Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office is not impressed with James O’Keefe’s latest hidden camera video. Mr. O’Keefe, a controversial conservative activist, posed as an executive with a do-nothing company in the clip and met with a pair of union officials in New York asking whether they could use their political connections to help him secure environmental grants for simply digging and re-filling holes in the dirt. The men Mr. O’Keefe spoke to, John Hutchings of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, former assemblyman Ronald Tocci and Mr. Tocci’s brother, Anthony Tocci, describe how they have lobbyists who help them “push our agenda through.” They specifically name several elected officials they claim are friendly to them; Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressmen Eliot Engel and Jerry Nadler and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Mr. Silver’s spokesman, Michael Whyland, told us Mr. O’Keefe’s video shouldn’t be treated as serious journalism.
“This is not reporting. This is not journalism. It doesn’t even rise to the level of a comic strip. This is the kind of stuff that gives honest reporters a bad name,” Mr. Whyland said.
The latest video from controversial conservative provocateur James O’Keefe’s “Project Veritas” implies unions and several big name New York politicians are colluding to earn state and federal contracts for do-nothing companies purporting to hire for so-called “environmental jobs.”
In the clip, Mr. O’Keefe portrays an executive for a business that literally digs ditches and fills them back up with more dirt. He visits with John Hutchings, whom he describes as a “director” of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and former assemblyman Ronald Tocci and another man who apparently discuss how easy it is for them to use their lobbyists and political connections to get cash for businesses.
“When we go for a bill, you know, you’ve got to get approval of the Senate, and the Assembly and then the Governor’s got to sign that. We have a lobbyist for the Senate [Republicans], and we have a lobbyist for the Democrats and that’s how we try to push our agenda through,” Mr. Hutchings says in the video.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn won’t tolerate anyone messing with Mayor Bloomberg and Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, doesn’t want messing with Ms. Quinn for angrily leaving this morning’s rally celebrating the upcoming vote to pass the living wage bill after someone mocked the mayor.
Ms. Quinn made her exit from morning’s rally on the City Hall steps when someone shouted a crack about “Pharaoh Bloomberg.” Mr. Appelbaum, who was in attendance at the awkward rally, leapt to the Speaker’s defense this afternoon with a press release reminding people of her role in getting the living wage bill vote passed in the first place.
“Make no mistake, there would be no living wage law bill without the Speaker,” Mr. Appelbaum said. “Even though Chris may have left the rally after declaring her support for the bill, the most important thing for us to remember is that thousands of new Yorkers will receive higher wages because she had the courage to stand up and pass the living wage law.”
The Transit Workers Union Local 100 is holding a daylong “reclaim public transit” event tomorrow in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street and the Working Families Party, against the backdrop of their protracted contract negotiationswith the Metropolitan Transit Authority. According to the statement announcing the event, it is designed to “highlight funding and infrastructure needs of public transportation across the nation” and “raise awareness about how public transit supports good jobs, sustainable communities, a greener environment and reduced consumption of oil.” Tomorrow’s event will include a pair of press conferences as well as leafleting and petitions calling on the MTA to “reoccupy” underutilized buildings in Downtown Brooklyn in order to cut costs.
Night of the Living Deals
After a group of unions angry over the passage of the Tier VI pension reform plan pulled support from the Somos El Futuro’s annual Legislative Conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the organization a pair of hefty donations.
“We think the unions’ actions are unfortunate, and don’t want the conference to suffer as a result. We both support the Somos El Futuro Conference and, as such, we will be donating $72,000 to Somos El Futuro and the scholarship to make up for the donations that the unions withdrew,” the mayor and governor said in a joint statement.
Albany’s “Night of the Living Deals” included the passage of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pension reform plan for public employees. Both the governor and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, perhaps the most high profile supporter of Tier VI, released statements praising the passage of the proposal.
“This bold and transformational pension reform plan is a historic win for New York taxpayers and municipalities that will save more than $80 billion over the next 30 years, while preserving retirement security for public workers. Without this critical reform, New Yorkers would have seen significant tax increases, as well as layoffs to teachers, firefighters and police,” Mr. Cuomo said.
Against the backdrop of the contentious turf war over Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pension reform plan, a trio of Democratic Assemblyman and several labor leaders are calling for passage of the Institutional Investor Recovery Act. This legislation would allow the Attorney General to seek damages and recoveries when public pension funds suffer losses due to securities fraud. Currently, the Martin Act gives the Attorney General broad powers to prosecute securities fraud, but it does not allow the State to recover losses on behalf of public pension funds. Pursuing losses from financial firms is a favored topic of opponents of the governor’s pension reform push who argue the focus should be on penalizing Wall Street firms that lost money from the pension fund rather than cutting benefits.
“All the focus on the issue of pensions has been on the benefit side of the equation. We need to look at what happened on the investment side. It simply doesn’t make sense that the pension funds have no practical way to recover investment losses caused by fraud,” said Assemblyman Peter Abbate the lead sponsor of the bill to update the Martin Act.
Legislators are returning to work at the Capitol in Albany after four days out of session and, on their way back, they’ll be greeted by a “giant inflatable Wall Street pig” named “1%.” AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, announced their intention to stage the porcine protest against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pension reform proposal in a statement sent out yesterday.
“’1%,’ a giant cigar-chomping Wall Street pig will be making his debut and welcoming politicians back to Albany. The pig, “1%,” is named after the greedy Wall Street special interests and large corporations in the one percent that willingly distort the facts, and outright lie in order to promote Tier 6— Governor Cuomo’s 40% pension-cutting scheme,” the statement said.
Opposing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pension plan is about to come to Zuccotti Park.
One of New York’s public employee unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is holding a “Tier It Down!” rally tomorrow afternoon against Governor Cuomo’s “Tier 6″ proposal, where new employees would receive scaled down pension benefits in an effort to curb costs.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared on Fred Dicker’s radio show, “Live From The State Capitol,” to discuss Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Tier VI pension reform proposal. Despite rumors of a strained relationship between hizzoner and the governor, Mayor Bloomberg, who was joined by Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, praised the push for pension reform and blasted legislators who are trying to block Tier VI.
“Our message is that we have an expense that none of us can afford; pension costs that were voted by the Legislature are just destroying the budgets from one end of New York State to the other,” Mayor Bloomberg said.