May 15th, 2016

Guests: from Capitol Pressroom Host Susan Arbetter and Strong Economy for All Coalition’s Michael Kink 

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Capitol Pressroom Host Susan Arbetter

Full interview

Arbetter on Cuomo’s approach to governance:

SA: “For a long time Albany was known for its dysfunction as well for the fact that it’s sort of a do-nothing town. Now, under Cuomo, it’s all about getting things done, but people are so focused on doing something that it’s almost like they’re putting the goal ahead of the process. It’s another way of, like, saying that the ends now seem to justify the means and that always ends badly.”

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Arbetter on how serious the Percoco investigation is:

SA: “I did speak to the governor frequently for a while there, but I haven’t since June. Just to give you a sense of how long that’s been, I could have had a baby between now and the last time I spoke to the governor by phone, or at all.

Now let’s talk about how serious I think this is. Somebody, I think it was de Blasio, was telling Brian Lehrer the other day that sometimes where there’s smoke there’s just smoke, there isn’t fire. So I don’t really know, okay?

Yes, this is problematic on the surface. This is a guy, Joe Percoco, who the governor has said ‘is like my father’s third son who he loved more than the rest of us.’

I did speak to a source that said some of the people in the Cuomo administration that the governor has trusted don’t respect the procurement process. They think of it more as an inconvenience rather than the law that they have to follow.

Another issue here is that I heard from somebody who worked for Pataki who told me that when you went on leave from the Pataki executive chamber, you got an advisory letter spelling out exactly what you could do and what you couldn’t do, but that’s not something that magically appears in your hand. You have to have a culture where you ask for such an advisory letter and it’s required. So things might be a little loosey-goosey in the executive chamber when it comes to that and that’s the kind of thing that leads people down the primrose path to Preet Bharara, if you know what I mean.”

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Arbetter on how bad things are in Albany right now, relatively speaking:

SA: “I don’t know if things have always been this bad, but let me just say that right now things are that bad. … I think … that everything comes from the top and there is one element here that has sort of bred this corruption and I think it’s the lack of independence happening at the ethics [enforcement agencies]: JCOPE and the Board of Elections.

Think about who JCOPE’s new executive director is. It used to be Cuomo’s counsel in the executive chamber, Seth Agata. Before that it was Letizia Tagliaferro, who he was friendly enough to meet for dinner at her family’s restaurant in Saugerties, and Tagliaferro was Cuomo’s director of intergovernmental relations. And now she’s back working for him. Before Tagliaferro it was Ellen Biben [who is now a Court of Claims Judge]…

All of these people are extremely accomplished, but the fact that the governor would keep putting people who are very close to him in this sort of very important position, it really sells them and JCOPE short, I believe. I think that they can’t get off the ground if they’re always tainted by the fact that the people who are in charge are always very close to the governor. And it’s because of that idea and the idea also that the governor is very secretive and is a bully and things like that allows things to happen that shouldn’t.”

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Arbetter on the 2017 Constitutional Convention vote:

SA: “The whole idea behind the campaign is to educate people before the 2017 vote. Everyone, as you guys know, everyone in New York is going to answer a referendum question on November 7th, 2017 that basically says, ‘Do you think we should have a constitutional convention?’ And if enough people say yes, then, lo and behold, we’re going to have one and we haven’t had one since 1967 … and I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time for another one.

The whole thing about having a constitutional convention is if you can’t get the legislature to pass the reforms that we need to make good government, that you can open up the constitution and do it, but it does come with some risks. And … yes, people have a lot of trepidation about that. There are a lot of things in the constitution—while people don’t venerate this constitution the way they do the one down in Washington—there’s things that they like. For example, the Forever Wild clause and the pension protections that are in the constitution. People don’t want to risk those things. On the other hand, there are a lot of really good things that could be done if we had a constitutional convention.”

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Arbetter on the number one reform Albany could implement to clean up its act on an enduring basis:

SA: “I have to say that I think public campaign financing is the number one issue. If you took the money out of the equation, then people wouldn’t have to be raising money while they are supposed to be governing.”

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Strong Economy for All Coalition Executive Director Michael Kink

Full interview

Kink on why Albany things it can get away with the status quo despite all of the scandals and arrests and how Connecticut finally learned its lesson:

MK: “I think candidates and elected officials often expect that the public is so cynical and so burned out by the magnitude of corruption that they’ll get by. The fact is in Connecticut, which is just across the border from New York, it took the arrest and conviction of both (of) the leaders of both houses of the Legislature and the arrest and conviction of their governor to move large-scale change.

I don’t know how many earthquakes it’s gonna take, but the fact is that voters are angry. You saw that in the special election on Long Island where Todd Kaminsky, a former anti-corruption prosecutor, won election in a hard fought campaign for the seat that Dean Skelos was forced to vacate when he was convicted. You’ve seen the district attorney of Nassau County win re-election against the Republican machine out there.

I think that lawmakers are going to be held accountable. I do think that voters are beyond cynicism and they’re into burning, red-hot anger. And I think that candidates that want to run for public office this fall that run on a campaign against corruption, against the corrosive power of big money and for the common sense reforms that can actually help make things better, they’re going to get elected.

Connecticut saw a dramatic reduction in the arrest and conviction of state officials when they moved their reforms. It had a real impact on how things are done in Connecticut state government. I think we can do that here in New York. It’s absolutely essential to go big on these reforms if we’re actually going to make some change.”

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Kink on whether certain unions, like 1199, made a deal to keep the Senate Republicans in power in exchange for the $15 minimum wage and whether there a schism right now between more centrist unions and more progressive ones:

MK: “First of all, I think it’s important for listeners to understand that unions aggregate the power of literally hundreds of thousands of people into their political work. There are, for example, the state teachers union has 600,000 members and retirees. Their campaign contributions and their political activism is qualitatively different than the work of the billionaires that singlehandedly can make the contributions and make the endorsements. So I think that unions as a whole play an important force in democracy and I think some of the criticism that they receive is entirely undeserved …

In terms of the politics of Albany, any organized political group that is smart about how they do things is working to gain things that benefit their members and they’re working on a continually shifting set of alliances. They may be allied with groups that are important and dedicated to their principles, but they’re always seeking support from folks that may oppose them to get stuff done.

I cannot speak for 1199 or any other individual union. I do know that during the effort to pass the $15 dollar minimum wage (that was) successful in New York, George Gresham, the president of 1199, made it pretty clear that their intention was to seek support from members of both parties and that their political decisions would be based not solely on any individual action but on the stuff that they were trying to get done for their members. So I think that all the individual unions take different perspectives on these issues.

You know, the members of my coalition—some of them are for Hillary, some of them for Bernie. Many of us have said good things about Donald Trump and Jeb Bush on closing the carried interest loophole.

I do think that most folks who try to get stuff done in government and politics have to have their eyes wide open and need to look for support wherever they can get it. But I do tend to agree with the tenor of your question … that the long-term benefit to the state is going to be moving it in a more progressive direction. And I do know that all the members of the Strong Economy For All Coalition, both the labor unions and the community groups, are dedicated to building a New York that’s fairer, where working people can do better, and where the government can be run according to democratic principles that make it accountable to all the people and not just the super rich.”

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Kink on the 2017 Constitutional Convention vote:

MK: “You know, Bill [Samuels], I’ve really been happy to be both a consumer and sometimes a participant in the broad discussion that you’ve been kind of facilitating on the constitutional convention in New York.

Our organization has not taken a specific position on the convention or on single elements, but I will say that I think we’re at time in New York, certainly at a time in America, where people are hungry for large-scale structural improvements, the kind of things in the New York state constitution that enshrine values that have benefitted millions and millions of people. The fact that we have a constitutional responsibility to provide aid and care for the needy and there are welfare benefits and our housing and homeless services have to be enough to actually take care of people and not just leave them stuck barely surviving.

We’ve got stuff in our constitution that was transformative in terms of a fair and caring society and the opportunity to think about what kind of things we need in the 21st century is really exciting. I do think a couple of years ago I might have tussled with you a little bit and sort of taken the perspective of protecting what we have, but we’ve seen so many people and so much movement building over the last several years where people are looking for big, broad changes. And I think if the progressive movement were able to come forward with a couple of big, big sort of structural things that we need in a new constitution, I think then we could have a really vigorous discussion. I think it’s probably something worth doing.”

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