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Preparation and perseverance

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is pictured in Bethpage

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is pictured in Bethpage on June 29. Credit: Barry Sloan

Daily Point

Schumer & Co.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was crushed in her attempt to get on the Democratic presidential ticket in 2020, now seems to be acknowledging that she may not get a cabinet appointment in the Biden administration.

In several recent media interviews, the junior senator from New York has answered questions about her future with a very pat answer. "I am most interested in remaining a senator for New York, and I feel very privileged to have this position to speak for New Yorkers and lift up their voices and fight for them," Gillibrand told Susan Arbetter of "Capitol Tonight" on Tuesday.

Before the election, a few trial balloons were floated, including one that said Gillibrand would be interested in being secretary of defense to continue her work on sexual harassment in the military. But it appears that Biden’s preferred choice is Michele Flournoy, who worked in top jobs at Defense in both the Clinton and Obama administrations.

But it’s not only Biden’s years of working with Flournoy that makes her likely to become the first woman to run the Pentagon. There is also not much support in the Biden camp for Gillibrand to get a first-tier job, and the senator, who has a national profile and four years left on her term, is unlikely to leave for anything less. Gillibrand attacked Biden in a 2019 Democratic primary debate and characterized his opposition to expanding federal childcare credits in 1981 as an attempt to destroy families.

Gillibrand was vaulted into the Senate in 2009 after Barack Obama selected then-Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. To replace Clinton, Gov. David A. Paterson, who himself was vaulted into the job by the sudden resignation of Eliot Spitzer, set in motion a dizzying selection process that at one point favored then-United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. In the 11th hour and after much political wheeling and dealing, he switched to Gillibrand, then a low-profile House member from upstate.

But Gillibrand, who is vulnerable in the 2024 cycle, might want an off ramp soon and that might make her more willing to take a non-Cabinet post in the incoming administration. The chance that she might vacate the seat has set off speculation on whom Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would appoint as senator.

One of the top prospects mentioned is first-term state Attorney General Tish James. If she left Albany, the State Legislature would jointly decide her replacement. When asked whether James would leave, her spokeswoman sent this statement to The Point. "Attorney General James has been a fearless fighter standing up to powerful forces and defending the interests of everyday New Yorkers. She remains focused on this mission as our Attorney General."

However, the candidate with the inside track would be Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. He has a strong shot of becoming the next speaker of the House when Nancy Pelosi retires and if the Democrats maintain the majority. But Sen. Chuck Schumer, who was reelected Tuesday by the Democratic caucus as Senate minority leader, is not likely to be receptive to having two Brooklynites leading Congress. And unlike Gillibrand, who never got in Schumer’s way, Jeffries would be a formidable political presence and rival for attention.

And the thinking goes that Schumer, who is up for reelection in 2022, could get some breathing room with James in the Senate, if he is primaried by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or others on the left. Any replacement for Gillibrand would have to run again in a special election in 2022, making that election cycle quite a spectacle. Two Senate seats and the governorship would be on the ballot.

The next moves on New York’s always-in-motion political chess board depend on what Cuomo wants, what Schumer wants and whether either of them could convince Biden to give Gillibrand something she wants.

—Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli

Talking Point

Winning, or not, in Suffolk

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has declared victory in his effort to plug county budget holes with a referendum to take $183 million from a sewer stabilization rate fund.

Not so fast.

At the moment, the yesses outnumber the no votes on Proposition 2 by more than 38,000. But there are at least 140,000 mail-in votes to be counted. And there might be as many theories on how those votes will break. Bellone says he expects they won’t change the overall picture and the proposition will pass.

But attorney and former deputy county executive Paul Sabatino, whose significant role in this drama we’ll explain shortly, wonders how many of the absentee ballots were mailed before the final two weeks of the campaign — before a series of three robocalls were made supporting the proposition and when the only advocacy was from environmentalists against the proposal and from a Newsday editorial board endorsement advising a "no" vote.

Sabatino represented the Pine Barrens Society in legal actions that resulted in a court judgment that the county repay $29.4 million taken from the sewer fund in 2011 to balance the budget and a settlement in 2014 that let Suffolk borrow $171 million from the sewer fund to be repaid through 2029. Proposition 2 basically asks that the county not have to repay what’s left on those sums and instead use it for the budget.

And that, Sabatino says, is not legal. Citing case law he says goes back to the 19th century, he told The Point, "As a matter of law, it’s pretty straightforward. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a mere resolution, law or public referendum, there is no authority for a municipality to unilaterally overturn a court decision or judgment, and no authority for a municipality to unilaterally repudiate a settlement agreement."

Does that mean a court challenge is likely if the proposition passes?

"Yes," Pine Barrens executive director Dick Amper said. "How they pursue it I’m not sure, but the argument being advanced is they can’t change what the law and courts said after the fact."

A second issue, Amper said, is that a proposition put to the public for vote must be "easily understood" by voters. Anyone who read Proposition 2 knows it was not easily understood.

Looming behind all this is Bellone’s proposed budget, which includes the money from the proposition, and which must be approved by the Suffolk Legislature.

The date of the vote: Nov. 16.

The date mail-in ballots will start to be opened: Nov. 16.

So lawmakers won’t know whether the proposition has been approved when they have to make their decision. If they make one.

"This budget has so many problems and so many issues in it, it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to address all of them," Presiding Officer Rob Calarco told The Point. "In all likelihood, we’re going to let the county executive operate under the budget he proposed … By and large we’re not intending to take a vote on his budget."

And if the legislature doesn’t vote on the budget, it is adopted as submitted per county law.

In other words, Bellone’s budget, which includes money from a proposition not yet approved by voters, will be adopted by not voting on it.

Only in Suffolk.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Pencil Point

Throw in the towel

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Final Point

Preparing for another wave

COVID-19 cases are surging around the country and state officials are trying new restrictions to stop the spread — including in New York, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday afternoon announced new rules for bars and restaurants as well as private gatherings.

Meanwhile, New York hospitals are watching warily, the memory of being at the heart of the pandemic still fresh, even as they prepare for a potentially brutal winter.

"Everybody’s exhausted," said Dr. Adey Tsegaye of Long Island Jewish Medical Center. The Point followed Tsegaye on her Tuesday rounds through the intensive care unit, much less full than it had been in March when it "felt like the sky fell down on you."

Now, Tsegaye said the hospital has empty areas ready for a surge. And treatment is made a little easier with more knowledge about and experience with the virus. One of two COVID-19 ICU patients who at that time were in the building had been intubated for 15 days. But he appears to be getting better, Tsegaye said, and the amount of air the man’s machine provided him was now only similar to levels in the room at large. Still, his eyes were closed and his chest was rising and falling. "I am happy," Tsegaye said, leaving the room.

Preparations at Long Island hospitals include new doors on some patient rooms at North Shore University Hospital, to have negative pressure in them to help prevent spread.

During a visit by The Point to North Shore in late October, Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, Northwell Health’s director of critical care, said supplies have been shored up since March, including antibiotics and sedatives, and more space for patients has been created by moving ambulatory surgery elsewhere.

The situation at North Shore during that visit might be instructive concerning the coronavirus spikes in New York. The facility appeared to be "at the end of a little bit of a spike," said Narasimhan at that time. Many of the patients involved were from Brooklyn and the Five Towns areas, suggesting some of the numbers might have been related to being indoors for Jewish holiday celebrations.

The amount of care and attention these critically ill patients need is obvious — including the periodic intervention of medical teams to help turn the patients face-down to help them breathe better.

"Dealing with [patients] six at a time is a very different thing for outcomes versus dealing with 200 of them," said Narasimhan.

Newsday Opinion is following the steps taken by Long Island hospitals to weather the pandemic this fall. Follow along here and @NewsdayOpinion.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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