Good Morning from the State Capital…
The fallout from COVID-19 related deaths in nursing homes continues to dominate New York State politics, raising additional questions about how Governor Andrew Cuomo and his Administration handled the issue. Last week, senior Cuomo Administration staff held a briefing with key legislators on the issue. The meeting itself was a sign of how Attorney General Tish James’s bombshell report on nursing home deaths had changed the situation as Team Cuomo has not been briefing or even meeting with legislators often since the pandemic began. Then, audio of the meeting was leaked including remarks by Secretary to the Governor, the top unelected official in the state, Melissa DeRosa. You can read more about that here and here and subsequent clarifying remarks from DeRosa here.
The meeting itself did not go well. Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan)—one of the lawmakers who has been demanding death toll data since August—immediately rejected DeRosa’s apology, saying “I don’t have enough time today to explain all the reasons why I don’t give that any credit at all.”
The reaction was swift. Republicans have called for the Governor’s impeachment and an independent investigation by the Department of Justice. Several Democratic members of the legislature issued statements calling for anyone who withheld information to be “held accountable”. A far cry from impeachment but still remarkable in that most legislators have been careful to keep their criticisms of Cuomo private. Over the weekend, lawmakers of both parties continued to release statements criticizing the Governor, and calling for immediate hearings. In addition, many Democrats—including longtime Cuomo allies—have called for a retraction of the Governor’s emergency powers (which were given to him in the thick of the pandemic and allow him to override any state or local law). On Friday, 14 Democratic state senators called “for a repeal of the Governor’s authority to issue unilateral directives.”
The rhetoric is a shift from the usual cadence in Albany. Nevertheless, the governing must go on.
Jack’s Historical Perspective on Cuomo Impeachment
The #GOP is calling for @NYGovCuomo’s ouster for withholding information on #COVID19 nursing home deaths. Only one governor has been #impeached in New York history. Our Jack O’Donnell @jfodjr explains in this @CityAndStateNY…
Governor Cuomo’s 30-day Amendments to the Executive Budget are due this Thursday, February 18th. However, we will not know much on the true shape of the State Budget until there is a final deal on State and Local Aid in the federal stimulus package, which New Yorker and Committee on House Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney announced last week totaled $350 billion nationwide in her Committee’s draft—which would send over $12 billion to New York State—just short of Cuomo’s $15 billion target—and $10 billion to local governments across the State. In a rebuke of Governor Cuomo’s claims that New York is getting shortchanged, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted in a letter to New York’s Congressional Delegation that the stimulus package overall would send over $50 billion to New York State in State and Local Aid as well as $20 billion in additional funding to support “family health, financial security, and overall wellbeing.” (Take these numbers with a grain of salt. When it comes to appropriations, the devil is always in the details.)
More from the Nation’s Capital…
A firmer Stimulus timeline is beginning to take shape: last week, House Committees drafted the Legislation, which will be finalized this week by the House Budget Committee and moved through the House Rules Committee for a floor vote—House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer said that House Leadership is aiming for next week for that vote, which would send the bill to the Senate for approval ahead of the March 14th expiration date of jobless benefits that Democrats are racing to meet.
The text released Friday by House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA)—read a summary here—included Biden Administration priorities from his American Rescue Plan like the Employee Retention Tax Credit, $1,400 stimulus checks, and expanded paid sick leave, as well as stronger provisions demanded by progressives like a $15 federal minimum wage increase that was included in the House Education and Labor Committee’s draft. With the drafts complete and a race to a vote in the House the week of February 22nd, House and Senate leaders turn to the management of a budget reconciliation process that will rely on razor thin majorities in both Houses to get a deal done. Should one Democrat object in the Senate (notably, Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) already announced their opposition to the minimum wage measure) the Stimulus bill could falter for weeks and hamstring State Budget discussions across the country. You will want to stay tuned to the process in the coming weeks.
Over the weekend, the United States Senate voted to acquit former President Donald J. Trump on an impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection. The acquittal comes more than a month after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol as lawmakers were counting the electoral results that certified Trump’s loss. Though a majority of senators (including seven Republicans) voted to convict Trump, 57 to 43, two-thirds, or 67 votes, was needed to convict. It was the second time Trump was acquitted in an impeachment trial.
— Jack O’Donnell
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NYS Legislature: New Member Spotlight
Assembly Member Phara Souffrant Forrest (D-57th District)
Assembly Member Phara Souffrant Forrest won a Democratic primary last June, defeating incumbent Walter Mosley. The Brooklyn district consists of the neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill as well as parts of Bed Stuy, Prospect Heights, and Crown Heights.
Assembly Member Forrest is one of a growing group of progressive and Democratic Socialist of America (DSA) backed candidates whose path to Albany includes defeating Assembly incumbents in primaries. She ran with support from United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
A political newcomer, the 31-year-old maternal health nurse, daughter of Haitian immigrants, and lifelong Crown Heights resident has been an activist since she was a teen. In 2017, Forrest founded the tenants’ association in her building in order to protest the conversion of the building’s units into luxury condominiums.
In addition to her work as a nurse, Phara is now president of that tenant association and has been an active member of the Crown Heights Tenant Union. Phara credits her run for the Assembly to her work in tenant organizing and her work to help pressure the state Legislature to pass the Housing Stability & Tenant Protection Act of 2019. As part of her work, Phara participated in a demonstration at the Capitol, where she was arrested fighting for her fellow tenants. Phara credits this moment with inspiring her to run for the Assembly and standing up for tenants just like her across the state.
This session she will serve on the Standing Committees on Aging, Consumer Affairs and Protection, Higher Education, Insurance, Social Services, and Women’s Issues.