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Corruption Retrial Begins for Former New York Assembly Speaker



sheldon silver

Twice in the past three years, former New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has sat in the same Manhattan federal courtroom and heard opening statements in his public-corruption trial.

“Power. Greed. Corruption,” then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen repeated in her November 2015 opening statements, in a courtroom that included former-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“Quid pro quo. This for that,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Damian Williams stated in a similar fashion on Monday, in a courtroom that included current Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.

Monday marked opening statements in the retrial of Mr. Silver, now 74 years old, who is being tried once again on charges of honest-services fraud, extortion and other crimes. Federal prosecutors have accused Mr. Silver of using his state power for personal gain, netting millions in profit.

Lawyers for Mr. Silver, who has pleaded not guilty, say the longtime legislator’s activities may appear distasteful but aren’t criminal.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

In 2015, a jury convicted Mr. Silver of seven counts and, the following year, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni sentenced him to 12 years in prison. After the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of some public-corruption crimes, a federal appeals court last year vacated Mr. Silver’s conviction.

Judge Caproni, who also presided over Mr. Silver’s first trial, estimated the current trial would take about a month. Mr. Silver, who wore a headset that appeared to be a hearing-aid type device, sat quietly during the proceeding, appearing not to look at the jury.

In his opening statement, Mr. Williams portrayed Mr. Silver, a powerful Democrat who for decades represented lower Manhattan, as greedy and deceitful. Year after year, he said, Mr. Silver took bribes then lied to cover them up.

“This was not politics as usual,” Mr. Williams said. “This was politics for profit, and no one played that game better than Sheldon Silver.”

Mr. Williams outlined two schemes. In the first, he said, Mr. Silver steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds to a prominent mesothelioma doctor. In exchange, the doctor sent patients to law firm Weitz & Luxenberg P.C., which paid Mr. Silver referral fees. The firm didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

In a second scheme, Mr. Silver supported policies to benefit certain developers, which steered its business to the Goldberg & Iryami law firm that also paid Mr. Silver fees.

In all, Mr. Silver netted about $4 million, which grew to roughly $5 million after he invested it, Mr. Williams said.

Michael Feldberg, a lawyer representing Mr. Silver, argued that Mr. Silver’s acts weren’t criminal, and certainly didn’t involve bribes.

“Imagine you’re Shelly Silver,” Mr. Feldberg said, before continuing to give much of his opening statement in the second person. You devoted your life to public service, and you were so good at serving that you got elected to be speaker of the state Assembly, he said. And while you served, he said, you had another job.

A slide flashed on a projector showed two teal circles, with the words “outside income” and “legal” connected by a large equal sign.

He said everything Mr. Silver had done had not only been legal, but intended to help people, including those with cancer.  Referral fees are legal, accepted and common, Mr. Feldberg added.

A slide flashed on the screen. This time the teal circles contained the phrases “no crime” and “not guilty,” once again connected by an equal sign.

“Being imperfect is not a crime. It is human,” Mr. Feldberg continued. “Is any of us perfect?”


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Hillary Clinton to address New York Democrats




hillary clinton

Hillary Clinton plans to deliver the keynote address at a gathering of Democrats in New York state on Wednesday that comes at an especially tumultuous time for a party torn apart by scandal and challenges from its left wing.

The former secretary of state, U.S. senator and Democratic presidential nominee will speak on the first day of the two-day gathering at Hofstra University.

Ahead of her remarks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo easily won his party’s nomination for a third term, winning more than 95 percent of the votes cast by delegates. “Sex and the City” star and liberal activist Cynthia Nixon received a smattering of votes in the convention process, largely controlled by Cuomo supporters. She can still secure a place on September’s Democratic primary ballot by collecting voter signatures.

Cuomo plans to address the convention Thursday, when former Vice President Joe Biden is also scheduled to speak. Cuomo was nominated by a group of convention speakers that included his mother Matilda Cuomo; a survivor of the Parkland, Florida school shooting; and Stuart Appelbaum, president of the powerful Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The speakers cited Cuomo’s work to pass same-sex marriage, increase the minimum wage to $15 and enact tougher gun control rules.

“Andrew Cuomo has proven himself to be a national progressive leader and a friend of working people,” Appelbaum said.

Nixon attended Wednesday’s convention events and told reporters that she believes the voters will make up their own minds this fall. Nixon has faulted Cuomo for not doing enough to address education inequalities, corruption or the lack of funding for New York City’s subways.

“The fact of the matter is people are going to be voting on his record, which is not very progressive,” she said.

The party will also nominate its candidate to succeed ex-Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned earlier this month amid allegations that he assaulted four women he dated. Two Democrats have so far formally announced their intention to run: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and Leecia Eve, a Buffalo attorney and former adviser to Clinton and Cuomo.

James has emerged as the front runner, securing endorsements from Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat.


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Working Families Party formally endorses Cynthia Nixon




cynthia nixon governor

New York’s progressive Working Families Party formally endorsed “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon on Saturday as its gubernatorial candidate — challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The small, progressive party held its annual convention at Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church, where the 52-year-old Emmy award-winning activist accepted the nomination.

“After eight years of Andrew Cuomo and with Donald Trump in the White House, I cannot imagine not running,” Nixon said.
Also formally endorsed was New York City Council member Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor.

In an unusual move, the party’s state committee voted to back two hopefuls for attorney general: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, whom Cuomo supports, and law professor Zephyr Teachout.

“There are two incredible progressive women in the race and New Yorkers would be lucky to have either as attorney general,” said Bill Lipton, director of the New York Working Families Party, which he said gave James and Teachout their start running for office.

Teachout, a professor at Fordham University, ran against Cuomo for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014, winning 34 percent of the vote to his 62 percent.

“Gov. Cuomo would like nothing more than to have progressives fighting each other,” Lipton told The Associated Press. “But we’re committed to staying united.”

Nixon, who has never run for office, will face Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary on Sept. 13.

If she loses, her name could still appear on the Working Families Party ballot line in the November general election. She has not said whether she would opt for that.
Polls show the two-time incumbent governor with a commanding lead over the novice candidate. A Quinnipiac University poll released May 2 found 50 percent of registered Democratic voters favor Cuomo compared to 28 percent for Nixon. The poll of 1,076 New York state voters conducted April 26 to May 1 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The party first announced in April that it would embrace Cuomo’s challenger over the governor.

Cuomo said he would not seek the backing of the party that had endorsed him in the past. Instead, the governor has gained the support of two major unions that pulled out of the Working Families Party over its support for Nixon.

The party was first organized in 1998 by a coalition of labor unions, plus a variety of community and advocacy groups aiming to represent middle- and working-class New Yorkers.

Abbey Fashouer, a spokeswoman for Cuomo’s re-election campaign, has said the governor’s progressive record is “unmatched,” including helping to raise New York’s minimum wage, and pushing for gun-safety legislation and the legalization of same-sex marriage.


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Cuomo’s MTA will “review” Cynthia Nixon’s NYC subway T-shirst for trademark misuse




nyc subway

Cynthia Nixon touts many pressing issues in her Democratic gubernatorial campaign, and the condition of the New York City subway is certainly one of them. The city’s train system–hampered with delays and infrastructural disrepair for years–has been a cornerstone of her campaign ever since she announced her candidacy two months ago.

Today, she held a rally from–where else?–the subway. At Williamsburg’s Lorimer station (which I can attest is frequently overcrowded), Nixon told the crowd that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s rehabilitation needed to be better and fast. She also unveiled a series of tweets, Instagram posts, and even apparel aimed at calling out her opponent, Andrew Cuomo, and his inability to fix the subway system.
One issue that may arise, however, is Nixon’s use of the MTA’s trademarks. A shirt that Nixon is now selling on her campaign website, for instance, asks “What the F?” The “F” uses the known New York City subway image.
This could very well enrage the transportation authority. The MTA has been known to crack down on unauthorized use of its trademarks–including its subway lettering images. A New York Times article from 2013 describes small designers and big companies alike being legally threatened by the MTA for infringing its trademarks. These included sports teams using subway imagery, designers with MTA map images, and even bakeries that sell MTA-object-lookalike pastries.

With this history of enforcement, the shirt currently being sold could very well be considered an IP infringement. Indeed, an MTA spokesperson tells Fast Company, “As we would with any case involving the potential misuse of our trademark, we will review the matter and proceed accordingly.”

Reached for comment, a Nixon campaign spokesperson offered the following statement: “Governor Cuomo’s MTA should be focused on infrastructure issues, not copyright issues. What we did was a parody of the MTA, but for millions of New Yorkers, the daily disaster on the subway is no laughing matter.”

For now, you can still buy the shirt. The campaign says on its website that the purchase is “a donation to the Cynthia for New York campaign.” Maybe it’s best to get it now before the cease-and-desist letters come.


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