Race to the Finish

Waning Days of NYS Session, ERA Ballot Battle, Safer Skies

NYS Senate

Good morning from Albany where lawmakers return today with only 15 days remaining in the 2024 Legislative Session!

A judge in Livingston County ruled this week that New York’s ballot measure to codify abortion rights and other aspects of the Equal Rights Amendment was improper. Democrats had hoped that the ballot measure would drive higher turnout out—favoring their candidates—especially in a handful of competitive House Districts flipped by Republicans last cycle.

New York Attorney General Tish James vowed to appeal the decision saying, “This is a disappointing court decision, but we will appeal because New Yorkers deserve to be protected by their Constitution, especially as our basic freedoms and rights are under attack.” The lawsuit was brought by Republican Assembly Member Marjorie Byrnes and accused Democrats of failing to follow the ballot measure process laid out in the State constitution. Supreme Court Judge Daniel Doyle agreed, writing in his decision, “Substantial’ compliance is not compliance, and this Court cannot condone actions taken by the Legislature in derogation of the expressed will of the People.”

The essence of the case: an opinion of the Attorney General (or twenty days having passed since a measure was sent to the AG) is required for the Legislature to adopt a proposed resolution. The AG opinion was offered, but not until five days after the measure was adopted. No matter that other referendum have appeared on the ballot without the prior opinions as they were not challenged. Democrats are confident they will win on appeal, but they were confident during the redistricting saga as well.

New York State authorized the release of the first traunch of public campaign finance matching dollars. The program, finalized in 2022, and intended to encourage more candidates to run for office, provides matching funds to candidates on donations between $5 and $250. The law applies to statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller, but the first test will be in this year’s State legislative elections. Public Campaign Finance Board Chair Barbara Lifton said, “This is a major milestone in encouraging qualified candidates to run for office to increase public participation in our electoral process. I’m so pleased with the progression of the PCFB program and the effort that has gone into ensuring it serves our registered candidates and committees, as well as the voters of New York State.”

Former Governor Andrew Cuomo won a major legal victory last week in his ongoing lawsuit against the State’s ethics commission. The Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government (COELIG) found that Cuomo illegally used State resources to write his pandemic-era book and ordered him to pay back over $5 million in profit. Cuomo sued, arguing that the entire commission was unconstitutional and a five judge panel in the Third Judicial Department’s Appellate Division sided with Cuomo, ruling, “We find that by enacting the foregoing scheme for the enforcement of the applicable ethics laws, the Legislature, though well intentioned in its actions, violated the bedrock principles of separation of powers.” 

The ruling leaves COELIG in limbo while the State waits for a decision from the Court of Appeals. If the Court of Appeals declines to take up the case, or rules against COELIG, the commission would be rendered essentially powerless. COELIG’s Executive Director Sanford Berland and Chair Frederick Davie offered, “We respectfully disagree with the result reached by the court and are reviewing all options, including, if appropriate, recommending interim legislation.” There are currently no bills before the Legislature to revamp COELIG and with under a month remaining until lawmakers are scheduled to gavel out for the year, getting comprehensive ethics legislation introduced and passed before June 6th is unlikely. 

Zellnor Myrie, a progressive State Senator who represents Park Slope and Crown Heights, announced he will explore a challenge to New York City Mayor Eric Adams in next year’s Democratic primary election.

Myrie, who holds the same State Senate seat that Adams once held said, “For too many New Yorkers that I speak to, they’re tired of the showmanship. What people want to see are results. They want to see their government working relentlessly to make this city affordable, to make this city safe, to make it livable.” Adams is struggling with a sagging approval rating and his campaign remains under federal investigation for dubious fundraising. Myrie, 37, is hoping that Adams’ unpopularity, paired with his track record and relationships in Albany, will be enough to make him one of New York City’s youngest modern Mayors. 

“For too many New Yorkers that I speak to, they’re tired of the showmanship. What people want to see are results. They want to see their government working relentlessly to make this city affordable, to make this city safe, to make it livable.”

State Senator Zellnor Myrie on NYC Mayor Eric Adams

Liz Krueger, the veteran state Senator from Manhattan and chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, has not been shy about airing her displeasure with Adams saying, “I want a different mayor for New York City—desperately. One who has competence and actually understands the job.”  

Still, Adams enjoys support from some of New York City’s most influential unions and has a sizable campaign war chest. The head of Adams’ campaign, Frank Carone offered, “The mayor’s laser focus on public safety is the reason that crime is down and jobs are up. We look forward to being able to keep showing that to New Yorkers.” Scott Stringer, the former New York City comptroller and mayoral candidate in 2021, announced earlier this year he would be forming a committee to explore a campaign against Adams, but no primary challenger has defeated an incumbent mayor since Ed Koch lost to David Dinkins in 1989.  

In Washington, D.C., Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson survived a vote to remove him as Speaker brought by far-right member Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). House Democrats made good on their promise to save Johnson following his good-faith negotiations on the supplemental foreign aid bill that cleared the House last month and served as the impetus for the threats against Johnson in the first place. It was clear that there was little appetite among Republicans for another Speakership battle after the removal of Speaker Kevin McCarthy in October threw the House into chaos for weeks. To a spattering of boos from fellow Republicans, Greene said on the House Floor, “When given a choice between advancing Republican priorities or allied with the Democrats to preserve his own personal power, Johnson regularly chooses to ally himself with Democrats.” The final vote was 359-43, with just eleven Republicans voting to remove Johnson.

After the vote, Johnson said, “I appreciate the show of confidence from my colleagues to defeat this misguided effort. Hopefully, this is the end of the personality politics and the frivolous character assassination that has defined the 118th Congress. It’s regrettable. It’s not who we are as Americans, and we’re better than this. We need to get beyond it.” Some Republicans have suggested removing Greene and her coconspirators from their committee assignments as retribution, but Johnson quickly threw cold water on that idea saying, “I just talked with them about what they did and why and... told them that was disappointing and regretful, but we move forward.” 

The Senate overwhelmingly reauthorized the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration ahead of Friday's deadline, likely the last major piece of legislation that the body will consider before the November election. The only no votes came from four D.C.-area representatives, Democratic Senators Ben Cardin (Md.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Mark Warner (Va.), over their objections to five new flight slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The bill was the last piece of must-pass legislation on the Senate calendar for the year, leading to a variety of non-aviation related proposals from members who viewed the package as their last chance of getting their priorities signed into law, most of which were rejected. 

Finally, gamer’s delight! OD&A client The Strong has inducted the 10th class of honorees into its World Video Game Hall of Fame. Check out the winners:

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Jack will present at the BNP’s 2024 Policy Perspective.

What does New York’s new State Budget mean for your organization? Our Jack O’Donnell joins a panel of experts at the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s upcoming 2024 Policy Perspective event on Tuesday, May 14. Register here.

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May 13, 1940: Winston Churchill says "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat" in his first speech as Prime Minister to British House of Commons.


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