With help from Shawn Ness
State government’s biggest players weren’t physically present at New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ State of the City address in the South Bronx today. It was a session day in Albany after all — but they were clearly on the mayor’s mind.
It was a largely positive speech that felt like a reelection campaign kickoff — the financial cost of housing and serving migrants was mentioned only briefly.
In it, though, Adams directly appealed to Albany to act on housing, cannabis and schools, reiterating the legislative agenda he’s laid out for this session.
Here are the top four things Albany insiders could take away from Adams’ speech:
1. Missing in action
Gov. Kathy Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins passed on the big event. And even Adams’ top ally in the Legislature, Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar had to skip it — though she was given a prominent role in a hype video that played before the speech.
State government wasn’t entirely unrepresented at Hostos Community College, a CUNY campus. Attorney General Tish James (“leading from the front,” Adams said) sat together with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (“Make sure we get that money back here in the city,” Adams said).
2. Build, baby build
A new affordable housing tax incentive to replace 421-a and state laws easing the conversion of office buildings to housing were on the top of Adams’ state legislative agenda last year… and they’re at the top again this year, since they didn’t get done.
Adams has aspirations of building more housing, but suggested Albany wasn’t helping. “New York City must build. But we need Albany to clear the way for the housing we need,” he said. “Let. Us. Build.”
3. Snuff it out
Adams has argued that state laws tie the city’s hands on closing down unlicensed cannabis stores. So “to get them shut down once and for all, we need Albany’s help,” he said. Rajkumar has introduced a bill, and Hochul’s backed the effort, to give local governments more teeth.
When state legislators approved the recreational cannabis market, they were worried about continuing to criminalize drugs. But Adams has argued that having stores openly flout the rules sows disorder. “Give us the proper authority, and we will get the job done,” he said.
4. Keep control
Adams reiterated his call for a four-year extension of mayoral control of city schools (or as he calls it, “mayoral accountability”) and even made a plea as a New York native with his Schools Chancellor David Banks.
“We gave it to two guys that went to (the) Boston school system,” Adams said, referring to Boston-raised predecessors Mike Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio. “Give it to two guys that went to the (New York City) public school system. Let us have it. Let us continue our success.”
ABORTION RIGHTS: The state’s leaders stopped by Planned Parenthood’s lobby day in Albany, reupping their commitment to state’s abortion-rights laws.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told attendees, most of whom were adorned in the fluorescence that has become a symbol of the group’s annual efforts, that she’s looking forward to the day when she doesn’t have “to wear pink anymore.” But that day’s not here yet.
“I have to show up every day and fight for the same thing every day, every week, every year, every time somebody gets the idea that women don’t have the right to have bodily autonomy and make decisions that are imperative to be made personally with their doctor,” Stewart-Cousins said in the well of the Legislative Office Building.
The Democratic leaders touted their efforts on abortion-related issues in recent years. And they used the chance to rally support for the looming referendum on an Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution this November.
“The right to an abortion will be enshrined forever after this November’s election because it’s on the ballot,” Hochul said. “We have these rights and we’re going to take them back, starting right here in the great state of New York.” — Bill Mahoney
UNION MEMBERSHIP DROPS: New York remains one of the most unionized states in the country, but, like the rest of the country, enrollment is dropping.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics this week reported New York’s labor union membership in 2023 stood at 20.6 percent of the workforce, second only to Hawaii’s 24.1 percent. The national average was 10 percent.
But the number of workers who are also union members is falling over the last several decades, as the fiscally conservative Empire Center points out today. And the number of unionized workers is essentially flat from 2022 to last year.
Union membership, however, remains key in New York politics as an effective voter mobilization tool and a key interest group in public policy debates. — Nick Reisman
MIGRANT SHELTERS: Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) is calling on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass her bill to close the Floyd Bennett Field migrant shelter.
The House passed the Protecting our Communities from Failure to Secure the Border Act of 2023 in late November. The bill would prohibit federal funding from being used to provide housing to migrants on federal park land and would retroactively cancel the current lease agreement with the federal facility.
Malliotakis, along with Assemblymember Jaime Williams and City Council Member Joann Ariola are taking a trip to the Staten Island shelter to encourage the Democratic senator to pass the bill, which has shown no interest in doing. — Shawn Ness
PARKS COMMISSIONER RIDES OFF: New York’s parks commissioner is headed back to his old stomping grounds. Erik Kulleseid, who has led the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for five years, will take over the Open Space Institute as president and CEO in April.
Kulleseid will stay on as commissioner until the end of February.
The commissioner “celebrated significant milestones, from the opening of new state parks including Sojourner Truth to record-setting attendance year after year,” said Jason Gough, a spokesperson for the governor. “Governor Hochul is grateful for Commissioner Kulleseid’s dedication to public service and his excellent leadership of the State Parks system.”
Kulleseid previously worked at the Open Space Institute for eight years, overseeing the creation of its parks initiative. He’s managed major capital investments into the state’s parks system during his tenure — and the parks system has set attendance records most years.
Hochul has proposed another year of major capital spending for the parks system — an increase of $250 million from the previous year to $450 million — linked to the 2024 centennial of the system as well as swimming investments. — Marie J. French
NYSUT SLAMS SCHOOL AID PROPOSALS: In 2007, New York State United Teachers president Melinda Person worked in the Assembly Chamber to create the state’s foundation aid formula. Now she is fighting back against Hochul’s proposals to change aspects of the formula that would result in cuts to more than half of the state’s school districts.
Person said the proposal by Hochul to eliminate “hold harmless” — a policy that prevents schools from gettng cuts to school aid — and a change in how the consumer price index is calculated resulted in a school aid proposal $419 million short of what was expected or written into education law.
“We should as a state — all the stakeholders in this — sit down and actually do the hard work of updating the formula,” Person said.
The state Education Department requested $1 million to conduct a study on the formula and recommended five changes that can be done in the meantime. Person noted that she would like to see both done all at once to ensure all revisions have the correct intended impact.
“(She’s) not updating the needs part — the cost to educate a child (component) was done decades ago — unless you’re going to do that work, then all the other stuff is just arbitrary cuts,” Person said. “I know the formula is complicated, but I know that we can do this. I really do believe that we can figure this out and maintain our promise to these districts.” —Katelyn Cordero
CANNABIS DELAY: New York’s Cannabis Control Board canceled a meeting scheduled for today at the request of Hochul, according to an email from a board member obtained by Playbook.
The last-minute cancellation, when many license applicants were planning to travel from across the state to submit public comments, is the latest headache for New York cannabis entrepreneurs who have been working to start selling regulated weed.
“It’s caused a lot more confusion,” said Paul Suits, a dispensary license hopeful who submitted an application in the latest round.
In a statement about the cancellation, the Cannabis Control Board said it decided to postpone the meeting to “ensure the issuance of as many licenses as possible, as soon as possible.”
The board was slated to consider three adult-use retail licenses, according to screenshots of the agenda that were then pulled off of the board’s website late Tuesday.
The board’s reasons for canceling the meeting lacked “a solid justification or explanation,” said Joe Rossi, cannabis practice group leader at Park Strategies.
One positive that could come out of the cancellation, though, is that there could be some sort of a reset of the licensing process, Rossi said, adding that there is potential that Hochul could “get this thing back on track.”
The board is planning to come back in February to issue more recreational marijuana licenses, in addition to other agenda items like approving regulations for home cultivation.
But any plans to issue additional licenses could be derailed by the courts this Friday, when a federal judge will consider a preliminary injunction on the licensing process. — Mona Zhang
— Zoning laws and increased demand for labor and materials may stop Hochul from building 800,000 homes in New York. (State of Politics)
— New York midwives are pushing to loosen restrictions that allow them to practice in the state. (Times Union)
— Former Rep. George Santos told Piers Morgan that he is still relevant: “People want to hear what I have to say.” (New York Times)