Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Can Cuomo Ram Through His Massive Education Reform Agenda While Albany Roils Under A Cloud Of Suspicion?

It's hard to know how this legislative season will play out, what with Shelly Silver arrested and stripped of power, new boss Carl Heastie already under a Moreland cloud, Dean Skelos reported to be under investigation for the same crimes Silver was arrested for, and Andrew Cuomo said to be in fear over what the US attorney intends to do next.

It's pretty clear that Cuomo is going to try and stick his entire education reform agenda in the budget and make the Legislature take it wholesale.

Had Shelly Silver been around, there is no doubt that some of it would have gone through, but probably not all.

Had Silver still been in power, I think Cuomo would have gotten test scores raised to 40% in APPR (with 40% becoming 100% if a teacher comes up "ineffective" on that component), he would have gotten a charter cap increase of some sort, though perhaps not all of what he is asking for, and he would have gotten some streamlining of the 3020a process.

As for the observations by outside evaluators, I'm still unsure of how that plan would work.  Who are these outside observers?  What will their qualifications be?  How much will they cost?  How will the outside observations work?  There are so many ways the outside observer plan can go wrong, I have a difficult time seeing it come to fruition, whether Silver is around or not.

But with Silver gone and Carl Heastie looking like he'll have the speaker position as of Tuesday, it's hard to know how any of this plays out.  Heastie will not rule the Assembly with the same iron hand in a soft glove that Silver used, at least not yet, so there's a possibility that actual democracy in the Assembly could break out and some of Cuomo's proposals see some debate.

But more than likely the same forces that paved the way for a quick Heastie ascension as speaker will pave the way for a quick budget negotiation that sees Assembly members fall in lockstep behind whatever Heastie negotiates with Governor Cuomo and State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

The one fly in the ointment here is the threat that US Attorney Preet Bharara made at his press conference announcing Silver's arrest:

At a Thursday press conference announcing charges against State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the most powerful people in New York politics, Bharara ominously warned that more corruption charges are likely to come.

"These charges in our view go to the very core of what ails Albany: lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and lack of principle — joined with overabundance of greed, cronyism, and self-dealing. But we will keep at it," Bharara said. "As our unfinished fight against public corruption continues, you should stay tuned."

However, when he was pressed for additional details about potential future cases, Bharara insisted he was being intentionally vague.

"We have been looking at Speaker Silver's outside income for some period of time. ... We have number of public corruption investigations going on," he said. "I'm not going to tell you which people we're looking at."

Thursday night WNBC 4 reported State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos appears to be one of those people Bharara's office is looking at:

Federal investigators are looking into state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' sources of income, according to people familiar with the investigation.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is taking a hard look at Skelos’ ties to the real estate industry, among other areas of inquiry, the sources told NBC 4 New York.

On Friday, the NY Post confirmed the feds are looking into Skelos over outside income:

The feds have launched a corruption probe into state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ outside income – the same focus that led to the stunning arrest of longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last week, ­The Post confirmed Friday.

US Attorney Preet Bharara is looking at the powerful Nassau County pol’s connections to various real estate deals, sources said.


Sources told The Post that Bharara launched the probe based on information provided by a tipster.

And other sources said Senate Republicans were nervous because Mike Avella, a lobbyist who is close to Skelos and other GOP senators, is partners with Brian Meara, a veteran lobbyist who helped the feds bust Silver.

Silver's arrest came a few weeks after an initial leak to the NY Times that Silver was being targeted by the feds in a corruption investigation.

The Silver leak was much more detailed than the Skelos leaks, getting into the nitty gritty of exactly what the feds were looking at on Silver, while the Skelos leaks are much more vague - just that it's Skelos' outside income, perhaps tied to real estate connections, that the feds are focusing on.

Nonetheless, the leaks to two different news outlets that Skelos is under the fed microscope puts even more uncertainty in a budget negotiating season that's already seen its share with the Assembly Speaker arrested.

Will Skelos be around to negotiate the budget?  Or will we wake up one morning to a report that Skelos is to be arrested later in the day, as we did with Silver?

Only the feds know for sure, but I would say it's not a mistake the Skelos leak came one week after the Silver arrest - it's a message from the US Attorney that he's not done with the big game yet.

And that brings us to the biggest game of all in Albany - Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo has already been warned by Bharara to stop witness tampering with former Moreland commissioners after Cuomo's office drafted messages of support for the governor and asked them to issue them publicly.

It has also been reported that Cuomo is under investigation for shutting down the Moreland Commission in return for a budget deal.

That investigation was problematic for Cuomo even before the Silver arrest and Skelos leaks, but it becomes doubly so afterward.

We know that the former executive director of the Moreland Commission, Regina Calcaterra, was feeding everything that happened in Moreland to Cuomo's office.

We know too that Silver's arrest was in part related to information uncovered by the Moreland Commission.

Knowing that Calceterra was telling Cuomo everything that was going on in the commission, is there any possibility that Cuomo wouldn't have known the Moreland Commission had incriminating evidence on Silver BEFORE he agreed to shut down the commission in exchange for a few minor ethics reforms and an on-time budget deal?

I'd say that possibility is about as good as Cuomo warming to public schools and turning on charter schools - which is to say, there is no chance.

Cuomo's in legal jeopardy, certainly for the post-Moreland shutdown tampering, but also for the deal he made with Silver and Skelos to shut the commission down in return for a budget deal.

With the Silver arrest and the Seklos leak, that shutdown looks less like routine political wheeling and dealing and more and more like a quid pro quo - you shut down the criminal investigations of us, we'll give you what you want in the budget.

And there's one more area of interest the feds may be looking at on Cuomo - the subpoenas to his donors that he reportedly tried to keep from going out.

If Bharara picked up that string of the investigation and adds it to the witness tampering and Moreland shutdown investigations, it's possible we could see Cuomo indicted on multiple counts of obstruction, witness tampering, conspiracy to cover up criminal activity, and corruption charges.

I have no doubt that Preet Bharara has no qualms about taking out the top three political figures in New York government at essentially the same time, throwing the governing of the state into chaos and disarray.

His disdain for the "Three Men In A Room" government we have in Albany should make clear Bharara isn't afraid to dismantle it with a series of high profile indictments.

Also, it's rumored that Bharara harbors political ambitions of his own (and may have Michael Bloomberg as a potential patron) - what better way to make your political bones than by taking down three corrupt figures in New York's corrupt government?

The Skelos leaks, coming a week after the Silver arrest and about a month after the detailed leaks about Silver to the Times, along with his tease to "Stay tuned" at the Silver announcement, suggest Bharara does intend to go further with all of this.

Whether we see any more moves before the budget negotiations get serious is hard to pin down.

I must admit, I thought Silver was in trouble after the leak to the Times on December 29, but I never thought he would be arrested so soon after the leak.

I thought maybe we'd see an arrest at the end of the legislative session, maybe even over the summer.

But Bharara pulled the trigger on the arrest very quickly, well before the budget negotiations got going, and managed to steal Cuomo's budget address press to boot, so if Preet plans any more moves, we certainly could see something happen soon.

Which brings me back, after a long digression, to the ed deform agenda that Cuomo announced in his budget address back before we all got sidetracked by Silver's arrest.

How much of that agenda does he get?

It's hard to know since, in all truth, we don't actually know who's still going to be around to negotiate the budget.

As crazy as that sounds, there's an outside shot Skelos is arrested before the budget is done, and with the second-in-command in the GOP Senate conference already under indictment for lying to the FBI, I'm not sure where that would leave negotiations on the Senate side.

There's also a really long shot that we see Bharara take out Cuomo before the budget deadline.

No matter what happens, Albany pols are shaking in their boots - and that includes Andrew Cuomo - so even if Bharara doesn't make any pre-budget moves, the affect of the Silver arrest will resonate greatly in any budget deal.

Given what was going to happen had Silver, Skelos, and Cuomo made it into the negotiating room together as usual, maybe all this uncertainty and disarray is the best thing to stop some of Cuomo's deform agenda.

Can Cuomo actually ram through such a huge "reform" agenda in a year when Assembly Speaker Silver is arrested and stripped of power, Senate Majority Leader Skelos is said to be under investigation for the same thing the feds got Speaker Silver on, and Governor Cuomo himself is under a cloud of suspicion for shutting down Moreland, tampering with its commissioners and obstructing subpoenas into his own donors?

Maybe, but it surely isn't going to be as easy as he thought it was going to be.


  1. Heastie went to public schools in the Bronx. C'mon Carl, don't be a pushover to fake charters.

    1. Competition for Heastie sure dropped off fast.

      I would say that's a little worrisome when it comes to just what he'll push come budget season.

      That said, he is not an overt ally of the charter entrepreneurs (unlike his fellow Bronx pol, Jeff Klein) and is said to be the choice of labor.

      I dunno - we'll have to see how all this plays out. It's possible, given the story in the Times about Heastie, that he is the next guy to get a set of handcuffs.

  2. Can the budget and the education reforms be challenged later in the courts if they are negotiated and legislated under they pale corrupt racketeering and illegal dealings?
    Why do they get to continue this mafia style governance?

    1. I would think the best way to save schools is to keep it from happening. But if it does, then I would say the reforms themselves will contain their own seed of destruction - see my reply below to Rage Against The Levine for why I think that.

  3. He will and then war will happen. RBE had said that parents need to wake up and vote out the morons who have done this. That moment is imminent outside NYC who overwhelming voted for Cuomo.

    Now if the UFT supported the I Refuse movement.

    1. I think Cuomo is a fool if he thinks he can shove through the agenda and then everything will be a done deal.

      I am not optimistic that the unions are actually going to do any real fighting against Cuomo (as opposed to talking about it.)

      But I am optimistic that if Cuomo gets what he wants on the evals, within two years he'll wish he hadn't.

      As soon as the stories come out in Newsday, LoHud and elsewhere that respected teachers are slated to be fired by the inscrutable test score "growth model" put together by NYSED, there's going to be an uprising.

      That many of the teachers slated to be fired based on test scores will be art, music, PE and vocational teachers who don't teach tested subjects will make the uprising even more fiery.

      And when it becomes clear that there aren't enough outside observers qualified to do observations, there's going to be an even bigger backlash.

      Much of the rest of the country is moving away from these kinds of reforms as Cuomo is embracing them. He's in a bubble, hearing how popular they are, from his ed deform allies.

      I think Cuomo will be as surprised as John King was when parents rose up in Poughkeepsie if he gets what he has proposed.

      Cuomo doesn't seem to understand, the post-CCSS Era is different than before.

      Parents are turning on CCSS and testing - they are not all that sold on test scores evaluating teachers either.

      So Cuomo may get what he wants ultimately, but it may be bad politics for him in the end.

      Unfortunately it will mean a few years of more painful compliance in the system

    2. Have you noticed a change in the rank and file?

      We had a chapter meeting as per Mulgrews directive. My CL is pretty good in questioning Mulgrew but I don't even think she realized that teacher after teacher was pissed.

      I spoke to three principals who also believe that this WILL fail due to the fact that when the "fun" (art/music/gym) is gone they are expecting a huge rise in the opt out movement.

      I only wish Mulgrew and Magoo get the message. For many teacher parents like myself, we feel reprisals if we speak out!

    3. I notice a lot more anger, that's for sure. Often it's aimed at de Blasio and Farina, and while I think they deserve some of that, the bigger issue these days for us is Cuomo and Tisch. Alas, I don't see as much anger at them - and to be honest, I'm not sure many of my colleagues even know who Merryl Tisch is.

  4. You are correct: the investigations and indictments are the X factor in all of this, so it's hard to tell if Cuomo will follow Rahm Emanuel's axiom of "Never let a good crisis go to waste," which would be his reflex, or whether his patron's agenda will be blocked by them.

    Hard to tell which way things will go with Bharara, but based on his past practice of letting systemic playaz continue acting with impunity, I'll believe that our Reptilian Governor is in danger when his indictment is announced.

    1. I agree with you about Bharara's past, Michael, and I'm pretty sure Preet identifies politically and socially with the Wall Street banksters he's supposed to be policing.

      That said, doesn't it seem like he's purposely fucking with Cuomo?

      Why choose the day after Cuomo's big "Opportunity Agenda" extravaganza to arrest Silver?

      Why mock Cuomo as a sitcom character the next day as he takes verbal aim at the "Three Men In A Room" system that runs Albany?

      Why slap him down over Moreland tampering a few days after the Times story in July?

      Why pick up the Moreland files in the first place and take up the investigations after Cuomo shut it down, then insinuate that he's looking into the shutdown for obstruction?

      I dunno, I'm skeptical anything happens to Cuomo, but you have to admit, Preet's doing a pretty good job of giving Cuomo fits over this, usurping what ought to be Cuomo's moment to push his agenda, and just generally sucking up all the air out of the atmosphere and leaving very little for Cuomo to go uber with his PR.

      In the end, it may all just be sound and fury signifying nothing, but it is accomplishing one thing - Cuomo's on his heels reacting to what's going on as opposed to being the person making everyone else react to him (which is what he was doing in the week lead-up to the budget speech when he was having a presser a day to release his agenda.)

    2. Everything you say is true, but I guess I am so hardened and cynical about the system that I see everything as a head fake.

      If nothing else, I should take the news reports of Cuomo freaking out at face value, and enjoy the thought of him, alone, isolated and loathed by everyone, pissing in his pants at the prospect of an indictment.

  5. You guys seem to know a lot about Preet's handling (or non-handling) of Wall Street crooks. As someone who knows none of that history and only is familiar with him through this stuff, do you have any links For me to read up on? Thanks.

    1. I think Matt Taibbi's piece "Why Isn't Wall Street In Jail?" probably the best place to start:

  6. RBE, won't they just plan to send my principal and aps to other schools in the district to do observations? Or else they'll have to much time to scrutinize bulletin boards and conference notes...

    1. Yes, I suppose they could do that, but Cuomo talked about it being "experts" from SUNY, CUNY and the like. I think he wants people outside the district, not just outside the individual buildings. Deformer complaint over APPR is that districts can protect their teachers by inflating the observation scores. It's true that building admins more likely to do that than if they switch things up within the district, but kinda depends on what message they get from the district.

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