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Domenic Recchia and Michael Grimm Clash Repeatedly in First Televised Debate

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 15:31

Congressional hopeful Domenic Recchia after the debate. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

It took all of four-and-a-half minutes for the two men vying to represent Staten Island and part of Brooklyn in Congress to start shouting at each other.

Congressman Michael Grimm, the Republican incumbent, said the Centers for Disease Control should have been better prepared for the spread of Ebola to the United States. His challenger, Democrat Domenic Recchia Jr., a former Brooklyn councilman, said that was Mr. Grimm’s fault, accusing him of cutting funding for hospital preparedness.

“That is simply not true,” Mr. Grimm responded during the WABC television debate filmed this afternoon.

“OK, you know what, you lied to the FBI, you lied to the U.S. attorney’s office,” Mr. Recchia began, kicking off the first of several verbal skirmishes in the 30 minute face-off.

Mr. Grimm — who is facing a 20-count indictment Mr. Recchia mentioned repeatedly, once tossing in for good measure Mr. Grimm’s televised threats to a NY1 reporter — said he’d never even been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (his former employer) or a U.S. Attorney (though he has at least been charged by the latter).

“I am not lying. You’re the one who is indicted for lying under oath,” Mr. Recchia insisted.

That set the tone for a debate in which Mr. Recchia sought to remind viewers that Mr. Grimm is slated for a trial in December and in which Mr. Grimm sought to capitalize on a number of embarrassing moments — highlighted in the Observer, on NY1 and most recently on the Daily Show — when Mr. Recchia was unable to answer specific questions about legislation. The moderator, Diana Williams, also quizzed Mr. Recchia on details.

Mr. Grimm insisted he could be effective despite the indictment — though he said he’d step down if he were found guilty — and pointed to his work passing legislation to lower flood insurance premiums.

“The flood insurance bill was passed before he was indicted — again he’s not being truthful,” Mr. Recchia said.

“Which bill are you talking about?” Ms. Williams asked.

“The one he’s talking about — the flood insurance bill,” Mr. Recchia said.

“What’s the name of that bill?” Ms. Williams asked.

“The bill that would lower premiums, okay,” Mr. Recchia said.

“The Biggert-Waters Act,” Ms. Williams said, legislation that originally hiked premiums which Mr. Grimm later helped amend to forestall hikes and lower premiums for now.

“Right,” Mr. Recchia said, “two years prior to that he voted to raise the premiums,” he began, but then, the momentum of that point was lost.

Congressman Michael Grimm in the WABC studios after the debate. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

Mr. Grimm himself asked Mr. Recchia for specifics as they discussed why the city’s Build it Back program has taken so long to help Hurricane Sandy victims. Mr. Recchia sought to blame Congress, citing the 80 days it took to get an aid package passed, while Mr. Grimm blamed the city government — which Mr. Recchia was part of — for not quickly getting the money into the hands of homeowners.

“Do you remember what the first tranche of money was? What was the first tranche the federal government gave? You were finance chair — how much money?” Mr. Grimm asked.

“You tell me, since you know so much,” Mr. Recchia shot back.

Mr. Grimm did: $1.8 billion, he said, of which only $300 million went to restoring the homes destroyed by the storm.

“We did what was best for the interests of the city of New York,” Mr. Recchia said.

“You did? $300 million. I don’t think that’s what was best, and that people are still waiting today because of that mistake,” Mr. Grimm said.

The two managed to spar again over tolls, with Mr. Grimm hitting Mr. Recchia for voting on a nonbinding resolution calling for the state legislature in Albany to pass a congestion pricing plan.

“I did not vote to raise the tolls. That is a complete lie, but then look where it’s coming from — you lied under oath, you’re indicted,” Mr. Recchia said.

“Did you vote for congestion pricing?” Mr. Grimm asked.

Finally, Ms. Williams cut in, almost as if she were interrupting two squabbling brothers: “The MTA handles the tolls.”

And so it went — Mr. Grimm attacking Mr. Recchia on Coney Island rezoning: “PBS did an entire documentary on how Domenic Recchia sold out Coney Island,” and Mr. Recchia shooting back: “Michael, you wish you could match my record. Your record is a 20-count criminal indictment.”

They even argued about who was more “Staten Island” — Mr. Recchia, who lives in Brooklyn but whose family lives in the borough and whose children were born there, or Mr. Grimm, who said he has lived there 21 years.

“But you lived in Queens before, until you decided to run,” Mr. Recchia said.

“I lived in Staten Island for the last 21 years. I’m obviously not 21 years-old, so obviously I lived somewhere else before the last 21 years,” Mr. Grimm said. “Before that I was also in the military, serving in combat, protecting this country.”

Mr. Recchia touted plans for a light rail, Mr. Grimm said it was something he should have done while in city government. Mr. Recchia said Mr. Grimm’s vote for sequestration in Washington had dried up funding: “Look at the damage you did, Michael!” he shouted.

After the debate — which seemed to feature more cross-talk than policy discussion — both candidates told reporters they’d won.

“It was what I expected from my opponent — he’s a one-trick pony,” Mr. Grimm said. “It’s the indictment and nothing else. He doesn’t have any substance.”

“I think I did extremely well and we got our message across today,” Mr. Recchia said. “This district deserves a congressman that could be effective, that could represent them, that they could be proud of. Michael Grimm is facing a 20-count criminal indictment. They need someone who can get results.”

But Mr. Recchia, perhaps destined to forever be pushed for details, was asked about whether he had trouble answering some of Ms. Williams’ questions — and whether he knew the name of that insurance legislation.

“Yeah,” he said, before at the very least mispronouncing it: “The Britton-Waters Bill.

Grimm Slams Recchia Over ‘No Minorities’ Claim

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 10:18

Congressman Michael Grimm and former Councilman Domenic Recchia at a recent debate (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Congressional hopeful Domenic Recchia Jr. accused Congressman Michael Grimm at a Democratic club meeting earlier this month of not hiring people of color — a claim Mr. Grimm shot down in a blistering rebuke.

The Observer obtained audio of Mr. Recchia, a Democrat and former Brooklyn councilman, addressing the Muslim Democratic Club of New York in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In the recording, Mr. Recchia can be heard promising to hire an Arab-American staffer, and claiming Mr. Grimm, a Republican, has no non-white people on his staff.

“My staff’s going to be made up of what the whole district’s made up of,” Mr. Recchia said, alluding to the diversity of Mr. Grimm’s Staten Island- and southern Brooklyn-spanning turf. “Michael Grimm does not have one minority on his staff, okay, okay. That’s going to change. Because what better way to reach out and work with the community when you have someone you can relate to. Like you said, someone that will pick up the phone, and even if she doesn’t answer, or he doesn’t answer, you know where that person lives.”

Club president Linda Sarsour, whose voice can also be heard on the clip, confirmed to the Observer that a remark like the one above was made at the club.

Mr. Grimm was swift to deny Mr. Recchia’s claim, noting that he has two Hispanic employees on his Staten Island staff–including special assistant Marc Alvarez, with whom he frequently appears in public–as well as a representative in his Brooklyn office of Hispanic and Caribbean heritage.

“It is nothing short of disgraceful that Domenic Recchia would choose to not only inject racial division into this campaign, but to bald-face lie about Congressman Grimm’s hard-working staff,” said spokesman Nick Iacono. “For Mr. Recchia’s information, one-third of Rep. Grimm’s district staff is made up of minority members of our community, so we call on him to immediately apologize for his shameful, ignorant remarks and his despicable attempt to mislead the people of this district with lies and racial animosity. This is exactly the type of toxic rhetoric that is degrading our political process, and the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn deserve better.”

Mr. Recchia’s camp declined to comment.

This is not the first time the contest between Mr. Grimm and Mr. Recchia, both white men, has taken on racial overtones. In July, Bill D’Ambrosio, the first vice chair of the Staten Island Republican Party, sent an e-mail to supporters claiming Mr. Recchia was counting on “Brooklyn housing project votes” to win the district and claimed the Democrat would work with Mayor Bill de Blasio to build low-income housing in Staten Island.

In response, Kings County Democratic Party chairman Frank Seddio and his Richmond County counterpart John Gulino released a joint statement accusing Mr. D’Ambrosio of “outrageous bigotry.”

Amazon Reviewers Despise Andrew Cuomo’s Memoir

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 09:58

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his Manhattan book signing on Wednesday. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

He’s a one-star political star.

Amazon reviewers are savaging Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new memoir en masse, overwhelmingly rating the political tome one star out of five–with one nasty reviewer even comparing it to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” Out of the 428 reviews posted as of this morning at 10:30 a.m., a startling 387 have slapped Mr. Cuomo’s book with a one-star review.

In one brief review titled “Should be called ‘Memoirs of a Tyrant,'” a reader said Mr. Cuomo’s memoir was suitable for “range fodder.”

“This book is only suitable for range fodder. No one should be interested in reading the memoirs of New York’s petty tyrant leader,” the reviewer wrote. “His real legacy is one of corruption, lies, and disregard for the civil rights of the people he was elected to serve. This book, like his governship [sic], will tank…”

Another reviewer wrote: “If you liked Mein Kampf, you’ll love this.”

“The life and times of Little Mario, from “Vote for Cuomo, not the Homo” to totally losing his s*** during his 2013 State of the State Address, finally closing with the realization he will never be President,” the review continued.

Amazon criticism for Mr. Cuomo and his memoir “All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Political Life” appeared to come more from the right than left. A one-star write-up all but copy and pasted Republican rival Rob Astorino’s campaign platform into a review, savaging the Democratic governor for his “failed policies and practices.”

“This work is a narcissistic apologetic review of failed policies and practices that might have helped him rise to Governor, but as Governor, lead the state as it slides to the bottom of the barrel,” the reviewer, who identified himself as Ken Barlow (also the name of a television character from a soap opera), wrote.

“The book doesn’t go into detail about why the Governor refuses to investigate Speaker Sheldon Silver’s use of public money to pay off a sexual harassment claim. Frankly, the book doesn’t go into any of the scandals currently smoldering in New York State, it merely is a historical hand job, ghost written and with possibly the worst cover photo in recent memory,” he added.

Several reviewers assailed Mr. Cuomo–a fiscal centrist who has alienated some liberals– as a “socialist.” A sizable chunk of the critical reviews seemed like they could have been written by Astorino campaign aides or volunteers.

“I’m shocked Amazon would sell this book while Cuomo is under investigation for corruption by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara,” wrote one one-star reviewer, referring to Mr. Cuomo’s controversial disbanding of an anti-corruption commission and the resulting federal investigation into the commission’s demise. “A better and more realistic cover photo would be Cuomo working the puppet strings of key NY Legislators while screaming orders at them.”

Another reviewer simply wrote, “Rob Astorino for Governor!”

Mr. Astorino’s camp denied they were fueling the Amazonian wrath.

“It happened organically, before we even knew about it,” said Astorino spokesman Bill O’Reilly. “I wrote one only after a couple of hundred were already on there. I haven’t looked in a couple of days.

Eleven five-star reviews–some of them ironic–did roll in for Mr. Cuomo’s book. One effusive reviewer called it a “thoughtful, honest and compelling memoir.”

Other recent political memoirs were treated more charitably. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s new book “Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World” boasts an average rating of four stars, though only 32 people bothered to review the much-hyped memoir. Even the memoir by the polarizing Christine Quinn, released during her failed bid for mayor last year, averaged four-and-a-half stars, though only three people reviewed the book.

The vitriol toward Mr. Cuomo is not confined to the internet. His book signing on Wednesday drew as many irate protesters as it did starry-eyed fans. Many people waiting in line oddly refused to speak to reporters about why they were there.

The memoir, released weeks before Mr. Cuomo faces re-election against Mr. Astorino and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, boosted Mr. Cuomo’s public profile. He sat down for a series of rare television interviews and interacted with voters in-person at a Manhattan Barnes and Noble.

Spokespersons for Mr. Cuomo and his publisher HarperCollins did not immediately return requests for comment.

Ebola and the Drunken Man’s Search

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 08:16

President Obama meeting with his Ebola response team. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

Following the news about the Ebola virus it sometimes feels like we are living in the first twenty minutes of a horror movie. A patient dies of the virus in a hospital as inadequate precautions are taken; one of the nurses from that hospital flies on a plane potentially infecting other passengers; the disease continues to ravage a faraway country, in this case Liberia; politicians call for travel bans, quarantines and other measures. The problem, however, is we don’t know which horror movie this is. Is it the one where thousands or more die because a highly contagious disease is not treated appropriately or is it the one where the population panics leading to a disturbing revelation about the callous and selfish nature of humanity?

The American response has ranged from the careful to the self-serving and headline grabbing. The Obama administration has thus far been cautious, eschewing a travel ban — partially out of a fear of overreacting and inciting panic and partially because a travel ban might lead some to try to sneak into the country and avoid screening altogether. The former point seems reasonable, but latter point would be more persuasive if not for the clear reality that many people are already trying to evade official scrutiny as they come into the U.S.. Yesterday, the administration raised the possibility of pointing an Ebola czar.This is Washington speak for appointing somebody who has been in Washington a long time to act slowly on whatever issue is the focus of the appointment. So today, former chief of staff to Al Gore and Joe Biden, Ron Klain — yes, the guy who will forever be etched in the minds of HBO subscribers as Kevin Spacey, who portrayed him in Recount — was chosen for that role. A very able administrator, Mr. Klain has no training in the containment of infectious disease — this might have been a better choice if we were infested with hanging chads.

More active responses include New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been harshly criticized by his opponent Rob Astorino for inaction on ebola, calling for random Ebola drills on the New York City subway because clearly New Yorkers need more stress on their commutes. Numerous Republican politicians, notably Speaker of the House John Boehner have called for flight bans from Liberia or West Africa more generally. Yesterday, former White House spokesperson Jay Carney joined the chorus of voices calling for flight bans.

The Obama administration has, to the surprise of nobody, come under criticism for acting too slowly and exercising too much caution. A few weeks before a major election, it is natural for political opponents to use Ebola as another way to attack a President who is reeling from a series of foreign policy crises. President Obama’s critics are not entirely to blame as the President’s slow and careful style may not be best suited to combating a virus like Ebola. However, slowing the media and the panic down may be precisely what we need. President Obama has long sought to be the country’s soother in chief. Now may be the moment when that is most needed. We just don’t know because we have only seen the first 20 minutes of this horror movie and aren’t sure whether we are watching Contagion or “The Shelter” episode of The Twilight Zone.

There is an element of the concern about Ebola that feels like a drunken man’s search-looking for keys he dropped not near the door where they are more likely to be, but under a streetlamp because the light is better there. Right now the light is shining more brightly on Ebola than on other health crises facing America such as gun violence, automobile accidents or even the flu. Sadly, regardless of how the Ebola crisis plays out, once it is over, many of those voices calling for a more robust response to Ebola now, will go back to ignoring all those other problems just beyond the light of the streetlamp.

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

In Chris Christie’s Absence, Bobby Jindal Boosts Rob Astorino

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 19:18

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino today. (Photo: Ross Baran)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of the many Republicans believed to be mulling a presidential bid, swooped into Manhattan today to bolster Rob Astorino’s long-shot campaign against Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Mr. Jindal was here despite the decision of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the chair of the Republican Governors Association, to not support Mr. Astorino against Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who remains a close ally of the New York governor’s.

“Chris is perfectly capable of speaking for himself. I’m here because I’ve been a long-time supporter of Rob’s. I know he’s going to do a great job as governor,” Mr. Jindal told the Observer in response to a question concerning Mr. Christie’s lack of interest in aiding Mr. Astorino.

“He’s a reform candidate with a proven track record, unlike President Obama who when he ran had no executive experience. Rob’s got a proven track record,” Mr. Jindal, the vice chair of the RGA, said.

A conservative star nationally, Mr. Jindal is also fund-raising for Mr. Astorino. The Westchester county executive still trails Mr. Cuomo in the polls and has far less cash in his campaign war chest. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another right-wing heavyweight, recently fund-raised for Mr. Astorino, and State Democrats have used the appearances of both governors to argue that Mr. Astorino is too far out of the political mainstream to be taken seriously.

More moderate Republicans, like Mr. Christie and State Senator Dean Skelos, the body’s co-majority leader, have been cool to Mr. Astorino’s unflagging brand of conservatism and his unlikelihood of defeating Mr. Cuomo. But Mr. Jindal–who took time at the Grand Central Station press conference to attack Mr. Cuomo and President Barack Obama’s handling of the Ebola crisis and Common Core–appeared convinced Mr. Astorino could pull off the upset.

“I think that New York is headed in the wrong direction. You see hundreds of thousands of people leaving the state. You’ve got an economy not growing as quickly as it could,” Mr. Jindal said. “You see many shortcomings and I think Rob will do a much better job, that’s why I’m here to support him.”

Andrew Cuomo Wouldn’t Be Surprised If Ebola Came to New York

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 14:51

Andrew Cuomo. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a series of measures this afternoon to counter the potential spread of the Ebola to New York State, telling reporters that he would also not be shocked if the virus came here.

Mr. Cuomo said hospital workers have been training to combat the Ebola threat–now confined to West Africa and Dallas, Texas–and will designate eight hospitals to handle any patients that appear in New York.

“Ebola is a frightening disease, no doubt,” Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said at a press conference in his Midtown office. “This is not the first time the world has dealt with Ebola.”

“Would I be surprised if a case did occur? No. This is New York,” he later told reporters, explaining that with the sheer number of people in the city and state, any breakout of the virus is a possibility.

But Mr. Cuomo repeatedly warned about the “semi-hysteria” surrounding the limited number of cases diagnosed in the U.S. and said the public should not panic.

“There’s no reason for undue anxiety, no reason for panic,” he said.

Mr. Cuomo appeared with a bevy of officials, including including Thomas Prendergast, the chair of Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Patrick Foye, the New York head of the Port Authority, and Dr. Howard Zucker, the state’s acting health commissioner. All officials said New York is exceedingly prepared for a potential Ebola outbreak, which is currently ravaging West Africa. Hospital, transportation and airport workers are being trained in proper Ebola-combating protocols, Mr. Cuomo said.

The eight hospitals that could house Ebola patients are: Mount Sinai Hosptial, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Bellevue Hospital, North Shore LIJ Health System, Upstate University Hospital, University of Rochchester Medical Center, Montefiore Hospital and Stony Brook Medical Center.

Ebola is not airborne but it is extremely contagious. Almost anything or anyone an Ebola patient comes into contact with must be aggressively decontaminated, as a struggling Dallas hospital has learned. In terms of the city’s subways, Mr. Prendergast said workers were ready to rapidly disinfect platforms or trains if someone fell ill with Ebola in the subway.

Mr. Cuomo said New York, unlike Texas, has the advantage of not being the first state to potentially have to wrangle with Ebola. He asserted that his administration was “learning from experience,” operating under the model of “better safe than sorry.”

Officials also dismissed an argument advanced by Mr. Cuomo’s Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, that flights coming from West Africa should be temporarily banned. Mr. Foye said that since no direct flights from West Africa and the U.S. exist–planes must go through Europe–the logic behind the contention is faulty.

“Ebola is a very serious disease, it’s nothing to trifle with which is what we are learning on a daily basis,” Mr. Cuomo said. “It’s a situation where how government performs actually matters.”

Cuomo Lavishes Praise on Legislature He Vows to Change

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 13:32

Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks to a business crowd on Wall Street (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared at a Wall Street press conference today that New York’s legislature was the best it had been in four decades–even as he reiterated his vow to help the Democrats take over the State Senate.

Shortly after accepting an “Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform” award from the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation–which Mr. Cuomo’s Secretary Larry Schwartz once called a “right-wing think tank” that manipulated data–the governor lavished praise on the current state legislature, which he credited with helping move New York State up in the Foundation’s corporate tax rankings from number 25 to number four out of all 50 states. The Foundation cited the simplification and streamlining of the tax code during Mr. Cuomo’s tenure as the reason for the prize and the upgrade–noting that the only states currently ranked higher than New York have no corporate taxes at all.

“It was the New York State legislature that passed four budgets on time, and they haven’t done that in 40 years,” said Mr. Cuomo, noting those budgets included the tax reductions and reforms that earned the state’s increased rating. “We have the most competent government in 40 years. Our government is running better than it has in decades and decades.”

Mr. Cuomo continued, noting that the most recent jobs report show that New York added 511,000 new positions, bringing the unemployment rate to 6.2 percent–the lowest since the recession began in 2008.

“Economically we’re having great news,” he said. “Basically this state is headed in the right direction.”

The governor has enjoyed a good relationship with Senate Republican Co-Majority Leader Dean Skelos and with Co-Majority Leader Jeffrey Klein of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference–which together have denied the mainline Democratic conference control of the body. Mr. Cuomo, however, promised to work for a Democratic State Senate in order to secure the endorsement of the Working Families Party and he brokered the tentative reunion of the two Democratic caucuses earlier this year.

The governor today reiterated the vow to help get members of his own party elected to the Senate even as he pointed to poll data showing one of the Democratic conference’s chief goals–taxpayer-financed elections–is unpopular among New Yorkers.

“We need to elect legislators who support public finance, that’s why it didn’t pass last time, that’s what I’m working to do these legislative elections. But it’s also communicating to the public at large, because the public at large doesn’t support public finance. It’s not that these legislators are totally disconnected from reality. The problem is that legislators are reflecting reality. And the people of the state don’t support public finance,” Mr. Cuomo said. “So we have to convince the people of the state first, we then have to elect legislators who support public finance, and that’s how we’re going to get it done. And I’m working very hard to do that.”

Mr. Cuomo also defended his acceptance of the Tax Foundation’s award despite Mr. Schwartz’s statement.

“There is no doubt that they are a conservative organization, there’s no doubt that they have, that they bring their philosophy to bear in making the determination. But we did bring down the tax rate,” he said.

Astorino Says de Blasio Measures Success By ‘How Many People Are on Welfare’

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 12:34

Rob Astorino today. (Photo: Lauren Draper)

Rob Astorino, the Republican candidate for governor, would be happy to place a Walmart in New York City and thinks the mayor only measures success by “how many people on welfare.”

Mr. Astorino, in a wide-ranging interview with the Observer’s editorial board today, slammed the progressive effort to keep the big box retailer out of the five boroughs.

“The whole bashing of Walmart coming into New York–give me a break,” Mr. Astorino, who is taking on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said. “Walmart is a good thing for these poor neighborhoods so people have choice in lower prices and job opportunities. But Cuomo being silent and not speaking up against some of the radicals led by de Blasio who are threatening and demanding that they don’t move in and come in–give me a break.”

The Westchester county executive then slapped Mr. de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, for how he allegedly defines success.

“Success shouldn’t be measured by how many people are on welfare, which I think de Blasio sees success as. That’s not success and I think Cuomo has made it easier for people to get on welfare,” Mr. Astorino fumed, adding that “our goal should be to get some off assistance” and that welfare recipients shouldn’t be “stigmatized.”

Mr. de Blasio and many city Democrats oppose Walmart for the consistently low wages it pays workers and its anti-union stance. Anti-Walmart rallies and protests are taking place today, with labor groups and elected officials joining hands to denounce the retailer.

Mr. de Blasio did not respond to Mr. Astorino’s specific charges, but said Walmart–still not operating in the five boroughs– would only hurt his fight against income inequality.

“We were sent here to fight inequality and raise the floor for working people,” said Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Mr. de Blasio. “That’s what we’re doing by expanding the living wage and paid sick days, and working to increase the minimum wage. Walmart’s practices have taken this country in the opposite direction.”

Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, called Mr. Astorino “out of touch.”

“This is no surprise coming from Rob Astorino, and it shows just how out of touch he is. What we need in New York City is good-paying sustainable jobs, not the low-wage jobs created by Walmart,” Mr. Appelbaum said.

NY1 Anchor Pat Kiernan Mad at The New York Times

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 11:20

This is what a really, really annoyed Pat Kiernan looks like. (Screenshot)

NY1 anchor Pat Kiernan took a stand against The New York Times this morning for failing to mention that NY1 hosted last night’s state comptroller debate in the paper’s coverage.

“I apologize for starting with a rant that has nothing to do with the viewers. But it’s happened more often than it should. Our NY1 political team puts a lot of effort into organizing debates, and they did the State Comptroller’s debate last night. We don’t do it because there’s a lot of money in debates. It’s a service to the city and the state,” Mr. Kiernan said in a preamble to his ‘In the Papers’ segment. “So it really annoys me, it really, really annoys me probably more than it should, when a particular newspaper prints a big story about our debate and then neglects to mention NY1. And it’s happened so many times with this particular newspaper.”

Mr. Kiernan, looking angrier than we have ever seen the genial Canadian anchor look, told viewers that as a result, he would not mention the paper of record by name.

“So this morning when I refer to the newspaper published in an Eighth Avenue office building, it will be up to you to figure out the omission and which newspaper it is,” Mr. Kiernan said. “We’ll start with a newspaper that is not published on Eighth Avenue,”said Mr. Kiernan, holding up a copy of the New York Post.

“Let’s move on to another one of the papers, the aforementioned paper that has its writers and editors based in a building on Eighth Avenue,” Mr. Kiernan said, before discussing the ebola coverage in The New York Times.

He then summarized several articles from said paper, but none that had to do with state or city politics.



Recchia, Despite Stumbles, Still Crushing Grimm in Cash Race

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 09:01

Domenic Recchia. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Domenic Recchia Jr. may have been lampooned on national television, but his fund-raising is still no laughing matter.

Mr. Recchia, a Democrat and former Brooklyn councilman, has $987,470 left in his coffers with less than three weeks to go before Election Day. That dwarfs Congressman Michael Grimm’s $625,000 cash on hand, which also includes $431,788 in debt from legal fees related to his April indictment.

In the latest filing period, covering several months, Mr. Recchia raised about $416,000 and Mr. Grimm pulled in approximately $88,000.

The filings come as little surprise to close watchers of the race. Mr. Recchia, supported by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has always been a strong fund-raiser and consistently raised the cash to blanket the airwaves with television advertisements attacking Mr. Grimm.

Mr. Grimm, on the other hand, is alienated from national Republicans and cannot keep pace with Mr. Recchia in the cash race. However, the ex-marine–due to be tried in December for mail and wire fraud charges related to his management of a Manhattan restaurant–boasts superior name recognition and appears more easy on the stump than Mr. Recchia. Many Democrats privately fret that Mr. Grimm, leading by four points in one recent nonpartisan poll, can pull of the win.

“All the money in the world won’t make a bit of difference when Staten Islanders and Brooklynites have a clear choice between Congressman Grimm, who has had their backs since day-one, and an ultra-liberal de Blasio puppet like Recchia whose votes to raise their property taxes and add more tolls on our bridges proves just how out-of-touch and opposed he is to the hardworking, middle class families of this district,” said Nick Iacono, a spokesman for Mr. Grimm.

Mr. Grimm’s small amount of donors almost all hail from the Brooklyn and Staten Island-based district. Donors include John Antoniello, the head of the Staten Island Republican Party, and the New York State Conservative Party. Mr. Recchia’s donors and expenditures are more heavyweight: he spent more than $200,000 on media buys and raked in cash from donors across the city and country. Along with the DCCC and ActBlue, a prominent Democratic political action committee, donors to Mr. Recchia include former Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., who heads up a prominent lobbying firm.

“The reports filed yesterday reflect exactly what we hear on ground every day. It comes as no surprise that people aren’t lining up to support Michael Grimm’s toxic campaign because people are sick and tired of having a representative who is under a 20-count federal indictment for lying under oath, stealing from his workers, and hiding over $1 million in profits from his failed business,” said Sarah Weinstein, a spokeswoman for Mr. Recchia.

Florida Candidates for Governor Bicker Over Fan and Show Contempt for Voters

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 08:16

Rick Scott at Tuesday’s debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Last night the opening moments of a debate between incumbent Florida Governor Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist featured an almost surreal contretemps about, of all things, a fan. The electric kind that blows air. The debate began with Mr. Crist, looking like somebody who had just found an envelope full of cash in a jacket he hadn’t worn in a few years, standing alone on a stage while moderator Elliott Rodriguez explained that because Mr. Crist had a small fan behind the podium, Governor Scott was refusing to take the stage. Eventually the Governor came on stage and the debate proceeded as planned.

Following the debate, both sides sought to spin the story to their advantage. Mr. Scott’s campaign manager sent an email to supporters saying, ”So, let’s get one thing clear: Rick Scott never refused to take the stage and debate. In fact, our campaign was not notified Charlie had even taken the stage because the last we heard, Crist was in an ‘emergency meeting’ with debate organizers pleading for his precious fan.” Mr. Crist’s supporters stuck with the original story and released a copy of the debate rules that included the handwritten clause “with understanding that the debate hosts will address any temperature issues with a fan if necessary.” The language there is not very ambiguous. That the sentence was scrawled under the signatures on an otherwise printed document was a little strange.

This incident makes Governor Scott look petty and Mr. Crist look tanned and smug, but it also is a good reminder of how removed so many politicians are from the concerns of their constituents. The question of whether or not Mr. Crist was allowed to have that fan is much less salient than the question of, for example, why, in a state like Florida that was battered by the recession of 2008 and is still trying to recover, anybody is debating the presence of a fan rather than real issues. The actions of both candidates indicated that minor conveniences and advantages in debates are the lens through which they see their roles as candidates.

There is almost no better way to communicate that you care more about yourself than voters than by refusing to take the stage over something as petty as the presence or absence of a fan. At first blush, Governor Scott looks like the most culpable, but Mr. Crist’s self-satisfied look while standing alone on the stage communicates a sense that he has outfoxed his opponents, but is hard to interpret as that of somebody who is more concerned with helping people than winning the election.

It is natural for politicians to seek every possible advantage — a sweaty looking Mr. Crist would have been good for Mr. Scott — and to try to shakeup their opponent, as both candidates in Florida did last night. However, when these efforts and the petulance around it prevents voters from the opportunity to hear the candidates debate, as it briefly did yesterday, it is the politicians who are acting irresponsibly. During every election season, we are surrounded by comments about how Americans don’t care about politics and are apathetic. As long as our politicians behave the way the candidates for Governor of Florida did last night, perhaps Americans can be forgiven for not having a great deal of faith in their politicians and the system that produces them.

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


Fed Up With Govt Misconduct, Federal Judge Takes Nuclear Option

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 20:45

Judge Morrison C. England Jr. ordered the entire judiciary recused from a case another judge called “egregious” and “reprehensible”

In perhaps the most stunning documentation yet of abuses by Eric Holder’s Justice Department, two former Assistant United States Attorneys spoke to defense attorneys and revealed appalling deceit and corruption of justice. This latest litigation time bomb has exploded from multi-million dollar litigation originally brought by the Department of Justice against Sierra Pacific based on allegations that the lumber company and related defendants were responsible for a wildfire that destroyed 65,000 acres in California.

In what was dubbed the “Moonlight Fire” case, the tables are now turned. The defendants have discovered new evidence and filed a stunning motion. The new evidence and disclosures are being taken seriously by the Chief Judge of the Eastern District of California—as they should be. In a shocking action, Judge Morrison C. England Jr. ordered the recusal of every federal judge in the Eastern District of California.

Sierra Pacific Industries and other defendants were compelled to pay $55 million to the United States over a period of five years and transfer 22,500 acres of land to settle massive litigation brought against them by the United States alleging that they caused a 2007 fire that destroyed 65,000 acres in California. Sierra Pacific has always maintained that the fire started elsewhere and that the state and federal investigators and Department attorneys lied. Now that settlement may go up in smoke because of the new evidence of outrageous misconduct by the federal prosecutors and the investigators from state and federal offices, as well as findings earlier this year by a state judge.

In an extraordinary development, Judge England, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, ordered the recusal of all the Eastern District judges from the case because of serious allegations that the Court itself was defrauded by the government in the original prosecution. To avoid any appearance of partiality, he has referred the case to Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski to appoint a judge from outside the Eastern District to handle the case going forward. Judge Kozinski has excoriated prosecutors for failing to meet their legal and ethical obligations.

The order notes that the defendants filed an action this week to set aside the $55 million settlement because, as the defendants allege, “the United States presented false evidence to the Defendants and the Court; advanced arguments to the Court premised on that false evidence; or, for which material evidence had been withheld, and obtaining court rulings based thereon; prepared key Moonlight Fire investigators for depositions, and allowed them to repeatedly give false testimony about the most important aspects of their investigation; and failed to disclose the facts and circumstances associated with the Moonlight Fire lead investigator’s direct financial interest in the outcome of the investigation arising from an illegal bank account that has since been exposed and terminated.”

The Sacramento Bee reported on the Defendant’s filing. Indeed, the Defendants’ motion informs us that a former Assistant United States Attorney came forward and disclosed that he believes that he was removed from the original prosecution by “his boss, David Shelledy, chief of the civil division in the United States Attorney’s office,” because he “rebuffed” pressure to “engage in unethical conduct as a lawyer.” Of course, like other former prosecutors who were unethical, Mr. Shelledy is to receive Attorney General Holder’s highest award for excellence—this week.

The defendants also reveal that another former federal prosecutor, Eric Overby, left the Moonlight Fire prosecution team also, stating: “It’s called the Department of Justice. It’s not called the Department of Revenue.” According to the motion, Mr. Overby told defense counsel that in his entire career, “I’ve never seen anything like this. Never.”

Well, sadly we have, and we’ve been reporting on it as fast as we can. This is part of a disturbing and rapidly increasing pattern of abuses by this Department of Justice to line government coffers or redistribute the wealth to its political allies—using its overwhelming litigation might and federal agencies as a tool of extortion and wealth redistribution.

The entire original prosecution against Sierra Pacific appears to have been driven by the Department of Justice’s interest in hitting a “deep pocket” for millions of dollars of revenue. The Defendants’ motion to set aside the settlement reveals a series of fraudulent acts by federal and state authorities that defiles our system of justice.

Dick Beckler, an attorney for the company who used to be at DOJ and is now with Bracewell Giuliani, told the Observer, “Sierra Pacific is looking forward to having its day in court and proving all the facts of the government’s fraud on the court.”

A California state judge, Leslie C. Nichols, in a related state case issued orders earlier this year describing what he called “egregious,” “pervasive,” and “reprehensible” abuses in the investigation and prosecution amounting to “government corruption.” He found the state case to “betray the primary purpose of the judicial system—to reveal the truth.” He awarded $32 million in fees and expenses to the Defendants, finding as the Sacramento Bee reports, that the state agency, Cal Fire, “withheld some documents, destroyed other evidence and ‘engaged in a systematic campaign of misdirection with the purpose of recovering money’ from Sierra Pacific.”

It’s encouraging to see Judge England join Judge Emmet G. Sullivan and Judge Bates, and others, as our Article III judges begin to demand that federal attorneys and agents follow the law and their oaths of office. But there remains a lot more work to do. It’s way past time to hold Holder accountable.

When will the next litigation time bomb and scandal explode on Mr. Holder and this administration? He can’t run fast enough.

This story has been updated to add comment from Sierra Pacific’s attorney.

Few Die-Hard Fans Turn Out For Andrew Cuomo’s Book Signing

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 19:20

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his book signing. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

The enthusiasm was curbed.

Despite a turnout of more than a hundred people, few waiting in line for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s book signing in Manhattan tonight appeared overwhelmingly excited about meeting the Democratic governor. Dozens of irate anti-fracking activists crowded the sidewalk outside the Barnes and Noble in Union Square and those inside either didn’t want to speak to reporters or were in line to deliver some kind of rebuke to Mr. Cuomo, who released a memoir weeks before Election Day.

“You want to keep letting him know what issues are important to people,” said Barbara Zellner, an HIV doctor from Hamilton Heights, Manhattan. Ms. Zellner, along with a friend, held up Mr. Cuomo’s memoir–titled “All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life”–with a “Ban Fracking Now” sticker slapped on the jacket.

“I admire the work he’s done with the stop AIDS campaign, but he hasn’t done any clemency for prisoners since he became governor,” she added, explaining another reason why she wasn’t pleased with Mr. Cuomo.

An anti-fracking protester wearing a Cuomo mask. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Six people in both the VIP and non-VIP lines inside the store refused to speak with the Observer. “We’re not the people you want to talk to,” two young men in suits clutching books said.

Ron Verni, a tour guide from Brooklyn, was at the book signing because he said he collected politician’s signatures.

“I have a presidential library at home,” Mr. Verni said. “I met Andrew Cuomo years ago, around 1990. He was just starting out–he was wearing a guinea t-shirt underneath his dress shirt.”

Allen Roskoff, the president of the Chelsea-based Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, was also in line to apparently antagonize the governor. The liberal activist, whose club recently snubbed Mr. Cuomo for his Green Party opponent Howie Hawkins, also fumed about Mr. Cuomo’s lack of clemency granted to prisoners since he was elected.

“He’s heartless,” Mr. Roskoff said.

Even when Mr. Cuomo drew praise, it was likely not the kind he was hunting for when he penned his memoir, a personal tale of his relationship with his father, his political rise and his messy divorce with Kerry Kennedy.

“He was on David Letterman last night. That’s pretty cool. He must be doing something right,” said actress Nadja Pionilla, referring to Mr. Cuomo’s recent David Letterman Show appearance. She claimed that she had thoroughly enjoyed the governor’s book.

“It was like fiction, sort of, like a novel,” she said. “It was informative.”

Mr. Cuomo signs a book for a fan. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

A few pols, like Congressman Joseph Crowley, the chair of the Democratic Party in Mr. Cuomo’s home borough of Queens, and ex-Queens Councilman James Gennaro showed up to see Mr. Cuomo. Once Mr. Cuomo started signing books, reporters craning from a roped off section to hear Mr. Cuomo’s comments caught mostly friendly exchanges–representatives from Barnes and Noble only permitted reporters and cameramen to witness Mr. Cuomo’s interactions with VIP attendees, hustling many of them out long before Cuomo antagonists could confront him on stage.

(After the book signing, a representative from HarperCollins, Mr. Cuomo’s publisher, emailed the Observer to argue that “enthusiasm” at the event was high as “countless students, small business owners, and others wait[ed] in line until 9pm until we wrapped up.”)

Mr. Cuomo delivered brief remarks, telling the audience that writing the book was the “hardest project” of his life. “It sounds easy, to sit down and write a book,” he said.

Channeling the cadence of a self-help speaker, Mr. Cuomo explained that setbacks like his 2002 gubernatorial defeat and his divorce were all emblematic of losses that winners like himself must endure.

“The truth is, you’re going to lose more than you win and winners are those that overcome loss,” he said.

Outside in the rain, affection for Mr. Cuomo was in short supply.

“Who’s there tonight?” one man, surveying the police and media presence, asked a reporter.

“Governor Andrew Cuomo,” the reporter told him.

The man shook his head angrily and walked away.

Updated with comment from HarperCollins

De Blasio on Noerdlinger: ‘Everyone Should Pay Their Parking Tickets’

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 16:20

Mayor Bill de Blasio, left, with Rachel Noerdlinger. (Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio today declared that his wife’s controversial chief-of-staff Rachel Noerdlinger should pay her outstanding parking tickets, even as he continued to defend her despite revelations that her boyfriend had a lengthy arrest record and had made anti-police comments on social media.

DNAinfo revealed yesterday that Ms. Noerdlinger, a former spokeswoman for Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, owes the city almost $900 for violating parking regulations in Manhattan and the Bronx. The story followed weeks of controversy after the news site reported that Ms. Noerdlinger’s live-in partner Hassaun McFarlan had served prison time for drug charges and manslaughter, and had repeatedly referred to NYPD officers as “pigs.”

Mr. de Blasio’s defense of Ms. Noerdlinger and refusal to fire her has inflamed existing tensions between the mayor and police unions over contract negotiations and reforms to contentious law enforcement tactics like stop-and-frisk. Mr. de Blasio–who has expressed exasperation over the ongoing media storm– conceded that his wife’s staffer was obligated to pay off the fees after a press conference at the Empire State Building, but argued it was hardly an uncommon offense.

“I know a lot of people who have had a lot of parking tickets, and everyone should pay their parking tickets,” he said.

However, he reiterated his defense of her service and his decision to retain her on the city payroll.

“I think it’s very clear, in everything I’ve said, that I have faith in her work as a public servant. She’s doing very good work for the city,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The Department of Investigation found no wrongdoing on Ms. Noerdlinger’s part for leaving her boyfriend’s rap sheet off of background check documents.

The tickets are not Ms. Noerdlinger’s only debt to society. Earlier this month, the Observer found that the Internal Revenue Service hit Ms. Noerdlinger with a $28,190 tax lien, for which City Hall said she had set up a payment plan.

De Blasio: Ebola ‘At Least’ as Big a Concern as Terror at D.C. Summit

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 15:14

Mayor Bill de Blasio, right, and First Lady Chirlane McCray today (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Mayor Bill de Blasio today revealed that the deadly virus Ebola featured just as much in his meetings with federal security chiefs yesterday as the threat of terrorism from the Islamic State and other hostile groups.

Speaking after an event at the Empire State Building, Mr. de Blasio said he met with Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and White House Counterterrorism Advisor Lisa Monaco. Mr. de Blasio said the conversations focused as much on the danger of Ebola–an organ-liquefying disease ravaging Africa which now has three victims inside the United States–as on the possibility of an Islamic State, or ISIS, assault on the city’s subways.

“The topic of Ebola is at the very top of the agenda. Every one as always is vigilant on the topic of terrorism, we’re always say we know we’re the number one target, and that was part center of every discussion as well. But Ebola is at least as central to the dialogue right now,” said Mr. de Blasio.

The mayor however repeated assurances that New York is braced for the possibility of an outbreak. He said the city Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control already had doctors standing by to address such a scenario.

“It is important that people understand that this is the focus of so much of the federal government and obviously so much of the city government. We are preparing in every way we can in the event that we have this challenge within our borders,” he said. “I want to emphasize that New York City is in a very high state of readiness, and I think the federal government is very satisfied with the kind of precautions we’ve put in place.”

Brooklyn DA Claims He Is Not Having Trouble Meeting With Bill de Blasio

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 11:15

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson today. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson today rejected a series of reports claiming that he, along with the four other borough district attorneys, was having difficultly setting up a meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

When the Observer asked Mr. Thompson if he had trouble trying to meet with the new Democratic mayor, Mr. Thompson smiled today and simply said “no.” Mr. Thompson did not elaborate.

The answer came at the end of a press conference where Mr. Thompson announced he would ask a judge to throw out the convictions of two men charged in a killing 29 years ago. Mr. Thompson railed against the “legacy of disgrace” that his predecessor, Charles Hynes, saddled him with when Mr. Thompson unseated the veteran prosecutor a year ago.

A couple of newspapers and NBC reported last week that Mr. de Blasio was blowing off meetings with the five district attorneys. Sources inside the offices complained to the news outlets that it was unprecedented for the mayor to not meet with them at all.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, not Mr. Thompson, requested a meeting on behalf of the district attorneys, according to the news outlets.

“It was surprising that we didn’t hear back from anybody,” a source in one of the offices told the Post. The source also said Mr. Thompson, along with Mr. Johnson and the Queens district attorney, attempted to set up one-on-one meetings with Mr. de Blasio and was “ignored.”

A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio told the news outlets he was “looking forward” to meeting with the district attorneys, though he did not publicly set a timetable.

Grimm Claims CDC Not Doing Enough to Fight Ebola

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 09:36

Congressman Michael Grimm (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Congressman Michael Grimm ripped the federal Center for Disease Control over its response to the Ebola epidemic in Africa and the recent cases of the disease in the United States, saying the agency should have reached out to him about the crisis.

“I don’t think that the federal government’s doing enough. I don’t think the CDC is doing enough. As evidenced by the fact that we have in this district, on the other side of the bridge, we have the largest Liberian population in the entire country. The entire country. And the fact that the CDC has not reached out to me, as the local federal elected that lives in that borough, tells me they’re not doing enough,” Mr. Grimm said at a Brooklyn candidates forum last night.

Mr. Grimm was referring to Staten Island’s “Little Liberia,” neighborhoods in Clifton and Park Hill believed to be home to the largest population of Liberians outside of Africa. The West African nation has borne the brunt of the Ebola crisis in Africa, and it was a Liberian citizen who brought the disease to Texas where it has now spread to two nurses.

“If they’re not there, in the largest community in the country, then where are they? So they haven’t done enough, I’m very concerned, I’ve tried to take a leadership role, but I’m limited as one U.S. Congressman into what I can do to pressure this administration, because sometimes it’s like hitting a brick wall,” Mr. Grimm, a Republican, said.

The CDC, an arm of the Obama administration that is run by a former New York City health commissioner, has been a frequent target of Republicans in recent weeks, with many calling for flight bans the CDC has argued could be counterproductive.

Mr. Grimm said he had met with a number of local Liberian leaders in Staten Island, one of whom told him that he had recently visited his native country and returned to the United States without going through any special check-up process. Mr. Grimm said he believed there should be thermal imaging cameras–which can pick out a person with elevated body temperature–at airports, and that flights to afflicted areas should be restricted.

“He wasn’t screened at all. And he just came from Liberia. So there’s no question about it, they’re not doing enough,” said Mr. Grimm, adding that he believed President Barack Obama and his advisors had underestimated the virus. “The protocols in place are inadequate, they’re not enough. And what we’re learning about Ebola every single day is more and more that what they originally told us, the CDC and the administration, is absolutely, it’s a lot worse. And it’s getting worse.”

Mr. Grimm–a former United States Marine–also expressed fear that the hundreds of military personnel being sent to Africa to help manage the crisis might not be sufficiently trained, noting that the Texas nurse who contracted the illness was supposed to be a specialist in infectious disease.

Nonetheless, Mr. Grimm warned that the spread of panic was worse than Ebola–and argued that the CDC had not instructed the public in how to differentiate the disease from more minor ailments.

“Panic is the worst thing in the world, we don’t want to panic. But as we approach flu season, as we know, the beginning stages of Ebola are identical, symptomatically, to the flu. We need to get ahead of this, we need to make sure people who come down with the common flu aren’t panic-stricken into thinking that they have Ebola. The only way to do that is through mass education, and I haven’t seen that from the CDC,” he said.

The CDC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘I Met a Japanese Foreign Exchange Student': Daily Show Savages Domenic Recchia

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 08:11

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart skewered Domenic Recchia last night. (Screengrab: Comedy Central)

He can’t even beat a “boy-breaking” congressman?

That’s the question Daily Show host Jon Stewart had last night for Domenic Recchia Jr., the Democrat taking on indicted Republican Congressman Michael Grimm. Mr. Stewart took time to skewer Mr. Grimm, who threatened to throw a NY1 reporter off a balcony, but saved his fire for the little-known Mr. Recchia, savaging the former councilman for a series of verbal flubs that have haunted him on the campaign trail.

Mr. Stewart’s segment on the race was dubbed: “Wait, How the F@#k Does That Happen?”

“If the seat wasn’t already Recchia’s for the asking, he also massively out fund-raised Grimm over the summer. So it was no surprise that in the most recent polling, Recchia was losing to the 20-count indictment, boy-breaking Grimm by four points!” Mr. Stewart said.

Mr. Stewart than played a clip of Mr. Recchia at an endorsement event with Senator Charles Schumer explaining that his “great” foreign policy expertise derived from running a student exchange program.

“Foreign policy what? I met a Japanese foreign exchange student, it’s all good,” Mr. Stewart said, imitating Mr. Recchia. He also pointed out that Mr. Schumer looked incredibly uncomfortable on camera.

“It’s not a good sign when even Chuck Schumer does not want to be on camera with you,” Mr. Stewart said. “Chuck Schumer. That’s a man who seeks out little red recording lights like a sunflower growing towards the sun.”

Mr. Stewart also dug up an infamous NY1 clip of Mr. Recchia failing to explain, after attending an organized labor event, what a proposed free-trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership actually entails (the agreement, similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement, would encompass the Asia-Pacific region). Mr. Stewart also mocked Mr. Recchia’s garbled response to a question about Mr. Grimm’s labor record.

Mr. Recchia said Mr. Grimm had a “44 percentage record” on labor.

“What, no, what are you talking about, labor, the labor place with the percents that they rate you,” Mr. Stewart imitated Mr. Recchia.

“So the Democrats are blowing this,” he added, dropping the Brooklyn accent.

Mr. Stewart underscored his grim view of the race for the 11th Congressional District at the close of the segment.

“Either way, I think we think can agree the real winner here is New York’s 11th, because whatever happens between now and November, one of these two gentleman is going to be representing you in Congress,” Mr. Stewart said, stifling a laugh.

View the full segment below:

Michael Grimm Claims He’ll Serve on Congressional Committee Again

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 07:06

Congressman Michael Grimm with aide and debate moderator Fran Vella-Marrone (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Congressman Michael Grimm said after a candidate forum in Brooklyn last night that if re-elected he fully expects to return to the Committee on Financial Services–the position Mr. Grimm, a Republican, resigned from in the wake of his 20-count federal indictment for allegedly hiring undocumented immigrants at a restaurant he owned prior to his 2010 election.

Asked what committee appointment he expected to receive, Mr. Grimm said that he believed his colleagues would again recognize his professed expertise in the matters of trade, housing and banking that the committee handles, and the special relevance money matters have to his Staten Island and southern Brooklyn turf. The speaker of the House appoints committee chairs, and the delegation internally determines who sits on them based on preferences and seniority.

“Financial services. I think it fits the district, I know the subject matter very well, so financial services,” Mr. Grimm told the Observer.

Mr. Grimm went so far as to say that the committee’s current leader, Texas Congressman Jeb Hensarling, had personally told him he was keeping a seat on the committee warm for him.

“In fact, the chairman has already said he’s holding my spot,” Mr. Grimm said.

Mr. Hensarling did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio noted that the House steering committee will decide which 30 Congress members will sit on the committee, and conference will vote on it at large.

“That process will apply here as it does with all members,” said spokesman Kevin Smith.

The national Republican Party backed away from Mr. Grimm following his indictment, causing most of the congressman’s fund-raising streams to dry up–though there have been indications that the party may be willing to come back out in support of him.

Mr. Grimm, however, said the involvement of the national GOP and Mr. Recchia’s superior donation drives are both irrelevant.

“It doesn’t matter at this point. We have the momentum going for us, our numbers have never been so solid. Listen, I got elected without their help and I’ll get re-elected without their help,” he said. “I think my opponent can have all the money in the world and it’s not going to make a difference, a hill of beans in this race. The bottom line is you still have to have a qualified candidate, money alone won’t do it.”

The forum–held by the Dyker Heights Civic Association, a local neighborhood organization–was intended to be a two-man showdown between Mr. Grimm and his Democratic rival Domenic Recchia Jr.. But the challenger decided not to attend the event, pointing out that the debate moderator and president of the civic group, Fran Vella-Marrone, works in Mr. Grimm’s Brooklyn office.

Documents obtained by the Observer indicate that Mr. Recchia was scheduled to spend the evening at a fund-raiser in Staten Island.

Mr. Grimm, however, noted that he had attended another Brooklyn debate with Mr. Recchia where the moderator was an active local Democrat who had been involved in protests outside his office. The incumbent claimed his opponent was in intensive preparation for a later televised debate in order to avoid the sort of gaffes that have marred his campaign.

“He’s a coward, bottom line. He always says ‘pick on someone your own size’–I’m standing right here,” Mr. Grimm said.

For her part, Ms. Vella-Marrone pointed out that the Dyker Civic debates pre-date her birth, and that her involvement in the organization pre-dates her work for Mr. Grimm. She pointed out that local Democratic Councilman Vincent Gentile has participated in the debates for more than a decade.

“Councilman Gentile, he’s the one that’s debated here more times than anybody else. I think he and anyone else would say that I’m absolutely 100 percent fair, and that when I’m up here I’m president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association and that’s all,” Ms. Vella-Marrone told the crowd.

Mr. Gentile said he had always found Ms. Vella-Marrone fair, but added that he understood Mr. Recchia’s concerns.

“I have had many sessions here, debates here, and during the debates she has given me equal time. I don’t know what happened with the discussions this time around, I haven’t had a chance to ask, but the fact is her boss is running should be a concern to those who have not experienced this before, have not experienced this process before,” Mr. Gentile said, noting that a large number of active local Republicans were in the crowd. “This is a rally for Michael Grimm.”

James Kemmerer, the Democratic challenger to local Republican Senator Martin Golden, participated in last night’s debate, as did Democratic Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny.

Mr. Recchia’s camp attacked Mr. Grimm’s remarks as tired macho-man posing–the same that the incumbent exhibited when he threatened to throw NY1 reporter Michael Scotto over a balcony in the House of Representatives.

“Well it’s not surprising that Michael Grimm can’t seem to give up his bullying tough-guy routine– although it’s refreshing that he’s not directing his threats at the press this time. But, no amount of schoolyard taunting makes it appropriate to have a paid member of your staff moderate a debate,” said spokeswoman Sarah Weinstein. “Domenic has already debated Michael Grimm once and will gladly compare their records again in the upcoming four scheduled debates. Michael Grimm should stop wasting his time and save the tough guy act for when he’ll need it behind bars.”

Updated to clarify how Congress members obtain committee posts, to include comment from Mr. Boehner’s office, and from the Recchia campaign. 

Blame the Media: Bill de Blasio Waits For Noerdlinger Bad News to Blow Over

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 22:10

Chirlane McCray, the mayor’s wife (right), with Rachel Noerdlinger (center). (Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio, despite decades spent in the grit of municipal politics, often appears frustrated by a news cycle that doesn’t quite spin the way he thinks it should. The liberal mayor has increasingly struck a tone somewhere between indignation and ennui when confronted by media questions he’d rather not answer: Are you guys really still harping on that?

The latest instance was on Monday, when reporters rained on Mr. de Blasio’s Columbus Day Parade by asking him once more about his wife’s chief of staff living with a convicted felon.

“I have absolute faith in Rachel. She is a fine public servant. She is helping to move the agenda we were sent here to work on,” Mr. de Blasio told a scrum of press at the end of the parade, after aides insisted he would not take questions. “I think we’ve talked enough about this. We’ve explained all the situations. It’s time to move forward.”

Rachel Noerdlinger, as DNAinfo first reported weeks ago, is living with a boyfriend who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and had several other run-ins with the law, including an instance where he was caught with Ms. Noerdlinger and her son in a car reeking of weed. Ms. Noerdlinger, a former top aide to Rev. Al Sharpton, has come under scrutiny for not reporting her boyfriend’s checkered past on Department of Investigation forms when the mayor hired her and, as the Observer reported, living in a New Jersey home that the federal government slapped with a $28,000 lien.

The firestorm around Ms. Noerdlinger has not moved Mr. de Blasio’s inner circle, who see her as an able aide victimized by a tabloid-fueled kerfluffle and furious, race-baiting police unions. This past Sunday, the Post ran a cover with Mr. de Blasio’s eyes closed and photoshopped fingers jammed into his ears. The Daily News called for him to sack Ms. Noerdlinger. The Times, in a news analysis, knocked the mayor for his lack of transparency and declaring questions about her irrelevant.

In an interview with the Observer, an administration official said that none of this would matter long-term. “It’s a classic New York City tabloid cycle. You have a variety of high-profile folks predisposed to fight: police unions, Rev. Sharpton and so, in many ways, Rachel is caught up in all that,” the administration said, insisting there were no plans to fire Ms. Noerdlinger. “There will be times when the media market fixates on a story for a week or so. But what does the mayor ultimately get judged on? He gets judged on education and the implementation of pre-K; he gets judged on public safety.”

The Noerdlinger affair is a proxy war on several levels. One is the white cop union leaders versus City Hall, where their old enemy Mr. Sharpton now holds great sway as the mayor seeks to remain popular with African-American voters. A second is the mayor digging in his heels to defend Chirlane McCray, his wife, who prizes Ms. Noerdlinger.

“This is all a proxy for Chirlane, for Sharpton,” one close City Hall watcher argued. “It’s a mangled web. You abandon Noerdlinger, you abandon your wife and Sharpton. It’s just not gonna happen.”

Mr. de Blasio had no problem abandoning another aide when her boyfriend courted scandal, a contradiction the mayor has so far not acknowledged. Almost a year ago, he did not give his campaign press secretary a promised job in City Hall after the tabloids reported she was dating the prostitute-soliciting former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

But Ms. Noerdlinger is far more embedded in de Blasioworld than Lis Smith ever was. When a black Staten Island man died in police custody this summer and Mr. de Blasio’s minority base didn’t revolt, City Hall credited Ms. Noerdlinger with deftly managing a potential crisis. The mayor’s loyalty to her outweighs the barrage of lousy headlines.

“This mayor, from what we’ve seen, is loyal,” said Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “I think he takes these people who supported him behind-the-scenes very seriously. He looks at the work Rachel has done and sees her as highly qualified.”

Even while the mayor can come off as aloof, his administration prefers to take a long view toward crises: ignoring the ephemeral flare-ups and focusing on the big picture goals, like affordable housing and prekindergarten programs. And his re-election in 2017.

“Michael Bloomberg by most accounts had a very testy relationship with the media,” the de Blasio administration official said, “and was able to win three elections in New York City.”