Capital Playbook: Christie hires outside counsel for internal bridge probe

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By Azi Paybarah in New York and Jimmy Vielkind in Albany, with Mike Allen

FIRST LOOK – “Christie Administration Takes Steps to Conduct Internal Review [on Fort Lee lane closures] and Further Cooperate With U.S. Attorney Inquiry” – Governor’s office release: “Today, the Christie Administration [will announce] the retention of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP to assist with the internal review announced by Governor Christie last week and to further cooperate with the U.S. Attorney inquiry. … Gibson, Dunn … will review best practices for office operations and information flow, and assist with document retention and production. …

This Administration is committed to ensuring that what happened here never happens again. … Heading up the Gibson, Dunn … team is former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro [Mayor Giuliani’s chief of staff and later deputy mayor for operations]. Mastro is a former Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he specialized in organized crime cases and spearheaded the federal government’s landmark racketeering suit that compelled the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to hold democratic elections and to undergo court supervision.” Mastro bio http://goo.gl/UCAYr4www.nypost.com/tag/chris-christie

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The administration’s announcement comes right after the New Jersey Assembly committee looking into the role of Christie's aides and appointees in Bridgegate announced that it had retained as special counsel a former prosecutor in the Rod Blagojevich case. http://bit.ly/LimgSV

SPITZERS FILE DIVORCE PAPERS – Contested: “Anonymous vs. Anonymous” … Post, “SILDA OFF EL’S HOOK” …Daily News, “OUT OF HERE! Filing ends Silda-Spitzer marriage.”

--PAGE SIX, “Spitzer’s boozy divorce party”: “Spitzer threw himself a drunken divorce party hours before he and … Silda Wall filed paperwork in Manhattan to end their 26-year marriage. Spitzer, with his new girlfriend, … Lis Smith, and six other friends were seen knocking back bourbon and a tower of beer at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ on Eighth Avenue late Monday, after attending the Knicks game. … It is believed that Spitzer’s huge real estate empire, developed by his father, Bernard Spitzer, could be a key battleground.” http://goo.gl/yytbbI

MAYOR TARGETS PEDESTRIAN FATALITIES -- Capital’s Gloria Pazmino: Starting tomorrow, drivers caught by red-light and speed traffic-enforcement cameras will receive fines under a sweeping new plan to eliminate traffic fatalities called “Vision Zero,” the Mayor said. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the department will increase the number of officers assigned to the Highway Division by 50 percent, to a total of 270 officers. De Blasio also created a working group which will report back to him by Feb. 15 with plans to: improve at least 50 dangerous intersections in the city; expand 20 m.p.h. zones; and pursue traffic safety legislation in Albany. http://goo.gl/RNmHbQ Full presser, via NYTrue.com http://goo.gl/i825J3

DE BLASIO: FEDS SHOULD FUND 9/11 MEMORIAL – Capital’s Gloria Pazmino: Mayor de Blasio said at an unrelated presser “that the federal government must help fund the 9/11 Memorial set to open in the spring. The memorial foundation failed to secure funding from Congress after the bill was blocked in the Senate. … [de Blasio:] ‘I think Mayor Bloomberg was right about this that the federal government needs to play a role here. This is a nationally important site, it's something that people come to from all over the country, all over the world, and we need the federal government to join with us.’ The memorial foundation has a projected annual budget of $60 million.”

GAME CHANGE -- “How Washington beat Wall Street,” by POLITICO’s Ben White, with Jon Prior: “In 2009, Washington went to war against big Wall Street banks hoping to blow up the kind of high-risk, high-reward strategies that helped spark the financial crisis. Five years later, … Washington won in a blowout. … Goldman Sachs, the biggest money machine in Wall Street history, is a shell of its former self. Morgan Stanley, Goldman’s one-time bitter rival in the swashbuckling world of high-risk trading, is transforming into a staid money management firm with a side business underwriting stocks and offering merger advice. Citigroup and Bank of America sold off many of their classic ‘Wall Street’ businesses, including proprietary trading desks and private equity and hedge fund stakes, to comply with … Dodd-Frank …

[A]fter President Obama signed Dodd-Frank into law in 2010, the industry made mistake after mistake — from the interest rate rigging scandal to mortgage-foreclosure ‘robo-signing’ — making it essentially impossible for the industry’s lobbyists to beat back any of the newly imposed regulations. … Even mighty JPMorgan Chase, once viewed as the only bank to come through the crisis largely unchanged, is now forking over tens of billions of dollars in settlement cash … to pay for its sins before the financial crisis … The transformation of Wall Street is so complete that even some of the industry’s loudest critics — rarely willing to give an inch — are prepared to declare at least partial victory.” http://goo.gl/38d839

THE TABS: Daily News, “SPEAK OF THE DEVIL -- REVEALED: Lanza’s secret radio tape – Voice of Newtown killer talks of mass shooting ONE YEAR before Sandy Hook massacre” (With QR code to “HEAR THE TAPE”) See the page. http://goo.gl/VhsJR6 … Post, “YES! School of NO gets BOOKS! Post win for kids … The new sexy: LENA DUNHAM’S VOGUE SURPRISE” … Newsday, “SUPER SECURITY: Nearly 4,000 officers, wide lockdown for big game … SENATE PROBE: Benghazi Deaths ‘Preventable.’”

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KAMRAN MUMTAZ, deputy press secretary for Mike Bloomberg, joined Citigroup this week as assistant vice president for corporate communications. At City Hall, Mumtaz helped coordinate communications for a variety of city agencies, including the NYPD, and before that, worked as press secretary for former congressman Anthony Weiner.

TOP TALKER – N.Y. Times A1, below fold, “With $613 Million at Stake, an Albany Rivalry Is Said to Escalate: Cuomo and Schneiderman Prepare to Fight Over JPMorgan Settlement,” by Susanne Craig in Albany: “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has asked people if they think Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York State, wears eyeliner. Mr. Schneiderman has told people that he believes Mr. Cuomo’s administration is Machiavellian and is out to undermine him. … [T]his relationship … has gone from bad to toxic. … Now, the fractiousness between Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Schneiderman is spilling over into the running of state government. With the annual state budget process about to begin, the two leaders are girding for battle over how to spend $613 million obtained by the attorney general’s office in a settlement of securities litigation with JPMorgan Chase. …

Schneiderman and the bank negotiated the terms so that he would be given sole discretion over how to allocate the money. He has big plans for it: preventing avoidable foreclosures for thousands of struggling homeowners and expanding his office’s efforts to fight financial fraud. But Mr. Cuomo … wants the money deposited in the state’s general fund, where it would be used as the governor and legislators see fit. The governor’s budget, to be announced on Tuesday, will outline how to pay for various programs. While the JPMorgan settlement will not cover any expenses in the current state budget, it could finance a number of big-ticket items, including a year’s worth of universal prekindergarten and programs for middle-school students in New York City or future tax cuts for businesses.” http://goo.gl/c30hbQ

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Can I get some security, too?” Councilman Jumaane Williams to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as she entered City Hall, via Eliza Shapiro

CUOMO’S CASH: The Democrat’s re-election campaign yesterday disclosed it has $33.3 million in the bank, having raked in just over $7 million during the last six months. Major donors include Bruce Kovner and Leonard Litwin, who gave an estimated $175,000. This is nearly double what the last governor running for a second term, Republican George Pataki, had in his coffers at the same point in the cycle, as Ken Lovett points out. So Cuomo has the luxury of spending his morning at the Harvard Club chatting with deep-pocketed Republican-leaning men and women to talk about what he’s doing and, tacitly, why they should at the very least keep their wallets shut.

OBAMACARE PROBE—Capital’s Laura Nahmias: Schneiderman is investigating insurer Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield after complaints from customers who paid for the company’s plans on the state's health exchange, but never received proof they enrolled. The office is also looking into the insurer’s practice of automatically enrolling consumers who previously had insurance through the state’s Healthy NY program into Empire plans not available on the exchange…More than 230,000 people had enrolled in the state’s health exchange by December 24th, and more than 41,000 of them chose Empire’s plans, making it the most popular insurer among the sixteen issuers offering insurance on the state exchange. http://goo.gl/881wWD

DAYBOOK: “Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, will discuss results of a poll of New York City voters, asking their opinions about the job Mayor Bill de Blasio has done so far, and their priorities regarding city issues … 4 P.M., ROOM 9, CITY HALL.”

PROPERTY VALUES RISING -- Capital’s Sally Goldenberg: “City real estate values are on the rise by nearly $60 billion, leading to sharply-higher tax bills for homeowners … Property owners in Hurricane Sandy-ravaged neighborhoods are being spared the assessed increases. “The total assessed value of all city real estate for upcoming Fiscal Year 2015 is nearly $915 billion, a $56.7 billion increase over the current fiscal year, the Department of Finance reported in its annual tentative property assessment roll.” http://goo.gl/oPsW1J

--amNewYork cover, “UP, UP & AWAY -- Manhattan, B’kyln rents hit new highs in 2013: Report,” by Ivan Pereira, with Heather Senison and Cari Romm: “Real estate group MNS found that the average monthly rental price for Brooklyn pads went up 5.6% from $2,426 in 2012 to $2,562 last year, an all-time high. Manhattan’s average rent rose from $3,762 in 2012 to $3,905 … Bushwick saw [Brooklyn’s] greatest increase in rent prices … Average rent prices for studios went up 17.1%, one-bedrooms increased 12.2% and two bedrooms went up 4.63%. …

[T]wo-bedrooms have been in huge demand in neighborhoods such as Cobble Hill, Greenpoint, Fort Greene and Boerum Hill … [M]ore than 30% of households in those communities have children. … The MNS report said high demand for apartments in Harlem, the Upper West Side and the Financial District drove rent prices up … TriBeCa led the borough with a median rental price of $3,404 for a doorman studio apartment.” http://goo.gl/aCl1Xm

--See the Manhattan report. http://goo.gl/Ft7mHs ... See the Brooklyn report. http://goo.gl/VKSWJG

THE TALK OF WALL STREET – “Charter, Comcast in renewed talks on Time Warner Cable bid,” by Reuters’ Soyoung Kim and Liana B. Baker: “Charter Communications Inc reached out to Comcast Corp this week about teaming up to buy Time Warner Cable Inc, after the larger rival rejected its $37.3 billion takeover bid … Charter approached Comcast on Wednesday to discuss carving up the second-largest U.S. cable company's systems and subscribers … Charter, the No. 4 U.S. cable provider, and Comcast, the top U.S. cable provider, are in preliminary discussions about how to structure a potential alliance … One possibility is that Charter buys all of Time Warner Cable and sells off some of its markets and subscribers to Comcast … Comcast would be interested in Time Warner Cable's largest markets [including] New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.” http://goo.gl/x5xsrO

--MOOD RING – Financial Times p. 21: “Encouraging data help drive S&P 500 into record territory: Optimism over US economy grows; BofA earnings add to positive mood.”

THE HOME TEAMS -- Capital’s Howard Megdal: Could Xavi be coming to the Red Bulls?

-- Hal Steinbrenner likes Masahiro Tanaka and thinks he’s going to be a great major league pitcher, for someone.

-- Derek Jeter said all the right things about Alex Rodriguez.

#UpstateAmerica: FORT ANN, N.Y. -- A litter of kittens has found a cozy home in the least cozy of places -- a maximum-security prison in upstate New York. http://goo.gl/O9Hzcc