ALBANY – A day after he was sharply criticized by a top adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, State Sen. Mark Grisanti is standing down in his rebuke of a costly contract to re-do state driver’s licenses.
In unusually harsh criticism by the Cuomo administration directed at the Buffalo Republican who has otherwise enjoyed warm relations with the governor, Howard Glaser, the governor’s state operations director, on Thursday lashed out at Grisanti – as well as State Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo – and suggested their ideas for the license contract could “sacrifice New Yorkers’ security.”
On Friday afternoon, the senator put out a written statement saying that the Department of Motor Vehicles had provided him with more information about the pending contract, and he is now comfortable that the new license contract will accomplish the goal of making licenses more secure and also will meet federal and Canadian rules for border crossings.
“I also believe it is important for New York to develop the capacity of New York businesses to compete for New York State contracts, a goal the administration shares and on which we will continue to work together,’’ Grisanti said.
In response, Glaser said, “While no New York State companies sought to bid on the secure card contract, we encourage all New York companies to bid on state contracts and look forward to working with Sen. Grisanti to further develop the capacity of New York State business to successfully compete for New York State contracts.’’
Grisanti and Kennedy are among several lawmakers who criticized the DMV contract with CBN Secure Technologies, a Canadian company, to redesign New York’s driver’s licenses for $88 million – double the second nearest bidder. Other bidders, and lawmakers including Grisanti, raised questions about the way the bidding process was conducted.
The Cuomo administration, known for not being shy in response to even mild criticism, shot back Thursday with a statement by Glaser that left lawmakers in both parties scratching their heads over its intensity.
“Apparently Senators Grisanti and Kennedy would rather have the low bidders – all from out of state – produce a license that can easily be altered by a terrorist, ID thief or, for that matter, any 18-year-old with an X-Acto knife who wants to go to a bar,” Glaser said in a written statement Thursday. “The selected bid is a solid polycarbonate card impervious to alteration and it costs a little more per card. The senators should get their facts right, and decide whether they really want to sacrifice New Yorkers’ security to the lowest bidder.”
That the Cuomo administration launched the rhetorical bomb against Grisanti, in particular, was noted by Democrats and Republicans on Thursday – especially after the governor has offered nothing but praise for Grisanti, particularly after he broke from his party’s ranks last year to back Cuomo’s legislation legalizing same-sex marriages.
Cuomo did not directly endorse Grisanti in his recent re-election bid, but he did approve new legislative district lines earlier this year that made Grisanti’s victory come easier. Cuomo’s image – seen hugging the senator at an event – was also used in heavily run television ads by Grisanti this fall.
Grisanti wasn’t alone in backing down on Friday.
The New York State Association of Convenience Stores, which on Thursday joined the chorus of critics over the new license plan, backtracked after meeting with DMV officials Friday for a demonstration of the new license program. In a letter to DMV officials, obtained by The Buffalo News, James Calvin, the group’s executive director, called the new license plan “extraordinary.” A day earlier, Calvin’s group expressed worries that the new licenses could make it easier for underage children to obtain alcohol and cigarettes at convenience stores.
In his letter Friday, Calvin said he wished the new licenses would not feature black-and-white photographs, but said he understands the technology is not yet possible with the new licenses because of a laser-etching process that will be used to print them.
Kennedy was unavailable to comment Friday.