05/18/2017 07:20 AM EDT

By Jimmy Vielkind in Albany and Azi Paybarah in Manhattan, with Addy Baird and Daniel Lippman

A REASON TO CELEBRATE 39 PERCENT: It's a consistent feature of nearly every poll that includes Mayor Bill de Blasio: Black and Hispanic voters generally support him, and white voters do not. But while de Blasio's problem with white voters isn't going away, there are signs that it's getting better.

On Monday, a poll from NY1 and Baruch College City Poll showed de Blasio's support among white voters is at 51 percent, up 9 percentage points since December 2016. Prof. Doug Muzzio told NY1 it is "perhaps the most important change" because white voters make up 45 percent of the electorate, nearly twice as much as the other racial demographic voting blocs.

Yesterday, a Quinnipiac University Poll showed de Blasio's approval rating at its highest point ever, as our Laura Nahmias wrote. There were gains across the board since the last Q poll in February - which was about a month before federal and state investigators closed inquiries into the mayor's fund-raising activities without filing charges. In the most recent poll, it showed 39 percent of white voters approve of de Blasio's job performance, compared to 55 percent that disapprove. Compared to a year ago, that's quite a leap. In Quinnipiac's May 2016 poll, the number of white voters who approved of de Blasio's job performance was 27 percent, and the percentage of white voters who disapproved of his job performance was 68 percent. In one year, his approval rating with these voters went up 12 percent, and his disapproval rating went down 13 percent. Both of those changes are well outside the 4.2 percent margin of error for this section of the survey.

GOOD MORNING. IT'S THURSDAY. We could see a record high temperature in some upstate areas. Got a tip? Feedback? News to share? Let us know. By email: JVielkind@politico.com, APaybarah@politico.com, ABaird@politico.com, and daniel@politico.com, or on Twitter: @JimmyVielkind, @Azi, @addysue, and @dlippman.

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WHERE'S ANDREW? In New York City, where he'll make a morning announcement at the Prince George Ballroom.

WHERE'S BILL? At Brooklyn Borough Hall this afternoon for an endorsement from Public Advocate Letitia James, borough president Eric Adams and the Brooklyn Democratic County organization. Tonight, he'll speak to the Police Foundation at their annual gala, which is not open to the press.

PREET'S TWEETS: He continued to call for an independent inquiry into Russian interference in the election, and praised Robert Mueller's appointment as a special prosecutor as "a very good thing. He is one of the best -- independent and no-nonsense."

ABOUT LAST NIGHT: A source at the New York County Democrats' meeting tells Azi that its members approved a resolution declaring that the party should "refuse to vote or support" any member of the state Senate's Independent Democratic Conference. It's another step in the ongoing feud between the eight-member, Republican-allied clatch and mainstream Democrats in the chamber who want to unite and force the GOP from power. The party in the past has taken mostly symbolic actions knocking the IDC and its leader, Jeff Klein, but Wednesday's resolution could have a more direct impact. Sen. Marisol Alcantara joined the IDC after winning a special election for a Northern Manhattan seat. She's already facing a re-match against one of her two 2016 primary challengers, former City Council member Robert Jackson. He offered the resolution, and its passage could portend at least informal support among the party's rank-and-file come 2018. While some members abstained, the only no vote came from Assemblywoman Carmen de la Rosa - an ally of Alcantara and Rep. Adriano Espaillat.

TABS - Daily News: "TRUMP'S WORST NIGHTMARE: Presidency under threat as special counsel takes over probe of campaign ties to Russia" - Post: "DON DEFIANT: Trump: 'No one treated worse than me'; Republicans scramble, market tumbles" - SEE THEM

- Newsday: "SPECIAL COUNSEL IN RUSSIA PROBE" - El Diario [translated]: Unjustified arrests - SEE THEM

FREEBIES - Metro: "EARLY HEAT" - amNew York: "SPECIAL COUNSEL IN RUSSIA PROBE: Ex-FBI chief Mueller to lead investigation" - SEE THEM

BROADSHEETS - Wall Street Journal, 5-col., above the fold: "Ex-FBI Chief to Lead Russia Probe" - WSJ, 5-col., above the fold: "Stocks, Dollar Sink on Washington Turmoil" - New York Times, 2-col., above the fold: "SPECIAL COUNSEL WILL INVESTIGATE RUSSIA INFLUENCE" - SEE THEM

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "[A]void driving whenever humanly possible." - Mayor Bill de Blasio, on getting around New York City, via POLITICO New York

STAFF UPDATE: City Hall official said the administration is reworking its tech team. The team is "centralizing" under the Chief Technology Officer Miguel Gamino. Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan, who was hired last August, is leaving the administration. The Chief Digital Officer role will be brought under the CTO, this official said.


- REPORTING FAILURES - Gannett's Jon Campbell: "New York's economic-development branch repeatedly flouted requirements to publicly report the progress of various job-creation programs in recent years, according to a state audit Wednesday. The audit from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office faulted Empire State Development for routinely missing or ignoring the requirements, failing to complete 27 of 57 'general outcome reports' that were due between April 2012 and September 2016. The reports, which are mandated by law, are meant to offer regular updates on how various aspects of the state's job-creation and tax-credit programs are performing. DiNapoli said Empire State Development is missing deadlines or not reporting 'too often.'" Read more here.

- An ESD spokesman parroted unrelated Cuomo administration attacks on DiNapoli - a top aide to whom was last year charged in another bribery scheme - in an additional statement responding to the audit. "This report is yet another example of a politically motivated 'independent audit' that cherry-picks information and profoundly misrepresents our efforts," said ESD spokesman Jason Conwall. "While this might be a convenient way to distract from what the Comptroller has not done to clean up his own house following a massive fraud within the $178 billion state pension system, we encourage OSC to be more objective in their review of our efforts." Read more here.

- BUDGET VOTE ROUNDUP: MAJORITY OF SCHOOL BUDGETS PASS - POLITICO New York's Keshia Clukey: The majority of school districts statewide had their 2017-18 budgets approved by voters Tuesday, according to the New York State School Boards Association. Of the 663 districts that proposed budgets within the state tax cap, 99.8 percent saw their budgets pass, according to a NYSSBA release with initial numbers. The approval rate is consistent with the past two years following the implementation of the state tax cap. The cap on allowed property tax increases is 1.26 percent for the 2017-18 school year, dipping below the normal 2 percent figure because of the minimal rate of inflation. A dozen districts were attempting to get 60 percent of voter approval, a super-majority, to override the state tax cap. Three of those districts - DeRuyter, Pittsford and East Ramapo-had their budgets defeated, according to reports from various education groups. The three districts that were defeated will have a second chance with a budget re-vote on June 20. If the budget is defeated at that time, the district must enact a contingency budget with no tax increase. Districts also may chose to forgo a second vote and adopt a contingency budget. It could be a long road for Rockland County's troubled East Ramapo school district, which must present its revised budget to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia for approval before going back to voters. Read more here.

- BOTTOMS UP - WHEC: "The Genesee Brewery came up short in a craft brew contest put on by the state on Wednesday. The Rochester brewery faced off against four others in the inaugural Taste NY Inaugural Craft Beer Challenge. Online votes determined the five finalists and the winner was chosen after a blind taste testing by a panel of guest judges including Mario Batali and Hall of Fame Buffalo Bill Thurman Thomas. But, after the taste test, Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown and Roscoe NY Beer Company tied for the win." Read more here.

GET YOUR TICKETS! The LCA show is on Tuesday, May 23 at the Egg in Albany. Order tickets online here or call Teresa at (518) 455-2388.


- ALL THE WAY UP: De Blasio approval ratings jump - POLITICO New York's Laura Nahmias: Mayor Bill de Blasio has a 60 percent job approval rating from New York City residents, his highest job approval rating since he became mayor, according to a new Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday. The poll shows a 10 percent jump in the mayor's support since a February 28 Quinnipiac poll, which put the mayor's approval at 50 percent, and his disapproval at 42 percent. ... And 59 percent of those polled said yes when asked if they felt that de Blasio "understands the problems of people like you," the mayor's highest rating on that particular question since June of 2014. Fifty-nine percent of voters said they believed de Blasio was honest and trustworthy, including 75 percent of Democrats. And majorities of voters say they approve of the way de Blasio is handling race relations and the relationship between the NYPD and the community, the poll shows. Read more here.

- GETTING AROUND: "De Blasio says roads are worse than subways" - POLITICO New York's Dana Rubinstein and Gloria Pazmino: Say what you will about the sorry state of New York City's subway system, but it can't hold a candle to the sorry state of New York City's roads. That was the novel argument advanced by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday, when reporters asked him to comment on the deteriorating state of the subway - which, he noted repeatedly and, at times, with relish, is run by the state. "Even though there are problems in the subway system, I think they pale in comparison to the problems on our roads," said the mayor. For that reason, de Blasio continued, New Yorkers interested in a more reliable commute should "avoid driving whenever humanly possible. ... I think the MTA needs to come forward with an even bigger plan to shift its resources towards this problem of making sure the day-to-day commute works better," de Blasio said. "The MTA always has challenges, but it does have resources. The big question is how do you prioritize your resources."

The governor's office declined comment. But MTA spokeswoman Beth DeFalco said, "The mayor made it clear just how big of a priority the MTA is to him when he wouldn't even contribute his fair share to the Capital Plan." (The city committed $2.5 billion, and contends it is "the city's largest ever general capital contribution.") In the meantime, de Blasio said, "Don't drive." Read more here.

- CONSERVATIVES ENDORSE MALLIOTAKIS: Rival Massey argues electability - POLITICO New York's Azi Paybarah: The Conservative Party of New York State has endorsed Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis in her bid for mayor, bolstering her effort to win the Republican primary against her better-funded main rival, real estate developer Paul Massey. In a statement announcing the endorsement, Malliotakis knocked Massey for making prior donations to Democrats. Malliotakis said the real estate developer "has contributed to Democrats like Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer because he thinks like a Democrat and shares their views. Our battle for the GOP nomination will be a debate about principles and policies and the principles I hold will lead us to victory." She also referred to Massey as "(R-Larchmont)," his longtime home. ... Massey has billed himself as a technocratic manager in the mold of Michael Bloomberg. His aides have argued he is the candidate best able to appeal not only to Republicans eager to win back City Hall, but also disaffected Democrats - who outnumber Republicans 6 to 1 in New York City - and voters not enrolled in any party. Malliotakis, these aides have said, is too conservative to win a citywide general election. Read more here.

ON STAGE - "Australia's 'King Kong' Is Bound for Broadway, a Bit Late but Just as Big," by NYT's Michael Paulson: "He's arriving a little later than anticipated, but 'King Kong' is finally ready to attack Broadway. On Wednesday, the producers of this big-budget, big-ape spectacle - they're no longer describing it as a traditional musical, although it's a stage show with a score and songs - said 'King Kong' would arrive at the Broadway Theater in the fall of 2018. The show is the brainchild of an Australian animatronics company, and its only previous production was in Melbourne. Its arrival on Broadway has been long delayed: In 2010, the producers said they were aiming for a 2013 Broadway bow; in 2013, they talked of a possible 2014 Broadway opening, as well as international productions of the show; and by 2014, they had stopped attaching a timeline to their project. But now, for the first time, they are announcing a theater as well as a time frame... The arrival of 'King Kong' would make 2018 a big year for blockbuster brands on Broadway: Disney's stage adaptation of 'Frozen' and the Harry Potter play are both scheduled to arrive that spring, just a few months before 'Kong.'" Read more here.

- TV: Bobby Moynihan is leaving the cast of Saturday Night Live and has a tv show of his own coming out, called, "Me, Myself & I," via Deadline's Nellie Andreeva. Read more here.

TRUMP WORLD - Where Fifth Ave. meets Pennsylvania Ave.:

- THE CASE FOR RAY KELLY, as FBI chief: Former senator Al D'Amato's op-ed in NewsMax: "In two separate tours directing the nation's largest police force -- including during the dark days after the 9/11 attacks -- Ray Kelly distinguished himself with leadership skills that dramatically reduced crime in some of New York's most troubled neighborhoods. This set the stage for an unprecedented and lasting overall reduction in violent crime that directly contributed to New York City's current resurgence. And as Senator I was proud to introduce Mr. Kelly to the Senate Committee that unanimously approved his nomination as U.S. Commissioner of Customs, from which he led the fight to secure our borders and stem the flow of drugs. ... Whether Ray Kelly is appointed or not, he is the kind of leader that this country needs running the FBI - above reproach and political partisanship." Read more here.

- The Wire's Julia Ainsley: "An adviser to another candidate on the White House short-list, former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, 75, said Kelly is also being persuaded to step out of the running." Read more here.

- HIGH OFFICE RENT - Observer's Will Bredderman: "The Observer visited the location, and discovered the [Rep. Gregory] Meeks campaign and the Build America PAC are in fact lodged in Suite 205 of the building-directly adjacent to Suite 204, which serves as the congressman's taxpayer-financed district office. ... FEC records indicate that the Meeks campaign committees and the PAC split the rent in Suite 205 (though both report their address in their filings as Suite 535). As of the most recent FEC disclosure, the PAC allocates $412 a month toward the lease on the space, while the campaign sets aside $1,271. ... The latest House disbursement records show that BLDG Management charges Washington $10,675.30 a month for the district office-making Meeks's rent among the costliest in the entire country." Read more here.


- SAY IT AIN'T SO: "Had anybody but McMaster tried to make the ridiculous case that Trump had done nothing wrong, the press corps would have pilloried him," Jack Shafer writes. "The next installment of Saturday Night Live would parody him. Instead, the press has been filled with more than sorrow than anger for the bald-pated lieutenant general, writing as if they had just witnessed a scene from a Shakespeare tragedy where a military leader has chosen duty over honor. Everybody expected more of him." More: " H.R. McMaster Takes a Dive"

- POWER LUNCH: "President Donald Trump is set to have an off-the-record lunch with network anchors on Thursday, two sources with knowledge of the plans and a White House official confirmed. The lunch is expected to cover Trump's upcoming foreign trip. But with bombshell reports about the Trump White House dropping nearly every day this week, the lunch is sure to cover more ground. The get-together is expected to be much smaller than past lunches with the media." More from POLITICO's Hadas Gold.

- CNN TO ADVERTISERS: WE'RE NOT FAKE NEWS! by Alex Weprin - Turner's upfront presentation at the Theater at Madison Square Garden Wednesday morning included a full-throated defense of journalism from familiar faces at the company's flagship cable news channel. Set to an audio montage of politicians attacking the media (the culmination of which featured a full-throated, "You are fake news!" from President Trump), a team of CNN anchors took the stage and made their case to advertisers. "Now, more than ever, our mission is clear, to find the truth, accept the facts, report the story, and hold those in power accountable," Anderson Cooper said. "Politicians lie, they have staffs and allied who lie and spin and sometimes try and confuse the public as to what is real and what is fake," added Jake Tapper. "The press needs to be there, and be worthy of the amendment that protects our work."

You can read the full Morning Media column and sign up to receive it in your inbox by clicking here.

REAL ESTATE, with POLITICO New York's Sally Goldenberg:

- "Loft tenants pushing for changes in Albany, seeking elusive City Hall ally," by POLITICO New York's Sally Goldenberg: Loft apartments have long been a cornerstone of New York City's artistic community. But hundreds of city residents are at risk of losing their apartments and work studios if they don't meet a deadline next month to apply to convert their lofts into legal residences. As tenants, attorneys and advocates rush to spread the word - with many expected to attend a meeting of the city's loft board Thursday afternoon - they are also seeking legislative reforms in Albany and finding no vocal allies in City Hall. Despite prioritizing the expansion of rent-regulated housing citywide, Mayor Bill de Blasio's team has declined to advocate for tenant-friendly changes to the loft law in Albany, including extending the June 15 deadline, they said. "Mayor de Blasio promised affordable housing units for artists, and we need that. But we also need him to protect the existing ones. We don't need only to build new ones, but we need him to protect the live-work spaces that already exist," Williamsburg loft tenant Ximena Garnica said in a recent interview. ... "Legislative Affairs and the city's Department of Buildings, which includes Loft Board staff, are engaged on this issue and working with our elected officials, including Assembly housing chair and staff, to understand what can or should be done this year," mayoral spokeswoman Melissa Grace said. Read the story here

- "Inside New York and New Jersey's Industrial Boom, Fueled by the Death of Retail," by Commercial Observer's Rebecca Baird-Remba: "Industrial property has never been sexy as a building or an asset class. At most, such properties might be converted into lofts, a modern office or a party venue. ... Until now. All of a sudden, developers are clamoring for warehouse space in the five boroughs and New Jersey. Prices and rents are skyrocketing, and there are not many large sites available anymore, even for buyers with extremely deep pockets. In New York City, industrial real estate is rapidly disappearing as the city rezones large swaths of the outer boroughs to pave the way for new residential buildings. ... Across the East River in New Jersey, the market for industrially zoned land is also heavily constricted and expensive. But unlike in New York City, developers are building millions of square feet of new industrial space along the New Jersey Turnpike." Read the story here

- "RPA report: Second Avenue Subway 'most expensive subway extension on the planet'," by POLITICO New York's Dana Rubinstein: New York City is building fewer new subway miles than Singapore, Paris, Denver, London, Hong Kong, Washington, D.C., Santiago, Toronto, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Madrid and Barcelona, according to a new report released by the Regional Plan Association on Wednesday. Even worse, its most recent new subway project, the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, was "the most expensive subway extension on the planet at a cost of $807 million per track mile," according to the report. "London's Northern Line extension to Battersea," in contrast, cost "roughly $124 million per track mile." Read the report here

You can find the free version of Sally's real estate newsletter here: http://politi.co/2a1DgJk

TRANSITIONS -- Timothy Foley has been hired as the director of the SEIU Connecticut State Council. Yesterday was his last day as the political director at the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU Healthcare. ... Former Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) has joined the board of directors of the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations. Release

BIRTHDAYS: Clyde Haberman, former NYT columnist and foreign correspondent (hat tip: Maggie) ... Tina Fey is 47 ... retired Yankee and Hall of Fame baseball player, Reggie Jackson.

THE HOME TEAMS - POLITICO New York's Howard Megdal: Diamondbacks 5, Mets 4: Seven straight losses now, despite homers from Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares.

- The day ahead: the great Maya Moore and the Minnesota Lynx face the Liberty at The Garden. The Yankees are in Kansas City.

#UpstateAmerica: The Department of Environmental Conservation has been working to catch and help a black bear with what appears to be a jug stuck on its head, spotted by residents in Kirkwood.

#PlanetNYC: The longtime Upper East Side home of the late Jacob Javits, who served in senate for two decades, is up for sale.

FOR MORE political and policy news from New York, check out Politico New York's home page: http://politi.co/1MkLGXV

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** A message from Nuclear Matters: New York is leading the nation in the fight to lower carbon emissions, and other states are taking notice. Nuclear energy is a carbon-free bridge that will allow New York to achieve the State Energy Plan goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. The CES results in fewer harmful pollutants and more fuel diversity, and will cost New Yorkers $5 less per month than if no action is taken - all while maintaining a healthy economy, preserving jobs, and protecting the environment. America needs to support nuclear energy and invest in all reliable, safe and carbon-free energy resources. Visit nuclearmatters.com to learn more. **

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