Plowing for votes on Long Island


With help from Shawn Ness

Blue hands and red noses are in the snow today as Democrat Tom Suozzi checked in on Twitter from the Republican stronghold of Massapequa amid the congressional special election to replace George Santos.

“The snow is melting and the roads are clearing,” Suozzi posted. “Good for voters…for snowmen, not-so-much.”

And for his Republican opponent, Mazi Pilip? Time will tell. Polls close at 9 p.m.

But it’s probably a relief for her too.

Conventional wisdom says the GOP needs a big showing on Election Day to make up the Democratic advantage in early and absentee voting (due, in part to standard-bearer Donald Trump’s previous criticism of voting by mail).

No one is taking the snow lightly. The Republican super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, hired its own snow plows to clear the streets and make it easier to drive to the polls.

And not just any streets. “They’re plowing around key Republican precinct areas,” a CLF spokesperson told Playbook. The PAC hired multiple private companies to plow public streets. “Good illustration of how far we’re going to help with turnout today to win!”

The Democrats’ equivalent, House Majority PAC, did not hire snow plows, a spokesperson told Playbook.

But that doesn’t mean all the Democrats were snowed in. Nassau County is Republican controlled, but County Executive Bruce Blakeman — a Pilip supporter — promised Playbook that his government crews were plowing the same way they always do, just earlier, to accommodate polls opening at 6 a.m.

“We have a grid. We work off the GPS. And there have been no complaints of any fooling around with the plowing or the salting,” he said. “We don’t get involved in stuff like that here.”

Suozzi supporters were nervous — “Of course we’re worried about where they plow the roads,” Democratic Party leader Jay Jacobs told the Times today. And the minority leader in the county legislature sent an open letter asking that Blakeman keep public employees on the job and not handing out literature.

Both Pilip and Suozzi’s campaigns are also providing voters free rides to polling sites.

But Pilip and the Republicans don’t just have to snow-vercome the weather. They’re also facing a “scandal penalty,” POLITICO’s Steve Shepard writes today.

Voters tend to penalize the party whose controversy forces a special election — leading to an average underperformance of nine points in a race like this, his review found.

That doesn’t mean it’s all mulled wine and rosy noses for Suozzi.

Republicans have all the political momentum in the district over the last few years, and polling has predicted a close race.

Tonight will tell whether the GOP keeps skiing downhill or melts under pressure.

And if you’re wondering about Suozzi’s plans in November, he’s running either way, he told reporters. — Jeff Coltin

REDISTRICTING TIMING: When the Independent Redistricting Commission’s new congressional maps are released on Thursday, the next question will be when the Legislature meets to either approve the lines or draw their own.

Lawmakers are due to be in Albany on official business through Wednesday this week and are off all of next week for Presidents Day. But waiting until the following week would create problems: their Feb. 27 return is the same day that House candidates are due to start collecting petitions.

There were some clues on when the vote might happen, though.

Coming back on Friday “is off the table,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said today.

“The reality is, you’ve got to give [the maps] some time to be in the public sphere. I don’t want to rule out coming back next week if necessary, but after we get it, it’s got to be out there.” — Bill Mahoney

REPRESENTATION FOR IMMIGRANTS: The two sponsors for the Access to Representation Act, Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, held a rally outside Senate chambers today to build support for the bill.

“We need to pass the Access to Representation Act,” Hoylman-Sigal said. “Because as we know, the demonization of immigrants is part of American history. It’s nothing new, where some are saying if we provide resources to new arrivals, then that means the rest of us are going to be left out in the cold, and friends, that is just wrong.”

The legislation (S. 281B/A. 1961A) would give immigrants the right to legal counsel during immigration court proceedings.

Advocates of the legislation urged lawmakers to adopt a $150 million — a $97 million increase — investment in immigration legal services which they believe would ease pressure on the backlog of cases in the system.

“There’s really an urgent need for increasing that investment in a way that invests in proven legal services to ensure that immigrants have what they need to defend their rights to file for work authorization to stay with their families,” Shayna Kessler, advocacy director at Advancing Universal Representation Initiative, said. — Shawn Ness

AID IN DYING: Members of the clergy pressed state lawmakers to back the long-stalled aid in dying legislation.

The measure is meant to allow terminally ill people the power to end their lives. Supporters have sought to expand public support for the measure, and the backing of clergy is meant to underscore a widening base for the proposal.

The Rev. Dr. Charles McNeill, the pastor of the Unity Baptist Church in Washington, said the measure is about the preservation of dignity.

“In situations where family are seeing their loved one’s decline, they would be able to remember them in a more positive role instead of just seeing them as a shade,” McNeill said.

But advocacy organizations for people with disabilities have raised concerns that vulnerable people would be forced into choosing to end their lives.

Supporters have insisted enough safeguards have been put in place to prevent the law from being abused — if lawmakers approve it.

“Questions about when one’s life ends, the issue of death, has got to be one of the most spiritual issues in a human life,” Debora Gordon, the senior rabbi at the Congregation Berith Shalom in Troy, said. “Once safeguards are in place, the state has no business being involved in spiritual decisions.” Nick Reisman

REMOTE SNOW DAY SNAFU: New York City public school students and teachers were locked out of their virtual classrooms this morning — a setback as the nation’s largest school system maneuvers the first test of its no-snow day approach.

Mayor Eric Adams and schools Chancellor David Banks, who insisted Monday the city was prepared for the winter snow storm, placed the blame on IBM, the tech company that provides a key part of the remote learning system. As of this afternoon, more than 1 million users — including pupils and staff —were logged on.

“I was extremely angry to hear this morning that they were not ready, that was unacceptable to me, completely unacceptable and it remains unacceptable even though we’re in a much better place right now,” Banks said during a briefing Tuesday.

Banks maintained a backup plan was already built into the Department of Education’s messaging to parents and families so students could “activate on work assignments that were given to them.” But he acknowledged it was still “a frustrating day for far too many parents.”

“I wanna apologize to all the parents and families across the city,” Banks added. “This was a test. I don’t think that we passed this test. So we’ll be doing a full analysis of what happened here.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, former Mayor Bill de Blasio said snow days are “a thing of the past.” The DOE also has to adhere to a state requirement that schools provide a minimum of 180 days of instruction. — Madina Touré

MIGRANTS IN NEW YORK: Senate and Assembly Republicans held a news conference at the Capitol today to unveil legislation that would require local and state law enforcement to inform ICE of the arrest or conviction of non-citizens.

The bill (S8533/A9167) would also reinstate a maximum sentence of one year for class A misdemeanors, as well as repeal the Protect Our Courts Act, which was put in place in 2020 to avoid warrantless ICE arrests at court proceedings.

“The migrant crisis continues to spiral out of control as a direct result of open borders, sanctuary policies and soft-on-crime measures championed by Democrats at the state and federal level,” Senate Majority Leader Robert Ortt said. “If our governor and president won’t act to protect New Yorkers, the Legislature must step in to do so.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed an executive order in 2017 that designated New York as a sanctuary state, which allowed state government to provide immigrants with resources and services to help them acclimate to a new environment. The bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrew Lanza and Assemblymember Jarett Gandolfo, would repeal that distinction.

“The failed immigration policies of President Biden and Governor Hochul are making New Yorkers less safe. Illegal migrants attacking our citizens and our brave men and women in law enforcement must be deported,” Lanza said while banging on the podium. “This bill reverses course and allows our courts and police to notify federal authorities to get these dangerous people off our streets.” — Shawn Ness

VALENTINE’S DAY CATFISH: The state Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection is warning New Yorkers about some classic Valentine’s day dating website scams.

“Valentine’s Day means love is in the air, and for many finding that special someone leads to online dating as an easy way to meet their potential match,” Secretary of State Robert Rodriguez said in a statement. “But don’t underestimate the lengths some scammers will go through to take advantage of your heart to try and steal your money.”

Some of the classic scams to look out for: Fake online profiles, random people making unexpected contact, users never being available to meet in person, requests for money and pressuring victims to invest in cryptocurrency.

Elderly people, recently divorced people, and widows/widowers are the most likely targets for online scams, Rodriguez warned. — Shawn Ness

LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES REFORM: AARP New York wants Hochul to enhance the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP), which they believe has not reached its goals of providing good care to residents.

The program was designed to have a representative to visit every facility once a week, something the group says is only happening with 12 percent of care facilities across the state. AARP is calling for Hochul to increase the program’s budget by $15 million to allow facilities to get one visit a week.

According to the list of complaints from NY.Gov, LTCOP received nearly 1,100 complaints. The complaints ranged from things like poor-quality responses to accidents and falls, requests for assistance and medication troubles. There were also 37 complaints regarding instances of gross neglect, sexual and physical abuse and exploitation.

The group also wants the Department of Health to talk with administrators to sort out the number and nature of complaints received, as well as report claims of sexual and physical abuse to the Attorney General’s Office. — Shawn Ness

STORM COSTS TARGETED: Senate Democrats rolled out a package of bills aimed at addressing the increasing costs of major storms fueled by climate change.

The measures include studies of flood insurance (S8167) and a seawall to protect New York City (S1812), the reactivation of a task force on sea level rise (S8110), an annual report on stormwater spending by the state (S8170) and creating a new flood mitigation office (S3335).

Hochul has regularly vetoed bills that involve studies, arguing they’re duplicative or unfunded additional work for agencies. She previously rejected the seawall study. The other measures are new bills or haven’t been passed before.

The most potentially impactful would be a measure sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins that would give local governments an option to reduce tax assessments for properties damaged by natural disasters like floods or hurricanes (S7515).

“The bill package today is another step toward being more prepared for facing the challenges of tomorrow,” Stewart-Cousins said at a press conference today.

Another new bill included in the package from Sen. Pete Harckham, chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee, would require more disclosure of projects that could increase stormwater runoff (S8171).

Harckham has been focused on flooding impacts from heavy rainfall events: “This is the new normal so we have to be as a state more proactive, more resilient, and more forward-thinking.”

None of the bills have advanced in the Assembly, making their passage uncertain, although it’s still early in session. — Marie J. French

COLLEGE BOARD IN HOT WATER: The College Board has to pay New York $750,000 in penalties for illegally selling college students’ personal data, Attorney General Tish James announced.

A joint investigation by the state Education Department and the Attorney General’s Office found that the College Board had been violating privacy laws by taking personal information from students when they took the PSAT, SAT and AP exams in school and then selling the data to colleges, scholarship programs and programs that recruit students to their programs.

The College Board will also be prohibited from selling New York students’ data acquired through contracts with New York schools and districts. In addition to selling information, the investigation found that College Board used the information for its own marketing up until 2022.

“When the organizations we trust to provide meaningful services to our students exploit student information for profit, it violates privacy laws as well as the public trust,” Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said in a statement. — Katelyn Cordero

SUNY STUDENTS ENDORSE UNIVERSAL FINANCIAL AID: The SUNY Student Assembly is pushing for legislation that would require every high school student in New York to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form prior to graduation.

The group argues that the requirement would lead to a continued increase in enrollment for SUNY and open the door for more students to be able to afford college.

“By streamlining the financial aid application process and addressing affordability concerns, this legislation has the potential to transform the educational landscape of our state,” SUNYSA President Alexander Ruiz said in a statement.

There has been broad support for a FAFSA mandate, and the proposal was included in Hochul’s budget proposal last month. Both SUNY Chancellor John King and Rosa pushed for the mandate in their budget requests as well. — Katelyn Cordero

GENESEO HOME TO AMERICA’S TOUGHEST BLIZZARD FIGHTERS: A study by CNN and Snow Day Calculator examined how many inches it takes in each county to close schools.

By that metric, the most snow-resilient place in the 48 continental states is New York’s own Livingston County, where kids in the Finger Lakes county outside Rochester need an average of 10.9 inches before they can hope to stay home.

It was followed by Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties in Western New York.

New York City, in contrast, tends to close schools when a mere 7 to 8 inches falls. — Bill Mahoney

The Madison County Democratic Committee has nominated Democrat Sarah Klee Hood as its candidate in the Syracuse-area House seat currently held by GOP Rep. Brandon Williams. (State of Politics)

Rep. Elise Stefanik filed a complaint against James over her comments she made about Donald Trump during his civil fraud trial. (Times Union)

Union construction workers in Tonawanda protested outside a redevelopment site because of proposed plans that would allow their employers to pay less than prevailing wages. (Buffalo News)





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