Hochul's house cleaning
In her first news conference as governor-in-waiting, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul made it very clear that she wanted to clean house in the executive chamber. In the next 13 days until she is sworn in, Hochul said she would "take advantage" of the time to meet with those currently serving in the Cuomo administration and determine whom she would ask to stay.
But more than a few are ready to depart already. Longtime Cuomo aides who were planning to finish out most of his third term, which runs through 2022, will be gone in a matter of weeks, said an Albany source familiar with their thinking. Most significantly, that includes Robert Mujica, director of the budget and a key adviser who has had an outsized role in running much of state government. Mujica and counsel Beth Garvey are expected to be gone by Labor Day, according to the sources. Not unexpectedly, heading out earlier than that will be Cuomo press secretary Rich Azzopardi, sources said.
Pressed several times about staffing during the 30-minute event, Hochul also said, "No one named as doing anything unethical in the attorney general’s report will remain in my administration." While the definition of unethical remains to be determined, several staffers are being questioned as part of a second probe by Attorney General Tish James on the use of the staff to help Cuomo write his book about handling the pandemic. In addition to Mujica and Garvey, who are already out the door, it remains to be seen what the remarks mean regarding SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, who was the president of SUNY Empire State College at the time.
And under that test, does the controversy over what the administration told the legislature about nursing home deaths automatically eliminate Dr. Howard Zucker as commissioner of health or does Hochul need him to deal with the pressing challenge of the delta variant?
One of the most significant decisions Hochul will make involves leadership at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. At the end of the legislative session, Cuomo was unable to get the State Senate to split the jobs of board chair and CEO, so he named head of construction and development Janno Lieber to do both. Lieber may not want the chairman’s job and might be more inclined to stay if Hochul can get the legislature to split the posts. Leadership of the MTA is probably one of the most important decisions for downstate that Hochul, who is less familiar with the specifics of how it operates, will make.
Sources told The Point that Hochul soon will be speaking to Lieber, who has the most options if he walked away than anyone else who worked with Cuomo and remained unscathed, to see if the two are on the same page about the direction of the MTA.
As for other cabinet members, those who run agencies and were not closely involved with the second floor are likely to remain for now, to keep their bureaucracies running until Hochul can focus on their operations, another source said. At the same time Hochul is expected to bring in many of those she knows and trusts from her days in Buffalo government and as a member of Congress to run the state.
No one was ever promised a lot of job security in politics.
— Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli
Bills to sign, priorities to set
Even as Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul made it clear Tuesday that she wasn’t taking the reins of the state for another 13 days, state lawmakers and other leaders already are looking forward.
Hochul’s to-do list will be long, and likely topped by the state’s COVID-19 response. But observers also are hoping Hochul will start with signing many key bills waiting in limbo, bills that have been approved by both houses of the State Legislature but will not have been signed by the governor before he leaves on Aug. 24.
Among the key Long Island legislation that could be waiting for Hochul: bills that address the future of New York American Water and would create two public water authorities in Nassau County.
Other bills critical to Long Island address housing discrimination and real estate agent training, the need to expand early voting polling locations, oversight of the Long Island Power Authority, the criminalization of falsifying vaccination records and bans of so-called "ghost guns" and toxic flame retardant chemicals, often found in furniture or mattresses.
They’ve all passed both the State Senate and the state Assembly, but won’t become law without a governor’s signature.
It’s unclear, so far, which bills Hochul would support —- or which she might reject. During a news conference Tuesday, Hochul said she planned to speak about her priorities and vision once she officially took office. But sources said they expected Hochul would recognize priorities important to Long Island and follow through.
That could include more than just bills awaiting signature. Cuomo could take action on some of these matters before he leaves or pass them off to Hochul. There’s the need, for instance, to appoint members to the Cannabis Control Board to issue rules on how the retail sale of marijuana will take place, and the Traffic Mobility Review Board to address congestion pricing.
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
Building an alliance
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NY's winning pass
The Excelsior Pass started, like so many things in the world of New York’s information technology, with plenty of glitches and problems.
But since then, the digital pass that can contain COVID-19 test and vaccination information has become a more ubiquitous tool, one that nearly 3 million New Yorkers have downloaded and are using to get into concerts or Broadway shows or even restaurants.
Now, the state has unveiled Excelsior Pass Plus, an upgraded pass that’s accepted even by American Airlines and Marriott. But only 85,000 people have downloaded the "plus" version so far. To get the new pass, go to https://epass.ny.gov.
Behind the pass’ development and expansion is Sandra Beattie, the deputy director in the state’s budget office, who told The Point she has been focused on developing a "virtually clean dataset of immunization records" establishing strong security and privacy standards and then finding new ways the pass can be used going forward.
"It was about reopening the economy safely and securely within our region," Beattie said.
Beattie said working on the technology side of the state’s needs, and particularly on the Excelsior Pass, has been a bit of a "side gig" that’s come on top of her budget work. She works with a staff of about 20 on the technology issues but, she said, the effort emerged because of her initial work on the COVID-19 response.
"For me, it’s partly personal," Beattie said. "It’s been a journey that’s rewarding to really have a front seat in turning the tide of this pandemic."
Now, she said, especially with the discussion of vaccination mandates picking up speed, the state has been approached by other states and countries to discuss the success of the pass and how they can capitalize on it. Beattie also is hoping New Jersey and Connecticut will join a coalition known as VCI, whose members all are operating under the same standards that are serving as the basis for the Excelsior Pass Plus. That could allow tools like the Excelsior Pass to be used across state lines.
And state officials also are thinking about other ways to use the pass, to hold other digital records, from business records to fishing licenses to park passes.
"We designed this to be simple and straightforward and equitable, and to have in mind how a citizen would use this in their everyday world," Beattie said.
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall