms. James has yet to do.

“During his term as public advocate, he was attracted to issues that drew the most publicity,” a former de Blasio aide recalled. “He understood reporters weren’t going to write about a public advocate being a cheerleader for an unpopular mayor.”

Mr. de Blasio always wanted Ms. James to prevail over her top rival last year, State Senator Daniel Squadron, sources say. Early on in the race Mr. de Blasio, then a candidate for mayor, even tried to persuade Reshma Saujani, a James opponent and staffer in Mr. de Blasio’s public advocate office, to drop out of the contest to clear a path for Ms. James. Ms. Saujani refused and eventually finished in third, reconciling with Ms. James and co-chairing her transition committee.

Along with then-Comptroller John Liu, Mr. de Blasio was a clear left-wing counterweight to Mr. Bloomberg during his last term. The ombudsman function of the office, some say, is not being embraced enough by Ms. James–even sympathetic Democrats privately question whether Ms. James, a colleague of Mr. de Blasio’s when they served in the City Council together, will ever be able to seriously act as a watchdog for Mr. de Blasio. (Aides point out Ms. James has challenged the mayor when needed, like when she reprimanded him for the cost of a security booth outside his now uninhabited Park Slope row house.)

Of course, it made perfect political sense for a liberal Democrat to play the foil to an increasingly unpopular billionaire centrist. Ms. James does not have it so easy.

“If you’re the public advocate and you have a lovebird relationship with mayor, what’s the point of the office?” groused one Democrat who backed Ms. James a year ago.

Those close to Ms. James argue that’s a simplistic way of looking at the position. They point to her championing, in the wake of a Staten Island man’s death in NYPD custody, the use of body cameras on police so all interactions with civilians can be recorded.

250 postal workers, partly in thanks to Ms. James’ advocacy, now have jobs again.

Aides also tout her efforts to successfully force the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to better educate riders and MTA personnel about sexual harassment on the subways and the mayor providing funding for free lunch for all middle school students, a program that was made possible by Ms. James’ relentless politicking.

“Tish didn’t just hold rallies. She made the policy case for expanding lunch access, worked through the nuances of federal funding formulas, pushed through the Department of Education bureaucracy, and won wide-support for the measure,” argued a source close to the public advocate.

****

Ms. James and Mr. de Blasio were colleagues in the City Council from 2004 through 2009, a crucial period when the two Democrats occupied a marginalized left flank in the council. The fellow Brooklynites, in addition to sharing similar political beliefs, rose to power with the aid of the Working Families Party, the labor and liberal activist-backed organization that swung the city’s political zeitgeist leftward.

Mr. de Blasio was a WFP founding father. Ms. James is still the only city elected official to win an election on the WFP line alone (the WFP cross-endorses Democratic candidates and then lends its vaunted get-out-the-vote operation to boost their chosen Democrat.)

Ms. James with Mr. de Blasio when they both served in the City Council. (Photo: Marc A. Hermann-Pool/Getty Images)

The circumstances behind Ms. James’ journey to elected office can seem almost mythical. Her predecessor, James Davis, was assassinated in the council chambers 11 years ago. The culprit was a political rival, Othniel Askew, who, according to Ms. James, visited her the night before he pulled out a .40 caliber pistol and killed Davis.

“The person who assassinated him visited me the night before,” Ms. James told the Observer last year. “Sat on my stoop and came into my home for two hours. He wanted to know whether or not I was going to run again, and if I was not, he wanted my support.”

Ms. James won a special election to replace Davis, representing a district neighboring Mr. de Blasio’s. While Ms. James has been a reliable ally of the mayor’s, a select number of progressives see her as the more pure member of their ranks. When developer Bruce Ratner sought to bring the Barclays Center to downtown Brooklyn and use the glittering arena as an anchor for a long-promised–and yet to be constructed–affordable housing development, Ms. James was an unflagging critic of the project, known as Atlantic Yards. Mr. de Blasio was a booster.

Mr. de Blasio, the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s first and successful U.S. Senate bid, is able to weave rather seamlessly between the world of the hard left that helped him climb the ranks of municipal politics and the centrist Democratic realm of the Clintons and Cuomos.

Ms. James, at least publicly, is not one to extend an olive branch to Democratic Party’s corporate-friendly wing. As elected officials like Mr. de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito rushed to loudly back Mr. Cuomo’s re-election bid against insurgent left-wing challenger Zephyr Teachout, Ms. James was silent.

When Ms. Teachout, a law professor, racked up far more votes than most pundits thought possible, Ms. James appeared pleased.

“I think he got the memo,” she said told the Observer last month. “Something tells me he got the memo, and something tells me he read it!”

****

Others in the city’s upstart liberal ranks want Ms. James to speak more forcefully, especially if Mr. de Blasio hedges too close to the center. When Eric Garner, a black Staten Island man, died in July after police placed him in a chokehold, Ms. James–now the highest-ranked African-American elected official in the city–did not lead the charge of critics decrying the alleged police brutality. Instead, she stuck to her even-keeled advocacy of body cameras.

“In terms of her role as the most prominent African-American woman in elected office citywide, folks want her to step up more on issues impacting low-income communities of color, post-Eric Garner,” explained a Democratic consultant. “People want to see her occupy the left flank and be there as a substantive voice of dissent when de Blasio drifts toward the center.”

Ms. James receiving the endorsement of the Queens Democratic Party last year. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

At times, it can seem like Ms. James is grasping for the signature issue or cause that will raise her profile. Aides point to her body camera advocacy, but it’s not apparent the public is associating her with the issue–Mr. de Blasio and his police commissioner, Bill Bratton, have long endorsed the idea, regardless of the pubic advocate’s prodding.

Her image, at least among some Democrats who have closely watched her ascent, is not always pristine. Even as she trounced four Democrats to win the public advocate’s race a year ago, insiders grumbled that she was not a disciplined enough campaigner.

Allies pleaded with Ms. James to spend more time on the phone raising money. She had a habit showing up late to campaign events. Ultimately, some familiar with her campaign argued she relied too much on powerful unions like 32BJ and 1199 SEIU to drag her across the finish line.

During and after the campaign, Ms. James had the peculiar habit of occasionally massaging the truth. After inquiries from the Observer and other news outlets, the New York Times revealed in January that Ms. James was not the source of their much-heralded series on a homeless Brooklyn girl named Dasani Coates. Ms. James had claimed as much, even parading around the girl and her family at her inauguration on New Year’s Day.

For reasons that are still unclear, Ms. James also lied about her true age. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2013 that she misled reporters for years, shaving off four years from her age: she was 54 in 2013, not 50.

And when the Observer confronted her this year about her endorsement of Councilman Fernando Cabrera’s campaign for State Senate, in light of his stark anti-gay views and the furious opposition to his candidacy, Ms. James offered a head-scratching explanation: she said she only endorsed Mr. Cabrera “on paper.”

The missteps, or oddities, may appear to be piling up. But at least one former public advocate believes Ms. James is using the office exactly how it was intended.

“I never wanted to be the municipal nag. I wanted to get things done,” Ms. Gotbaum, the former public advocate, said. Ms. Gotbaum endorsed Mr. Squadron a year ago and now heads a firm that fund-raises for Ms. James.

“I’m very optimistic about Tish. She’s okay.”

James Oddo Has Nothing to Say About Fellow Republican Michael Grimm

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 17:47

Staten Island Republican Borough President James Oddo (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

They may be members of the same party, but Borough President James Oddo declined to throw his weight behind Congressman Michael Grimm today.

Mr. Oddo has not endorsed Mr. Grimm (or Mr. Grimm’s Democratic opponent Domenic Recchia Jr.) in the tight congressional race, and declined to do so today when he, two other borough Republicans and Mayor Bill de Blasio were asked to weigh in on the race during an unrelated Staten Island press conference.

“I have no comment about the congressional race, but I am supporting Assemblyman Cusick for re-election,” Mr. Oddo said, referring to his controversial cross-party endorsement of popular Assemblyman Michael Cusick, a Democrat.

The borough president even held up a small lapel-sized button with Mr. Cusick’s name on it, for emphasis. Mr. Cusick is expected to handily win re-election against a lesser known GOP challenger, Joe Tirone.

“OK, curve ball,” Mr. de Blasio, who is backing Mr. Recchia, said. 

The question about the congressional race came after Mr. de Blasio announced that $28 million in federal Sandy relief dollars — allocated by Congress in a bill often touted by Mr. Grimm — would go to shoring up Staten Island University Hospital’s campus. Mr. Grimm, who was not present at the press conference, did not address Mr. Oddo’s comments but did tout that funding again.

“I am very pleased that my fellow elected officials are grateful for the federal funds that I fought so hard to secure and I’d like to once again thank my colleagues in Congress that supported the Sandy relief bill that delivered the grant that was celebrated today,” Mr. Grimm said in a statement the Observer.

Mr. Oddo’s snub of his fellow Republican should come as no surprise to watchers of Staten Island politics, where GOP in-fighting and feuding is not uncommon. While the two pols were never particularly close, they had a falling out over a particularly bitter primary battle for Mr. Oddo’s former City Council seat.

Mr. Grimm and his mentor, former Borough President Guy Molinari, backed Lisa Giovinazzo in her challenge to the eventual winner, Councilman Steven Matteo — Mr. Oddo’s former chief of staff and his chosen candidate in a race so acrimonious it fractured the borough’s Republican party, leading to the ouster of its chairman.

Mr. Oddo and Mr. Grimm have mostly declined to speak about each other — “I have a standing policy because there are only 24 hours in a day not to comment on that individual,” Mr. Oddo said back in April, at a Hurricane Sandy recovery event Mr. Grimm declined to attend.

Mr. Oddo has clashed more often, and more publicly, with Mr. Molinari, the congressman’s political godfather — who recently told the Staten Island Advance that Mr. Oddo’s endorsement of Mr. Cusick amounted to “playing footsie” with Democrats and promised to teach him “a lesson.” In a blistering response, Mr. Oddo told the Advance that Mr. Molinari, who once held both his seat in Borough Hall and Mr. Grimm’s in Congress, reminded him “who and what I never want to become.”

Mr. Grimm has declined to attend any Sandy events held or attended by the mayor — including one at Mr. Oddo’s Borough Hall office, leading Mr. Grimm to criticize Mr. Oddo for attending the event and Mr. Oddo to criticize Mr. Grimm for skipping it.

Other than the mayor, all the elected officials at today’s event were Republicans — Mr. Oddo, Council Minority Leader Vincent Ignizio, and Mr. Matteo — and none of them took the opportunity to stump for Mr. Grimm, at least during the press conference. Mr. Matteo, the winner of that divisive primary, didn’t step up to the microphone to take the open question. Mr. Ignizio, meanwhile, declined to talk politics at the bi-partisan affair.

“I just want to say this is a great day for Staten Island University Hospital, and I’m not going to get into politics with the mayor here, or with anyone else for that matter, at this event,” Mr. Ignizio said. 

But afterward, Mr. Ignizio reiterated his support for Mr. Grimm.

“I support Mike — I’ve supported him since he first ran,” Mr. Ignizio said.

Mr. de Blasio, not for the first time, offered full-throated support for Mr. Recchia.

“I think he will be a fantastic congressman, so I strongly encourage people to support Domenic Recchia,” he said.

This story has been updated with comment from Mr. Grimm.

Despite Questions, de Blasio Declares ‘Case Closed’ on Rachel Noerdlinger

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 16:02

Mayor Bill de Blasio at a Staten Island press conference today.

There may be plenty of lingering questions surrounding what Rachel Noerdlinger told the Department of Investigation about her relationship with an ex-con during her hiring, or her son’s injuries when she applied for a residency waiver — but Mayor Bill de Blasio is clearly tired of taking them.

“I think we’ve covered this issue very clearly. DOI did a review, there was no effort to deceive,” Mr. de Blasio said at an unrelated Staten Island press conference. “I have absolute faith in Rachel and her ability to serve the people of this city, and — case closed.”

Mr. de Blasio’s office said Friday a DOI investigation had found that Ms. Noerdlinger, chief of staff to first lady Chirlane McCray, failed to mention on a hiring questionnaire that she lived with Hassaun McFarlan, who has been convicted of killing a teenager as a young man and trafficking drugs more recently. But DOI found there was no “intention to deceive” in her actions, according to the mayor’s office, and Mr. de Blasio declined to take any disciplinary action against her.

Ms. Noerdlinger’s relationship with Mr. McFarlan was just one of many reasons she was under scrutiny over the last week. The Observer reported Ms. Noerdlinger had been hit with a $28,000 federal tax lien, and the New York Post reported that while she was granted a waiver to live in New Jersey because her son was badly injured in a car crash, the teenager was well enough to play high school football.

Mr. de Blasio was asked specifically whether he was concerned about statements Ms. Noerdlinger made to get her residency waiver, and once again defended her.

“No I’m not, and I think this whole notion, with all due respect to all of you and the job you have to do, this notion of let’s talk about people’s boyfriends, let’s talk about their children, it’s just going too far,” Mr. de Blasio, who has made his family a central part of his public persona, said.

But a reporter repeatedly pressed Mr. de Blasio, pointing out that Ms. Noerdlinger was granted the waiver because of her son.

“She got the waiver for a variety of reasons, and it was done appropriately. The point is, and let’s be honest about this, the way this public discourse is going, people are going more and more, in not just this case but in many other cases, into people’s boyfriends, girlfriends, children, aunts, uncles. This does not have to do a lot with public service — she’s a good public servant,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The reporter and Mr. de Blasio again briefly sparred over the waiver before Mr. de Blasio cut off the conversation.

“The point is she’s a good public servant and that’s what I respect,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Rangel Sizzles Sharpton With Bizarre Comment on Sanford Rubenstein Rape Case

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 15:21

Charles Rangel (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Congressman Charles Rangel today offered a strange assessment of the allegations that prominent civil rights attorney Sanford Rubenstein — who is representing the family of NYPD chokehold victim Eric Garner — raped an executive of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network following Mr. Sharpton’s 60th birthday party on October 1.

The Observer questioned Mr. Rangel — who has a historically troubled relationship with Mr. Sharpton — at the launch of an East Harlem jobs center about his stance on the controversy surrounding Rachel Noerdlinger. Ms. Noerdlinger, Chirlane McCray’s chief of staff and a former aide to Mr. Sharpton, has been in the spotlight after her ex-con boyfriend made numerous anti-police comments on social media.

After briefly dismissing the scrutiny around Ms. Noerdlinger, the congressman asked the Observer, “You want to get into the rape?”

“No victim, no face, some lawyer, no Sharpton, condoms!” Mr. Rangel said, chuckling, before a political aide ushered him away.

Mr. Rangel’s office did not immediately respond to a request to expand upon the remark.

The as-yet unnamed NAN executive, whose allegations were first reported by the Daily News this weekend, reportedly told police that she came out of a drunken stupor to find the 70-year-old Mr. Rubenstein, a former Rockland County legislator, penetrating her with an object inside his apartment. She told police that she found bloody condoms nearby on the floor the following morning, according to the New York Post.

Mr. Rubenstein, who has yet to be charged, is said to be maintaining his innocence, claiming the sexual contact was consensual. Mr. Sharpton has called both Mr. Rubenstein and his accuser “friends.”

On the topic of Ms. Noerdlinger, Mr. Rangel told the Observer that he did not see the reason for controversy, noting that the Department of Investigations chose not to penalize her for not mentioning her boyfriend or his criminal record.

“I never saw it in the first place, because it’s the mayor’s problem to decide who he vets and what the standard is, so no,” Mr. Rangel said. “There has been an investigation, she has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing, but one of her associates has said something against the police, and you want my opinion about what?”

Animal-Loving Michael Grimm Doesn’t Want to Ban Horse Carriages

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 12:19

Congressman Michael Grimm today. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

When it comes to Bill de Blasio’s priorities, Michael Grimm really is a neigh-sayer.

The Republican congressman, a noted animal lover who scored the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s endorsement last week, couldn’t bring himself to support the Democratic mayor’s vow to ban horse-drawn carriages, a pet cause of animal rights activists.

“I don’t think we should ban the carriages. The only thing we should mandate is that the horses are treated well and treated humanely,” Mr. Grimm told the Observer today at a campaign event outside the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

Mr. Grimm said Mr. de Blasio’s desire to put the horse carriages out to pasture is purely “political” and has nothing to do with the safety of the animals. “I think it was political. I think there were ulterior motives because they want those stable areas for development or whatever. I don’t think it has anything to do with the welfare of the animals,” he said.

“Generations have made their living [driving carriages.] People want to say all the right things about how they’re trying to grow the economy and create jobs, yet they’re trying to take away jobs left and right,” Mr. Grimm added.

While Mr. Grimm, a conservative Republican, has repeatedly blasted Mr. de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, and Domenic Recchia Jr., the Democrat challenging Mr. Grimm, the battle over the fate of the carriages has scattered ideological allegiances. The Working Families Party and the Teamsters union, representing the drivers, are fighting back against the ban: many progressives in the City Council are ambivalent about the mayor’s plan and what it will mean for the carriage driver jobs.

Mr. Grimm’s attack on Mr. de Blasio’s motives is also one that has been echoed in other political circles. Last year, the prominent animal rights group NYCLASS launched a game-changing independent expenditure against Mr. de Blasio’s top rival, Christine Quinn, and Mr. de Blasio earned the adoration of NYCLASS activists when he vowed on “day one” of his administration to take the carriages off city streets.

While the issue is inherently Manhattan-centric, polls show residents in the outer boroughs like the idea of keeping the horse carriages around. In Mr. Grimm’s re-election bid against Mr. Recchia, the issue of animal welfare has not been at the forefront, however.

Mr. de Blasio did not immediately return a request for comment.

Assembly Housing Chair Wright Wants Moratorium on Luxury Development

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 11:35

Keith Wright, right, with fellow Harlem lawmakers Raymond Rodriguez and Charles Rangel (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Manhattan Assemblyman Keith Wright–chairman of the Assembly’s Housing Committee–today backed Congressman Charles Rangel’s call for a moratorium on subsidized luxury development.

At an event in East Harlem celebrating the opening of a new jobs center, Mr. Rangel reiterated his longtime argument for an end to government assistance for upscale construction–an argument with which Mr. Wright said he agreed. In the past decade, the city and state have granted tax abatements and subsidies for luxury projects that included a percentage of units for middle class and poor New Yorkers, a policy the two pols both said needed to end.

“We’ve gone condo crazy, and certainly it’s destabilized a number of communities, and we need to look to re-stabilize our communities,” Mr. Wright, who represents swiftly gentrifying central Harlem, told the Observer. “We have too many luxury developments, there’s just too many, at least in communities that may not necessarily be able to afford them. I think the pendulum needs to swing in the other way. I think we need to look at putting in some more middle- and low-income housing in various parts of the city, especially in Manhattan, because Manhattan can’t just become the island of the rich.”

Mr. Wright, however, was hazier on the details of how to reconcile such a moratorium with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to construct and maintain 200,000 units of affordable housing, which hinges in part on re-zonings and outlays for upper-income construction that devotes 20 percent new units for low- and middle-income earners–a plan Mr. Wright said he was “very much in support of.”

The assemblyman did say, however, that he would push to reformulate the calculation of “area median income”–an average of earnings that is used to determine what constitutes “affordability.” The current metric incorporates the wages not just of residents of New York City, but of suburban Rockland and Westchester counties, which Mr. Wright argued skews the statistic unfairly upward in low-income neighborhoods.

“They throw the average so high that people in Harlem, people in East Harlem cannot in no manner, shape or form compete at that economic level,” Mr. Wright said. “Nobody can afford these luxury condominiums. I know I can’t.”

The assemblyman, however, noted that the calculus for AMI is set at the federal level and that resetting it would fall to Mr. Rangel, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other national players.

Mr. Wright said he would also seek to fund new low- and middle-income construction. He would not, however, commit to supporting Mr. de Blasio’s effort to repeal the Urstadt Law, a statute that leaves control of the city’s rent-regulated housing stock in the hands of the state.

“I’ll have to look at it,” said Mr. Wright, who added that he still resides in the rent-controlled apartment he grew up in.

Mr. Rangel, for his part, explicitly argued that the 80-20 ratio of market-rate to affordable units was inherently unfair for buildings that receive public money.

“We don’t need no damn luxury housing, it’s not an emergency, and this whole concept of 80-20, maybe for somebody else, but we don’t have schools where 80 percent of the students are already educated and 20 need help. We don’t have hospitals where 80 percent are well and others need care,” Mr. Rangel said. “What we need is affordable housing.”

Mr. Wright–along with several other state legislators–came under criticism last year after he sponsored a bill that created tax exemptions for luxury developers that donated to his campaign. The bill’s passage triggered an inquiry by the anti-corruption Moreland Commission.

During Month of Gaffes, Vice President Biden Says Something Brilliant

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 09:51

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Its been a busy few weeks for Vice President Joseph Biden.

On September 16th, Mr. Biden used the term “Shylock” to refer to banks and other loan agencies. Not surprisingly, this remark did not sit well with many Jewish organizations or individuals. A few days later, the Vice President apologized for what he referred to as a “poor choice of words.”

Last week at a speech at Harvard University, Mr. Biden, referring to the United Arab Emirates, stated “They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were [Jabhat] al-Nusra and al-Qaeda.” He also implied that foreign fighters had gotten into Syria through insufficiently protected Turkish borders. These statements were a candid expression of the Obama administration’s frustration with key regional allies, but most senior administration officials would not have stated it as plainly as the Vice President did. Predictably, within a few days Mr. Biden had to apologize to officials in the UAE and Turkey for his comments.

Biden made those remarks at a speech at Harvard University, where he also scolded former Defense Secretary and director of the CIA Leon Panetta for joining the ranks for former Obama administration officials who have written books critical of the president whom they had previously served. Mr. Biden referred to these books as “inappropriate.”

And buried in Biden’s staunch defense of President Obama was a line that beautifully and concisely sums up the foibles of American foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere: “We Americans think in every country in transition there’s a Thomas Jefferson hiding behind some rock, or a James Madison beyond one sand dune.”

Mr. Biden’s characterization of the U.S. view of the world was a not very veiled attack at the neoconservatives who were so influential in the previous administration, but it was also a criticism of fellow Democratic Party foreign policy heavyweights Mr. Panetta and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who faulted President Obama for not pursuing a sufficiently pro-active foreign policy. It also — perhaps in a moment of frustration, anger or simply loyalty to President Obama — revealed an insight into what Mr. Biden has seen in his decades working on foreign policy.

The remark is also a wonderful summary of the gestalt of how the American foreign policy establishment, and even the U.S. in general, views the rest of the world, and itself. In this line, Mr. Biden has captured the naiveté, but also the optimism, that has long characterized American foreign policy. The U.S. has, of course, spent too much time looking behind just one more rock or sand dune and believing that the latest political hack, or ambitious military leader to rise to the top is Afghanistan’s Jefferson, Iraq’s Madison or Pakistan’s George Washington.

Mr. Biden’s remark also reveals the arrogance of American foreign policy. By always looking for the next Jefferson or Madison we refuse to recognize that other countries may have other models or paths to follow, and that the American experience is not universal — a belief that may spring from good intentions and a generosity of spirit, but also reflects an unwillingness to accept real differences between people and countries. It is the political equivalent of believing that everybody everywhere can speak English if you just speak it loudly and slowly enough.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell

Domenic Recchia Portrayed as Circus Clown in Republican Mailer

Sun, 10/05/2014 - 19:31

The front side of the anti-Domenic Recchia mailer.

Send in the clown.

Democrat Domenic Recchia Jr. is portrayed as a circus clown in a scathing New York State Republican Party mailer, lambasted for his vote to raise property taxes and his support of a resolution to endorse a Bloomberg era congestion pricing plan.

“Which one of these clowns raised property taxes 18% and voted to hike our tolls eight dollars?” reads the text on the front side of the mailer. An image of a frowning Mr. Recchia, a former Brooklyn councilman, and a red-haired, red ball-holding clown appear next to the words.

On the back side, Mr. Recchia, who is trying to unseat Republican Congressman Michael Grimm, is shown wearing a red ball nose.

“This clown did. Domenic Recchia voted for the largest property tax increase in city history–over 18%. Then he voted to raise tolls for Brooklyn and Staten Island drivers by eight dollars,” the mailer reads on the back. “The last thing we need in Washington is another clown like Recchia.”

A spokesman for the State GOP did not disclose how much the mailer cost or how widely it was sent in the Staten Island and southern Brooklyn-based district–this piece ended up in a Brooklyn mailbox–but said residents had “every right to know” about Mr. Rechia’s votes. (The State Party also paid for another mailer that photoshopped a dunce cap on Mr. Recchia’s head.)

“Staten Island and Brooklyn’s hardworking taxpayers have every right to know that Domenic Recchia voted to raise their taxes in the City Council,” said David Laska, a spokesman for the State GOP. “The last thing we need in Congress is another Bill de Blasio liberal to rubberstamp every tax hike Nancy Pelosi tries to impose on the American people.”

The back side of the mailer.

Mr. Recchia has defended his property tax hike vote, in which he joined a majority of the council, as a necessary way to give the city revenue after the devastating September 11 attacks. The mailer’s wording, while accurate, is a bit deceptive: Mr. Recchia voted, also in the majority, to support a resolution endorsing former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial congestion pricing plan, not hike already existing tolls.

The Democrat-dominated State Assembly ultimately scuttled the plan to charge cars $8 and commercial trucks $21 to enter Manhattan below 86th Street, though the pricing scheme could have potentially allowed added revenue from new East River bridge tolls to make lowering the high tolls on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, connecting Staten Island to Brooklyn, more economically feasible. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state agency, determines how high tolls are on the Verrazano Bridge and Mr. Recchia, as a city councilman, had no direct say over how much tolls increased or decreased.

In response to the mailer, the Recchia camp called Mr. Grimm a “national laughing stock” for the 20-count indictment he will fight in court later this year.

“We’ve seen time and time again the level of desperation of Michael Grimm’s campaign, and this just reaffirms that,” said Sarah Weinstein, a spokeswoman for Mr. Recchia. “For an indicted congressman who is planning on being forced out of Congress and is most widely known as a national laughing stock and embarrassment to the people of this district, his weak attempt to distract voters from his poor record and legal troubles is laughable.”

De Blasio Backs Schneiderman For Re-election

Sun, 10/05/2014 - 14:00

Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (Observer File Photo)

Mayor Bill de Blasio today endorsed Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in his re-election bid against Republican challenger John Cahill.

The mayor announced his support for Mr. Schneiderman at the historic Bridge Street AME Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. At the lectern, Mr. de Blasio told the church’s black congregation about the launch of his universal pre-kindergarten plan and signing of a new executive order mandating higher wages at city-subsidized companies–peppering his speech with religious references, criticisms of the stop-and-frisk policing policy and expressions of sympathy for President Barack Obama and his struggles with the Republican-dominated Congress.

The mayor cited Mr. Schneiderman as a critical friend to his agenda in the state government, describing the massive settlements he negotiated from banks that bundled shaky mortgages during the 2008 financial crisis, and his efforts to force employers to pay back-wages to workers.

“He has been exemplary, I want people to understand how important it is, if you believe in the things that I have just laid out for here in New York City, if you’d like to see our federal government respond to all of us, if you want more leaders who shared these values and then acted on then, then pay attention to the leader you have right now in the state of New York right now, your Attorney General, because he has acted on those values each and every day,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Eric Schneiderman is a true ally of my administration, a true ally, someone we can depend on, someone we believe in, because every single time he will do what’s right and progressive.”

Mr. Schneiderman echoed the mayor’s emphasis on cooperation, as well as his biblical rhetoric–alluding repeatedly to the books of Genesis and Deuteronomy.

“Together we are admonished by God to pursue justice,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “It is our duty as Americans, as Christians and Jews, to always be in pursuit of equal justice under the law, and I’m proud to work with you.”

The state’s top lawyer also touted his multi-billion-dollar relief packages he had wrung from Bank of America and JP Morgan, his prosecution of under-paying employers and his effort to mandate background checks for purchases at gun shows.

“You have no stronger ally than me and the people in my office who think every day of how to make us safer and how to make us truly safe,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

Polls show Mr. Cahill–former chief-of-staff to Gov. George Pataki–trailing Mr. Schneiderman by 16 points among likely voters, making it the tightest of all the statewide races. The surveys indicate Mr. Schneiderman suffers from a lack of name recognition, though he leads his opponent by 71 points among black voters and 42 points among Latinos. Mr. de Blasio, meanwhile, enjoys a high approval rating among the city’s black and Latino voters.

Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Schneiderman spoke at the church on the same morning as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also seeking re-election, spoke at two separate churches in Jamaica and Brooklyn.

No Punishment For Noerdlinger For Omitting Ex-Con Boyfriend From Background Check

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 15:44

Rachel Noerdlinger with Rev. Al Sharpton and Chirlane McCray. (Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office)

Rachel Noerdlinger did not report living with Hassaun McFarlan on her Department of Investigation background check, a City Hall spokesman confirmed today — but will not be punished beyond a note in her personnel file.

“DOI has delivered to the Mayor’s Office the final results of its review, which is now complete.  The inquiry found that Ms. Noerdlinger failed to reveal on her DOI Background Questionnaire that Mr. Hassan resided with her. DOI found no evidence of intent to deceive the Mayor or City Hall,” Phil Walzak, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said. “Given these findings, and that City Hall takes seriously the importance of the DOI Background process and questionnaire, City Hall has noted this omission in Ms. Noerdlinger’s personnel file and believes no further punitive action is necessary.”

Ms. Noerdlinger, who earns $170,000 a year as chief of staff to First Lady Chirlane McCray, has been under scrutiny in recent weeks after a story in DNAinfo revealed Mr. McFarlan had been convicted of fatally shooting a teenager over a down jacket as a teen himself, and later charged as an adult with drug trafficking crimes.

Such relationships are typically reported during the hiring process, but reports emerged last night that Ms. Noerdlinger had not noted on her background check that she lived with Mr. McFarlan, which Mr. Walzak’s comments today confirm. When those stories first emerged last night, however, Mr. Walzak said the mayor’s office was unaware of any investigation into Ms. Noerdlinger.

Since the first DNAinfo story emerged, other publications have noted risqué online postings from Mr. McFarlan about sex and violence and Ms. Noerdlinger’s son’s Twitter posts bashing white people and police, and have raised questions about a waiver she received to continue living in New Jersey. The Observer reported yesterday that Ms. Noerdlinger was hit with a $28,000 federal tax lien.

The administration has stood by Ms. Noerdlinger, with Mr. de Blasio saying he had “full faith” in her and that she wasn’t responsible for her boyfriend’s words.

Astorino’s ‘Shelly Silver Express’ Will Troll Cuomo’s Campaign Bus Tour

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 12:39

Signage that will apparently appear on the “Shelly Silver Express.” (Photo: Astorino Campaign)

It’s not quite the Magic School Bus.

But Rob Astorino, the Republican taking on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is sending a “Shelly Silver Express” van to tailgate Mr. Cuomo’s bus tour through several upstate cities this Saturday. Mr. Astorino’s latest campaign ploy, meant to mock Cuomo ally Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for his handling of sexual harassment scandals among his legislators, also skewered Mr. Cuomo’s attempt to knock his record on women’s issues and belittle his socially conservative views.

“Sheldon Silver survived as Speaker because Andrew Cuomo protected him,” Mr. Astorino, the Westchester County executive, said.  “Mr. Cuomo showed zero regard for the victims of these sex crimes, choosing instead to prop up a political crony by burying an investigation — a habit that continues to this day. Mr. Cuomo needs to explain at every stop of his tour Saturday whether equality was extended to Mr. Silver’s victims.”

A van emblazoned with an arrow pointing at Mr. Cuomo’s “Women’s Equality Express” tour bus will tail Mr. Cuomo’s bus Saturday as he travels through Albany, Syracuse and Rochester, the Astorino campaign said. The sign on the van will read on both sides: “Ask Andrew Cuomo Why He Let Sheldon Silver Off The Hook In Albany Sex Assault Scandals.”

Mr. Astorino is referring to the controversies that embroiled Mr. Silver in 2012 when it was revealed that he quietly used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment suit against one of his most powerful lieutenants, former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. The scandal eventually forced Mr. Lopez to resign but Mr. Silver, still commanding the respect of his colleagues, emerged relatively unscathed.

While Mr. Astorino is hoping Mr. Silver’s troubles rub off on Mr. Cuomo, the Cuomo campaign has repeatedly bashed Mr. Astorino for opposing same-sex marriage and abortion. Through the creation of the Women’s Equality Party and a top surrogate, former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the Cuomo campaign is relentlessly portraying Mr. Astorino as a right-wing radical too far out of the political mainstream to be taken seriously.

Voters, at least according to polling on the race, seem to agree. Mr. Cuomo also boasts a significant fund-raising advantage.

Spokespersons for Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Silver did not immediately return requests for comment about the “Shelly Silver Express.”

Cuomo: ‘No Reason’ for New Yorkers to Fear Ebola

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 12:01

Liberian health workers handle the body of an Ebola victim (cPhoto: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo told radio listeners today that New Yorkers have no cause to fear an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging west Africa, even after a man in Dallas has been diagnosed with the disease.

Speaking on the Capitol Pressroom program, Mr. Cuomo said that his administration had held meetings with federal health officials to prepare for the contingency of an Ebola infection in New York City. He added, however, that there is no immediate cause for New Yorkers to break out in sweats and shakes.

“There is no reason whatsoever any New Yorker should have any concern, beyond a general concern,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The governor suggested the greatest chance for contamination with the virus–which can be transmitted in bodily fluids ranging from sweat to feces, and causes breakdown of the internal organs and bleeding from orifices–would be through an infected person passing through one of New York City’s airports.

“We are New York, and people travel through New York and through New York’s airports. We are an international center,” Mr. Cuomo said, adding that his administration has already taken pre-emptive steps to prevent an epidemic from breaking out.

The governor, however, did not provide any details as to what those steps are.

The governor’s assurances came almost simultaneously with the announcement that an individual is receiving treatment for a possible Ebola infection in Washington, D.C. The Dallas case, where the patient has been confirmed to have Ebola, involves a Liberian-born man who traveled through Washington to visit family in Texas —  officials in that state warn that he may have had contact with as many as 100 people before being quarantined.

An American freelancing as a cameraman for NBC News in Liberia, meanwhile, has also been confirmed to have Ebola — and the network will be flying him to the U.S. for treatment, as well as evacuating and quarantining its entire crew in the country, including Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

The virus has killed more than 3,300 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Guinea and Nigeria–the worst outbreak of the illness in history.

There was a brief scare in New York early in August, after a man who had recently visited west Africa was admitted to Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital exhibiting some symptoms of the disease. It, however, turned out to be a false alarm and the man tested negative for the virus.

Gabriela Rosa Weeps at Yearlong Prison Sentence For Marriage Fraud

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 11:51

Assemblywoman Gabriela Rosa. (Screengrab: NYS Assembly)

Former Assemblywoman Gabriela Rosa wept in a federal courthouse today after a judge sentenced to a year and a day in prison — and made no comment as her supporters tried to shield her from a mob of press waiting outside.

Ms. Rosa, a native of the Dominican Republic, pleaded guilty earlier this year to getting married in 1996 only in order to become an American citizen, lying to immigration officials about her reasons through 2005, as well as failing to disclose income and assets on a bankruptcy filing in 2011.

Supporters of Ms. Rosa, who resigned in June when the guilty plea was announced, joined her in court, including State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, and Ms. Rosa’s former boss, Assemblyman Herman (Denny) Farrell Jr. Mr. Farrell declined to comment on the sentence, but when Ms. Rosa walked out of the courtroom in tears, he shook his head sadly, and Ms. Rosa rested her head on his shoulder and wept.

After a brief trip to the clerk’s office, Ms. Rosa huddled with supporters again, as they assured her she had many friends who would ensure she would be OK. Finally, Ms. Rosa, who was the first Dominican-born woman elected to state office in New York, emerged outside to face a throng of television cameras that were significantly more aggressive than the print reporters who had been inside the courthouse with her.

Her supporters chanted that were standing behind Ms. Rosa, and tried to push back the press, particularly the cameras, away from her. One woman shouted at a camera man to respect Ms. Rosa and her supporters, adding “This is not a circus.” Another supporter used profanity in informing the camera-wielding reporters — some of whom represented Spanish-language outlets — that they were not in Mexico.

There was no car waiting for Ms. Rosa, and the crowded sidewalk scene stretched on as Ms. Rosa and her legal team refused to comment. Supporters resorted to shielding her from cameras by holding up papers to block her face, before finally trying to push through the mob scene to get Ms. Rosa into a cab hastily hailed off the street. Even then the press continued to follow, surrounding the car in the middle of the street — so her supporters attached what appeared to be a suit jacket to the back window of the taxi, blocking the view of the overwhelmed Ms. Rosa, as the yellow cab sped off from the crowd.

Former Assemblywoman Gabriela Rose, center right, is shielded by supporters as the media surrounds her outside court. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

The yearlong prison sentence comes after attorneys for Ms. Rosa had asked for probation in the case. Her legal team provided several character letters, including from elected officials, asking for leniency. And in her own letter to the judge, Ms. Rosa called her crime “the worst errors in judgement I have ever committed in my life.”

“My intention in getting involved in this offenses [sic] was related to my naive vision of creating an ideal situation for my family. I was following the American dream,” Ms. Rosa wrote.

In his sentencing memorandum requesting 12 to 18 months in prison time, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara argued that Ms. Rosa’s scheme was anything but naive — and to imply as such was also insulting to other immigrants.

“[T]he notion that the defendant’s crimes represented a naïve effort to pursue the ‘American Dream’ shows disrespect to those who pursue that dream through lawful means, or who struggle because they are not willing to lie and break the law to further their dreams. She chose to achieve her version of the American Dream by paying another person to help her perpetrate a fraud on a federal agency so that she not only could remain in the United States rather than return to her country of origin, where she reported being raised in middle-class circumstances, but could obtain citizenship, and the all of the rights and privileges associated with it,” Mr. Bharara wrote.

Steve Israel: Domenic Recchia Has ‘Momentum’ Against Michael Grimm

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 10:23

Congressman Steve Israel (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Congressman Steve Israel told radio listeners today that former Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr. has the clear “momentum” in his effort to oust Republican Congressman Michael Grimm.

Speaking on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, Mr. Israel, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, proclaimed that voters in Mr. Grimm’s southern Brooklyn and Staten Island district are moving away from him and toward Mr. Recchia. Mr. Israel alluded to internal polls showing the race is a dead-heat, after a Siena College/NY1 poll showed that Mr. Grimm led his rival by four points among likely voters.

“We’re very optimistic about that based on trends, we’ve got the momentum in that race, clearly,” Mr. Israel said.

The Long Island and Queens representative argued that voters are not necessarily turned off by Mr. Grimm’s 20-count federal indictment for hiring undocumented immigrants at a restaurant he owned prior to his election in 2010, as many may perceive it as politics-as-usual.

“The news of an indicted Congressman generally, people think of that, as ‘is that news, isn’t that what you do when you go to Congress?'” Mr. Israel said.

Mr. Israel argued, however, that many voters are increasingly repelled by the principle behind the indictment–that their congressman allegedly operated as though he were above the law.

“Voters are now more aware not that Mike Grimm had a 20 count indictment, but that he was playing by a different set of rules than the ones he set for his constituents,” said Mr. Israel. “That idea, because you are in politics you don’t have to play by the rules, you don’t have to pay your taxes, you don’t have to treat your workers fairly.”

This disaffection, Mr. Israel said, was making voters look for an alternative in Mr. Recchia–whom Mr. Israel characterized as a “tremendous fighter for the middle class.”

“The more the voters hear about that dissection, one set of rules for Mike Grimm, another for his constituents, the more they’re turning toward Domenic Recchia,” Mr. Israel said.

Mr. Grimm’s camp dismissed Mr. Israel’s remarks as little more than threadbare rhetoric.

“It’s time for Steve Israel to change the tired, broken record, and this latest attack once again proves that Recchia’s entire campaign boils down to slinging mud at Congressman Grimm,” said spokesman Nick Iacono. “The fact is, as more voters in Staten Island and Brooklyn find out that Recchia will carry the water for the radical liberal dream team of de Blasio, Al Sharpton, and Pelosi, the sooner they will send him packing.”

Updated to include Grimm campaign comment. 

Don’t Call Me ‘Spoiler': Ralph Nader Leaves a Voicemail

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 09:30

Hillary Clinton (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, Ralph Nader called the New York Times and left an earnest voicemail expressing his displeasure at the use of the word “spoiler” in an article that appeared over the weekend in that paper. Mr. Nader refers to the word “spoiler” as “a politically bigoted word,” and goes on to say that using that term “degrades an attempt…to give the process a higher level of competition.” Mr. Nader, once an icon of the progressive left, is since 2000 more frequently seen as the spoiler who cost Al Gore that year’s election.

Putting aside for the moment that both Mr. Nader and voicemails seem kind of quaint in the year 2015, and that Mr. Nader’s message, at first blush, seem to be a petty concern over semantics, the issues he raises are nonetheless interesting. The real question he addresses is that if any candidate other than a Republican, Democrat or independent candidate who enjoys de facto support from one of the major parties, is referred to pejoratively as a spoiler, is our political system inherently too limited with barriers to access too high.

That is a subjective question, but regardless of the answer, it seems the primary process is very important because that is where a breadth of views can be represented through numerous diverse candidates fighting it out for the nomination. What then does this tell us about 2016 and American democracy?

As it stands now, the 2016 general election will be between the winner of a very competitive

Ralph Nader. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

Republican primary vs. Hillary Clinton. Although in every presidential election cycle there is talk of a third party candidate, and we will probably hear some of this talk over the next 18 months, serious third party candidates rarely emerge. No third party candidate has gotten more than 10 percent of the vote since 1992; and no third party candidate has gotten even a single electoral vote since 1968. The chances of there being a strong third party candidate in 2016, inevitable kibitzing by bored pundits notwithstanding, is extremely small.

In 2008, a heavily favored Hillary Clinton lost the nomination to a candidate who was a virtual unknown as late as 2004. In that campaign, Clinton’s vulnerabilities as a candidate as well as the absence of a convincing rationale for her potential presidency were exposed. Ms. Clinton, and the powerful political machine around her are not going to let that happen in 2016 for the simple reason that there will not be a real Democratic primary in 2016. From a strategic angle this makes a lot of sense, but it also does not reflect well on the state of American democracy.

Ms. Clinton will be a strong candidate in 2016 and might be an excellent president, but she will also be the beneficiary of the best funded political machine and most well-known political family in the country, not in helping her win the primary, but in making sure there isn’t one. A democracy can either have a multi-party system or it can have genuinely competitive primaries, but if it has neither, there is a problem. This is the way presidential politics, at least one side, are looking as we head towards 2016.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.

 

 

Scott Stringer: ‘You Need to be a Counterweight to a Strong Mayoralty’

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 08:26

Comptroller Scott Stringer on NY1 last night. (Screengrab: NY1)

Comptroller Scott Stringer defended his recent verbal sparring with the mayor last night, pointing to the need for a comptroller to always counter a “strong mayoralty.”

“Part of this is the job I’m supposed to do,” Mr. Stringer said on NY1’s Inside City Hall. “That’s democracy. You need to be a counterweight to a strong mayoralty but you also have to work with that mayoralty and we’ve been able to do both.”

Mr. Stringer, a Democrat like Mayor Bill de Blasio, has warred with the mayor over the number of prekindergarten contracts sent to his office for approval and whether a recent executive order on a living law stripped Mr. Stringer’s oversight function. Mr. Stringer also graded many of Mr. de Blasio’s agencies poorly on their ability and effort to contract with minority and women-owned businesses.

The relatively wonky tussles revealed a growing rivalry between Mr. Stringer, a one-time candidate for mayor, and Mr. de Blasio. On NY1, Mr. Stringer happily pointed to a tweet from Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield that celebrated the back-and-forth.

“Putting aside merits of each individual argument, it’s actually good for democracy that @scottmstringer & @billdeblasio engage in back/forth,” Mr. Greenfield tweeted on October 1.

The mayor and comptroller view each other with increasing wariness, as did their predecessors Michael Bloomberg and John Liu. But while the fights between Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, and Mr. Liu, a liberal Democrat, were steeped in ideology, the Stringer-de Blasio battles are based in more technical concerns that frustrate each side.

After Mr. de Blasio issued an executive order strengthening the city’s living wage law, Mr. Stringer–a proud supporter of the pro-labor law–railed that Mr. de Blasio stripped his office of its oversight authority when it comes to the higher wage and new workers covered in the order, handing that power over to the mayor’s Department of Consumer Affairs. Mr. Stringer also criticized the nature of the executive order, complaining that it was signed in “the middle of the night.”

An indignant de Blasio administration insisted Mr. Stringer was wrong and the mayor had done nothing to weaken his oversight authority. Outside observers tended to agree with City Hall.

“This is an unseemly overreach. The order makes absolutely clear the Comptroller’s authority is in no way affected,” de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said on Wednesday. “It’s regrettable that without fully assessing the facts, the Comptroller would try to obstruct the City’s efforts to reach more New Yorkers with a living wage.”

On NY1, Mr. Stringer said he was striking a fine balance between collaborating with Mr. de Blasio on shared priorities and holding him accountable when needed.

“When we issued our arts education report, we were able to put a hundred more teachers in schools in central Brooklyn and the South Bronx. That’s collaboration,” Mr. Stringer said. “But you also have to be the auditor-in-chief and you have to letter grade agencies so you hold City Hall accountable to make sure that we deal with issue of income inequality by first looking at our own procurement policies.”

Replacing Eric Holder and Julia Pierson

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 06:38

Eric Holder. (Photo via Getty Images)

Julia Pierson wisely offered her resignation as director of the Secret Service this week.

Regardless of the extent to which Ms. Pierson was personally responsible for the extraordinary lapses in security on the part of the Secret Service in recent days, it was clear that somebody was going to be held accountable, and that as head of the Secret Service, she was the most logical choice. Ms. Pierson’s resignation is probably good for the White House, as the president can now focus on appointing a capable successor rather than asking her to resign. Joseph Clancy has been appointed acting director of the Secret Service, but he appears to be an interim appointment.

But choosing a successor to Ms. Pierson is only one of the key personnel decisions facing the president this week. The other, and far more important one, is the selection of a new attorney general. Wednesday evening, The Washington Post reported that the White House has created a four person short list to succeed Eric Holder, who recently announced his resignation. The list includes Solicitor General Donald Verelli, former Justice Department official Tony West, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and a woman who is reported to be either US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch or White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler.

Notably absent from that list are higher profile, and more politically visible, candidates like California Attorney General Kamala Harris and US Attorney for New York’s Southern District Preet Bahahara, both of whom had been previously mentioned as possible successor’s for Holder. Instead the list is comprised mostly of people with lower media profiles and more Washington experience than either Ms. Harris or Mr. Bahahara — perhaps for a reason.

“The wise thing politically is to get somebody who does not have a controversial profile,” Michael Barone, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said of the president’s AG pick.

Mr. Barone pointed at George W. Bush’s appointment of the “relatively non-controversial” Michael Mukasey as Attorney General in 2007 as a possible model for President Obama now.

The Obama administration also faces a difficult challenge regarding timing for nominating successors to Mr. Holder and Ms. Pierson. The President can either try to make the nominations soon, so as to have the confirmation hearings in a more Democratic Senate, or wait until after the election when there will be a possible Republican majority. The former approach means the hearings could damage Democratic chances in the November election, while the latter will make it harder for the administration to get their nominees confirmed quickly. Neither is a good option for the White House.

The need to replace Ms. Pierson and Mr. Holder could lead to two potentially high-profile Senate confirmation hearings that will allow Republicans opportunities to rehash issues like the alleged IRS scandal, NSA surveillance and recent failures of the Secret Service to successfully provide basic security for the President. Although the confirmation hearing for the new attorney general would usually be the more important and higher profile of the two, the confirmation of Ms. Pierson’s successor will also give Republicans in the Senate an opportunity to again highlight the mismanagement of the Secret Service.

Mr. Barone posed questions that could come up at a confirmation hearing: “The question I have about the Secret Service is, why do the Secret Service agents who were on duty in 2011 when shots were fired still have jobs? Why do the Secret Service agents who were in the elevator, who were on duty when the intruder invaded the White House on September 19th still have jobs?”

Despite the likelihood of Ms. Pierson being the fall person for all of this, further discussions of these failures will inevitably reflect poorly on the President.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.

New Grimm Ad Attacks de Blasio-Sharpton-Recchia ‘Liberal Dream Team’

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 15:30

A still from the add depicts Domenic Recchia as an ally of Bill de Blasio and Al Sharpton (Screengrab: Michael Grimm for Congress).

Congressman Michael Grimm’s campaign yesterday released a new web and television ad casting challenger Domenic Recchia, a former Brooklyn City Councilman, as a “puppet” to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Rev. Al Sharpton.

The 30-second spot splices fast-moving shots of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with smoky close-up footage of Mr. de Blasio, Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Recchia. The ad reiterated Mr. Grimm’s major campaign talking points: that Mr. Recchia’s voting record in the Council resembled Mr. de Blasio’s, that he supported raising fares on the Verrazano Bridge–which spans the southern Brooklyn-Staten Island district–and increasing property taxes and that he will back a supposed de Blasio administration plan to build new public housing on Staten Island.

“Domenic Recchia voted with Bill de Blasio 99 percent of the time, supporting higher taxes and more tolls,” the ad proclaims after a short voiceover from Mr. Grimm. “Now Recchia refuses to stand up to de Blasio’s plan to build government housing in our neighborhoods.”

The new ad, however, incorporates Mr. Sharpton into Mr. Grimm’s arsenal for the first time. It alleges that Mr. Recchia failed to condemn to the black leader’s abandoned plan to lead a march across the Verrazano Bridge in protest of Staten Islander Eric Garner’s death at the hands of police officers earlier this year.

“Like de Blasio, Recchia refused to stand up against Sharpton’s attempt to shut down the Verrazano Bridge protesting NYPD,” the ad declares, before showing headshots of Mr. de Blasio, Mr. Recchia and Mr. Sharpton arranged in a sort of unholy trinity. “The liberal dream team: de Blasio, Sharpton and Recchia. Domenic Recchia–he’ll always be their puppet.”

The Grimm campaign declined to disclose the size of the ad buy, though the team said the new piece’s run would be comparable to that of its previous attack spot, “Tax-Raising Machine.”

Mr. Grimm has received little support from national Republicans and has faced difficulty raising campaign cash since he was indicted in April on for allegedly hiring undocumented immigrants at a restaurant he owned prior to his 2010 election, and then allegedly lying about it to federal investigators. In the filing period that ended on July 15, Mr. Recchia raised more than 11 times the amount Mr. Grimm had raised.

But Mr. Grimm received a big boost this month when Main Street Partnership PAC, a labor-funded group aimed at re-electing moderate Republicans, earmarked $100,000 for field operations for Mr. Grimm.

And to pre-indictment fundraising, the candidates’ war chests were still comparable at the last filing date, as Mr. Recchia had $1.3 million on hand, and Mr. Grimm had just under $1.1 million–though the incumbent also had had more than $438,000 in outstanding legal fees.

The next filing date is on October 15.

Mr. Recchia’s camp dismissed the ad as a misleading smear–comparing it negatively to his own TV spots.

“Congressman Grimm’s deceitful and negative ad, highlights what a stark contrast there is in this election,” said spokeswoman Sarah Weinstein. “Domenic Recchia’s discusses his accomplishments for the people of this district and his vision for how he’s going to fight for working families in Congress. Michael Grimm’s uses distortions and lies to try and fear-monger. Nothing surprising from a desperate campaign trying to save itself from his 20-count federal indictment, including lying under oath, stealing from his workers, fraud, and failing to report over a million dollars in profit.”

Mr. Recchia has addressed some of the ad’s claims in the past.

After the Staten Island Republican Party sent an e-mail to supporters claiming Mr. Recchia favored public housing in the borough, Mr. Recchia initially proclaimed “we’re not going to build no affordable housing,” a statement he later backed away from. He also refrained from taking a stance on Mr. Sharpton’s march when Capital asked about it in August.

Read a transcript of Mr. Grimm’s latest ad:

I’m Michael Grimm, and I approved this message.

Domenic Recchia voted with Bill de Blasio 99 percent of the time, supporting higher taxes and more tolls. Now Recchia refuses to stand up to de Blasio’s plan to build government housing in our neighborhoods. Like de Blasio, Recchia refused to stand up against Sharpton’s attempt to shut down the Verrazano Bridge protesting NYPD.

The liberal dream team: de Blasio, Sharpton and Recchia. Domenic Recchia–he’ll always be their puppet.