Tuesday, August 31, 2010

SD-46: State of the Race 8/24 to 8/30

Media Coverage of Dark Horse Challenge Intensifies

Breslin Accepts Challenge To Debate Martland

In the race between 14-year incumbent Assitant Majority Leader Neil Breslin and his primary challengerLuke Martland news has been constant and consistent in the past week. So much so that infrequent as-it-happens or after-the-fact updates are implausible.

So begins the SD-46 State of the Race 2010 series, much in the same manner I ran the series for the 2008 Democratic Primary for Congress in NY-21 two years ago. While this one isn't quite that big, and no political story around this area is this year, Albany County's primary for State Senator has taken center stage along other major local races.

This entry will wrap up the last seven days activity on the campaign trail, and there was quite a bit of movement on both ends. To start, I no longer have to link to Sen. Breslin's official State Senate page; his name in blue now takes you to the campaign website that finally appeared this past week. The biggest news for me is that now both candidates finally have my interview questions, and their answers will be forthcoming.

But the biggest news for the voters is the big debate about to happen between the two candidates. Shortly after Martland challenged Breslin to return insurance-industry related donations, Martland then took his moment in the spotlight to challenge Breslin to a debate too.

It's happening tomorrow. So that's the setup for what's happened up until now, and a little bit of what to expect to come.

For what transpired in between, click below the fold for the state of the race...

(Cross-posted on The Albany Project)

Luke Martland


"Take Albany Back"

As mentioned, it was a little less than a weeks' time before Sen. Breslin accepted his opponent's challenge to debate publicly. The League of Women Voter's will be holding that debate tomorrow, and coverage will surely follow and likely define next weeks' news cycle.

This week was still dominated by various fallout from this story in which the incumbent was featured in a prominent television news broadcast that revealed he misunderstood the Prior-Approval Insurance bill he's been touting for months. This was a gift as good as gold to the Martland campaign, and once in the spotlight, he made continued use of the media to make his calls, both for Breslin to return campaign frunds from insurance companies and to debate him publicly.

He did this by traditional media outlets and some newer means. Over on the Martland Campaign's YouTube Channel, you can find his recorded versions of his two telephone town hall meetings he's conducted already. This was used by Congressional primary candidate Tracey Brooks two years ago, and it's notable that she ended up with the most votes in Albany County, if only by a slim margin. It may indicate that this method of outreach may work well in this area, and Martland is making use of it.

He's also using YouTube to archive two major radio interviews. First with the ultimate inside scoop guy, Fred Dicker, on his morning radio show last week:

And also with rising local media luminary Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Press Room:

Naturally, both interviews cover much of the same material that will likely be covered in my own forthcoming interview with the candidate. But they serve as good introductions with little fanfare over the public airwaves. If anything, this Martland's "name recognition week," and yes, while no polls have been conducted, I'd be surprised if all this media attention both on the newcomer bucking the system and the old-timer messing things up hasn't given Martland the m-word in all this.

That was this week in Luke Martland's campaign. Stay tune for next time...this week, Martland will be meeting with editorial boards from several major local publications.

Neil Breslin


"For All The Right Reasons."

Before the media circus, I was searching daily for a new Neil Breslin for State Senate website. It's no surprise that it's up now and that Team Breslin is in full campaign mode. For the longest time, that domain would take you to his old 2008 page, which simply said "Thanks for voting!"

But a little negative media attention for you coupled with a positively exponential increase in attention for your opponent with less than a month to go will kick things into high gear. The Breslin campaign has already started television advertising, and is also posting stuff to YouTube:

And so the race moves into Air Wars mode. Breslin has quite the cash advantage on his opponent, and for that reason alone I'd guess he is unlikely to meet Martland's challenge to return campaign funds from donors with insurance industry ties. But will Martland have enough to compete in the expensive realm of broadcasting and even cable?

It remains to be seen. But the campaign funds issue was synopsised, complete with Breslin's response to Martland's challenge, printed in this Friday's Inside Politics column of the Times Union:

The Democratic primary for Albany County's state Senate seat heated up this week when challenger Luke Martland called on seven- term incumbent Neil Breslin, the chairman of the Senate's Insurance Committee, to give back tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the insurance industry.

Breslin brushed aside Martland's claims of a conflict of interest, saying his legislative record makes it clear he's no friend of Big Insurance.

Both men say they favor publicly financed elections. But Breslin said legislation to that effect would never pass now as the state's economy continues to founder and that he is forced to operate within the system that currently exists.

Besides, it's not just about him, he said. "I'm on a team," Breslin said, referring to the Senate's Democratic conference, which is trying desperately to hold onto its three-seat majority after a tumultuous two years in power.

Breslin, who is assistant majority leader, said some of the money he raises can help defend Democratic seats elsewhere.

As of earlier this month, Breslin had a robust $420,619.73 banked. That's roughly 10 times more than Martland's $42,727.76.

Emphasis mine - SP

Statements that I believe to be poor excuses have been italicized, simple facts bolded.

The fact is that this race has heated up to temperatures that conventional-wisdome and, for lack of a better word, political-groupies would have predicted a few months ago. Yet Breslin's significant cash advantage, while not quite as exponential as last time, is much much larger than Martlands.

The poor excuses? I've covered that before. Like this past week, it's history now, and all opinions are just rough drafts in response to changing situations anyway.

The Primary is Tuesday, September 14th. Thanks for voting, thanks for reading, and stay tuned...the next State of the Race update is coming soon.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SD-46: Martland's Stand: Breslin's In Good Hands

Challenges Committee Chairman to Return Industry Contributions
Cites Conflict of Interest Challenge to the Tune of $125K

In the past week, Senator Neil Breslin has been the subject of widespread scorn and scrutiny thanks to heavy play of this embarassing story. It revealed that Breslin, now Chairman and longtime ranking member of the Seante Insurance Committee, did not know what was in his own bill.

Yesterday, Luke Martland took full advantage of the recent scrutiny and held a press conference. Since the root cause of fiasco's like this is the influence of lobbyist money on both legislators and of lobbyists being the real writers of legislation, Martland has called on Breslin to return $125,000 in campaign funds, saying this money presents a conflict of interest to any Senator.

The story once again made broadcast headlines. For the record, CBS6 is still reminding folks of Breslin's "huh, wha?" folly in it's promotional spots. This video comes care of competitor WNYT, and other stations are also picking up the storyline. This is a huge change for the district: two years ago when Breslin faced his first primary challenge, nothing was ever braodcast on the race; this year, I have to hop between channels!

Here's the news coverage:

The full uncut Martland statement is below the fold.

(Cross-posted on The Albany Project)

Martland Challenges Breslin to Return Insurance Contributions

State Senate Candidate Luke Martland Challenges Incumbent Neil Breslin to Return His Insurance Company Campaign Contributions
Cites Conflict of Interest for Senate Insurance Committee Chairman Breslin

(August 23, 2010. Albany) – State Senate candidate Luke Martland today called on 14-year incumbent Neil Breslin to return the more than $125,000 in campaign contributions he has accepted in the last 18 months while serving as chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee.

“As chairman of the State Senate Insurance Committee, Neil Breslin has accepted more than $125,000 in campaign contributions from the very same companies that his committee controls legislation over,” said Martland. “He should return all of those contributions so that there is no possible conflict of interest or appearance of improper influence.”

“It’s simple,” said Martland, “if you are in charge of passing legislation that will determine how much an industry makes in profit, you should not be accepting contributions from that industry.”

Breslin accepted more than $125,000 in campaign contributions from Aetna, Empire Health, CDPHP, Met Life, New York Life, Empire Dental and other insurance companies from January 2009 to June 2010 according to the New York State Board of Elections.

CBS6 Albany broadcast a series of stories beginning on August 18, which found that Neil Breslin did not know the contents of a prior approval insurance bill he sponsored and touted.

“We now know that Breslin, the Chair of the Insurance Committee, does not understand his own bills,” said Martland. “Legislation like the prior approval bill that Breslin did not understand have a huge impact on insurance company profits. If Neil Breslin does not understand these bills, who does? Who produces these bills? Who influences their content? Even if it is currently legal under New York’s “Swiss cheese” campaign laws to accept money from the same companies you oversee, it is unethical and Neil Breslin should return these contributions so there is no appearance that insurance companies are buying access or influence.”
Martland has already shown leadership on ethics issues. In May, Martland released his own tax and salary records and called on Breslin to release his tax records, law firm salary and client list. Breslin refused.

Luke Martland was raised in Albany, graduated from Albany High School and Princeton University and worked his way through Brooklyn Law School. He has served as an Assistant District Attorney and Assistant Attorney General in the New York State Attorney General’s office. He also ran the State’s sex offender registry at the Division of Criminal Justice Services in Albany.

Luke Martland’s stand on issues can be found at www.lukemartlandsenate.com.

Luke Martland is also on Facebook and Twitter.


Emphasis mine - SP

I find the bolded statements by Luke Martland extrememly hard to disagree with. The only thing I might add is that Breslin has accepted far in excess of $125,000 from the insurance and banking industry since he's been in the Senate. The Martland campaign might have also added the American Insurance Group, (aka AIG) to the list of companies Sen. Breslin has been in bed with, considering that this company played such a devastating and integral role in the recent financial meltdown.

It turns out that a solid media frame has evolved around this race that has completely turned that tables. Now instead of Luke Martalnd looking like an upstart challenger, Neil Breslin is looking more the defensive old-timer. And frankly, Breslin is making it worse for himself by failing to respond to the charges in story after story. To my knowledge, he still hasn't agreed to publicly debate Luke Martalnd under the watchful of the League of Women Voters, and that challenge was made weeks ago.

What does all this mean for a guy like me who's wanted change in this Senate district for some time?

Actually, it means that change has arrived. Even if Luke Martland's efforts don't get him into the Senate, the biggest problem in this district has been the combination of an unaccountable politician and an unaccountable press. In light of these new media events, I can say that we've finally got some a decent showing of accountability in the Capital Region press corps, and with that accountable politicians will follow. Whether that means we get a change of Senators or if it means a current Senator changes his ways, that is still the improvement I've been looking for all along.

Therefore, continued blogging on this race is getting more and more enjoyable. Stay tuned...my interviews with both candidates have been delayed a week, but are still forthcoming, and nowadays you never know what will make the airwaves!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

SD-46: Sen. "What's In My Bill?" Breslin Caught on Camera

Media Pile-On Begins as Insurance Committee Chairman Misinterprets His Own Law

Earlier this week, I reported that Autism awareness advocates were about to pile on the criticism of Senator Neil Bresln. I expected some kind of follow-up in the mainstream media, but last night, both Senator Breslin and I got more than we bargained for.

Check out this incriminating report first aired on CBS 6 News last night. It turns out the Insurance Committee chairman's big prior approval insurance bill that he's been saying covers all of us really only covers 25% of New Yorkers, and when broadcast journalist Jerry Gretzinger brought this up to him, it was news to him.

Put simply, Breslin has never looked worse on the news: Because he doesn't actually know what's in the bill he sponsored, pushed through his committee, and has been touting like WonderBread for months, he's stuck on camera having to call one of his aides for clarification. Watch for yourself:

Here's another good question: how long before this goes away with only four weeks until your primary against Luke Martland?

And the best answer will be: this isn't going away. Not only has Luke Martland's campaign already pounced, but immediately after the broadcast, CBS 6 started running promotional spots with highlights from this reel. Immediately! They've been running with it ever since, local radio stations are picking it up, and the follow-up even mentions Breslin's primary opponent. From the looks of tonight's newscast and Martland's response, this could be the spark that lights the powder keg. The story touches on nearly all the arguments Martland has been raising against Breslin.

Below the fold, Martland's full response to Breslin being caught with his pants down, and some additional video from the one television news broadcaster that has been giving this race the coverage it deserves.

(Cross Posted on The Albany Project)

Be honest...if you were running against Breslin, would you waste this opportunity to send out a release like the one below. Not only that, as I type this, CBS 6 News is following up not only by quoting the release...they've even got Fred Dicker on it! My God...and he's reminding people of everything else in addition to this new prior approval fiasco...anyway, here's what Martland had to say about it:

Confused Incumbent Neil Breslin Doesn’t Know the Contents of Prior Approval Insurance Bill He Sponsored in State Senate

(August 19, 2010. Albany) – Incumbent State Senator and Chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee Neil Breslin could not explain to CBS6 News yesterday the contents of the bill he sponsored and touted to force insurance companies to seek prior approval from the state Insurance Department for rate increases.

When asked by reporter Jerry Gretzinger why he voted for this bill Breslin replied, “That’s a good question.” Gretzinger’s story appeared on CBS6 News on Wednesday, August 18, 2010.

Gretzinger reported that Breslin touted that the bill will cover everyone in New York. It turns out that only one person in four will be covered and protected from unregulated insurance rate increases. Breslin had to call an aid to respond to Gretzinger’s questions.

“Neil Breslin is out-of-touch and poorly informed about the issues that affect middle class families, seniors and small businesses in New York,” said challenger Luke Martland, who is running to defeat Breslin in the September 14th Democratic Party Primary. “He sponsors and votes for a bill he does not understand. We should not be surprised then that New York State is in the mess it’s in. Neil Breslin is part of the problem and we must change Albany’s leadership on September 14th if we are to fix our government.”

Luke Martland was raised in Albany, graduated from Albany High School and Princeton University and worked his way through Brooklyn Law School. He has served as an Assistant District Attorney and Assistant Attorney General in the New York State Attorney General’s office. He also ran the State’s sex offender registry at the Division of Criminal Justice Services in Albany.

Luke Martland has been making points about Breslin's ineptitude when he was acting president of the Senate during the 2009 coup; the possibility of his private law practice taking up too much of his time while serving as Senator; the fact that the Insurance Committee chairman takes more campaign contributions from the insurance industry lobby than any other; the list goes on...and the mainstream media last night, tonight, and probably tomorrow and well into next week, are now saying the same thing.

And if this isn't perfect timing for Martland's efforts, I don't know what is. This story is certainly giving Martland supporters cause to celebrate and kick things into high gear; in my own humble opinion, it should give Breslin's supporters serious pause, and reconsider their favorable opinion of a Senator who's been on the job for fourteen years, is a committee chairman, and Assistant Majority Leader

The media pile-on is sure to continue....the 5:30 news cast is almost over and they're still recapping. I'll update the video from last night with the follow-up broadcast. In the meantime, here's the first piece CBS 6 ran on the race just a week ago. It was the first time any local television news station ran a story featuring both Breslin and a primary opponent of his within a month of the election, and it touches on the possible split in the LGBT community:

Glad you enjoyed that bit of last week. It's 6:00 on Thursday again, and the prior-approval mixup is the freakin' lead story. Some folks want Breslin to resign over this....

Stay. Tuned.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SD-46: Breslin To Face Opposition from Autism Families

Advocates State-wide Say Breslin Bill is Detrimental -- Local Activist to Form Third-Party

With only about a month to go before Sen. Neil Breslin faces Democratic primary opponent Luke Martland, I was expecting an "October-in-August" surprise to come from either camp soon. Earlier this week, I thought that Martland challenging Breslin to a series of debates might be it...

But today, I recieved news from sources unnaffilliated with either campaign: Several autism advocacy groups are not-too-happy about a piece of legislation sponsored by Senator Breslin. While he called the legislation a landmark back in June, today groups like the Foundation for Autism Information and Research are calling on Gov. Paterson to veto the legislation.

They're not stopping there, either. Tomorrow at noon, fifteen total groups affilliated with this cause will be holding a rally in opposition to the Breslin autism bill at locations all over New York, including in front of the Capitol.

The full press release and the final wrinkle in all of this are below the fold.

(Cross-posted on The Albany Project)

Below, the press release from FAIR hammers Breslin almost as badly as the several statements Luke Martland has been making for months:

Autism Advocacy Groups Call on Governor Paterson to Veto Breslin Autism Bill.

Advocates Say Breslin Bill Favors Insurance Companies and Hurts Autism Families.

(August 17, 2010. Albany ) Fifteen New York-based autism advocacy groups and parents of children with autism today called on Governor David Paterson to veto the autism insurance bill sponsored by incumbent State Senator Neil Breslin. A bill that the groups say will deny insurance coverage and treatment for people suffering from autism spectrum disorders.

The bill would shift early intervention reimbursements costs from the insurers back to the counties and taxpayers. "S7000-B is a step backwards, not a step forward, in insurance coverage for Autism,” said Kathy Eiss, president of the Western New York Chapter of the Autism Society of America.”

“Insurance Chairman Neil Breslin’s bill does not provide insurance coverage for people who suffer from autism,” said Michael Smith, chairman and northeast regional director of the Foundation for Autism Information and Research. “Breslin’s bill actually does more harm than good because it discriminates against people who suffer from autism and makes it nearly impossible for them to get treatment prescribed by their doctors.”

News conferences with other autism groups are being held across New York State .

“The first line of S.7000 (Breslin’s bill) mandates that health insurers cover treatment for people with autism. Unfortunately, the remainder of the bill wipes out the mandate and protects health insurers,” said Thomas Abinanti, in a letter to the editor he wrote to the Journal News. Abinanti is a parent, attorney and member of the Westchester Board of Legislators. “The bill is another example of ‘Albany Speak’ – that is, to say you are solving a problem, then make it worse.,” he wrote.

Autism advocates oppose the Breslin bill because it sets a standard for treatment for autism that must be “evidence-based, clinically proven and peer reviewed,” which is not required for any other medical disorder or disease. S7000-B sets a standard that treatment for autism must be "evidenced based, clinically proven and peer reviewed," which is not required for any other medical disorder or disease. “Chemotherapy for certain conditions often does not meet these criteria, especially “clinically proven,” but individuals are not denied coverage of chemotherapy.” said Mary Shuetz, a Board Certified Developmental Pediatrician from East Aurora . “Even the use of antibiotics, which is much more of a
common occurrence, rarely follows these requirements.”

Advocates also say that the Breslin bill will shift early intervention reimbursement costs from the insurance companies back to the counties and taxpayers.

Breslin is the chairman of the State Senate’s insurance committee and has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from insurance companies and lobbyists in
New York and elsewhere.

“If I told you that a legislator who receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurance companies sponsored a bill that was co-authored by a powerful lobbying firm that represents insurance companies your eyes would widen,” said Chris Petrisino, parent and vice president of the Nassau-Suffolk Chapter of the Autism Society of America. “But that is what happened. And if this bill passes, our kids get screwed.’

Emphasis added - SP

Strong words from people who know what it means to be strong. This is a completely unexpected new wrinkle to this race and it will be interesting to see how it affects Breslin's bid for re-elction and the efforts of others to unseat him.

Which brings us to our final wrinkle: Autism could remain an angle of attack against Breslin depending on the outcome of the GOP "primary." Bear with me on the quotes there, but today, independently registered Michael Carey filed petitions to to run on a newly created third-party line in the general election. A short excerpt from today's Times Union Local Politics blog:

Carey Says He'll File 6,000 Signatures For REFORM Line

Bethlehem resident Michael Carey said he plans to file 6,000 signatures this afternoon with the Albany County Board of Elections to get on the ballot in the race for the 46th state Senate District.

Carey wanted to run as a Republican only to find out he was registered to vote but not enrolled in any party. Instead, he’s mounting his campaign on the REFORM line, a ballot line he created using independent nominating petitions.

Carey only needed 3,000 signatures — which was still three times as many as the major-party candidates.

If he does indeed file twice that many, it will be heavy lift for anyone trying to get him knocked off the ballot. Invalidating 3,000 signatures is no easy task.

Carey’s most likely opponent would be Republican Bob Domenici.

Seven-term incumbent Democrat Neil Breslin already faces a challenge within his own party from attorney Luke Martland. Whichever Democrat prevails in the primary would likely welcome the competition between Domenici and Carey for votes.

Emphasis added - SP

What's this got to do with autism? Well, Carey's son was named Jonathan, he was autistic, and New York State has Jonathan's Law because he died while under the care of health care aides three years ago. That sort of thing would turn me into a big activist, too, and Carey took that path and gained some local notoriety thanks to it: It was the lead of the story when he declared his candidacy for the GOP nomination.

Now I have to admit it was funny to watch Carey first insist that he'd be a Republican all his life then find out he actually wasn't when he first declared his candidacy against GOP-establishment-backed Domineci. But now the area's best-known autism activist has just formed The 2010 Third Party to challenge the a Senator on the same day his autism bill comes under heavy fire. That's a different story. And quite the surprise...

Stay tuned as this race continues to develop at it's new, improved rate of speed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

SD-46: What Would You Ask The Candidates

(Cross-posted on The Albany Project)

The race for State Senate in Albany County sees Sen. Neil Breslin is seeking his eighth consecutive term as primary challenger Luke Martland makes his first run for public office. I've been watching events unfold and reporting them here for the past few months, always reserving the right to inject my own opinions.

But at least once a race, I like to give the candidates the opportunity to speak for themselves without any of my spin. In the coming days, both candidates have agreed to submit to an extensive series of questions from arguably their toughest constituents: myself, and my fellow TAPpers. Before I get my microcassette recorder prepped and ready (and it's been hell chasing down blank tapes in this digital age!) I'd like to give you guys the chance to sound off.


Sen. Neil Breslin

After winning election in 1996 and joining his two brothers in county-wide elected positions, Senator Breslin has risen to become Assistant Majority Leader and continues to enjoy wide support in this heavily Democratic county. But all State Senators these days are struggling with a strong general air of anti-incumbency, and have to answer for the specific troubles of this past term, from the 2009 Senate coup to this years wildly late budget. What issue would you ask Neil Breslin about?


Luke Martland

Luke Martland, on the other hand, is a political newcomer in the 46th. He is so far Breslin's best-funded and most-covered Democratic challenger in the press, but certainly faces an uphill battle. He is running as an openly gay candidate and has so far been persistent in his criticisms of the Senator, while also racking up some criticisms against himself. What critical questions might you ask Luke Martland yourself?

Here's you chance to get your answers straight from the horses mouth. The interviews will be conducted early next week and will appear here the two following weekends. Thanks for the input, wish me luck, and keep up the good work!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SD-46: A Three-Ring Circus No More

Tim Carney is Knocked Off the Ballot for Invalid Signatures
Luke Martland Stands Alone in Challenge to Incumbent Sen. Neil Breslin

In early spring, Albany resident Tim Carney created two websites. The first was called timcarneyforassembly. The other was called timcarneyforsenate. Then, an Albany attorney named Luke Martland announced that he would challenge Senator Neil Breslin in a Democratic primary for sure. Carney's Assembly website dissappeared, and soon the local blogs were full of his wild assertations that he would win a three-way race against the 15-year incumbent with over $450K and his first well-funded Democratic challenger, Martland.

In the months between then and now, Carney lived up to his name, and gave me every reason to believe that his campaign for Senate would fail. We saw him post comical YouTube videos that nobody could take serious, and even his "official" campaign announcement was a grade B political stunt. And while I'd love to share them with you for pure entertainment value, I feel I really should just hang on to those crazy e-mails Carney sent me when he didn't like me sharing my opinion that his campaign was, well, a joke.

As of this Friday, it isn't a joke anymore. It's history. The Times Union is reporting that Tim Carney has been removed from the ballot. While Carney was able to survive an initial challenge to his nominating petitions a week ago, this time the Martland campaign sued in State Supreme Court for a second review, and the ruling left Carney short...by two signatures.

Head on over to the TU article to see Carney lose it if you like. For the length of the time I've been watching this, I've known the real race was between Luke Martland and Neil Breslin, despite the overwhelming odds Martland may face. From the beginning, Tim Carney's campaign has been a sideshow, an example of what can happen in any district when an opportunistic, unqualified noise-maker decides they have what it takes to run for high office. Such campaigns are useful only for entertainment value so long as things end up like this. Had Carney remained on the ballot, he would have split the vote of those who want progressive reform in this district. Now that he's off, things can return to where they should have been all along: a serious challenge between a powerful incumbent with both big money and the family political machine on his side...against an energetic new voice with naught but the courage of his convictions and just enough resources to get it done. Stay tuned for more as this two-way race develops.