Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Senator John Sampson, Now Also "Of Counsel" To Belluck & Fox, Has Reached Past The Middle Towards The Top

Senate's John Sampson Scores Big With Law Firm
By Tom Robbins, Monday, Jan. 4 2010 @ 10:02AM

It's good to be the king! State senate leader John Sampson - who only a few months was just another Court Street lawyer scurrying for cases in Brooklyn - has hit the big time. The Post reports that the Democratic majority leader is now "of counsel" to one of the state's biggest personal injury law firms, Belluck & Fox.

As the Post's Brendan Scott points out, this gives the powerful state Trial Lawyers Association a pair of bookends at both sides of the state legislature: Assembly speaker Shelly Silver has a similar gig with another P.I. giant, Weitz & Luxenberg.

Sampson spokesman Austin Shafran told the Post that his boss's new gig "never will be in conflict with his official duties." But he declined to talk turkey about the size of Sampson's new paycheck. Under current state ethics laws, Sampson doesn't have to say. But if the ethics reform package now pending in the senate passes, both Sampson and Silver will have to disclose the range of their incomes, including a new category for those earning over seven-figures. Any clients who do state business must also be disclosed. The current porous ethics disclosure rules allowed Sampson's predecessor, former Republican senate boss Joe Bruno, to secretly pull in millions, a scheme that led to his conviction in Albany federal court last month.

There also could be some political tea leaves to be read here: Sampson has been trying to duck questions about his preferences for this year's gubernatorial race, but Joseph Belluck, the lead partner in Sampson's new firm, has already voted - and heavily - with his pocket book. Campaign records show the lawyer has already anted up $55,900 to Cuomo's swollen campaign chest, which is expected to show a total of some $16 million when disclosed later this month. Belluck is also a major donor to the Democratic Senate Campaign committee, now headed by Sampson, giving $22,500 since 2006. Belluck was also a big booster of ex-gov Eliot Spitzer, donating $60,000 to him between 2004 and 2007. He gave another $16,200 to Paterson back in May 2006 when the former state senator was running as Spitzer's number two. Records show Belluck hasn't contributed directly to Paterson since then.

And Now Introducing State Senate Leader John Sampson ...
By Tom Robbins, Tuesday, Jun. 16 2009

Here are a few highlights on the career of John Sampson, the south Brooklyn state senator who is taking the reins from now-deposed state senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith.

- Like Smith, Sampson is a soft-spoken pol who hasn't made a huge impression since he was elected to the senate in 1996. Also like Smith, Sampson has long held a large warm spot in his heart for the real estate industry, whose clout remains undiminished in Albany, be it Democrats or Republicans.

- A former Legal Aid attorney, Sampson figured out early in his career that there was more money to be made representing landlords than tenants. He hooked up with the law firm of Alter & Barbaro, headed by another ex-tenant lawyer who had seen the light, B. Mitchell Alter.

- Alter, a true wild man of the Court Street bar, recognized talent when he saw it. "Yeah, I encouraged him to think about politics," Alter told the Voice in 2005. "I said, 'You are a good-looking guy, you talk well. Politics might be a good thing for you.'"

- Sampson beat longtime incumbent Howard Babbush, a hack from the Thomas Jefferson Democratic club. It helped that Babbush had been a notorious semi-show in Albany for years; also that the senator had claimed for a decade that he was too ill to face larceny charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in a wide-ranging case against Albany pols.

- Sampson, whose father came from Guyana, won handily with the backing of then Democratic county leader Clarence Norman.

- Fast forward to 2005 when Norman himself faced indictment on multiple charges of embezzlement by District Attorney Joe Hynes, and Sampson decided to run for D.A. Norman was busy going to trial all through the primary season but he still rooted for his candidate. "I will be doing everything in my power to get rid of Joe Hynes by telling all of the people I can to vote for John Sampson," Norman told the Voice as he entered criminal court shortly before the primary election.

- Hynes' aides were so worried about Sampson winning and moving to quash all of the pending Norman investigations that they planned to bar him from the office until his inauguration, sources said.

- Sampson's resume didn't impress everyone. The Bar Association found him unqualified, saying he just didn't have the experience for the job. It hardly mattered. Sampson, the only African American in the campaign, finished a close second to Hynes in a four-way race, giving the D.A. (who has no significant primary opponent so far this year) a good scare.

- One more special highlight from the D.A. race was Sampson's trip to Israel with another wild man supporter, Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind from Brooklyn's Borough Park. There, Sampson saw something he really didn't like: orthodox Jewish settlers being ousted from illegal settlements in Gaza. "This in certain ways is like slavery in America," said Sampson.

- Finally, Sampson could use the exposure his new post will bring: His current senate campaign committee lists just $1,041 in the bank.

Attention, ladies and gentlemen of the Greater Albany League of Lobbyists: The bar is now open!

Cuomo Said to Have $16 Million to Oust N.Y. Governor Paterson

Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) -- New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has raised $16 million in a campaign to challenge Democratic Governor David Paterson in 2010 for the state’s top job, according to a person familiar with his plans.

Cuomo, 51, also a Democrat, has hired five professional fundraisers since January and has set a goal of taking in $20 million by Jan. 15, a person familiar with his plans said. He had amassed more than $10 million in campaign funds as of July, according to the state Board of Elections.

“Twenty million dollars -- that’s the number that gets you in the door, and it will probably dwarf what Paterson has available,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Manhattan-based political consultant who ran statewide campaigns for H. Carl McCall in the 2006 governor’s race and for Eliot Spitzer in 1998 in his state attorney general contest.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has decided not to run for governor, according to a person familiar with his plans. That makes it more difficult for Cuomo to argue Paterson should step aside, as White House officials had asked him to. Paterson, 55, was under pressure not to run, partly because polls showed he would lose to Giuliani, an unsuccessful GOP presidential candidate in 2008.

A Nov. 16 Siena Research Institute poll showed Giuliani beating Paterson in a governor’s race, 56 percent to 33 percent. The poll showed Cuomo would beat Paterson, 75 percent to 16 percent in a primary election. The survey of 800 voters had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Paterson’s Unpopularity

“I have a hard time seeing Paterson survive a Democratic primary challenge if he had to face one from Cuomo,” said Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College in Manhattan. “I don’t think Paterson’s unpopularity can turn around that easily.”

The Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee may affect the success of other politicians on the ticket, including those running for the Legislature, which will determine new boundaries for U.S. congressional districts based on the 2010 census. The next governor will also take the lead in solving the state’s deficit, now estimated at $10 billion through March 2011, through spending cuts or tax increases.

“There’s a lot at stake nationally here,” said Douglas Muzzio, a professor of urban politics at Baruch College in Manhattan. “A disaster at the top of the ticket could bring some of them down.”

By March Cuomo, who was a U.S. Housing & Urban Development secretary under President Bill Clinton, intends to announce his candidacy by the end of March, according to two friends who described private conversations with him this month and last and asked not to be identified because the talks were confidential.

The attorney general’s strategy is to build on goodwill won since becoming the state’s chief prosecutor, the friends and political professionals said. The attorney general’s probes have targeted alleged abuses among student-loan companies, executive bonuses and alleged collusion among health insurers.

In an e-mailed statement released through Richard Bamberger, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, Cuomo declined to discuss his political intentions for 2010.

“The attorney general has been clear that his focus remains doing the best job possible for the people of New York as attorney general,” Bamberger wrote. “Next year is an election year, and he’ll deal with the politics then.”

Jennifer Bayer, one of Cuomo’s fundraisers, denied there was a plan to run for governor.

“The only discussion there has ever been is about an attorney general campaign,” she said in an e-mail.

Paterson’s Funds

Paterson’s funds total about $5 million, said Richard Fife, his campaign manager. “We will have all the money we will need to win this race.”

The governor began advertising on television in early November, Fife said in a phone interview.

Fife declined to say whether Paterson expects a challenge from Cuomo.

“Andrew Cuomo has said he’s running for attorney general, and we take him at his word,” Fife said. “We’re planning our campaign around the governor’s record. We’re getting the message out, and we’re moving forward.”

Spitzer had raised $19 million by January of 2006, the year he ran for governor, according to state campaign records -- about $1 million less than Cuomo’s goal.

Paterson, who took office after Spitzer resigned amid a call-girl scandal in March 2008, has a job-approval rating that’s been stuck at about 30 percent or below since May, according to public opinion surveys.

Historic Lows

“His ratings have dropped to the lowest point of any governor in New York history, including Spitzer at the height of the sex scandal, since we started conducting surveys in 1983,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York.

In a Sept. 24 survey, Marist reported that only 17 percent of state voters rated Paterson’s performance positively, with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

The White House political director told Paterson that President Barack Obama had lost confidence in the governor’s ability to win the 2010 election, especially if Giuliani were to be the Republican candidate, the New York Times said, citing two unidentified Democrats.

Even without a Giuliani threat, Paterson would have to overcome the popularity of Cuomo, whose “favorability” rating is 70 percent among Democrats, according to the Nov. 16 Siena Research poll.

Cuomo’s entry into the governor’s race would begin a battle between scions of two New York Democratic dynasties.

Two Scions

The attorney general is the son of three-term former Governor Mario Cuomo while Paterson is the son of Basil Paterson, an attorney and a member of the Harlem-based political organization that produced former New York Mayor David Dinkins and U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, both Democrats.

Cuomo’s unannounced campaign has featured fundraisers at which talk of the governor’s race has been muted.

On Nov. 3, about 70 supporters paid $1,000 to $5,000 at an event in an 18th-floor apartment with terraces overlooking Central Park in the 37-story art-deco Sherry-Netherland hotel on Fifth Avenue. Cuomo spoke about the need for public integrity and his opposition to higher taxes at the Election Day fundraiser.

“It was a mesmerizing venue with breathtaking views that showed New York at its best,” said Ravi Batra, 54, a New York attorney who said he donated $5,000 that night to Cuomo’s campaign committee, titled “Andrew Cuomo 2010.”

$75,000 Raised

At the cocktail party, which two organizers said raised about $75,000, Cuomo “didn’t talk about running” to unseat Paterson, said New York billionaire John Catsimatidis, 61, who hosted the event in the apartment of Liberty Travel Inc. founder Gilbert Haroche. Another person who attended and asked, like the organizers, not to be identified said the attorney general told him privately he may announce plans as early as January to seek the governor’s job.

“He hasn’t publicly said he’s running,” said Sheinkopf, the McCall adviser. “He’s only making certain he’s ready to go.”

In 2002, Cuomo opposed McCall, who is black, for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Cuomo abandoned the effort after black Democratic leaders warned they wouldn’t support him if he won the nomination. McCall, 74, a former state comptroller, was aligned with the same Harlem-based political organization that helped Paterson, who is black, become a state Senate minority leader and Spitzer’s choice for lieutenant governor.

Experience Counts

Batra said he backed Cuomo because of his experience, first as a political adviser to his father, Mario, who was governor from 1983 to 1994, and later as HUD secretary from 1997 to 2001.

Andrew Cuomo became attorney general in 2007 and immediately generated headlines with investigations revealing kickbacks, gifts and free trips to colleges and financial aid officers by firms in the $85 billion student-loan industry.

He got AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Inc., two of the largest U.S. Internet service providers, to sign agreements to remove child-pornography Web sites from their servers and to block access to child-porn newsgroups. He forced companies such as American International Group Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co. to disclose bonuses received after they received taxpayer aid.

In 2008, Cuomo and other regulators got Citigroup Inc., UBS AG and Merrill to agree to buy back billions in debt to settle claims they improperly touted auction-rate securities as safe, cash-like investments. Banks managing the auctions abandoned the $330 billion market in February 2008, stranding investors who could no longer sell the securities.

Guilty Plea

Last month, Cuomo obtained a guilty plea from Raymond Harding, former chairman of the state Liberal Party, who admitted he took more than $800,000 to do political favors for Alan Hevesi, 68, a former state comptroller. Cuomo is investigating fees paid to a Hevesi associate by investment firms seeking business with the state pension fund, which Hevesi oversaw.

An outgrowth of that investigation has been a Cuomo-drafted code of conduct barring use of so-called placement agents, middlemen who receive payments from investment firms to help them get contracts managing public pension funds.

Cuomo’s successes and poll ratings stand in contrast to his status in 2002, when he backed out of the race against McCall and then was the subject of news reports detailing his divorce from Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, the U.S. senator from New York who was assassinated while campaigning for the U.S. presidency in 1968.

Low Polls

Paterson has blamed his low poll ratings on the state’s budget crisis, which has required him to recommend unpopular spending reductions. Unions responded to proposed cuts to health programs and school aid last year with a television ad campaign directed against him.

In recent weeks, Cuomo has traveled the state, attracting headlines in local newspapers by making appearances to help Democrats raise money. Since Labor Day, he’s held fundraising events at the rate of about one a week.

They included an Oct. 20 gathering of real estate industry backers at the Princeton Club hosted by John Zuccotti, chairman of Brookfield Financial Properties Inc.; a Nov. 16 luncheon in Washington, D.C., organized by Anthony Podesta, a lobbyist whose brother, John, headed Obama’s transition team; and a Nov. 18 breakfast at Manhattan’s Sheraton New York for attorneys. Another Sheraton event, a “birthday celebration for Andrew,” is planned for Dec. 17.

No Doubt

“I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s running for governor,” said Peter Harvey, a partner in the law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, as he walked out of the Nov. 18 Sheraton fundraiser.

Cuomo no longer makes his pitch for money by telling supporters he needs funds to get re-elected attorney general. When a reporter asked him on Oct. 29 if he was running for governor, he said: “Next year we’ll talk about next year.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Goldman in New York City Hall at hgoldman@bloomberg.net.
Last Updated: November 20, 2009 00:01 EST

1 comment:

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