Richard Gere for Congress?

The New York Post’s gossip page reported on Friday that actor Richard Gere was “being talked up in Democratic circles” as a possible replacement for Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in New York’s 18th Congressional District race if Maloney wins a primary for attorney general next month.

That was indeed a rumor that had been circulating, although it had yet to reach the ears of Orange County Democratic Chairman Brett Broge, whose county makes up half the district and would therefore play a leading role in picking a new House candidate if Maloney exits the race. Filling the vacancy appears to fall to the executive committees of the Democratic parties in the four counties in the 18th District.

“This is the first I’m hearing about it,” Broge said Friday. He said that Gere, who lives in Westchester County, “hasn’t reached out to party leaders, if that’s something he’s interested in doing.”

Maloney will compete with three other Democrats in a primary for attorney general on Sept. 13 and leave the congressional race if he wins, leaving less than two months for another Democrat to mount a campaign and raise money. Orange County Legislator Jim O’Donnell is the Republican candidate for the 18th District seat. So far, no likely Democratic substitute for Maloney has emerged. Maloney plans to seek a fourth House term in November if he doesn’t win the attorney general nomination.

Middletown Mayor Joe DeStefano, who confirmed the Gere rumor in the Page Six item, told the Times Herald-Record that he hadn’t spoken to the actor, and that he knew of other potential candidates as well, including former Orange County Legislator Jeff Berkman. “I’m sure there’s a host of people jockeying behind the scenes,” he said.

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State construction unions back Skoufis in Senate race

Assemblyman James Skoufis announced Friday the endorsement of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council for his Senate run, signifying the backing of an organization that represents more than 200,000 unionized construction workers.

Skoufis’ campaign said he was one of only five state candidates the group has endorsed.

Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat competing with Republican Tom Basile for the 39th Senate District seat, said in a press release that members of those trade unions work “hard to improve our communities – and they deserve a State Senator who does the same. In the Senate, I’ll continue fighting for the men and women who deserve fair pay for their work all the while ensuring they have safe working conditions.”

Skoufis already had gotten endorsements from three local unions in the building and construction trades: Teamsters Local 445, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 373 and Laborers Local 754.


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NYSUT endorses Brabenec for re-election

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec was the only Republican state lawmaker in the area endorsed on Wednesday by the statewide organization for teachers’ unions, which otherwise went with Democrats or stayed neutral in state Senate and Assembly races.

“Public education will continue to remain one of my top priorities, and that includes providing more latitude in the classrooms, making sure our schools get their fair share and standing up to high-stakes testing,” Brabenec said in a press release touting the endorsement by New York State United Teachers.

Brabenec, a Deerpark Republican, is running for a third term in the 98th Assembly District, challenged by Democrat Scott Martens of Minisink. The 98th District consists of six towns and the City of Port Jervis in Orange County, and part of the Town of Ramapo in Rockland.

In local Senate races, NYSUT endorsed Democrat James Skoufis over Republican Tom Basile for the 39th District, and Democrat Jen Metzger over fellow Democrat Pramilla Malick and Republican Annie Rabbitt for the 42nd District. It didn’t endorse either GOP Sen. George Amedore or Democrat Pat Strong in the 46th District; or GOP Sen. James Seward or Democrat Joyce St. George in the 51st District.

In other contested Assembly races in the region, NYSUT endorsed Democrat Matthew Rettig in the 99th District; Democrat Chad McEvoy in the 101st District; and Democrat Kevindaryan Lujan in the 104th District.


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Statewide law enforcement group backs Skoufis for Senate

Assemblyman and Senate candidate James Skoufis announced Wednesday that the New York State Union of Police Associations has endorsed him in for the 39th Senate District race.

In a July endorsement letter supplied by Skoufis’ campaign, Anthony Solfaro, president of the Newburgh-based organization, said that his group was backing the third-term assemblyman for his support for the law enforcement community, and that it will urge its members and their families and friends to vote for Skoufis.

“Working with our local men and women in blue has been important to me as part of my commitment to building safer communities for our families,” Skoufis said in a press release. “I look forward to continuing to partner with law enforcement in the State Senate to ensure that they have the resources and support necessary to do their job to the fullest.”

Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat, is competing with Republican Tom Basile, a Stony Point councilman, for the Senate seat that Bill Larkin is vacating.

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Basile touts two law enforcement endorsements

Republican Senate candidate Tom Basile has picked up endorsements from two law enforcement groups, one from the union representing Orange County sheriff’s deputies and another from an organization for police officers who live or work in Orange.

“We are confident we can trust Tom Basile to be there for us during these challenging times,” Michael Flower, president of the Orange County Shields, said in a press release. “Our executive board and membership offer our enthusiastic endorsement of him to represent us in the State Senate. Senator Bill Larkin has been a strong voice for us for many years, and we trust Tom Basile will offer that same steadfast support of our law enforcement community.”

Jeremy Yela, vice president of the Orange County Deputy Sheriffs Police Benevolent Association, said: “Mr. Basile has shown that he is a person of honesty, integrity and of sound judgement who will be a tireless advocate for law enforcement.”

Basile, a Stony Point councilman and communications consultant, and Assemblyman James Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat, are running for the 39th Senate District seat that retiring Sen. Bill Larkin is vacating. The district covers 10 towns and the City of Newburgh in Orange County, and two towns each from Ulster and Rockland.

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GOP blocks attempt to close LLC loophole

Republican lawmakers blocked a Democratic effort last week to close a loophole in Orange County’s campaign finance law by bringing a surprise resolution to Legislature floor.

The Democratic minority has been trying since last year to add three words to the county’s 2013 Pay-to-Play Law to make clear that campaign donations from limited liability companies should be treated like those from any other businesses under the law. The law allows companies that hold or seek county contracts to give County Executive Steve Neuhaus no more than $4,000 per term, but the county’s attorneys have taken the position that limited liability companies, or LLCs, don’t count because the law doesn’t specifically list that common form of business organization.

When Democrats sought to close that loophole last year, the administration reacted by arguing the entire law was an illegal modification of the state’s limits on campaign contributions, and also suggesting the law was unconstitutional. Republican lawmakers then tried to repeal the $4,000 limit, but retreated when they couldn’t muster enough votes.

Democrats have asked since then for the Legislature to take up closing the LLC loophole, but Republican leaders – who hold a 15-5 edge over Democrats – have refused. So Democratic Leader Mike Paduch tried a roundabout approach at last Thursday’s Legislature session, introducing a resolution to create a special committee that would look at the LLC loophole and make recommendations. Republicans shot down the idea in a 14-6 vote, with Independence Party member Michael Amo joining the five Democrats in support.

“Either you want to eliminate the possibility of corruption in county government or you don’t,” Paduch said in a statement afterward. “Apparently that doesn’t matter much to the Republicans in the Orange County Legislature, and that’s a shame to all taxpayers in Orange County.”

Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia, a Montgomery Republican, told the Times Herald-Record that members of his caucus still believe the Pay-to-Play Law is illegal and therefore don’t want to amend it in any way. “The Republican consensus is to not mess around with the law unless the state takes the lead and does something else,” Brescia said. “We think the state should take some sort of action, if that’s going to happen.”

It was unclear if he meant waiting for state lawmakers to set statewide restrictions on pay-to-play contributions or to close the LLC loophole. The state has a different kind of LLC loophole, in which limited liability companies are treated as individuals rather than businesses for the sake of contribution limits. Democrats in Albany have tried to close that loophole by law, but Senate Republicans have blocked the effort.

Brescia said a few members of his caucus support closing Orange County’s version of an LLC loophole, but want the state to take action. He said the county’s law “hasn’t been challenged, but it could be challenged, and that’s the concern.”

County Legislator Mike Anagnostakis, the Town of Newburgh Republican who initiated the law and successfully pushed for its passage, said he disagrees that the law somehow exempts LLCs, but supports amending it if necessary. “If a perceived LLC loophole exists, it should be closed – here in Orange County, everywhere in New York State,” Anagnostakis said.

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Malick wages write-in primary for Reform line in Senate race

Democratic Senate candidate Pramilla Malick announced this week that she’s waging a write-in primary for the Reform Party ballot line after being denied permission by party leaders to run on that and two other third-party lines.

Malick said she filed an opportunity-to-ballot petition to force a primary against Republican Annie Rabbitt for the Reform line in the 42nd Senate District race, and then overcame a challenge by her Democratic rival, Jen Metzger, over the validity of her opportunity-to-ballot petition. Metzger, a Rosendale town councilwoman, and Malick, a Minisink environmental activist, are competing in a Democratic primary on Sept. 13 to run for the Senate seat that Republican John Bonacic is vacating.

Metzger and Malick, in addition to their Democratic contest, both petitioned to run on the Working Families and Women’s Equality lines. But Malick said leaders of those two parties denied authorization for her to run, just as Reform leaders allowed only Rabbitt to run on the Reform line (Malick had petitioned for that one as well). A write-in primary gives Malick a second chance to claim the Reform line.

She noted in a press release that Reform Party is letting unaffiliated voters – those who are not enrolled in any party – vote in its primaries, expanding the pool of potential voters who could write in her name.

“There are tens of thousands of unaffiliated voters in our counties, mostly because people are so disillusioned with politics-as-usual,” Malick said. “Politicians from both major parties have time and time again sacrificed the public interest for their personal gain.”

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Sussman plans Green Party meeting

Civil rights attorney Michael Sussman, a longtime Democratic activist who has switched to the Green Party and is running for attorney general as a Green Party candidate, has scheduled a meeting in the Town of Wallkill on Tuesday to discuss organizing an Orange County chapter of the Green Party.

The gathering is at 7:15 p.m. on Aug. 7 at Wallkill Town Hall, 99 Tower Drive, Building A.

“We need a party based upon principle, empowering workers, creating a public bank, fighting corruption through real campaign finance reform, enforcing our laws which are intended to protect public health and safety,” Sussman said in a statement. “And, we need to organize at a local level and run candidates, something the Democratic Party has sporadically done even in a County in which their registrants outnumber Republicans.”

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Skoufis pitches ethics reforms

Assemblyman James Skoufis this week announced a string of ethics reforms he supports as part of his Senate campaign, addressing problems with campaign contributions and state grants that have lingered in Albany and played a role in its litany of corruption scandals.

Those reform priorities included banning or limiting outside pay for state lawmakers; closing a loophole on campaign contributions from limited liability companies; lowering contribution limits; and creating a public “database of deals” to show which companies have gotten economic development grants.

“Earning the public’s trust takes action, not lip service,” the Woodbury Democrat said in a statement. “For far too long, a dark cloud has loomed over New York State government. As a State Senator, I will continue to push for strong reforms that protect taxpayers from political greed. Enough is enough.”

Skoufis, who’s running for the 39th Senate District seat that Bill Larkin is vacating, said he has co-sponsored bills that would require members of regional economic development councils – the panels that help channel state grants – to file financial disclosure forms, and that would create a “database of deals” and give the state comptroller greater oversight of state contract awards.

Skoufis noted that the Republican-controlled Senate has opposed all of the proposals he listed, and that his Republican opponent, Tom Basile, opposes lowering campaign contribution limits, closing the LLC loophole and restricting state lawmakers’ outside income.

Basile fired back in a statement: “Contrary to his claims, a number of the proposals he’s laid out have been bottled up in committee by Assembly Democrats while Senate Republicans passed a sweeping reform package this year that included a database of deals, limiting political contributions for those doing business with the state and appointees of the Governor, restoring Comptroller oversight over State contracts, among others. If he can’t even be honest when talking about his so-called ethics package, he’s clearly part of the problem.”

Basile said he supports term limits and legislative rule changes to make spending decisions more transparent and reduce “the power of Albany’s infamous ‘three men in a room.’”

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Basile proposes doubling state funds for local road repairs

Republican Senate candidate Tom Basile has proposed doubling the amount of state aid for local road repairs by devoting a greater share of the revenue New York collects through gas taxes.

Basile, a Stony Point councilman running for the 39th District seat that Bill Larkin is vacating, suggesting raising annual spending to $1 billion from $440 million, arguing that state aid has not kept pace with the road repair costs that counties and municipalities incur.

“Half of the lane miles driven in this state are on local roads, yet local municipalities get only a small fraction of more than $4 billion in revenue from the gas tax that should be going to infrastructure projects,” Basile said. “In fact, only half of the gas tax revenue actually goes toward transportation capital projects at all. It’s nonsensical. Our counties, towns and villages need help to fix infrastructure now.”

Basile criticized his opponent, Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, for voting in committee in 2015 and 2016 to table two Republican bills that he said would have increased aid for local road repairs outside New York City and allowed more flexibility in how the money is spent.

“Mr. Skoufis has been in the Assembly for six years and despite his claims, has allowed New York City to gain at the expense of our local community roadways,” Basile said. “He’s voted against our interests and repeatedly failed to promote reforms that would help address these shortfalls.”

Jon Heppner, a Skoufis campaign spokesman, responded: “First, while Tom Basile drives up to Orange County from Rockland in his gas guzzling RV covered with his own face, he can thank James Skoufis for securing the funding to repave the Palisades Parkway, Route 6, and Route 9W that he travels on.

“Basile is so busy promoting his tea-party brand that he has no idea how government works. Both of the bills he attacks had no chance of becoming law because one would have allowed Albany politicians to hand out funding as they saw fit rather than following a fair formula, and the other was likely unconstitutional.”

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