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Playbook PM: Inaugural PM Playbook: Cuomo fending off pitchforks, tar and feathers

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Presented by Google: POLITICO's must-read briefing on what's driving the afternoon in Washington.
Feb 22, 2021 View in browser
Playbook PM

By Anna Gronewold, David Giambusso, Erin Durkin and Terry Golway

Presented by

Hey there, and welcome to PM Playbook, an afternoon check-in to spill the day’s tea — as we know it thus far — during one of the busiest seasons in New York politics. It’s the email version of the sweet caffeine that carries your brain from lunch to dinner. What do you want in your inboxes this time of day? Shoot an email to or send a shout on Twitter.

The state Senate and Assembly are both heading into session, hoping to figure out how they will reclaim some governing authority from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose unilateral pandemic powers have begun to strike the state’s other electeds as troublesome, to say the least.

In the Assembly, Republicans are launching an impeachment attempt, which is highly unlikely any time in the near future. More attainable is a package of bills the Senate Democratic majority will pass later this afternoon to up standards in nursing homes, creating the appearance, at least, that they’re taking the fallout from Cuomo’s scandal into their own hands. Democrats in both chambers are discussing, but have not yet come to a consensus about, how they will draw back some of Cuomo’s control.

Cuomo kicked off his week by joining New York City, state and federal officials in unveiling a new mass vaccination site at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. The site, which opens Wednesday, is one of two that will be opened in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In the same city (but different location, of course), Mayor Bill de Blasio again whacked Cuomo over the nursing home controversy, saying Cuomo’s latest defense of his actions does not pass muster. “I do not accept his explanation,” de Blasio told reporters, days after Cuomo and his health commissioner made an extensive argument that the state’s policies were not responsible for driving up the Covid-19 death toll, while acknowledging he should not have withheld information about the deaths. “There needs to be a full investigation. Thousands of lives were lost. Families deserve answers,” de Blasio said. “We need to get the whole truth here. We need to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

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Covid-19 Update

De Blasio tapped Lorraine Grillo to be his pandemic recovery czar, guiding the city’s comeback from the Covid-19 crisis. Grillo is the president of the city school construction authority, where she led efforts to get school buildings ready to reopen in the fall, and does double duty as commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction. She will be a senior adviser to the mayor, where she’ll lead a weekly “war room” of deputy mayors guiding the recovery effort.

— “I am convinced had @NYCMayor named Lorraine Grillo Commissioner of 5 or 6 agencies simultaneously at the beginning of his Administration the last 7 years would have gone much differently and much better,” tweets Staten Island BP Jimmy Oddo.

The governor and state officials detailed New York’s updated nursing home indoor visitation policy in an afternoon conference call with reporters. Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said visitors to nursing homes in counties with Covid-19 positivity rates of 5 to 10 percent must be tested for the virus within 72 hours. Testing will not be required, but is encouraged, for visitors to facilities with Covid-19 positivity rates below 5 percent; as well as for visitors who have received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. The policy will take effect on Friday.

Good news? New York City movie theaters can open on March 5 at 25 percent capacity, Cuomo announced.


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The Race for City Hall

“SO IT HAS BEEN most evenings in this pandemic-stricken mayoral campaign, as the candidates gather in tiny boxes on computer screens to give a version of their stump speech and roll out talking points related to whatever civic association or political club has summoned the group together, or, if it is a community group that is host, add in a sentence about their favorite restaurant. It’s like the worst game of Hollywood Squares ever played. There has been almost no news to come out of these exercises, mostly because no one running is so inept as to stumble at an event where the candidates don’t often question one another, the moderators don’t often challenge them, and they generally know what the questions are going to be.” — David Freedlander for New York Magazine on the hellscape of mayoral zoom forums.

— ”I’m pretty sure there are civic groups that are spontaneously being created just in order to have a mayoral forum,” says our own Sally Goldenberg. “God forbid someone gives the wrong answer to what their favorite pizza place is in South Brooklyn and somehow I miss it.”

— Tonight for example: There’s a forum on NYCHA at 6:30 hosted by the United Clergy Coalition and Housing Residents First Inc.

VIRTUALLY ALL of the candidates running for mayor have pledged to overhaul the city’s approach to a chronic homelessness crisis that left upwards of 52,000 people sleeping in city shelters on a recent night. But actually following through on the range of proposals floated by candidates — from ending dormitory-style homeless shelters, to substantially increasing the number of homes built for the poorest New Yorkers — will be much more challenging for the next mayor than the rhetoric suggests. “The notion that anyone will be able to build their way out of a homeless crisis that’s decades in the making in less than a term is really fanciful to me,” Catherine Trapani, executive director of Homeless Services United, a coalition of shelter and service providers, said following a recent candidate forum on the issue. She cited a troubling disconnect between the candidates’ plans and the realities on the street: “The aspirations are right, the instincts are right, but a practical plan is necessary.”

The new mayor will inherit a homeless population that hovered around 51,000 when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014 and has neared 60,000 on his watch. The crisis persisted through a booming economy and record-low unemployment before Covid-19 hit. And even after years of record spending on affordable housing efforts, very low-income households face scant options when looking for a place to live. — POLITICO’s Janaki Chadha

— Just in from the IBO: “Over the past 12 months, the number of families with children in shelter has decreased by 17 percent while adult families have decreased by 18 percent, continuing a downward trend in the family census that was underway before the pandemic."

ANDREW YANG was back out on the trail today on a tour of Crown Heights small businesses with City Council candidate and NYPD Lieut. Edwin Raymond. Yang, who’s been doing in-person campaigning more than many of his competitors, marched through the snow and rain to meet owners of a barbershop, hairdresser and supermarket. Animation entrepreneur Chavez Sanchez pitched Yang on his idea to animate the candidate’s campaign proposals, after catching wind of his tour on Instagram Live. “I saw that his campaign found a lot of success online. I figured a pitch for viral video — something informative but also entertaining — would be great,” said Sanchez. Over the weekend, Yang got heckled for leaving NYC during the pandemic and over his opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — which he opposed in a recent opinion piece. The weather seems to have discouraged any hecklers today. POLITICO’s Jonathan Custodio

CHRIS QUINN is not, repeat not, running for mayor. We’re not sure who needs to hear it, but the former Council speaker and 2013 mayoral candidate put out a statement this morning confirming she’d not be joining the 30 or so Dems currently battling in the June primary. The news was first reported by The New York Times in its handy-dandy weekly takeaways.


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On the Beats

Energy: The Climate Action Council’s power generation advisory panel continued its slow rollout of its draft recommendations to achieve the state’s ambitious 70 percent renewable by 2030 and carbon-free by 2040 goals for the electric sector. The panel briefly discussed three areas: workforce development, keeping energy affordable and achieving the 2030 goals. Initiatives to achieve the 2030 goals included continued procurement of renewables, offshore wind and transmission into New York City. Transmission upgrades were also identified as important. The recommendations lacked any specificity on that front beyond a reference to the recently completed power grid study. — POLITICO’s Marie J. French

Education : Lawmakers interviewed a second slate of candidates for the Board of Regents on Monday, primarily fielding hopefuls eyeing the district seat of Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown, of the 7th Judicial District. Brown, who has been a regent since 2012, is leaving to head the New York State Bar Association after representing an expansive upstate stretch that includes the Rochester City School District. Monday’s interviews marked the second chapter in lawmakers’ search for the next Regents, with two seats up for renewal in addition to the opening left by Brown. Candidates faced a series of questions centered on a range of issues, from their vision for addressing systemic racism and segregation in education, to inquiries on whether grades or tests, like the Regents exams, were necessary or being used appropriately. The state Legislature is expected to elect Regents by the first half of March. — POLITICO’s Michelle Bocanegra

Health: Businesses seeking to operate as cannabinoid hemp processors, retailers or distributors can now submit applications to the state Department of Health, Cuomo announced Monday. The governor is also urging New Yorkers to sign up for Covid-19 shots at new mass vaccination sites in Brooklyn and Queens, which will administer up to 3,000 doses per day. The sites, established through a new federal-state partnership, will give initial prioritization to those living in areas with low vaccination rates, and the MTA will also enhance bus service to the sites. “Now, not only is this the largest site ever created in the state of New York, it's special because it recognizes the equity that must be achieved,” Cuomo said. POLITICO’s Shannon Young

SAID TODAY: “It’s not my objective to ‘run Amazon out of town.’ It’s my objective to protect the safety and the health of its employees. And right now, this day, Amazon could approach my office and could engage in a consent decree where they rehire these employees and put forth efforts to protect the health and safety of these employees, and we’ll call it a day.” — Attorney General Tish James to Deal Book’s Andrew Ross Sorkin on her lawsuit against Amazon over a lack of employee protections during the pandemic.


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— Advocates for greater access to the ballot box are pushing no-excuse absentee voting and same-day registration, reports Nick Reisman of Spectrum News.

— The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. to receive eight years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns and other financial records as part of an ongoing investigation into possible tax, insurance and bank fraud in Trump’s business empire.

A former Justice Department official in the Trump administration writes in The Wall Street Journal that the nursing home scandal could lead to federal criminal charges.

— The de Blasio administration will begin dispatching EMTs and social workers to individuals experiencing mental health crises in northern Manhattan under a delayed pilot program re-upped in November 2020, officials said Monday.

— A judge has denied a request from lawyers for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren to throw out a grand jury indictment on alleged campaign finance violations.

— What’s that smell across the Hudson? Well, it may take on a different character very soon. New Jersey legislators finally put forward bills to codify the legalization of marijuana after months of debate, and Gov. Phil Murphy quickly signed it into law.

— It was, after all, inevitable: Buffalo’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been canceled. Slán go fóill.


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