Guests: Former NYC Public Advocate Mark Green and State Senator Terrence Murphy
Listen to show
Former NYC Public Advocate Mark Green
Green on Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio’s approach to politics: “Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it”:
MORGAN PEHME: Everyone who is anyone in New York politics over the past four decades pops up in your memoir, including our own Bill Samuels. But I think our listeners will be particularly interested in your take on New York’s current top two executives: Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
You have the singular experience of having running against both of them. In 2006 you challenged Cuomo unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for Attorney General and in 2009 you were defeated in a run-off for Public Advocate by de Blasio. Though many members of the public perceive Cuomo and de Blasio to be very different, you pair them by their approach to electoral politics, which you characterize, quoting the great baseball manager Leo Durocher, as being “Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it.”
Can you explain how you came to this assessment of them?
MARK GREEN: “Well, both Andrew and Bill are terrific political thoroughbreds. They have a lot of public talent, discipline, focus, work ethic, public calm and charm. And they’re both transactional politicians.
Others I’ve met—Elizabeth Warren, for example, Al Franken in Minnesota, for example—they have strong beliefs that they’re constantly moving toward, Cuomo and de Blasio less so. Bill de Blasio does have very strong beliefs and he’s been successful, as Bill Samuels knows as a supporter and a friend [of the Mayor’s]. On pre-K, for example, ending stop-and-frisk, for example, and trying to do something about the homeless.
What I meant was they’re more politicians than advocates, which is why they’re successful in politics. … It turns out, for better or worse, I’m more of an advocate than a politician. So there’s a lot of scandalous headlines now, especially in the tabloids about both of them, separately. It’s hurting them both politically and personally, but not yet legally.
But it is pretty clear that Bill de Blasio ran on, as Public Advocate, ‘Money in politics is terrible. Citizens United is terrible. We have to…’ And he has gamed the system. It’s not illegal, I don’t think. But, clearly, he’s raised hundreds of thousands from people who have interests in the city, not as a direct contribution, but as a separate fund. Andrew Cuomo, of course, has raised millions with the real estate industry running ads for him when he initiated the effort. So they’re not big campaign finance reformers, but I guess they think that’s not their number one issue.”
Link to audio
Green accuses Cuomo’s 2006 Attorney General campaign of illegal coordination:
MP: Though it’s somewhat insider baseball, I personally was intrigued by a machination I had never heard about that you recount from the 2006 Attorney General campaign involving one of the most influential political consultants in New York, Jennifer Cunningham, who is the ex-wife of current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and back in 2006 was a top advisor to Cuomo in his successful bid for the office. Can you tell our listeners that story and explain why you included it?
MG: “Sure. Andrew (Cuomo) beat me fair and square in 2006 in the primary. I thought my full name would beat his last name and that turned out to be incorrect. Jennifer Cunningham is a brilliant strategist. She basically ran Andrew’s campaign. And if you’re allowed to take x dollars as a contribution, that’s the limit. And if someone wants to spend independent of you, they can do so. They set up a so-called independent effort out of the SEIU union and when someone called this ‘independent’ effort for Andrew Cuomo, Jennifer Cunningham answered the phone. So much for independence. When a journalist pointed this out, they did the smart thing. They shut it down, didn’t answer one question about it and kept going.”
MP: “And no one ever pursued that illegal coordination?”
Link to audio
Green on the investigations swirling around Joe Percoco and whether Gov. Cuomo would have known if Percoco was engaging in illegal activity:
MG: “Bill, you put your finger on a real public and political problem for the governor and Joe Percoco. Preet Bharara will decide whether it is a legal problem. First, let me say (that) I know Joe Percoco. He was my scheduler for about a year plus when I was the Public Advocate.”
MP: “And Preet Bharara was your driver, isn’t that right, Mark?”
MG: “And Preet Bharara was my driver.”
BS: “That’s amazing.”
MG: “A Columbia law student who was 25 and upwardly mobile professionally drove me from time to time in my ’93 Public Advocate race. I didn’t talk to him about how he might be going after Cuomo and Percoco at the time. What did I know? What did he know?
As for Percoco, you asked me a—it’s quite a hypothetical question. I, of course, do not know what happened. I know what I read. And you raised two questions: If Joe Percoco was technically off the governor’s payroll for a few months while he was running the governor’s re-election campaign and got a lot of money funneled to him by interests before the governor’s office and the state, that looks smarmy and it could raise a legal problem.
Now, could Andrew Cuomo have known that was happening, not known it was happening? The reason you’re skeptical is one of Andrew Cuomo’s skills is he gathers intelligence. His fingers (are) everywhere, people are everywhere reporting into him. And when you know more than everybody else, you can kind of anticipate and act. I would presume he would have known, but, you know, he’s running the state and if his guy is getting income that is not being told to him from interests before the governor … It’s possible he didn’t know, but I understand the skepticism.”
Link to audio
Green on de Blasio’s fundraising practices:
MP: As our listeners likely know, Mayor de Blasio and his administration are also embroiled in a number of investigations right now. Though there are several different things authorities are reportedly looking into, a common thread appears to be the mayor’s fundraising and whether there has been an element of pay-for-play in his administration.
In 2009, you squared off against de Blasio in the New York City Public Advocate’s race and when you take your readers behind the scenes of that contest in your book, you focus on some fundraising by de Blasio you found particularly distasteful. During that campaign, de Blasio aggressively attacked your bother, Stephen Green, the chairman of one of New York’s most prominent real estate companies, S.L. Green, calling him one of the city’s “most corrupt landlords”. You were incensed by de Blasio “falsely sliming my brother” and attacking you through your family.
Well, lo and behold, four years later, when de Blasio was running for Mayor, you write that he came to your brother for a campaign contribution, despite de Blasio’s previous fierce criticisms of him—and your brother wrote him a check since it was all but certain at that time he was going to be elected mayor—and, these are my words, it’s bad for business to be on the wrong side of the mayor when you’re in real estate in this city.
Is de Blasio taking the same tack to fundraising that all politicians do who have to raise significant amounts of money, or does he cross a line into an unethical area or worse?
MG: “He’s doing what all non-billionaire politicians have to do to stay viable. And he is being diminished and hurt by the comparison to Michael Bloomberg and I think this is unfair to Bill de Blasio. Michael Bloomberg, of course, is the richest man in world history to run for and win office. In my book I make a joke that he reminds me of Bing Crosby’s comment about Frank Sinatra, ‘A Sinatra comes along once every several generations, why did it have to be mine?’
Bloomberg, of course, doesn’t have to raise money. He writes one check and he’s done. No one would remotely think that he would do something financially corrupt. That he gave a seven-figure contribution to the Independence Party to win their line … and he got 50,000 votes on their line and he beat me by 36,000 votes. OK, that’s an interesting idea. The problem with de Blasio’s comparison with Bloomberg … [de Blasio] has just taken some positions that are … seem to be untenable. ‘Oh, we must on day one get rid of the carriage industry’ when he gets a tremendous amount of support from the taxi cab industry. And the animal rights people fund separately an entity that takes down Christine Quinn. So the perception is bad and he says there’s no link between the two.
Every politician, from Lincoln to Obama, takes money and then has to make judgments that affect the donor. And Barney Frank, who is always the most insightful on these matters, (says) it’s a stretch to think that if a donor is on line 1, and your high school buddy is on line 2, and your wife is on line 3, guess which call you take? So de Blasio has exposed himself to this suspicion. Frankly, if he gets a lot of money from someone and then it passes through to recipients who aren’t allowed to get that money directly, it’s legal if all he said to the donor was, ‘Thanks.’ It’s illegal if he said to the donor, ‘Thanks, now I’ll funnel the money to state Senate candidates.” I assume Bill de Blasio is smart and sophisticated enough not to fall into the latter trap.”
Link to audio
Green on de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York and Samuels’ idea to reform the system:
BILL SAMUELS: Mark, I want to ask you about two types of fundraising: one I’m troubled by, one I think should be encouraged. The first involves the nonprofit organization Campaign for One New York, which he set up to promote his agenda. I am very troubled by these types of nonprofits, which Governor Cuomo led the way in creating with his now disbanded Committee to Save New York.
I think the New York City Council and State Legislature should pass laws that prohibit any nonprofit controlled by an elected official from collecting contributions from people who do business with the respective level of government they represent. What are your thoughts on this reform idea?
MG: “When I was Public Advocate, I raised foundation money for two reasons. One was to help foster care children who had no legal representation. The other was a study of police racial-profiling and abuse. There was no interest involved before the city other than helping orphaned kids and victims of police abuse. So that struck me as a fine thing to do. It’s less fine if you’re raising secret, huge amounts that end up benefitting, directly or indirectly, the donor.”
BS: “Like that 2 million Genting gave to Cuomo’s committee when all this casino stuff was before the governor. That really smelled.”
MG: “2 million dollars is a lot of money and it ended up that the donor won the Aqueduct contract. Now, is there a way to draft a law that says you have to make every donation public—it can’t be more than a thousand bucks or something—so it helps orphan kids, but it doesn’t help the people who want to affect the carriage drivers? Yeah, I think so. And we want to be careful not to stop people from giving large amounts of money philanthropically, even if they wink at the mayor and go, ‘Oh, you’re really interested in x, I give to a foundation that is also interested in x.’ Can’t stop that. It’s speech and it’s charity. But, if it’s controlled by the politician, then you set up an entity that evades the campaign finance rules.”
Link to audio
Green and Samuels discuss de Blasio’s fundraising for State Senate candidates through upstate Democratic county committees:
BS: “Now, my second question I want to give a little background on. Mark, when you and I were young, we railed against the bosses—‘Power to the people’—and we stripped down the power of … whether it be the DNC or state committees, and we opened the floodgates starting in 1972 to money in politics because there were no primaries in New York until 1968 when Paul O’Dwyer won and it was 80/20 percent being the superdelegate votes until McGovern/ Fraser changed that in the ‘72 convention and flipped it.
Now, the trend once we attacked that and thought we were doing the right thing, now has gone to where the big money is Citizens United, corporations can give as much as they want to an independent committee and, therefore, when I saw de Blasio, unlike (Andrew) Cuomo, encouraging donors to give money to county committees like Ulster County and Putnam County to elect Democrats that could favor a progressive agenda, I thought to myself, ‘You know what? I’d rather have donors give to the Democratic Party than set up independent expenditures.”
The candidate, therefore, has to look to his party. The question is when do you cross the line? I’m going to give you a few scenarios. …When are any of these scenarios and practices wrong? And I preface it by saying I want to encourage donors not to do independent expenditures but to give money to the party of their choice. Scenario 1: The mayor raises money for a county party … and the local county leaders decide on their own to invest all of that money in a local candidate but it’s clearly their decision. (Is there) anything wrong with that?
MG: “No. … If it is disclosed.”
BS: “(Scenario 2J The mayor raises money for a local party with the understanding with the local leaders who agree with him that they will funnel that money to a local candidate.”
MG: “I have a problem with that because the beneficiary could be someone who wants to have influence or sway over the mayor, so he … if the limit—I think it’s like $5,000 or something for a mayoral campaign now—is evaded because you coaxed a $50,000 donation to x, well then you know you are evading the New York City campaign finance law, even if it’s in another county.”
BS: “Well, I’m not sure I agree. I think if a Putnam County leader wants to go and solicit funds so that the county can elect more Democrats—clearly we think that’s good. It’s a question of quid pro quo. I don’t think John Catsimatidis got a quid pro quo from the mayor, personally. But, finally, let’s go to a clear one.
(De Blasio) raises money for the local party … with a clear understanding with the local leaders that they won’t just give the money to the local candidate, but that that candidate in turn understands that (they) will hire a certain political consultant company favored by the (Mayor). Does that cross the line?”
MG: “Yeah, that does because that’s a quid pro quo. And that turns on what was said and what was assumed, which is what it’s so hard to bring legal actions. Even Governor (Bob) McDonald of Virginia, who was indicted and convicted … is now before the Supreme Court because what could look awful, like Sheldon Silver’s situation, you still have to show that there was money for favor and it’s very hard to prove that causation.”
BS: “Well, I would just point out that it’s going to be fascinating what happens here, that while federally there are laws about coordination and about what is and what isn’t, there aren’t any in New York State on the books. And, therefore, I would argue no notice has been given to the givers like John Catsimatidis or even to Bill de Blasio’s inner team that clearly has an interest in us having a Democratic state Senate. And that without that notice, in a very grey area, the real thing that should be done here is to clarify in statutes in New York State and New York City. But I think it’s unfair, given no notice here to blame and criminalize those that gave to these state Senate races. But let’s see what Cy Vance does.”
MG: “I’m a lawyer, but don’t hold that against me. And in the law, to bring a criminal action and/or conviction, you need scienter, knowledge, intent. And so it would be awful—I agree with you, Bill—to criminalize something that has been traditional. What used to be traditional can become corrupt when people wake up to the fact. And then, going forward, you have to establish a standard.
Now, the federal government has a standard because this has existed for a long time. Independent expenditures and PACs, Super PACs are new to New York and Cuomo is pioneering it. De Blasio in his way has followed up on it and the Campaign Finance Board should establish rules going forward so (that) anyone who gets elected in ’17 or beyond and ’18 for the governor, knows what’s prohibited.”
BS: “Well, I think in summary what should come out of this is a debate about what the rules in New York should be. And I know there should be clarification. I also think that it’s time that we encourage people to give to their local Republican or Democratic Party, that that’s preferable, if there’s no quid pro quo, to these Citizen United, independent expenditures.”
Link to audio
State Senator Terrence Murphy
Murphy on why the Republican Senators agreed to a minimum wage increase:
TM: “The reality is that we had the option of either taking what was on the table negotiating—New York City was in 3 years—they go to $15 dollars an hour. Westchester County and Long Island go to $15 dollars an hour, possibly $15 dollars an hour, I want to say within six and a half years. And then the rest of the … state goes to $12.50 over 5 years.
So the reality was either we take that and we put some triggers in there—after the third (year) there’s got to be an economic impact study done to see if this is actually hurting our state or not hurting the state. So we put that in after the third year, after the fourth year, the fifth year and the sixth year to make sure we’re not doing the wrong thing.
But, with that being said, none of us were really in favor of it, but if we didn’t do that, we would have had to vote no on the budget and then we would have gone to an austerity budget where the governor would have came in and said, ‘That’s great, guys. I gave you the opportunity of six and half years in Westchester and Long Island. Guess what? I’m gonna do it at the end of this year, $15 dollars throughout New York State.’ And then we would have been in even bigger trouble and we would have had a lot more stuff shoved into the governor’s budget, the austerity budget, like ‘raise the age’ and the DREAM Act—like I say, ‘Keep dreamin’.’ So these are things that we took under consideration and, inevitably, we passed the budget.”
Link to audio
Murphy on whether the Legislature will pass additional ethics reform measures this session:
TM: “I think it’s almost a mandate on us. We must do something. … There’s no better police officer than ourselves to police ourselves and hold us to higher standards. I believe, you know, I have signed on to the pension forfeiture bill, the term limits bill.
You now, I say this and I say this facetiously, that if you give some of the people up here 45 cents they couldn’t make 50 because they are professional politicians. Yet they are setting the table for us to abide by, meaning small business owners, and it’s become more and more difficult because of the rules and regulations. And I am the Chairman of the New York State Rules and Regulations and I’ve gone through and if I don’t like you, Bill, or if I don’t like you, Morgan, or the business that you have, and you try to open up a business in New York State, I can pretty much come in and try to shut you down because none of these bills, none of these rules and regulations have ever been sunset.
So, we’re ranked 50th, dead-last in America as a business-friendly state. So what my idea is as Chairman of the Rules and Regulations is to try to and sunset these things. If they become more important, then we bring them back out on to the table.
But, (in) regards to your ethics question, your ethics question is a dynamic question that must be addressed and I believe our conference will be going in for that very, very shortly.”
Link to audio
Murphy on the money de Blasio fundraised for Murphy’s former opponent, Justin Wagner, in 2006:
TM: “Well, let’s get it straight, it wasn’t $500,000, it was $672,000 in 8 days that was earmarked specifically for Justin Wagner and Terry Gipson.”
BS: “And that’s the problem.”
TM: “Completely illegal. It’s one thing giving it to a campaign committee or a county committee and it’s one thing giving it to them and saying, ‘You need to put it into this.’ And it wasn’t a contribution. It was basically a transfer of money that was given. And, more importantly, how about the shakedown of businesses that the mayor had personally called and asked businesses to donate while you have contracts up in front of City Hall? You think there might be a little bit of conflict of interest there? Just yesterday, just yesterday, a company called Pebbles or Peebles?”
MP: “Yes, Don Peebles.”
TM: “Don Peebles. Don Peebles came out and said he personally got a phone call from the Mayor of New York City asking for $20,000 to donate to his pre-K, his non-profit organization that is only allowed to take up to $400. And Mr. Peebles has business in front of New York City. If you don’t think that’s a conflict of interest, or if anybody doesn’t think that’s a conflict of interest, I would dare to say, ‘have your head examined.’
MP: “Senator, you’ve called for an investigation. Are you confident that there could be a fair, non-politicized investigation of this?”
TM: “Absolutely! Why shouldn’t there be? … At the end of the day, I called for it 18 months ago. This wasn’t just … something that was a revelation (when) I woke up yesterday and said, ‘Oh, let’s have…’ I called for this 18 months ago and there was only one lady who followed the story, Marcia Kramer from CBS News. Everybody else thought it was politics as usual. ‘Oh, this is just politics. This is just politics.’
And now, here you fast-forward 18 months later, follow the money … hundreds of thousands of dollars … Just recently in SD-9, $50,000 went to Todd Kaminsky. They’re finding out in Suffolk County. Suffolk County returned the $100,000 check because they knew it was wrong. (They know) it was illegal. You can’t earmark these things. And … never would I ever, ever go down and meet with somebody to say, ‘OK, listen’ … like my former opponent (Wagner) did. (He) went down and met with (de Blasio’s) administration to figure out how to funnel the money in.”
Link to audio
Murphy on the mayoral control hearing:
TM: “The mayor had come up here for mayoral control and I had asked him and flat-out asked him, I said, ‘Mayor, convince me to vote for mayoral control after all the looming and serious allegations that are over your office and your administrators and tell me how I can trust you with $9 billion to educate the 1.1 million.’ And he couldn’t do it.”
BS: “You want to trust Andrew Cuomo with it?”
TM: “Yeah. Well, you know what, (de Blasio)’s up in front of me and it was my first opportunity to actually introduce myself to someone who had, basically, as far as I’m concerned, committed a crime. And we’ll let that be up to the district attorneys and the wonderful U.S. Attorney to see what they think.
Link to audio