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Steve Fishman: Spitzer's Finally Fighting Back, But Is He Eliot Reagan?

Governor Spitzer finally abandoned his silly business-as-usual tactic today, giving up the “I’m going to get back to doing the people’s business” that invariably means something is amiss. The Republican-led State Senate had suggested that it might act like a real legislative body, one with oversight responsibilities and subpoena powers, and investigate whether the governor knew that a top aide was tracking Senate leader Joe Bruno’s use of state vehicles. And Spitzer finally broke his silence on the burgeoning scandal to warn the senator that, in effect, the senators shouldn't punch above their weight. Never one to be outlawyered, the governor has apparently been reading up on the state constitution, and he charged in a statement that New York's Senate does not have the constitutional authority to investigate the executive branch. In other words, he seemed to say that he won't cooperate with any investigation and will instead invoke an Empire State version executive privilege. Whether the potential drama of a constitutional showdown will, in fact, entice the Republican Senate remains to be seen.

As Spitzer Sinks Deeper, Cuomo Rides High

The main takeaway from the first days of what now promises to be a long, hard slog for the governor is how strangely unprepared the Spitzer machine seems for dealing with an internal crisis. This is, of course, ironic on several levels: As the crusading A.G., Spitzer has thrown many a Wall Street firm into the same kind of cooperation-pledging, aide-dismissing, ass-covering tizzy his administration appears to be experiencing right now. Today’s Post and Times point out that, despite the governor’s claim of full cooperation with Cuomo, two of his top aides — including his chief of staff — refused to talk to the attorney general's investigators. That such a Nixonian disconnect between Team Spitz's statements and actions should surface so fast is just plain embarrassing; worse, the question the two staffers appeared to be unwilling to answer concerns the degree of Spitzer’s involvement with the unpleasantness at hand (the use of state police to spy on Joe Bruno).

A Spitzer Stonewall?

• The Spitzer mess is getting, well, messier. Turns out two of guv’s closest aides, including his chief of staff (who still has his job), stonewalled Cuomo’s probe, which doesn’t quite jibe with Spitzer’s claims of full cooperation. [NYP] • Police-shooting victim Sean Bell’s fiancée and two friends have sued the NYPD for wrongful death, civil-rights violations, false arrest, and emotional distress; the suit names all five officers who were on the scene, including two who were cleared of wrongdoing. [Reuters] • Because more than 24 hours have passed without any agonizing over Bloomberg’s presidential plans and how they might affect the race, you’ll be happy to know he’s registered the domain mike2008.com (while continuing to maintain full deniability). [NYDN] • Shocker: The new MTA budget will call for subway fare and toll increases. We don’t know by how much yet, but they want to raise the revenue by 6.5 percent; do your own worst-case-scenario math. [NYT] • And the city’s cab drivers are finalizing citywide strike plans for September, over those pesky GPS tracking systems the city wants to install in every cab. We think we’ll just stay home. [amNY]

Spitzer's Bad Day, Cont'd: The Lieutenant Governor Passes Out

As if Governor Spitzer wasn't already having a pretty shitty day, now there's this: His lieutenant governor, David Paterson, passed out on a flight from La Guardia to Buffalo today; the plane was met by paramedics in Buffalo, where he remains hospitalized. "There is a little lovefest some of us here have with him," Paterson told Steve Fishman for his Spitzer profile last week. Maybe his heart's been broken? Press release from the L.G.'s office after the jump.

Steamroller Stalled: Could You See It Coming?

In a nutshell: In an effort to score political points by claiming his nemesis, Joe Bruno, was inappropriately using state resources (aircraft, cars, troopers) to travel to political events, Eliot Spitzer, or at least people working for Eliot Spitzer, inappropriately used state resources (the state police) to carry out their oppo research. A.G. Andrew Cuomo released a report yesterday saying so, and saying, incidentally, that Bruno hadn't actually done anything wrong. Spitzer indefinitely suspended one aide, transferred another out of the governor's office, and denied any knowledge of what they were up to; Republicans are skeptical he was really so oblivious. So much for being the White Knight, eh? In last week's New York, Steve Fishman profiled the governor and examined his (many) feuds with other state officials, most notably Bruno. There's lots of fun foreshadowing.

And on Day 204, Everything Changed Back

• Governor Spitzer has dismissed one top aide and suspended another for (a) essentially spying on Joe Bruno and (b) concocting a cover-up for it. But what did Spitzer know, and when did he know it? [NYT] • In the meantime, Bruno's vacation is ruined anyway: The Legislature has agreed to reconvene on Thursday to begin discussing a "compromise" on congestion pricing. [NYDN] • The so-called YouTube debate on CNN last night wasn't just an exercise in cross-branding; it delivered some full-on madness, including a talking snowman grilling Hillary Clinton on climate change and a Second Amendment question from a man holding a gun. [NYP] • Eighteen years after pleading guilty to sex crimes — and then denying his guilt, and then having a movie made about him — convicted child molester Jesse Friedman may be vindicated. A new hearing will introduce evidence that police may have tampered with a young accuser. [amNY] • And, Newt Gingrich says Mike Bloomberg's "entire basis of survival is paying $91 a vote" in 2005. Remind us what Newt Gingrich's basis for survival is again? [NYS]

Behold the Power of Crumbling Infrastructure

• Families of 9/11 victims are upset — are the families of 9/11 victims ever not upset? — because the city plans to commemorate the attacks' sixth anniversary in the small Zuccotti park. Instead of, you know, in the middle of a giant construction site. [amNY]

Congestion Pricing: It's a Deal!

As Geoffrey Gray warned us earlier, there's now a deal for congestion pricing. From City Room, the Times's metro blog:
“We have a deal,” Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, just told reporters in Albany. “Like any deal, like any arrangement, its [sic] subject to the definitive word ending up on paper. As we speak, we are drafting paper, press release, with the governor’s office, with the Assembly.” Asked if the deal would still qualify for a grant of $500 million in federal financing, Mr. Bruno said: “We are told if we get this there today, we will be one of the nine considered.”
Just think: Some time in the not-too-distant future, you'll have the privilege of paying to drive on exploding streets. Fun! Deal Is at Hand in Congestion Pricing [City Room/NYT] Earlier: Congestion-Pricing Lives! Is City Hall Close to Announcing a Deal?

What Does Shelly Have Up His Sleeve?

The Daily News' Daily Politics blog reports that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's office is calling up members of his Democratic majority as we speak, and asking them to return to Albany tomorrow. Exciting! Also, puzzling. The News deems this "a significant development," but we know it can't be to suddenly pass the now-scuttled congestion-pricing idea — unless Mayor Bloomberg just found some pictures of Silver riding in Alan Hevesi's limo or on Joe Bruno's horse. So what does Shelly need the Assembly for? Some theories: 1. The Lower East Side is dangerously low on pickles and herring; the LES Preserved Foods Preservation Act is in order. 2. He loves to mess with people's vacations, just as a test of loyalty. 3. He read the last page of the leaked Harry Potter and has no one to discuss it with. 4. He just brainstormed a law, retroactive to 2001, that would make it illegal for media-company owners to run for mayor. 5. He needs help getting the gigantic bug out of his ass. Breakthrough? [Daily Politics/NYDN]

Can't We Just Blame Everyone?

• With Bloomberg's congestion-pricing plan dead, the finger-pointing begins in earnest. Mayor Mike decries Albany's lack of "guts" while state officials accuse the mayor of springing a fully formed proposal on them at the last possible moment. [NYT]

Stalled Traffic

• After all that, Albany shelved Bloomberg's congestion-pricing idea, letting the federal-funding deadline pass without the issue even coming to a vote. Expect a new traffic-reducing proposal, nothing like Bloomberg's, later in the year. [NYT]

Congestion Pricing, ‘Times’ Reporter: Both Still in Purgatory

Today is the deadline for Albany to get a congestion-pricing deal done, as Mayor Bloomberg has consistently said, and at 5:30 p.m. there's still no legislation. But something still could — indeed, still well might — come together before midnight, which seems about right for our dysfunctional state capital. At City Room, the Times' local-politics blog, statehouse reporter Nick Confessore has been chronicling a day spent trailing officials like Bloomberg and Joe Bruno hoping, usually in vain, for a comment:
The meeting was closed to reporters, who camped outside a locked conference room door, pressing their ears — and tape recorders — to the glass in the hopes of catching an earful of congestion-pricing gossip. (Such is the exciting life of the Albany statehouse reporter.)
We'll remind you that Confessore made A1 a mere four weeks ago with his lament, "In Albany, Life Has Seeped Out of the Night Life." Poor guy. Day of Decision Comes for Congestion Pricing [City Room/NYT]

Joe Bruno's Spitzer Peace Plan

Eliot Spitzer's epic feud with Joe Bruno has been lots of fun for headline writers and politics watchers, if perhaps not so good for Albany's effective functioning. But here's a funny thing: As Steve Fishman reports in this week's cover story, their big fight didn't even have to happen. In the last days of the legislative session, about a month ago, Bruno approached Spitzer with the idea of a non-aggression pact: He'd support the governor's cherished campaign-finance proposal if the governor would agree not to campaign against Senate Republicans. The plan to reduce the money flowing into state politics is “Spitzer’s obsession,” Bruno told Fishman, but the Republican leader wouldn't disarm in the face of a wealthy, powerful governor determined to break the GOP's hold on the Senate. Under Bruno's deal, Spitzer would get the campaign-finance reform he wanted, Bruno would get protection, and both would be able to move forward on four or five pieces of legislation caught in the crossfire. But Spitzer would agree merely to congratulate the Republicans if they helped push his agenda. “That’s not good enough,” Bruno told him, according to Fishman's source. And a few days later they were at war. The Steamroller in the Swamp [NYM]

Traffic Jam

• It's down to the wire — the deadline for the legislature to approve Bloomberg's congestion-pricing plan is today — and the still-unbowed mayor is pulling out all stops: Yesterday, he campaigned for it in three churches, fer chrissakes. [NYT]

Thrice-Married Catholic Not Considered So Religious

• Only 13 percent of responders think Rudy Giuliani is "of strong religious faith," according to a Time poll — and that's lower than Hillary's number (15 percent). But he once wanted to close down an art exhibit for blasphemy! [NYP] • "The very character of the Northeast is at stake" if greenhouse gases aren't reduced, a new study warns. Poised to vanish: Long Island lobsters and New York apples. What will thrive: smog, pollen, and floods. And, clearly, Claritin sales. [NYT] • An L.A.-to-London flight was diverted to JFK this morning because of a "suspicious passenger." Michael Chertoff's gut told him it was a harmless misunderstanding. [WNBC] • Shelly Silver still won't agree to bring the Assembly to the table for congestion-pricing talks — even as the desperate Mayor Bloomberg says he'll fly to Albany tomorrow. By now, we're just looking forward to Monday, when this mess will be over. [NYDN] • And, starting today, the MTA adds a "Mets express" to its 7 line: a one-stop service from midtown to Shea. It's just for an hour on game days, but funny thing: If they did it year-round, Willets Point might actually be habitable. [amNY]

Will Silver Make Bloomberg's Traffic Dream Come True? He Just Might, Says Spokesman

This week's consensus has been that Bloomberg's congestion-pricing plan is doomed because the legislature won't act in time to get the federal money, and that the legislature won't act in time because Shelly Silver isn't interested in playing ball. But are things changing? Today's Daily News reports that Silver late yesterday talked with both Governor Spitzer and State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, both congestion-pricing proponents, about the plan (separately, of course). And this morning we had an interesting conversation with Silver's spokesman. "To say he's willing to let this expire would not be an accurate thing to say," press secretary Dan Weiller told us. Oh, really? Hmm. —Alec Appelbaum Shelly Un-Congests Snag [NYDN] Earlier: Does Bloomberg Know His Congestion-Pricing Battle Is Lost?

It's Not Easy Being a Steamroller

• Eliot Spitzer admits to the Times that his feud with Joe Bruno has become "ugly" and "eclipse[d] all discussion of policy and legislation." Plus, all the personal attacks are upsetting Mrs. Spitzer, who now regrets her husband didn't go into real estate. [NYT] • The city is opening 290 "cooling centers" to help New Yorkers beat the heat; "I don't care how strong you are, you should take some precautions," Mayor Bloomberg declared, sounding even more like a testy grandmother than usual. [amNY] • Now this is getting interesting: The Department of Transportation under Janette Sadik-Khan is trying to hire Danish planner Jan Gehl as a consultant (as Daily Intel reported two weeks ago), and now word is that his proposals include banning cars from Times Square. [NYDN] • At the Phil Spector trial, the judge has allowed in a piece of blockbuster testimony from the producer's bodyguard — who says he's heard Spector say "all women should be shot in the head." [WNBC] • And a Manhattan psychologist, William Swan, is accused of groping a prospective assistant during an interview and showing her porn to boost her "assertiveness." In an apparent triumph, she's now assertive enough to sue and go to the press. [NYP]

Does Bloomberg Know His Congestion-Pricing Battle Is Lost?

Mayor Bloomberg spoke to the New York Building Congress this afternoon about the need to fund mass-transit improvements with the revenue from his congestion-pricing plan — and we've never seen him looking quite so gloomy. With seven days until Albany can either endorse or suffocate a bid for $400 million in federal start-up aid, Bloomberg began the address with his usual brio but wound down in obvious frustration. He downgraded his prepared text's "I believe the legislation will pass" to a meeker "I hope"; then, at the end, he croaked out a subdued "I need your help" before the applause. A source close to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, meantime, is talking up half-measure counterproposals and says the State Senate, allegedly in Bloomberg's corner, might not vote on the plan at all. We'd be depressed, too. —Alec Appelbaum Earlier: Daily Intel's coverage of Bloomberg's congestion-pricing plan

Westchester Pol to Foil Mike's Plans?

Uh-oh! Today's papers brought news of another nail in the coffin of Mayor Mike's big congestion-pricing plans: Westchester assemblyman Richard Brodsky's report deeming Bloomberg's proposal unworkable in its current form. There's only a week left for the legislature to act before the federal deadline to apply for some $400 million in start-up funds, and Brodsky's report is just one more, uh, roadblock. Could an Albany scold destroy our billionaire's big dreams? Actually, maybe not. Brodsky praised Bloomberg's gumption at this spring's public hearings on the plan, and he's told us in phone interviews that he admires any effort to improve mass transit — which money from congestion pricing would do.

The Thrilla in Albany

• The battle royale between Joe Bruno and Eliot Spitzer — and maybe, a little bit, the Albany Times Union — continues to heat up. Now the embattled State Senate majority leader says he'll activate a senate committee to investigate the guv — and start issuing subpoenas. [NYP] • Another week, another power outage: About 2,500 Upper East Siders lost their electricity again last night, this time after an underground fire. Blacking out 10021 twice in ten days can't be good for business. [Reuters] • Turns out that while he was preparing to decamp the GOP, Mike Bloomberg was privately bombarding the state Republicans with messages of support — including pledges to back some Dem-targeted senators' 2008 campaigns. Now that's triangulation. [NYT] • The new noise regulations have barely gone into effect, and already dozens of businesses have been busted — including a Mister Softee truck caught blasting the jingle in a residential area. [amNY] • And the Statue of Liberty is increasingly unlikely to make it onto the modern "seven wonders of the world" list currently being compiled. As the massive poll draws to a close with over 90 million votes cast, the poor green thing is languishing at the bottom, with the likes of the Kremlin and Stonehenge. [NYDN]