New York Politics in 2018: What to Watch

By Mike Vilensky Features Dow Jones Newswires

Corruption trials. Presidential intrigue. A plan to flip the Senate.

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Albany's 2018 legislative session, which starts Wednesday and continues to June, is set to be a messy one, said New York lawmakers, aides, and analysts.

"It's going to be like no session I've ever had," said Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, a Democrat who has represented Manhattan since 2003.

Raising the stakes, all 213 legislators and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo are up for re-election in 2018.

Here are some of the issues set to complicate the next few months at New York's state Capitol.

Senate Control

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Warring Democratic factions in the state Senate recently struck a deal to reconcile and form a majority if the party wins a coming special election. That could hand Democrats full control of the state Legislature midway through the session -- they already hold a majority in the Assembly -- but lawmakers are hedging their bets after a year of intra-party friction.

"I'm taking it one step at a time," said Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx lawmaker who leads a faction of Democrats who are key to the unity deal.

Sen. John Flanagan, the Republican Majority Leader allied with Mr. Klein's group, dismissed the deal, which would disempower him. "I'm confident whether it's January 2nd or June 2nd, we will be presiding over the Senate," he said.

#MeToo

A recent lawsuit brought by a state employee charging a former top Cuomo aide with sexual assault has brought the national wave of concerns about sexual misconduct to Albany's doorstep. The former aide has denied assaulting the employee.

Now lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are planning proposals to confront sexual misconduct in government. Mr. Cuomo has said he plans to address the issue in more detail at his State of the State address, scheduled for Wednesday in Albany.

"If there's anything the state should have learned from prior cases it is to take allegations seriously and not be dismissive of them," said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a Queens Democrat. "Legislatures across the country are going through a reckoning of how to deal with sexism and sexual harassment, and New York is no different."

Budget Concerns

Politicians in Albany are preparing to contend with a $4 billion budget deficit, one of the biggest financial hurdles to emerge since Mr. Cuomo took office seven years ago.

Lawmakers in both parties are concerned about how the recently passed federal tax bill will affect New York homeowners, and how other changes coming out of Washington might impact state receipts. They are considering legislation to change the state tax code.

There is little appetite for raising taxes, lawmakers said. That suggests the deficit will more likely be closed through cost-cutting that is rarely popular with rank-and-file legislators hoping to steer public money to their districts.

2020 Presidential Election

With Mr. Cuomo and Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand up for re-election in 2018, speculation is swirling that one or both may run for president in 2020. Both have said their focus is on 2018, but national and local observers will be watching closely for how they fare at the polls and if their messages resonate.

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who has feuded with Mr. Cuomo, has said he plans to remain in the national conversation after his December trip to Iowa. Mr. Cuomo declined to endorse Mr. de Blasio in his 2017 primary, and Mr. de Blasio is expected to return the favor.

Albany on Trial

Just two weeks after Mr. Cuomo starts the session with his State of the State speech, the trial of his former top aide, Joseph Percoco, is scheduled to begin in Manhattan.

Mr. Percoco, who has pleaded not guilty, is charged with securing state contracts for companies in exchange for bribes. Because Mr. Percoco was so close to Mr. Cuomo -- the governor has referred to him as his brother -- and the charges center around state programs, lawmakers expect Albany itself to come under examination.

After Mr. Percoco's case, a former Cuomo economic-development adviser goes on trial over allegation of bid-rigging state projects. The former leaders of the state Legislature -- Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos -- are also both set for retrials in 2018 over corruption charges that cost them their seats.

"Even if the defendants are found not guilty, what comes out is likely going to be very explosive," said Mr. O'Donnell, "and very distracting."

Write to Mike Vilensky at mike.vilensky@dowjones.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 01, 2018 13:31 ET (18:31 GMT)