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All together now: Albany Democrats, including Assemblyman McEneny and Mayor Jennings, for Cuomo.

Photo: Alicia Solsman

The Machine’s Turf

Established Albany Democrats rush to protect their gubernatorial candidate from Carl Paladino

Albany’s Democratic establishment came out in support of gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo last Thursday at a rally held in downtown Albany’s Academy Park, speaking directly to comments made by his opponent, Tea Party-supported Republican nominee Carl Paladino.

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings was one of the key players in pulling together the rally, which, according to Jennings, “was to articulate the frustrations we are all feeling with the message that Paladino is putting out there.” The group also included Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Delmar), Albany County Executive Mike Breslin, Albany County Democratic Chairman Dan McCoy, Albany Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin, and assemblymen Bob Reilly (D-Colonie) and Jack McEneny (D-Albany). Jimmy Vielkind of the Times Union reported that although Jennings and company claimed they organized the event on their own, an advance man for the Cuomo campaign was present.

During the rally, speakers voiced their displeasure with Paladino’s now-infamous comments, made in June at the New York Republican Convention, that he intends to “clean out Albany with a baseball bat,” and that “Albany is a cesspool, and the swamp must be drained.”

Breslin said that Paladino’s comments were upsetting to Albany’s elected officials and that, collectively, they felt an obligation to speak out against that kind of conduct.

“He doesn’t deserve to be a candidate for office in this state, because I think he is a racist and a bigot,” Breslin said regarding controversial e-mails allegedly forwarded by Paladino that were, according to Bob Herbert of the New York Times, “blatantly hostile to blacks and women.”

Breslin said that he read through some of the e-mails and the comments made in them. “They’re unacceptable, and they go to the most negative parts of our society, and they conjure up a hate and that should be unacceptable, and I think it is unacceptable to Republicans and Democrats alike.”

There have been huge discrepancies in the recent polling in the gubernatorial race. The Quinnipiac University poll released Sept. 22 cited Cuomo as having a 6-point lead over Paladino (49 to 43 percent); the Siena College poll released the following day showed a difference of 33 points between the two candidates (57 to 24 percent).

Breslin remained unconcerned: “There is an anger among certain fringe voters that would tend to be Republicans, and I think that base voters would be attracted by Paladino,” he said. “However, more than that, Moderate Republicans will be turned off by Paladino.”

Breslin said that Cuomo, who has come under fire in the last few weeks for ignoring minority and progressive issues, understands that he has to reach out to constituents with a wide array of political views.

Jennings fretted that children would take the wrong message from Paladino. “There’s nothing good coming out of his campaign,” he said. “I don’t want my kids subjected to the rhetoric, the anger. What he’s talking about is just so negative, and I want them to learn that if you work together you can accomplish things. He’s not doing that. He is being extremely divisive, he is being extreme in many, many ways, and it has to stop. All these elected officials have come together and we’re calling on everyone to get involved, Republicans, Independents, anyone to say, ‘Enough is enough, Carl. We don’t need this kind of leader in New York.’ ”

Jennings said that he supports Cuomo because he has been “extremely capable” as New York’s attorney general. “I saw him when he ran in Washington, D.C.,” said Jennings. “He was respected across the globe and, as far as I’m concerned, he should be our next governor. That’s what these people are here for.” Jennings added that Cuomo wants to pull all the political parties together, and that “everyone has to be involved.”

Breslin said that he doesn’t think Cuomo’s campaign will be affected by any of the surrounding political high jinx and that Cuomo has only recently become fully involved in the campaign because “it seems from past races, it only becomes serious a month before. We’re at that point now, and I expect Andrew Cuomo to run, as he has in the past, a very aggressive, professional and honest campaign.”

Cuomo recently told Liz Benjamin of Capital Tonight in one of the first TV interviews of the race that his campaign is “all of two weeks old.”

—W.T. Eckert

Who Wants to be Unemployed?

Unions say Gov. David Paterson’s order to layoff 2,000 state workers is illegal

Gov. David Paterson raised more than a few eyebrows last week when he sent a memo to state agencies expressing the need to reduce the state workforce by 2,000 people before next year in order to meet budget goals. The memo vested agency commissioners with the power to use layoffs to accomplish that goal—layoffs that local state employee unions say would be illegal.

The Civil Service Employees Association and Public Employees Federation both claim to have binding contracts with Paterson in which he agreed to refrain from using layoffs to reduce the state workforce until after 2010. The actual language of the Memorandum of Understanding between the State of New York and the Civil Service Employee’s Association states that, in return for the union not opposing other legislation, “there will be no layoff, or threat of layoff, of CSEA represented employees for a period up to and including December 31, 2010.” John V. Currier, of the New York State Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, and Ross D. Hanna, of CSEA, signed the Memorandum on July 22, 2009.

While ripples of anger and indignation were immediately palpable at the state office campus in Albany, union leaders seem less concerned. According to Stephen Madarasz, director of communications for CSEA, legal considerations are likely to tie up the governor’s office into 2011.

“We’re trying not to overreact to what he’s saying,” said Madarasz. “But it has nothing to do with reality. We’re concerned because of the way the State of New York is being run, but we believe that we’re on firm legal ground.”

Paterson’s decision to lay off state employees before next year came after a severance incentive package failed to produce the $250 million in savings the state had hoped for. The package, a two-part early-retirement offer aimed at employees in positions that could remain unfilled and employees already near retirement, has been the subject of much scrutiny. PEF has claimed that more than 600 employees in positions that could have been voluntarily vacated were denied early retirement, and that guidelines establishing essential positions in departments such as health and public safety have been too widely drawn.

“Paterson claims that he needed to cut $250 million from the workforce and that he’s only reached about 60 percent of that goal,” said Ken Brynien, president of PEF. “But this is only a half-year’s savings. If he had offered the package and let these employees go at the beginning of the year, it seems safe to say that he would have reached his goal. We’ve heard from no less than 600 employees who claim that they were willing to take the incentive but were not given the option, so there could be as many as a thousand people who do not have to be laid off. These are people who are willing to go.”

Brynien added that he would like to see the figures for funds spent on contracting and consulting for jobs that could be done by existing state employees. “It’s all a dark secret and, even after a law was passed about two years ago, there is still only about 20 percent of that information available. The state spends around $2.9 billion a year on outside consulting. That could pay for 23,000 full-time positions.”

“We’re not threatening anything at this point,” Madarasz stressed. “But we’ll do whatever we have to for our workers.”

Jim Blake, an employee in the Division of Criminal Justice Services, says that he was offered a severance package in Summer 2009 and turned it down. When the latest retirement incentive came up, Blake offered to accept. “I just assumed that they would let me go and I sent an e-mail with eight reasons I should go, but I never heard back. No one in my office was asked if they would like the incentive and at least 20 people I know sent e-mails indicating their interest and never heard anything back. My department isn’t related to health or safety. I even know one guy who wanted to take the early retirement for personal health reasons and was blocked. My feeling is that this is going on in other departments as well.”

Not everyone feels the same.

“I think people just don’t like to feel expendable; the general feeling is that state workers are always the first sacrificial lamb of bad government,” said an employee who asked to remain anonymous. “Of course there are cases like that guy who was getting paid a million dollars a year to do nothing, and there are a few people who are literally just waiting for retirement and their pension, but we also have hard workers. In the tax department, we didn’t have anyone who was denied the early incentive as far as I know. People were even afraid that they wouldn’t get it because they were so far down on the list, but everyone did. I got the feeling that they would have let even more go. Of course, we’re a revenue-raising department, so I don’t think that we’re in as much danger as, say, labor, education or housing if widespread layoffs really occur.”

Calls to Paterson’s office were not returned. Both of the candidates vying to replace him in January have already stated intentions to use layoffs as a way to reduce state spending next year if elected.

—Ali Hibbs

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