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Zeldin talks Stefanik, Cheney, COVID-19 vaccine numbers in his district

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) speaks at a

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) speaks at a press conference in Manorville on Jan. 25. Credit: Randee Daddona

Daily Point

Zeldin’s take on the low vaccination rate in his district

Rep. Lee Zeldin told The Point Wednesday that he does not think Rep. Liz Cheney should remain chair of the Republican conference. But his reasoning went beyond anything Cheney has said about former President Donald Trump.

"My view is that she has her own play call in mind and she’s thinking many steps ahead as to what is her vision, and it’s a little bit more selfish than what I’m used to out of the conference chair," Zeldin said in an interview, though he didn’t specify what he thought Cheney’s "play call" would be. "The conference chair position is one that is not about you, it’s about the conference."

Zeldin said that had Cheney been looking out for the conference, she should have shared her plans, in terms of statements she has made and her vote on impeachment, with the conference in advance.

"Tactically, she rubbed a lot of people the wrong way," the Shirley Republican added.

Zeldin said he expects Cheney won’t have the votes to remain chair next week. The position is the third-ranking spot in the GOP, after the minority leader and whip.

So, should that job go to Rep. Elise Stefanik, a fellow New Yorker who has been mentioned as a GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2022, a race in which Zeldin already has become deeply invested?

"I think Elise would be a great conference chair," Zeldin said. "She has done a tremendous job in helping to elect more Republican women in the conference, she is smart and hard-working, and she has great relationships across the ideological spectrum … I think she would do well in that position if that’s how this goes."

Closer to home, Zeldin told The Point that he recognizes the need to focus on getting more people across his district to take the COVID-19 vaccine. An analysis and map produced by the Newsday editorial board last week showed that pockets of Zeldin’s district had far lower vaccination rates than other parts of Long Island.

Zeldin, who is fully vaccinated, said he has advocated for additional sites and advertised when pop-up events and other opportunities arise.

"I think the most important thing that government and people in government can do beyond obviously making sure they have access to a vaccine is that they are assured this is their path to normalcy," Zeldin said. "That is one of the very best ways to get over the hump, is giving people the sense that normalcy awaits on the other end."

When asked whether he should do more to get his district’s vaccination rates up, Zeldin said he has had "many, many conversations" with constituents about the vaccine.

"I end up answering questions for them that I hope are helpful in their decision as to whether or not to get it," Zeldin said.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Weed lobbying in NY hits an all-time high

Marijuana-related companies and other organizations with an interest in the fortune that can be made from legal pot have been eager to pay for a voice in Albany this year, given the legislative back and forth that ended with passage of adult-use marijuana legalization in March.

Here’s one rough metric: The number of cannabis/marijuana registrations or amended ones in the state’s online lobbying database is already over 85 less than halfway through the year.

In all of 2020, there were 27, and 26 in all of 2019.

Among the groups using cannabis lobbyists are umbrella organizations like the New York State Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, who paid $10,000 for the services of Park Strategies in the January-February period.

Some established groups like The Bronx Defenders, the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce and the NYS AFL-CIO posted filings in which cannabis is just one of many issues lobbied, part of a list of Albany priorities in addition to education, criminal justice, economic development, gaming and more.

But many smaller players have a narrower, perhaps deeper interest in cannabis lobbying. Take the Shinnecock Indian Nation, whose leaders have been open about their hopes for marijuana. Capital Health Consulting logged $15,000 for lobbying on health and marijuana on their behalf between January and February.

A whole host of cannabis companies are retaining New York lobbyists and lobbying shops, too. Columbia Care, a cannabis product cultivator/manufacturer/provider, paid Rocky Point lawyer and well-known Republican adviser Steven Losquadro $6,000 for direct lobbying in the March-April filing period. The filings go further about that work: The lobbying subject was "marijuana cultivation facility and dispensary" and the parties lobbied were the Riverhead Town board and planning department.

Then there’s Green Thumb, a Chicago-based outfit which believes in "the plant’s potential to improve health, happiness, and comfort," according to its website. They’re with State & Broadway. KlickTrack, which makes technology for cannabis businesses, retained Advance Group. And TLM Associates is working for another variant of the weed world, just one piece of the new pot future in store for the Empire State: Drink Recess Inc., which makes a "sparkling water infused with hemp and adaptogens."

Let the green water flow.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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Final Point

NY building trades union leader faces Long Island dissent over wage theft protection act

The powerful building trades union has a new statewide leader – and he’s a familiar face to New York City and Long Island construction workers.

As new head of the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council, Gary LaBarbera already is finding some pushback on his highest priority issue – and it’s coming, perhaps unsurprisingly, from Long Island builders.

In an interview with the Newsday editorial board, LaBarbera, who also heads the city chapter and previously led the Long Island chapter, said the union’s attention during the State Legislature’s ongoing session is on the Wage Theft Protection Act, a bill that would hold general contractors and general managers liable when any subcontractors involved on a project don’t pay workers what they’re owed.

"This bill will protect potentially thousands of workers who are being exploited in the area of wage theft," LaBarbera said, adding that contractors "have to be responsible for anything going on at that site."

Seems simple and reasonable, right?

Not to the Long Island Builders Institute, which is pushing back. LIBI chief Mitch Pally told The Point that while the builders agree that everyone should be paid what they’re entitled to, he has concerns with the ultimate impact of the bill.

"My question is why are we holding the contractor responsible," he said. "You’re trying to hold somebody responsible who did not do anything wrong."

Pally said that many of the contractors on Long Island are small home builders who couldn’t afford the potential liability involved, especially since it could last for three years after a project was completed. The subcontractors — also often small businesses — could end up shouldering the burden through increased costs and bonds.

The law would apply to union and non-unionized work, but since unions often can make sure their members are paid, this act seemingly could encourage contractors to choose union work to avoid the liability issue.

Pally said he is seeking a fix to the act so it wouldn’t apply to single-family home builders.

But LaBarbera rejected that idea.

"I don’t believe there should be a class system of workers," he said.

Sources tell The Point that discussions are underway to try to find a compromise. Perhaps it’ll mark the first – but likely not the last – time LaBarbera in his new role will be finding a way forward, but only through the thicket of Long Island’s points of view.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall