Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Assemblywoman Arrested

Pamela Harris, 57, is now a former Brooklyn Assemblywoman after resigning her post amidst accusations that she defrauded the government and nonprofits for her own personal benefits. The former corrections officer has been charged by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn with two counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of making false statements, two counts of bankruptcy fraud, one count of witness tampering, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

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“As alleged in the indictment, [Harris] defrauded government agencies out of tens of thousands of dollars in public funds and tried to fraudulently obtain even more,” said Richard Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

“She conducted her schemes victimizing the federal and New York City governments, and then obstructed a federal investigation into her crimes while a sitting New York state assemblywoman. When she learned that law enforcement was investigating her various fraud schemes, she pressured witnesses to lie to the FBI and cover them up. This Office and our law enforcement partners are committed to ensuring that those who serve the public are held accountable under the law to the same extent as the people they are privileged to serve.”

Harris is the first member of the assembly ousted from her seat since Carl Heastie (D – Bronx) took over as Assembly Speaker promising to clean up corruption in the lower house. Harris, a former New York City corrections officer, if convicted, may land behind bars with the same inmates she once watched over.

 

Assemblyman Dies

Frank Skartados, 62, died last month from pancreatic cancer. The Democrat represented portion of Orange, Ulster, and Dutchess counties. Skartados’ predecessor, Republican Tom Kirwan, also died in office (in November of 2011). Kirwan was 78 years old.

 

Senate Unity Begins

Over in the state Senate, the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference has rejoined mainline Democrats after several years of reaping the legislative perks of being a third conference in the 63-member body. Since rejoining mainline Democrats, the eight-member I.D.C. was stripped of its committee chairmanships, which included extra stipends, and stripped of large district offices in Manhattan.

With the Democratic conference now hosting 31 members, and the Republicans hosting 31 members, one lone Democrat – Simcha Felder (D – Midwood) – is keeping his options open, caucusing with the Republicans and holding the balance of power in his hands.

Felder says he will remain with the Republican conference and decide whether to switch sides at a later date. Felder is loyal to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R – Huntington, Suffolk County). At the recent COJO Flatbush breakfast, Flanagan was honored and introduced by Felder.

Felder also has consistently said he will do what is best for his constituents. Currently, that philosophy is unlikely to lead him to switch sides. Felder’s main focus is private school education, which is anathema to some Senate Democrats who do not want to give one dime of state aid to private or parochial school education.

 

Statewide Campaign Updates

The Republican and Democratic gubernatorial campaigns heated up last month. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro announced his candidacy for governor on April 2nd, World Autism Awareness Day. Molinaro has a daughter who is on the autism spectrum, and he tried to tie in his personal story to his campaign rhetoric, but it fell flat among members of the media.

Molinaro has the backing of a majority of the Conservative and Republican party chairmen across the state. He is viewed as being the frontrunner ahead of longtime Senator John DeFrancisco, 71, (R – Syracuse) and former Pataki administration housing commissioner Joseph Holland, 61 (R – Yonkers, Westchester County).

On the Democratic side, incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo, 60 is trying to fend off a challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon, 52, who has never run for office. Nixon has picked up support from several left-leaning political organizations such as Citizens Action of New York, the Working Families’ Party, and the New York Progressive Action Network.

Riding on Nixon’s coattails is NYC Councilman Jumaane Williams, 42 (D – Canarsie, Brooklyn) who is seeking to primary incumbent Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, 59 (D – Buffalo, Erie County).

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan speaks with Senator Simcha Felder at the recent COJO Flatbush breakfast.

Jonathan Trichter, 47, who was profiled in this column in March, formally announced his candidacy for state comptroller against incumbent Thomas DiNapoli (D – Great Neck, Nassau County). Trichter, an enrolled Democrat, has left the door open for a primary against DiNapoli, 64, as well as obtaining the Republican and Conservative party lines.

It is widely speculated that Manhattan attorney Manny Alicandro will run for attorney general on the Republican and Conservative party lines against the well-financed, two-term incumbent Eric Schneiderman, 63, a Manhattan democrat.

Republican Chele Chiavacci Farley, 51, a Manhattan investment banker, will take on the well-financed, nine-year incumbent Democrat, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, 51, in the November election. Gillibrand will have to beat back a possible primary challenge from Dr. Scott Noren, 58, an Ithaca plastic surgeon. Noren is a second-generation American of Ukrainian-Russian immigrant grandparents. His mother was active in the Jewish War Veterans organization in Chicago.

The state party conventions take place at the end of May in Manhattan.

 

Assemblyman Recounts Holocaust Heroism

Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso (D – Port Washington, Nassau County) visited the Silverstein Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, Long Island, earlier this month to tell the students about his experiences growing up in Formia, Italy, during the Holocaust.

D’Urso’s father, Giuseppe, hid approximately 12 Jews from the Nazis at great risk to his own family, saving them from deportation. D’Urso, 78, was posted as the “lookout.” D’Urso recalls he was tasked with playing outside and calling out to his mother, in Italian, whenever he saw German soldiers approaching.

Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso speaks to students at the Silverstein Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, Long Island.

With his help, his family was able to save the lives of a large extended Jewish family, named Sinigallia, in his hometown on the Mediterranean coast. In January 2018, D’Urso travelled to Naples, Italy, to meet members of the Sinigallias family, descendants of the people his father rescued.

“I am glad that I had this opportunity to tell these school children my life story,” D’Urso said. “We must not forget our history and we must pass on our stories to future generations so that nothing is forgotten.”

 

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Some Electoral Dates to Keep in Mind

Congressional primary election: Tuesday, June 26

Primary day: Thursday, September 13

General election: Tuesday, November 6

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Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.