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About those flying Cuomo signs

A flight in the NYC area in March.

A flight in the NYC area in March. Credit: Aerial Messages

Daily Point

Cuomo fans sending high flying messages

Over the past few weeks, New Yorkers looking skyward may have seen messages like "WE SUPPORT CUOMO" and "QUEENS IS 100% FOR OUR ANDREW" flying over unsuspecting swaths of the Empire State, including Albany and Buffalo and, last weekend, beachfront sections of Queens.

Where are the messages coming from, at a time when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wades through a cloud of scandals and hit record-low favorability numbers in a recent Siena College poll, The Point wondered.

The answer appears to have something to do with social media groups with names like "We <3 NY Gov Andrew Cuomo," "We stand with Governor Andrew Cuomo," "Women for Governor Cuomo," "Andrew Cuomo Fan Club," and "Governor Cuomo, please do not resign."

That’s according to two women, Lisa Poole and Brenda Torres, who tell The Point that they and other subscribers to those groups have been involved with efforts to broadcast support for Cuomo, including the plane messages. People on these Facebook groups apparently found the website of Florida-based company Aerial Messages, which includes a "Share-A-Flight" function that lets you crowdfund the cost.

Poole, a Realtor in South Carolina, says she got interested in Cuomo partly through the governor’s brother’s CNN show. Torres, an operations supervisor for a travel company, lives in Brooklyn and also helped with a pro-Cuomo rally in Midtown Manhattan. They said some in the pro-Cuomo groups grew fonder of Cuomo due to his pandemic response. Neither Torres nor Poole show up in recent campaign finance filings as Cuomo donors, and both women said no one from the Cuomo family or administration asked them to make these efforts. ("Nope," said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi when asked whether the governor or his administration have anything to do with organizing or funding the flights.)

So who paid for the flights? Poole and Torres said the recent Queens stint was purchased by one woman, who wanted to go only by "Andrea from Queens," but others were crowdfunded. The commercial advertising rates on Aerial Messages’ website list a price of $1,650 for a two-hour package, with discounts as flight time increases. The Point reached out to Aerial Messages and was patched through to company CEO/owner/operator Remy Colin while the executive was flying over Daytona Beach, teaching a new pilot. Colin estimated the company has done between 10 and 20 hours of Cuomo flights with at least one more on the horizon, and he said the majority of the crowdfunding donations for those flights were small, near $20 each, with the biggest being around $400 or $500. Each campaign received about 100 or 200 donors and most came from New York, he said, but there were also many donors from around the country and even contributors from Canada and Germany.

At the top of the company’s testimonial page is one from Poole, who wrote "the fundraiser option was perfect for us." Other testimonials come from individuals with messages like "ERIN WILL YOU MARRY ME" and "FRONTIER FAILS ESSENTIAL WORKERS IBEW824.ORG."

The company has not shied away from political rhetoric: Aerial Messages gained headlines earlier this year for flights over Mar-a-Lago saying things like "Trump You Pathetic Loser Go Back to Moscow." It was after the attention from those messages that Colin says he put together the crowdfunding option — and the Cuomo fans were the first to use it.

However the fans were urged or moved to open their wallets, they apparently did so quickly for that first Cuomo message. "In three hours it was funded," said Colin.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Bet on Derby Day at Belmont

Fans finally will be returning to Belmont Park on Saturday, just in time to get to watch and wager on the Kentucky Derby. That’s more than a week after the racing season began, and more than two weeks after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo first announced that fans would be allowed back at the racetracks.

What took so long?

The New York Racing Association has said it was awaiting detailed guidance from the state on the protocols it would have to follow. Despite the governor’s announcement earlier this month, that guidance, NYRA officials said, didn’t come in time for the start of racing season. Instead, the guidance provided is dated April 24 — two days after racing had begun. And it’s unclear when those regulations were actually provided to NYRA.

The final guidance, meanwhile, replicates what the state has issued for other sporting events. So, what’s particularly puzzling is why racing wasn’t simply included in the state’s initial set of regulations for sporting events — regulations that were issued in February.

State officials told The Point that NYRA officials were being "disingenuous," noting that the state has spent hours talking with NYRA representatives outlining exactly what the state expected and what NYRA needed to do. And, they added, they issued an executive order on the day of the governor’s announcement saying that NYRA should follow existing professional sports guidance.

"They requested specific guidance but we told them you don’t really need it," one official with knowledge of the situation told The Point. "It is about time that people start to follow the guidance, follow what we’re saying without us saying we’re going to spell each and every piece out for you. The days of 25-page guidance have to end eventually."

To attend events at Belmont, fans must purchase tickets in advance, and will be issued a reserved seat and reserved parking. That marks a significant change for the racetrack, which usually sees walk-ups and general admission for most of the season.

Like with other sporting events in New York, fans will have to submit proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. The state’s current capacity guidelines will allow about 7,000 fans at Belmont.

Meanwhile, officials are working on developing a plan for how to handle seating in the "backyard" space at Belmont, some of which is no longer available due to the construction of the New York Islanders’ arena. It’s possible that there may be assigned seating at the available picnic tables.

The Saturday return coincides with Kentucky Derby day, and those in attendance will be able to bet on the Derby and other races across the country, and stay to watch the annual Run for the Roses after Belmont’s live racing concludes.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Batting a thousand?

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Final Point

The life cycle of the New York Health Act

The first time the New York Health Act passed in the Assembly, in 1992, the single-payer plan was all aspiration, a statement of intent from the most liberal political body in one of the nation’s most liberal states. Later that year, Bill Clinton would be elected president and task his wife, Hillary, with devising a comprehensive national health care plan.

The White House effort went down in flames, and the New York Health Act did not pass in the Assembly again until it was approved four years in a row, from 2015-2018, as single-payer became central to the national conversation.

In none of those years was there any chance single-state single-payer would become law in New York. The Republican Senate was opposed, as was Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and in 2017 and 2018 it was clear that then-President Donald Trump would never grant the needed federal waiver even if it were signed into law.

But when the 2019 New York legislative session rolled around and the Democrats had retaken the State Senate majority, the time could have been right for the legacy bill. If it passed in the Assembly, Democrats in the Senate would have to fight for it or justify refusing to. And if it passed in the Senate then Cuomo, always conscious of his national reputation in the Democratic Party, might have had to do the same.

Except the Assembly, which in four previous years passed the bill by massive margins, never brought it to a vote in 2019.

Or 2020.

As soon as full passage of the New York Health Act became possible, this one-house wonder of a bill became kryptonite for many Albany Democrats. Now, with Trump gone and Democratic supermajorities in both chambers that could override a veto from Cuomo, passage is more possible than ever, in theory. But most legislators say it can’t happen.

With the possibility of passage, many of the bill’s more controversial and complex provisions have come to the fore, including how to pay for a 100% coverage plan with state tax revenue. The powerful public sector unions that have made their bones securing sweet health care deals for members don’t want to risk losing any of those gains. And when those unions act in unison to prevent change in Albany, that change doesn’t happen.

Senate Health Committee Chair Gustavo Rivera told The Point that with the inequities experienced with COVID-19 and the hardship a lack of coverage creates, this ought to be the year. He pointed out there is a majority of co-sponsors in each chamber.

The scandal-plagued Cuomo’s resistance could be weakened, and President Joe Biden is far more likely to grant a federal waiver than Trump was.

Even so, many insiders and lawmakers say the New York Health Act can’t become law with this much opposition.

And this year’s sport for Albany-watchers may be seeing how the Democratic caucuses in both the Assembly and the Senate that theoretically support single-payer find a way to signal support for the bill … while torpedoing it.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller