Lawmakers battle “zombie” properties

The state Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill lawmakers from both parties have promoted for weeks, a package of measures to combat the abandoned, unkempt properties that mar neighborhoods by giving authorities more power to force banks to maintain the homes on which they have foreclosed.

The 116-22 vote sends the  bill, known as the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act of 2016, to the Senate. Most Assembly members representing Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties voted for the proposal; within that contingent, only Claudia Tenney, a New Hartford Republican with some Orange and Ulster towns in her sprawling district, voted against it. Among other steps, the bill would require lenders to maintain empty properties that are in “pre-foreclosure”; require periodic inspections of foreclosed properties; and create a statewide registry of abandoned properties.

The push for the bill began with a “bank shaming” campaign in which legislators held press conferences outside homes with overgrown lawns that banks had neglected after foreclosing on them. “No one wants to live next door to an empty home,” Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, said in a press release in April after staging a “bank shaming” outside an empty New Windsor house. “But in many neighborhoods, sluggish foreclosure proceedings are causing long-term damage by allowing abandoned houses to fall into disrepair. And in some cases, banks are to blame.”

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, a Deerpark Republican, announced his support for a trio of “zombie property” bills the following month, saying he had fought the same problem as Deerpark supervisor before becoming an assemblyman in 2015. “No one ever wants to have their home foreclosed upon,” he said in a statement. “But in that scenario it best benefits the locality and its residents to document and track the status of these properties so we can ensure they stay well maintained and suitable for occupancy in the future.”

Assemblyman Frank Skartados, D-Milton, chimed in with a press release after voting for the bill that passed this week: “In portions of Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, low property values provide little incentive for banks to settle costly and time-consuming foreclosure proceedings. This measure would force banks to be responsible for their properties that have been abandoned after owners have given up fighting foreclosure and have moved out.”

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Senate GOP leader calls LLC loophole a “red herring”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered state lawmakers eight options on Tuesday for closing a notorious loophole that lets New York politicians collect virtually unlimited campaign contributions from rich donors and businesses who funnel their cash through limited-liability companies.

Each bill would reclassify LLCs as corporations — rather than individuals — for contribution purposes and therefore subject them to a $5,000 donation limit, but do so for different groupings of elected officials. Cuomo, a major beneficiary of the LLC loophole, included the governor in each version of the loophole closure, and added the Senate, Assembly, comptroller, attorney general in various combinations in his other bills.

“Pass all of them, or as many as you’d like, but at a minimum, pass the one impacting anyone running for the office of the Governor,” he said in a press release. “I will go first – pass it and I will sign it into law today.”

The Democratic-controlled Assembly already passed a bill in March that would close the LLC loophole for all office holders. But Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan quickly dashed cold water on Cuomo’s bouquet of bills to resistant Senate Republicans, calling the LLC loophole a “red herring” and advocating instead for a comprehensive bill that addresses multiple campaign finance problems.

“We need to bolster our money laundering laws, move aggressively against straw donors and unmask the identity of those groups or individuals who want to operate in the shadows,” Flanagan said in a press statement. “We should take action to stop non-profits
who flout transparency and who donate unlimited sums to directly support a politician’s agenda by regulating them through the Board of Elections, JCOPE or another appropriate agency with jurisdiction.”

Flanagan cited an ongoing federal investigation into whether New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio steered large campaign contributions to Democratic Senate candidates in New York in 2014 through county Democratic committees, which is illegal. One of the suspected beneficiaries was Cecilia Tkaczyk, a first-term senator whose district included part of Ulster. The Ulster Democratic Committee pumped $330,000 into her campaign after getting large donations from various unions and a Brooklyn LLC, campaign finance records show.

In that same race, George Amedore, the Republican who ultimately unseated Tkaczyk, received $45,000 from LLCs controlled by Glenwood Management, a property-management firm that is the LLC loophole’s poster child and that figured into the corruption cases last year of both Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos. Glenwood Management also wrote $5,000 checks in 2014 to each of this region’s three Republican senators: John Bonacic, Bill Larkin and James Seward.

In the aftermath of both Silver and Skelos being convicted and sentenced to prison, state lawmakers have nine days left in their 2016 session to enact ethics and campaign-finance reforms – or not.

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GOP vote-switching defeats Maloney’s LGBT measure

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney gave an impassioned account on Friday to an audience in New Windsor of the heated clash in the House of Representatives a day earlier when Republican leaders twisted arms to defeat Maloney’s proposal to prevent discrimination against LGBT individuals.

Back in the 18th District and addressing a Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress conference on infrastructure, the Cold Spring Democrat described how those leaders convinced just enough members to reverse their votes in favor of Maloney’s measure to turn what appeared to be a victory into a narrow defeat.  According to The Hill newspaper’s coverage that day, the arm-twisting and its outcome caused “chaos and shouting” on the House floor, with Democrats chanting, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

The vote stemmed from a backlash against President Obama’s executive order to prevent discrimination against LGBT employees of federal agencies and federal contractors. House Republicans responded by inserting a provision in a defense bill to prevent discrimination for religious reasons against religious corporations, institutions and associations with federal contracts. Maloney’ amendment, initially supported with a 217-206 tally but ultimately defeated by a single vote, would have reasserted the President’s order by prohibiting payment of contractors that don’t comply with it.

“You shouldn’t be able to fire people because they’re gay,” Maloney, New York’s first openly gay congressman, told the crowd in New Windsor on Friday. He went on to predict that Republicans likely will attack him in his reelection campaign for his vote against the defense bill, a political price he said he was willing to pay for his stand on LGBT protections.

“You all are going to hear the ads that say Sean Maloney voted against the defense bill,” Maloney said.  He later added, “There are some things that are more important than this job.”

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GOP endorses O’Donnell for Legislature seat (updated)

In its only contested race at its convention at The Meadowbrook in New Windsor Thursday night, the Orange County Republican Committee endorsed James O’Donnell over Phil Canterino for the Orange County Legislature’s 21st District seat, which will be up for election in November for the final year of an unexpired, four-year term.

The Town Boards of the three towns all or partly in the district – Goshen, Blooming Grove and Wawayanda – had appointed Canterino over O’Donnell and two other contenders to fill the seat last November after Shannon Wong, a Democrat, vacated the office because of a new job she was starting. O’Donnell now plans to challenge Canterino for his seat and beat him for the party endorsement in a 62-27 vote, according to the party’s tally. Both men are free to petition to run for the seat, regardless of the committee’s preference, and could wind up in a GOP primary in September.

The committee also endorsed six other state and county candidates who will be on the ballot in November: Sens. John Bonacic and Bill Larkin, Assemblyman Karl Brabenec and County Court Judge Robert Freehill, all of who are up for re-election; Colin Schmitt, a New Windsor resident who plans to challenge Assemblyman James Skoufis for the 99th Assembly District seat; and Maria Kelso, an aide to Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney who is running for Tenney’s seat (Tenney is running in a Republican primary for Congress next month).

In addition, the party endorsed David Green for appointment by the county Legislature for another four-year term as the GOP’s county elections commissioner.

Addendum:

With two weeks to go before candidates start collecting petition signatures, no Republicans have stepped forward to challenge Democratic Assembly members Aileen Gunther and Frank Skartados, each of whom represents parts of Orange County. Bill Banuchi, a Conservative Party member from Newburgh who has registered as an Assembly candidate, will be given the Republican Party ballot line to challenge Skartados, according to GOP committee secretary Jim Booth.

In addition to Kelso, who is the Delaware County Republican chairwoman, Oneida County Legislator Brian Miller plans to seek the Republican nomination for the 101th Assembly District, now represented by Tenney.

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Del Vecchio cancels Middletown fundraiser

A campaign consultant for Ken Del Vecchio says the Republican congressional candidate has canceled an upcoming fundraiser in Middletown and resigned as 18th Congressional District chairman for the Donald Trump campaign after a clash on Friday over that title and whether Carl Paladino would be at his fundraiser.

Del Vecchio had planned a fundraiser at Big Mama’s bar on May 23 with Paladino — a 2010 gubernatorial candidate and an honorary co-chairman of the Trump campaign in New York — as a featured guest, along with fellow Trump booster and Buffalo-area resident Assemblyman David DiPietro. Del Vecchio, who’s running in a GOP primary for Congress on June 28 with Phil Oliva of Westchester County, had emphasized his role as the Trump campaign’s 18th District chairman, prompting a heated dispute on Friday with Michael Caputo from the Trump campaign. Caputo insisted Del Vecchio had no such role, and said that Paladino and DiPietro wouldn’t attend the fundraiser; Del Vecchio countered that he had ample evidence to the contrary, including an email in January naming him 18th District chairman.

Christopher Nicholas, a political consultant working for Del Vecchio, told the Record by email that the matter was now closed. “Ken resigned from the position this weekend and he decided not to hold the fundraiser,” Nicholas said. “Ken has no plans to have any further back and forth with Caputo. He still, of course, believes in Donald Trump and wants him to win the presidency… and he is still the only NY-18 Republican congressional candidate to back Trump.  If Trump wants Ken to do anything further for his campaign, Ken surely will. Ken is going out door-to-door again today, in Orange County, talking with GOP voters about his congressional campaign.”

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Updated: New pro-Faso super PAC enters race for NY-19, bankrolled by single multi-millionaire

Update: I’ve added a quote from Andrew Heaney’s spokesman, David  at the bottom.

Update 2: Records show that New York Wins PAC shelled out $494,357 altogether for television ad buys.

A new super PAC funded solely by a wealthy Long Island hedge fund mogul and computer scientist is getting involved in the fight for the 19th Congressional District.

The New York Wins PAC released a 30-second television advertisement Tuesday against Andrew Heaney, the Dutchess County heating oil executive fighting for the GOP nomination.

The spot points out Heaney’s past contributions to President Barack Obama, calls him a Manhattan multi-millionaire who recently bought a $4 million home in Dutchess County and says he is “Obama’s kind of Republican, not ours!”

The lone $500,000 donor to the New York Wins PAC is Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies in East Setauket, according to Federal Election Commission records.

FEC records show that Mercer has donated more than $29 million to various PACs supporting conservative causes and party committees since 2010. He alone shelled out $11  million to a super PAC last April to support GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz.

You can read more about the life and times of Mercer in this Bloomberg piece here, which goes on to talk about his $2.7 million model train set, his fascination with owls and his possession of a gun that was used in The Terminator movies.

George Winner, director and founder of the New York Wins PAC and a former Republican state senator from Elmira, said Tuesday the primary race in the 19th Congressional Race is the only one the PAC is focused on right now. According to sources, the super PAC has shelled out close to $250,000 so far on the most recent television advertisements.

Winner made clear that PAC looks fondly at John Faso, the Columbia County lawyer, lobbyist and former state Assembly minority chair who’s been in a heated primary battle with Heaney. Robert Mercer, his wife Diana Mercer and daughter Rebekah Mercer have personally contributed a total $16,200 to Faso.

“I don’t believe an out of town Obama-supporter is the appropriate standard-bearer for the Republican nomination,” Winner said.

Winner said the PAC will also be involved in the fight for the district after the primary to support Faso. Zephyr Teachout and Will Yandik are both competing for the Democratic nomination next month.

Republican Rep. Chris Gibson, a retired U.S.Army colonel, is not seeking another term in the district. The 19th includes all of Ulster and Sullivan counties.

Both Winner, Mercer and Faso were also involved with another super PAC, New York 2014. Winner acknowledged that he was the director of New York 2014 Tuesday but said  he did not have a lot of involvement in the races it worked on.

According to Faso’s financial disclosure report he was paid in excess of $5,000 for consulting and legal services for work he did with New York 2014. Mercer gave $350,000 to the committee.

Super PACs can raise raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on races but can not coordinate their efforts with candidates.

The New York Wins PAC isn’t the first one getting involved in the fight for the district. The New York Jobs Council has has been running anti-Faso television ads and sending out mailers for months, though it’s only spent roughly $71,000.

Update: “The same billionaires and Washington establishment who attack Donald Trump are now attacking businessman and outsider Andrew Heaney, trying to prop up their favorite lobbyist and political bagman John Faso,”  said Heaney spokesman, David Catalfamo.

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Chair of state Conservative Party to Heaney: Knock off Faso attacks

Mike Long, chair of the Conservative Party of New York State, has asked GOP congressional candidate Andrew Heaney to knock off his attacks against his Republican primary rival John Faso, calling them “dishonest” and part of a “dirty” campaign.

But Heaney’s campaign has tripled down on the accuracy of its attacks against Faso and says the same attacks will likely be used by the eventual Democratic opponent. The letter comes as the fight over the 19th Congressional District heats up before the June primary.

In a letter dated May 12 Long says he “almost never” weighs in on Republican primaries but felt “compelled to make a special case in the race you’re running against John Faso in NY-19.” He goes on:

“I realize politics is a rough game, but there still has to be honor in it. I see none in the tactics and fabrications you and your team are using against John. Your recent mailing to voters suggesting that John somehow supported the likes of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid is simply preposterous. But more than that, it’s dishonest — and you know it. Knock it off.”

You can find Long’s full letter, which both campaigns have shared, here.

Faso, a Columbia County lawyer, lobbyist and former state Assembly minority leader and gubernatorial candidate, and Heaney, a Dutchess County heating oil executive, are competing for the Republican nomination next month. Democrats Zephyr Teachout and Will Yandik are also facing a primary.

Faso’s campaign called the letter Monday a “direct rebuke of the lies, misinformation and dirty tactics used by Andrew Heaney’s campaign.”

You can read more about Faso and Heaney’s war of words in a post I wrote here, but the two have most recently been fighting over Faso’s past lobbying career and whether he was the person mentioned in a 2010 settlement with the state Attorney General’s office over a pay-to-play scheme involving Faso’s old law firm, state pension funds and former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

While Faso is not named in the settlement he was subject to its terms like the rest of his firm, that has more than 350 members. Several media outlets at the time, citing unnamed sources, named Faso as the “Albany-based partner/lobbyist” mentioned in the settlement. But Bill O’Reilly, Faso’s campaign spokesman, has previously said the investigation was politically motivated by now-governor Andrew Cuomo, who was the attorney general at the time. Faso denies he had anything to do with the scheme.

A statement from Heaney’s campaign called Long’s letter “disappointing” and insists that Faso is the unnamed person mentioned in the settlement.

“It’s disappointing that Chairman Long suggests that we should look the other way as scandal ridden Albany politicians erode the people’s trust and instead just chalk it up to ‘phony political attacks’. The pay to play scandal that took down Alan Hevesi, Hank Morris, Pat Lynch, John Faso and dozens of others is very well documented. Is Chairman Long suggesting that Alan Hevesi shouldn’t have gone to jail or is that that only connected ‘stalwart conservatives’ like John Faso should be spared prosecution?

The facts are the facts, John Faso was the ‘Albany based partner lobbyist’ sanctioned as part of scandal that put Alan Hevesi in jail. It is not ‘dirty politics’ to litigate John Faso’s record, including his role in the Hevesi scandal and anyone who thinks that it won’t be the cornerstone of Zephyr Teachout’s campaign is simply delusional. Politics can indeed be rough, but it is sad that John Faso would risk losing this seat, embarrassing his friends and now compromising his supporters in another desperate effort to win higher office. If anyone should knock it off, it’s John Faso.”

The back and forth also comes after Heaney and the state Conservative party had a spat in March over the party endorsing Faso in what Heaney likened to a “backroom deal.” Heaney’s campaign at the time complained that Conservative Party leaders conspired to endorse Faso without any notice, interviews and no mention of the endorsement on their official committee agenda.

Long, in his letter last week, mentions the endorsement and says that the reason Heaney did not get it was because of his past contributions to President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

“I don’t see how you can call yourself a conservative when you gave thousands of dollars to help elect the most liberal president in American history,” Long writes. “Just as bad, you repeat Andrew Cuomo’s 2010 phony political attacks against John Faso. This seems to be a pattern with you.”

The 19th Congressional District includes all of Ulster and Sullivan counties.

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Faso slaps Heaney and anti-Faso super PAC with cease-and-desist

John Faso, a Columbia County Republican running to fill the open seat in New York’s 19th Congressional District, has slapped his GOP primary opponent Andrew Heaney with a cease and desist letter to stop “knowingly spreading falsehoods in his advertisements and public statements.”

And Heaney’s response: Sue me!

The letter, sent from Faso’s attorney and released via his campaign, says Heaney, his campaign treasurer and the New York Jobs Council, an anti-Faso super PAC that’s been running ads against Faso, should publicly retract the “deliberate falsehoods and stop using related advertisements” being used against him.

“The most important qualities voters should look for in an elected official are character and integrity,” Faso said. “By making and recklessly repeating these false charges, Mr. Heaney has demonstrated that he is willing to say and do anything to advance his political career.”

But in a statement Heaney, a Dutchess County heating oil executive, defended the statements as true. The political advertisements refer to a 2010 settlement that Faso’s former law firm, Manatt Phelps & Phillips, made with the office of the former  state attorney general, now-governor Andrew Cuomo.

Stemming from a pension pay-to-play scheme, Manatt paid a $550,000 fine and agreed to a five-year ban from appearing before any public pension fund in New York. The firm admitted no wrongdoing.  The settlement said that the firm worked as unlicensed financial broker working to help companies win business with New York’s massive pension funds. Manatt received fees for successfully placing an investment with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, but its other efforts failed.

The settlement says one partner of the firm, who is referred to only as an “Albany-based partner/lobbyist” and who practiced law, government relations and lobbying, introduced alternative investment firms to pension funds that included the New York State Common Retirement Fund, New York City pension funds and the New York State Teachers Retirement System.

“The Albany-based partner/lobbyist was not licensed as a placement agent or securities broker; nor did he include these activities on his New York State or New York City lobbying disclosure forms,” the settlement says.

Though Faso was not named in the settlement, he was subject to its terms like the rest of the firm of more than 400 members. When Faso left the firm in 2013 he was no longer subject to it. Faso has said he never acted as a placement agent in the firm and was never subpoenaed. Bill O’Reilly, Faso’s campaign spokesman, has previously said the investigation into Faso was politically motivated.

“The facts are the facts: John Faso was politically targeted in 2010 by a famously vindictive Andrew Cuomo; he was parsed to the minutia, and found to have done nothing wrong,” O’Reilly said.

At the time, Faso was identified by some outlets as the Albany insider in the settlement. The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said Faso was one of the people who helped secure investments. The Times Union cited a source close to the investigation arranged or tried to arrange investment firms and state pension funds.

Despite the letter Heaney, in a statement, doubled down on the issue Thursday, saying that Faso is the unnamed person in the settlement and challenging Faso to sue the campaign.

“John Faso is the ‘Albany-based partner lobbyist’ who was sanctioned by the Attorney General for violating state laws, he knows it, the press knows it and absolutely everyone in Albany knows it. But like his Albany pals Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver, John Faso thinks he is above the law and will lie to the people of the 19th Congressional rather than admit his crimes. John Faso, please sue our campaign! We would run to court eager to prove what everyone knows,” Heaney said.

Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, is retiring. The 19th Congressional District includes all of Ulster and Sullivan counties.

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Middletown judge plans to run for county court

Middletown City Court Judge Steve Brockett plans to challenge Orange County Court Judge Robert Freehill for his position when the Republican incumbent runs for another 10-year term this fall.

Brockett, a full-time city court judge for 11 years, announced Wednesday he will seek the Democratic, Independence, Working Families and Green Party ballot lines for the county court race. In his announcement, he touted his experience presiding over Middletown’s drug-treatment court and his helping to establish the county’s first mental health court in 2009.

“As a husband, father and lifelong Orange County resident, I understand the importance of keeping our communities safe,” Brockett said in his statement.  ”My full-time service since 2005 in one of the busiest local courts in Orange County has prepared me to be County Court Judge.”

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Bob Bishop drops out of race for NY-19

Bob Bishop, a Delaware County hay and alfalfa farmer, dropped his bid for the Republican nomination in the 19th Congressional District Tuesday and endorsed fellow Republican John Faso.

Bishop said in a press release that “the time has come for the Republican Party to unite behind our strongest candidates if we are going to reclaim our country for our next generation.”

Bishop was in a three-way GOP race with Faso, a Columbia County lawyer and former state Assembly minority leader, and Andrew Heaney, a Dutchess County heating oil executive.

Bishop and Heaney had been battling to frame themselves as the outsider candidate in the race and Heaney supporters had been challenging the petition signatures of Bishop, saying they were fraudulent.

That challenge brought the ire of Bishop, who attacked Heaney for the move, even as Bishop’s campaign said the state Board of Elections eventually upheld enough signatures to keep him on the primary ballot. But on Tuesday Bishop dropped out and gave a full-throated endorsement of Faso.

“Part of being a leader is recognizing when another individual is the best person suited for a position. John Faso has shown us that he has what it takes to best represent our interests,” Bishop said.

Bishop had also lagged severely in fundraising behind Faso and Heaney. While Faso and Heaney have raised more than $1 million each so far, Bishop had only raised roughly $28,000.

Heaney, through a statement, said Bishop’s departure sets up “a clear choice between John Faso, a 30 year lawyer-lobbyist and failed Albany politician versus Andrew Heaney a political outsider and conservative small businessman who wants to change the corrupt culture in Washington, D.C.”

Faso called Bishop’s endorsement “a meaningful one” and said he looks forward “to his friendship and counsel both as a candidate and as a member of Congress. ”

Bishop is the second Republican to drop out of the race. Assemblyman Peter Lopez dropped out earlier this year, saying his father was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Heaney and Faso, along with Democrats Zephyr Teachout and Will Yandik, are vying for the seat being being vacated by Republican Rep. Chris Gibson. He’s leaving at the end of his term this year to lecture at Williams College in Massachusetts next year.

The 19th Congressional District includes all of Ulster and Sullivan counties.

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