Robach – A Most Wanted Senator

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(Ed. note – a CRX was made about four hours after original post to more accurately reflect what NY EdPac is advocating to do…. MC)

Joe Robach has made a "most wanted" list.

But I don’t think the state Senator from our neck of the woods is shaking in his boots over being targeted like this.

"If an outside group wants to work for something to drive money to New York City…. well, that’s fine," said Robach, about the effort by the New York City based group called NY EdPac.

NY EdPac is gunning for Republican state Senators who fail to embrace an Assembly bill that would increase spending for needier school districts around the state by around $8.6 billion (an amount to be phased in over four years). It’s a funding plan backed by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, yet another group in this mix. You may know this one because they filed the lawsuit against the state that argued that NYC schools were being shortchanged under the current Albany funding formula. The court agreed. The Assembly bill that came after the ruling tries to deal with revamping the education funding across the state to make sure that funding dollars are more equitably distributed.

But the thing is that the state government has failed to act since the court order, which is now under appeal. Gov. George Pataki has dragged his feet. The legislature hasn’t moved either.

So enter NY EdPac. This group – led by two political consultants who previously aided Senate Democrats in 2004 – went the publicity route in hopes of putting GOP state senators on the hot seat. The idea, said Jonathan Rosen, one of the consultants, is to get at the most vulnerable… or, as he put it, the political margins. Republicans in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Joe Bruno, are worried about their status as the majority party in that house. So NY EdPac strikes at senators in districts where the turf has a decided Democratic tinge.

Many of the targets are downstate Senators. And in this context, those senators could be vulnerable. Robach is among a group of upstate senators. This is harder to fathom.

It’s true that he’s in a district that has many Democratic-enrolled voters, so you would think that Robach might be nervous by the challenge. But remember a few things here – Robach is not your typical Republican. He’s the son of a former conservative Democrat Assemblyman, and a popular one, Roger Robach. He, himself, was a conservative Democrat Assemblyman who flipped parties back in 2002 and ran for the Senate as a Republican. And the last time that Robach ran for the Senate (against a Democrat named Bob Ertischek), he was supported by Democrats including then Mayor Bill Johnson and former Democratic Party Chairs Fran Weisberg and Nate Robfogel.

Rosen of NY EdPAC is clear… the organization will spend money on "educating the public" on the CFE school funding issue. And eventually it will spend money to directly challenge some of the targeted Senators. But not all. A viable challenger needs to emerge before the money gets funneled to a specific district. Talk to local Democrats now and they’ll say that they are still in the recruiting phase for this race. But ask them whether they see Robach as particularly vulnerable and they’ll say… not without some outside funding help. Will that change if there is NY EdPac money being dangled in front of them? It would have to be a lot.

Senate Republicans have already taken to dismissing the NY EdPac challenge, calling it partisan and political. They point to the involvement of Rosen and his partner, Valerie Berlin, who once ran Senate Democrat campaigns. Rosen points to the funder of NY EdPac, the Leeds family of Long Island. According to the website PoliticalMoneyLine – Daniel Leeds, the Chair of the League of Education Voters of America registered a new Section 527 organization, the League of Education Voters Political Account. The purpose is “Improving America’s educational system by participating in the political process.”

Rosen said that the Leeds family would target Democrats as well as Republicans to get the state Legislature to make good on the court order.

Opposition to the court order is loud as well. Just listen to John Faso, who is running for governor, talk about how he would defy the court order because the state simply doesn’t have the money.

And Robach said the Senate has already pushed an idea that would create more money for needy school districts around the state, not just New York City as the court order mandates. It’s called the LEARN act, proposed originally in 2004, which would need money from sources such as an expansion of video lottery terminals. This act got bogged down in the overall discussion about changing school funding. And those in the NY EdPac camp say that the solution is inadequate.

Robach said the problem with the court order – where is the money to pay for such a large increase in spending? Rosen points to the $2 billion surplus that New York leaders have announced.

As for Robach being a political target – well, without a real and credible candidate emerging… it’s easy to see him being chopped off that most wanted list. Not that it would matter to him one way or another.

John Faso: On Fiscal Promiscuity and Quoting Moynihan

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Former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso has a penchant for peppering his interviews with phrases like "fiscally promiscuous" and quoting Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. (The Republican, Faso, is  next in a series of interviews for Rochester’s public television news magazine, Need to Know).

Faso joined Patrick Manning, a rival for the Republican and Conservative nod, on his willingness to exempt Upstate New York from laws that business leaders say are stifling business…. that’s the Wicks Law, the Scaffold Law and the like. This will make Rochester Business Alliance President Sandy Parker happy. But those who work in the building trades will be far less excited.

Faso bats away the idea that having two different sets of rules (one for upstate and one downstate) is problematic. I’ll leave that discussion for the broadcast interview.

But this site can plug you in to a number of audio excerpts from the Faso interview.

Click here to listen to Faso’s take on the the "fiscal promiscuity" of the state legislature … and on how much blame for runaway spending should be put on the governor’s lap.

Click here for his explanation on why he would defy a court order that would spend billions more for New York City schools.

And click here for how he’s dealing with opponents in the campaign, such as Manning and William Weld.

The rest (including Faso’s take on the Republican Party, Steve Minarik and the Conservative Party) will air on WXXI in Rochester on Friday night at 9.

The Taxing Last Resort

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County Executive Maggie Brooks said the county wanted help, and convened the full Monroe County Legislature for answers.

She got 39 answers. And in the politest of ways (for what is Brooks if not polite) she told the lawmakers the answers really didn’t add up to much.

It’s easy to see why. The answers were small potatoes. The Brooks administration found that they could apply only a fraction of what was proposed. Deputy Majority Leader Jeff McCann’s idea to "increase collaborations with other municipalities" might get as much as $2.5 million. Minority Leader Carla Palumbo had an interesting idea to vastly simplify the court system in Monroe County by merging various lower courts, such as County Court and Family Court. This would create a so-called "district court." It would maybe save as much as $2.5 million. You had other smaller ideas like sharing messenger services for departments or auditing utility costs. But as Brooks’ team so politely put it… even if you do these proposals, you’re still left with a nearly $100 million shortfall in the 2007 and 2008 budget years.

And, of course, that’s because the real answers mean real pain. Shutting down or scaling back services. And no elected leader wants feel the blow-back of the electorate after putting up ugly choices like cutting back on public park hours or shutting down public library branches… and the like. That would take a certain amount of political fortitude that just seems in short supply these days – from the local to the national level.

So what’s left? Well Brooks could follow behind Mayor Bob Duffy, holding out the large tin cup and banging it down loudly in Albany. But that only seems to work for the cities in our state. Counties never get the same size of direct contribution from the state.

So could the answer be the one that every elected official, Democrat or Republican, feels compelled to say is the "last resort?" Could it be a tax hike?

Property taxes? Not on your life. The only lasting promise Brooks made in her 2003 campaign was she would not raise property taxes. And certainly not after having essentially mutated the promise from not raising the amount gathered up in property taxes (which were precisely what she said during the ’03 campaign) to not raising the property tax rate.

Sales taxes? Well, it seems more likely now doesn’t it? It’s been done before to pull the county out of fiscal mire (you remember Bob King in the early 1990’s selling that tax hike like a used car).

And there is Erie County as an example. They approved an increase of the sales tax… from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent. They figure on pulling in $60 million in the initial year. Oh, I know… I know… we’re nowhere near as bad as Erie County, local Monroe County leaders will say. And yet, a Buffalo News story from last month (excerpted here by the UpstateBlog.net), reported that 47 counties asked the state to extend sales tax rates higher than the local 3 percent base.

I’d say we’re closer than you might think.

And in the end, all these budget forums (there are citizen budget workshops coming up soon) may be setting the stage for something bigger. Maybe we will see some political resolve and watch savings come from far-reaching, but controversial cuts and consolidations.

But why does it seem like the answer will add up to another bite from the purchases you make. I’m just saying that in the politest possible way.

Manning: I won’t be the Conservative Party’s Andrew Cuomo

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Assemblyman Patrick Manning – who despite all the recent news – continues his quest for the Conservative Party line.

Here’s a guy who says that he’s "duty-bound" to run on the Conservative Party line, whether or not he gets the Republican Party nod. His chief rival for the Conservative slate – former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso – said that only a candidate that combines the Republican and Conservative lines has even a prayer of challenging an Eliot Spitzer. Talk about putting the Republicans and Steve Minarik in a box – when the guy you want (William Weld) is likely never going to get the Conservative stamp.

But getting back to Manning… he had an interesting analogy to make. He points to Andrew Cuomo’s 2002 gubernatorial run. Cuomo got the Liberal Party line and wound up dropping out of the race for the Democratic line. Manning said Cuomo’s dead stop on any further campaigning doomed the Liberal line. They lost ballot status… and now the party is essentially defunct. Manning brings this up as a warning – should Faso or Manning or Daniels get the Conservative nod, but not the Republican, they better continue an agressive campaign. Otherwise the Conservatives could be looking like the old Liberal Party faithful.

This kind of talk should be giving Steve Minarik visions of 1990 and Conservative Herb London nearly lapping Republican Pierre Rinfret.

You want to hear more from Manning? Click here to listen to an extended interview with the candidate (all the stuff that didn’t make it to WXXI’s Need to Know broadcast). That includes

–A discussion about social conservative issues and the Republican Party, including his pro-life stand.

—And his views on the way to convince the New York State Legislature to
give up the power of controlling legislative district lines.

Next up – John Faso.

Dilemma… or Not

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For as long as I can remember while doing this kind of work – there has always been a problem of just how public we get with someone’s personal life.

In 2000, we watched a U.S. Senate Race where the Republican candidate (for awhile at least), Rudy Giuliani, had to fend off stories about having a girlfriend while not yet divorced. Meanwhile the Rochester press had to deal with allegations that a County Court judge, Bill Bristol, failed to get a recommended ranking from the local bar association because of unspecified allegations of sexual misconduct.

Nothing fires up a newsroom argument quicker than what kind of play a story that involves such things as infidelity or sexual harrassment should receive.

That came up for us at WXXI and our television program Need to Know. But in a roundabout way.

Last Friday, we sat down for about 20 minutes with  Hudson Valley-area Assemblyman Patrick Manning. The interview ranged from his conservative positions to the state of the Republican Party. The plan was to excerpt the interview for air on WXXI-AM (our news station), then air a larger portion of the talk on Need to Know on Friday, Feb. 17. The rest of the discussion would be put up online at the station’s website.

This week, after the interview, came stories like this and this about the break-up of Manning’s marriage and the circumstances around it. The stories also included charges by Manning that it was the campaign of gubernatorial rival, John Faso, that leaked the news.

Now, I have no way of bringing Manning back into the studio for a follow-up. And when you do these kinds of interviews you run the risk of events cropping up between recording the discussion and airing it.

But the question is – had we known about his personal life, would we have asked him about it anyway? Would we have asked him about the charges he made that Faso campaign was behind the release of the information?

I know how we would answer that.

My brain gets hung up on something else…  the fact that jobs appear to be flying out of Rochester, the Finger Lakes Region and Upstate New York. I get rather myopic on comments by area leaders that our economy is "in trouble" and upstate is fast becoming "Appalachia" . You weigh that against someone’s marital difficulties and whether a campaign did or did not leak out such information… and you see it in a far different light.

The question becomes – How important are these personal issues really? How much time does your campaign plan to spend on this?

That’s our approach. What would be yours?

A Brief Shining Moment for the State GOP?

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You hear a guy like Assemblyman Patrick Manning talk and you understand the fault line running under the New York State Republican Party.

But you also wonder if the conservative passion of Manning (or John Faso or Randy Daniels – the other Republican Conservatives who want to be governor) will really work in the Empire State.

Recent history has shown that in the nation, a conservative underpinning has helped the Republican Party ascend. A piece on Salon.com gets at this. In the article about how President Bush might be alienating conservatives, Richard Viguerie – a conservative guru, talks about how conservative ideals became infused in the GOP ranks.

Viguerie, who helped get Ronald Reagan elected, said that every so often a Republican moderates fall foretold a conservative rise.

"If Ford had been elected in ’76, no way Ronald Reagan would have been elected president in 1980," Viguerie told Salon. "And for sure, if [George H.W.] Bush had been elected in ’92, no way you would have a Republican Congress in 1994."

Patrick Manning, the conservative from the Hudson Valley (and as tall as an NBA center), believes the same situation is playing out in New York.

He said that the New York Republicans have, for more than a decade now, failed to appeal to the base. Manning defines that base as the taxpayer advocates, the sportsman… and, what he calls, the "leave us alone coalition" or the people who want to get on with living day to day with the state government off their backs.

"Those people don’t get out of their La-Z-Boys’ for the Republican Party anymore," said Manning during an interview that will be aired on WXXI’s Need to Know this Friday (February 17).

And if conservatives nationally are getting soft on Bush – then just listen to Manning on Republican Gov. George Pataki.

Manning talked about how the GOP can’t put up someone who is "80 percent the Democratic Party." When he was then asked who he was talking about… Manning said some Republican legislative leaders and … the executive.

"I think that in a post Pataki era… we don’t need more of that," Manning said. And as the New York State Conservative Party to hear these candidates, you can bet that the former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, the favorite of GOP State Chairman Steve Minarik, will be hammered for being "more of that."

For Manning, this year represents what he called a "brief shining moment in time" for the Republican Party to embrace its base – to claim a vision once again. Someone who will slash at taxes, cut state government spending and stop raising New York’s debt.

No way would Manning (or Faso or Daniels for that matter) ever say that they look at 2006 as the year the conservatives reclaimed the Republican Party – but lost the general election.

But you have to wonder if they aren’t thinking about it as a longer-term reclamation project.

And Republicans like Manning will have to remind themselves of this – the last two Republican governors to be elected in New York will hardly be confused with Ronald Reagan.

The Judicial Ruling – The Momentum Slows

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Has the storm died down for the entrenched party faithful?

The Buffalo News has reported the inevitable – that state Supreme Court Judges along with officials from the Republican and Democrat parties are going to appeal the ruling that sought to end the way state Supreme Court Judge candidates are selected.

The report by Tom Precious said the move will likely push the case beyond this year’s elections, which means that a primary election for these judges will not replace the current system of conventions and delegates. Remember that a  U.S. District Court ruled the convention system is too closed and amounts to being unconstitutional.

The appeals come as the state’s Chief Judge Judith Kaye called for reforming the way these state Supreme Court judges are elected. But Kaye appeared to give the appeals some life by saying that she would not approve of a primary election unless there was public financing of candidates.  Instead it appeared she wanted to tinker with the current convention system.

And that brings us back to this – the New York State Legislature has the power to change election law when it comes to these judges. Will they continue to allow for judges to be quasi-candidates? (let me refer back to this entry for an explanation) Or will they decide that these judges should be elected or appointed, once and for all.

The cynic inside rises up right now and says nothing will change. A shame. But then again, maybe the Tom Cooks and Denny Farrells and Steve Minariks of the state feel better.

What do you think?

Bruno on the Loose (What was that about Bullies and Bloody Noses?)

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In what we hope will be a habit on the Political Notebook, Albany correspondent Karen DeWitt files this entry from the state capitol. Be ready for some talk by a leading figure in Albany circles about "bullies and bloody noses."

State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno seems to be increasingly on the outs with fellow Republicans these days in Albany, New York City and even Washington.

Bruno is sure to annoy his sometimes Republican ally Governor George Pataki , by urging his house to override a veto by Governor Pataki of a bill that would have extended prescription drug coverage to seniors caught in the confusion over the new federal Medicare Part D program.  (Check out Karen’s story here).

The Senate Leader is also escalating a dispute with New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg, as reported in the New York Times on Sunday, may back a Democratic candidate against Queens Republican Senator Serph Maltese, in retaliation for Maltese’s’ support of a conservative candidate against Bloomberg in the 2005 mayoral race.

The beleaguered Bruno is already struggling to hold on to the Republican Senate Majority. In a speech to a union group, Bruno first said that he didn’t believe the news reports, and suggested that the media was “hallucinating”.

He also said if the reports were somehow true, then the people reported to be working against Republican Senators would be “ingrates”.     At a question and answer session with reporters later, Bruno elaborated further (take a listen).

Meanwhile, the Senate leader has been creating controversy for remarks he made last week about the war in Iraq. Bruno said it’s time to bring the troops home. When asked about rumors that White House advisor Karl Rove had called Governor Pataki to complain, Bruno reiterated his views. The 76-year-old Senator made his comments while climbing the six flights of stairs to his Capitol office.

Thanks Karen… there appears to be no lack of entertaining conversation in Albany.