Hoping for legislative momentum from news Thursday that the FDA is proposing long-awaited regulations on e-cigarettes, health advocates in New York want to take the discussion further to impose a ban on such devices in indoor workplaces.
"We're going to go ahead with some state regulations that go beyond what the federal government wants," Michael Burgess, state advocacy director for the American Cancer Society, said of the proposed indoor ban.
Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan and GOP state Sen. Kemp Hannon of Long Island are sponsoring bills that would basically ban the electronic devices from areas covered under the state's Clean Indoor Air Act, the law that drove workplace smokers outdoors.
Hannon, who chairs the Senate health committee, and Rosenthal helped push through a law two years ago that prevents minors in New York from buying e-cigarettes.
A ban on the sale to minors is among the proposals the federal Food and Drug Administration says it wants on the federal level, although enacting that could be several years away.
Congress five years ago voted to give the FDA authority to regulate e-cigarettes.
Because it has taken so long for the massive federal agency to act, activists believe they should push for state and local regulations as well.
Burgess noted that the indoor ban has the support of organizations like the Buffalo-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute, where researchers have found potential carcinogens and other toxins in e-cigarettes.
Harmful substances can include acrolien, a weed killer, and formaldehyde, said Andrew Hyland, chairman of the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell.
There also are particulates that can inflame the lungs.
Industry representatives, though, say those are found only in trace amounts.
"At what level you do find them?" asked Thomas Kiklas of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.
E-cigarettes generally use a heating element to create a vapor which can contain nicotine that users inhale. As is the case with nicotine-laden gum, the idea is to provide the user with nicotine, which is addictive, without the tar and extensive lung damage caused by smoking tobacco.
In addition to state and federal laws, there already are local regulations.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, for example, signed a ban in February on the use of e-cigarettes in county buildings including the Times Union Center.
Health experts like Hyland believe it's important to sustain the local push.
"While the national news is very good news," he said of the FDA decision to start regulating, "the reality is we are years away from the FDA implementing meaningful regulations on these products.''
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There's a little piece of Australia with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's name on it — right next to a piece named after former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Cuomo is this year's recipient of the the South Australian International Climate Change Leadership Award, which was previously awarded to Schwarzenegger during his term in office. The prize, in honor of efforts to fight climate change, will result in a section of forest in the Onkaparinga National Park being named after Cuomo.
The award was announced Thursday by the office of Australia's Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Ian Hunter, who said in a statement that Cuomo "has taken a leading role in climate change reform."
Hunter cited the establishment of the $1 billion NY Green Bank, a state-sponsored effort for foster investment, and the state's recent promise to reduce carbon pollution by 2.9 million tons.
In addition to Schwarzenegger, past winners of the award are former Quebec Premier Jean Charest, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond and Gov. Geraldo Alckmin of the State of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
A major supplier to the oil and gas industry says it will begin disclosing 100 percent of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid, with no exemptions for trade secrets. The move by Baker Hughes of Houston is a shift for a major firm; it's unclear if others will follow suit.
The oil and gas industry has said the fracking chemicals are disclosed at tens of thousands of wells, but environmental and health groups and government regulators say a loophole that allows firms to hide chemical "trade secrets" has been a major problem.
A statement on the Baker Hughes website said the company believes it's possible to disclose 100 percent "of the chemical ingredients we use in hydraulic fracturing fluids without compromising our formulations," to increase public trust.
"This really good news. It's a step in the right direction," said Dr. Bernard Goldstein, the former dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. "One hopes that the entire industry goes along with it."
But Goldstein noted one "major hedge" in the Baker Hughes position, since the company said it will provide complete lists of the products and chemicals used in frack fluids "where accepted by our customers and relevant governmental authorities."
Still, Goldstein said the Baker Hughes language sets a new standard for transparency and "clearly distinguishes them from Halliburton," another major industry supplier.
Baker Hughes spokeswoman Melanie Kania wrote in an email that it will take "several months" for the new policy to take effect. She said the end result will be a "single list" that provides "all the chemical constituents" for frack fluids, with no trade secrets.
Amy Mall, a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Baker Hughes move is a positive step, and that "if one company can do it, it's very clear all companies can do it." Mall said NRDC doesn't believe companies should use the trade secret argument to hide drilling chemicals.
A spokeswoman for Houston-based Halliburton, another major oil and gas supplier, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A boom in drilling has led to tens of thousands of new wells being drilled in recent years using the fracking process. A mix of water, sand and chemicals is forced deep underground to break rock apart and free oil and gas. That's led to major economic benefits but also fears that the chemicals used in the process could spread to water supplies.
The mix of chemicals varies by company and region — and some of the chemicals are toxic and could cause health problems in significant doses — so the lack of full transparency has worried landowners and public health experts.
Many companies voluntarily disclose the contents of their fracking fluids through FracFocus.org, a website partially funded by the oil and gas industry that tracks fracking operations nationwide. But critics say the website has loose reporting standards and allows companies to avoid disclosure by declaring certain chemicals as trade secrets.
A U.S. Energy Department Task Force report issued in March that found that 84% of the wells registered on FracFocus invoked a trade secret exemption for at least one chemical.
Albany It is unclear who is proposing casinos in Albany and Schenectady because several of the 22 prospective developers that deposited $1 million fees Wednesday with the state gaming commission did not disclose the projects they represent.
David Flaum told the Times Union that his entry fee had been advanced to the New York Gaming Commission, making his proposal for Exit 23 in Albany eligible for a casino license application. Yet the list of names of fee filers did not include Flaum or his known team members. He declined to explain.
David Buicko, the development executive for Galesi Group, revealed that the casino operator he's been talking to concerning the multifaceted project he's developing along the Mohawk River in Schenectady put in money. But he wouldn't name the entity.
People in the gaming industry suggested two of the prospective bidders, Capital Region Gaming LLC and Hudson Valley Gaming LLC, are associated with Rush Street Gaming. The gaming operator, with successful casinos in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, has been eyeing the Galesi site at the former American Locomotive Co. plant bordered by Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk.
Rush Street representatives could not be reached. The Schenectady City Council has scheduled a vote Monday on a resolution to consider changing zoning codes for casinos and gaming.
Hudson Valley Gaming and Capital Region Gaming are using the same lawyer, John Donnelly of Atlantic City, N.J., who did not return calls. He commonly represents Rush Street Gaming.
As for Flaum's project with partner Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp., some gaming industry observers looked at the possibility that a gaming operator made the deposit for the Rochester-area developer. An entry fee was deposited, for instance, from PNK Development 33 LLC by Pinnacle Entertainment, a gaming operator with regional casinos in several states. Flaum said he has been interviewing operators and is taking his time in choosing the right one for his team.
Pinnacle has been looking at sites in the Capital Region for weeks, and has been linked to the DeLaet's Landing property in Rensselaer on the Hudson River. However, Pinnacle representatives met with Mayor Kathy Sheehan recently, saying they had an interest in the Exit 23 project in Albany.
Referring to Flaum, Sheehan said Thursday: "It is my understanding that they do have a casino operator," adding that Flaum's representatives said he entered into a non-disclosure agreement at this time.
Pinnacle officials did not clear things up. Troy A. Stremming, executive vice president, said his group paid the $1 million fee "to keep our options open while continuing to explore this market."
No one in the industry seemed to know anything about prospective bidder and fee depositor Rolling Hills Entertainment LLC by Baker Botts LLP.
Lee Charles, a spokesman for the Baker Botts law firm, said the team won't comment at this time, even about which zone in the state it is pursuing opportunities.
Meanwhile, all 512 acres along Exit 27 of the Thruway, partly in Amsterdam and partly in the Town of Florida, are under the control of Clairvest, a gaming operator from Canada that owns and operates several casinos.
A Clairvest spokesman did not return calls, but the company deposited its $1 million to the gaming commission under the name Florida Acquisition Corp. by Clairvest.
And the owner of 330 acres at Howe's Cave near Cobleskill submitted an application fee as it continues to search for a gaming operator interested in its Schoharie County site.
Combined with Saratoga Harness Racing Inc., which also paid its fee for the rights to pursue a gaming license for its site atop Thompson Hill Road in East Greenbush, at least five Capital Region bidding teams appear to be alive.
Meanwhile, the joint venture of Cordish Companies and Penn National Gaming, continues to search the region for a site to develop, said Eric Schippers, of Penn National. The company put in two $1 million application fees, one for a project in Orange County designated near Harriman, the other for a unspecified site in the Capital Region.
None of the depositors were required to have a detailed plan or site at this time. Applications are due June 30. The fees can be refunded in full if the depositors decide against pursuing an application.
A bidders' conference is next Wednesday. One depositor, NYS Funding LLC by Och-Ziff Real Estate, and arm of big money managers, bought a seat at the table. They are not linked to any operator, region or bidding team. A spokesman declined to explain the company's interest.
firstname.lastname@example.org 518-454-5083 @JamesMOdato Reporter Paul Nelson contributed
The notorious Long Island Rail Road gunman who killed six passengers and wounded 19 more in 1993 was hoping to shed more blood behind bars.
An appeals court Thursday revealed that Colin Ferguson, 56, was overheard by a correction officer encouraging fellow inmates to "riot and kill prison guards."
Ferguson is serving more than 300 years at maximum-security Upstate Correctional Facility n Franklin County for opening fire on the train after it left Queens and entered Nassau County on Dec. 7, 1993.
Ferguson petitioned the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, based in Albany, hoping to successfully appeal his discipline for the grisly plot. He was unanimously rejected by Appellate Justices William McCarthy, John Lahtinen, Robert Rose and John Egan.
"Petitioner was charged in a misbehavior report with violating the prison disciplinary rules that prohibit making threats, engaging in conduct involving the threat of violence and conspiring to riot after a correction officer overheard petitioner encouraging inmates to riot and kill prison guards with the use of weapons," stated their ruling.
It said Ferguson was found guilty following an administrative hearing, where evidence against the convicted murderer included video. A determination upheld on administrative appeal.
Ferguson, defending himself, then appealed to the mid-level court. Justices rejected Ferguson's arguments that the hearing transcript was altered.
"The misbehavior report, videotape and testimony at the hearing provide substantial evidence to support the determination of guilt," the ruling stated.
It is the second time this year the Appellate Division has handled an appeal involving Ferguson. In March, the panel declared another Ferguson appeal moot because it had been reversed administratively.
Ferguson was convicted of the killing spree after he fired his high-profile attorneys, William Kunstler and Ronald Kuby, and defended himself, creating a situation in which he cross-examined the same victims he had shot.
About two dozen prospective casino developers sent $1 million bidding fees to the state gaming commission on Wednesday, including potential competitors for a license in Albany, East Greenbush, Amsterdam and Howe's Cave.
Schenectady's team did not appear to have met the deadline for the required application fee, although the group had until midnight.
Other possible bidders may emerge for a shot at a license in the Capital Region.
Teams led by a gaming company called Pinnacle, which has been exploring sites in Rensselaer County, and Rolling Hills Entertainment, which has been mentioned by gaming officials, placed their antes before the New York Gaming Commission by Wednesday, when application fees of $1 million were due.
State officials received the fee from David Flaum under the name Capital Region Gaming. Flaum proposes a casino near Exit 23 in Albany with partner Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp.
The New York State Gaming Facility Location Board, which will be sifting license applications due by June 30, declined to answer the question of whether an OTB can join a casino team.
Instead, the board posted an answer to the question on the gaming commission's site that essentially says to check the law and consult a lawyer.
"They said: "Proceed at your own risk," said Don Groth, the head of Catskills OTB, which had asked the siting board the question of OTB partnership. "They punted — but will they always punt, or will they accept the opinion of learned counsel?"
Capital District OTB President John Signor has maintained that his corporation's involvement, as a partner and co-owner with Flaum, is authorized and enhances the bid because a broader region will share in the revenues of the project — the entire 19-county constituency of Capital OTB.
Also putting in the fees was OCCR (short for Orange County/Capital Region) by Cordish, which has an announced Orange County plan and is searching for an Albany site.
Howe's Cave Development, with a site in Schoharie County, and Florida Acquisition by Clairvest, which hopes to develop a site at the Amsterdam/town of Florida border in Montgomery County, also submitted fees.
Clairvest is a Canadian company with some gaming experience that once tried to get the racino contract at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens.
The Saratoga Gaming team put its bid in. The team, which includes James Featherstonhaugh and Dan Gerrity, is planning casinos at East Greenbush and in Newburgh while also expanding their racino at the Saratoga Springs harness track.
Some companies making moves to become bidders included Och-Ziff Real Estate, which appears to be associated with a big capital management firm. Their site is unknown.
Pinnacle, meanwhile, and Penn National have been looking at sites such as DeLaet's Landing in Rensselaer. Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen Jimino said she is hoping to hear that more sites in the county are in the mix, noting that Penn National had reached out to her.
"There were a number of other locations that were being looked at," she said. She said she met with the Saratoga Gaming team on Wednesday and liked what she heard about job opportunities and revenue projections for the county.
The gaming commission plans to gather the fee depositors together for a mandatory bidders' conference on April 30.
As the groups emerged, the biggest buzz in the gaming industry arose on Wednesday with the news that Genting Americas put in a $1 million fee. Genting runs the Aqueduct racino and its chairman is a major investor in Empire Resorts, which has been planning a huge casino project at the former Concord resort in Sullivan County. Empire Resorts submitted its own $1 million fee.
Genting appears to be joining the crowd in seeking a chance for a casino in Orange County, several industry sources said.
Genting spokesman Stefan Friedman would only confirm that the company is evaluating sites for a casino somewhere in the Catskills/Hudson Valley region, which includes the hot territory of Orange County, where Caesars Entertainment made a surprising announcement of its interest in developing property Flaum recently secured near the Harriman train station.
With Flaum/Caesars; Cordish/Penn National; Saratoga Gaming and Greenetrack with announced project proposals in the county, investors are downgrading the Catskills sites for development.
As many as 10 teams are considering applications in the Catskills/Hudson Valley Region, including teams that include the operators of Foxwoods Casino.
In the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes, just three bid teams submitted fees: In Johnson City, the Traditions Resort & Casino team for the former IBM country club site; Jeff Gural's Tioga Downs racino site in Nichols; and Rochester mall developer Thomas Wilmot's $350 million plan for Tyre in Seneca County near the Thruway.
Four casino licenses, which will cost tens of millions of dollars to acquire, are available in upstate.
The gaming commission intends to award licenses in the fall.
Some expected bidders have had difficulty projecting details of plans because the gaming commission won't let them know minimum capital investment requirements until around May 10.
Depositors of the application fees could receive their money back if they pull out before background checks covered by the fees begin.
The siting board on Wednesday cleared up some questions, however, including the need for local support from the host municipality.
The board said a resolution is necessary, but it did not say site-specific endorsements are required.
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Former U.S. Rep. John Sweeney is still tangling with federal election officials over the fate of his long-dormant campaign committee and its nearly $224,000 debt.
Sweeney says he hasn't heard from the Federal Election Commission since it warned him in November to file the appropriate quarterly disclosure statement or risk sanctions.
The former Clifton Park Republican said his personal letter to one of the commissioners and several phone calls in the wake of the Nov. 1 warning went unanswered.
"I never heard another word," Sweeney said. "I sent them a letter back saying, essentially, it's a defunct organization."
But on Feb. 19, the commission filed another warning after the campaign committee, Sweeney for Congress, did not file the required year-end disclosure documents, which outline how much money has been raised and spent, and how much is owed to outside entities.
Sweeney said in November — and repeated this week — that he isn't raising or spending money almost eight years after his loss in the then-20th Congressional District to Democratic challenger Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2009.
According to FEC records, Sweeney's committee spent its last $1,439 in fall 2010.
At issue, however, is the committee's $223,587 in still outstanding debts for political mail, consulting and other campaign expenses. Sweeney, who has a private law practice, attempted to formally shutter the committee last June.
Two weeks after that effort, an FEC analyst wrote back giving Sweeney a month to supply more information about the committee's efforts to settle its debts — a reply Sweeney said he never received, along with the November and February warnings.
According to the FEC records posted online, the November and February warnings were sent to a Clifton Park post office box that Sweeney says he has not used in years. Sweeney, who in November said he had assumed the committee had been terminated as he requested when he did not hear back, said this week he subsequently supplied the commission with a new address.
While the commission has threatened sanctions including civil penalties and legal action, it was not immediately clear what steps if any it had taken to resolve the situation beyond dispatching the letters.
The response letter Sweeney says he wrote to a commissioner is not listed among the public documents associated with the case. A panel spokeswoman she could not comment beyond noting the records posted online.
Sweeney said he planned to follow up with the panel again.
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The owners of Saratoga Casino and Raceway have bought nearly 64 acres for its proposed project, The Casino at East Greenbush, for $2 million, according to documents filed Wednesday at the Rensselaer County Clerk's Office.
Two parcels at the north end of Thompson Hill Road at the intersection of State Route 4 were sold by Richard B. Lynd to Village at Thompson Hill, LLC.
This company, which is affiliated with Platform Realty Group, then sold the acreage to Greenbush GB Associates, Inc. James Featherstonhaugh of Saratoga Casino is listed as the manager of Greenbush GB.
Lynd sold the residence on a 2.75-acre lot at 102 Thompson Hill Road for $390,000, according to the deed. Village at Thompson Hill then sold it to Greenbush GB for $900,000.
Lynd, through his Red House Farm Inc., also sold the adjacent 61.22 acres for $450,000. Village at Thompson Hill sold this parcel to Greenbush GB for $1.1 million.
Greenbush GB borrowed $3 million from Village at Thompson Hill for the two parcels, according to a mortgage filed at the county clerk's office.
The filing of the deeds came as Saratoga Casino representatives met with Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen Jimino and her staff, and gave plans for the estimated $300 million project to the town of East Greenbush.
Thompson Hill Road has sweeping views of Albany across the Hudson River. The southern end of the road has several single-family residences.
They may have the wisdom of the "divine female'' and possess "goddess awareness," but the state Court of Appeals will have final say on whether a small group of neo-Pagans should get a religion-based property tax exemption in the town of Catskill.
The case of Maetreum of Cybele v. the town of Catskill dates back to 2007, when the group of women comprising the Maetreum sect were granted but then denied a tax exemption for their three-story, 12-bedroom building in Palenville, a hamlet not far from the Hunter Mountain ski resort.
Since then, Maetreum has accumulated a nearly $14,000 tax bill on the structure, which used to be known as the Central House inn and has faced foreclosure, according to earlier reports.
An appellate division court last year ruled that the pagans, who have IRS tax-exempt status, shouldn't have to pay property taxes.
But the town appealed, and the Court of Appeals earlier this month said it would hear the case.
"Arguments are a ways off," Deborah Schneer, lawyer for the Maetreum group, said Tuesday, adding there's not yet a date for the hearing.
About five women live in the building, which they say is analogous to a convent.
Visitors, including transsexuals who are down on their luck, are also allowed to stay there, according to court records.
The town of Catskill's lawyer in the case, Daniel Vincelette, could not be reached Tuesday.
Nor could Maetreum's founder and self-proclaimed high priestess, Cathryn Platine, who describes herself on a website as "intersexed,'' or someone born with male and female sexual organs as well as DNA from both sexes.
A former cabinet maker and nursing assistant, Platine created Maetreum over a decade ago.
It's part of what she described in online writings as the Cybelene Revival, or a revisiting of ancient pagan beliefs focusing on the "the divine female" and "goddess awareness."
Not quite as old, but very real, is the history of conflict over taxes between religious groups and various municipalities in the hard-pressed Catskills.
Court documents in the Maetreum case cite conflicts between towns and church groups, Jewish summer camps and even Buddhist temples over tax exemptions.
The Maetreum papers include a rough outline of the sect's worship practices, including nightly praise at an altar in the home's "sitting room'' as well as gatherings during the new moon, solstices and equinoxes.
There is also an "annual pagan pride festival" and "The All Woman Festival," as well as a "monthly pagan brunch and a monthly, more secular, bisexual brunch."
The organization, according to website descriptions, bills itself as welcoming to gays, lesbians and transsexuals and it has plans to create ceramic studio, as well as a low-power FM radio station.
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Texas Gov. Rick Perry arrived in New York City on Tuesday for a two-day visit intended to make the case that businesses should follow Horace Greeley's exhortation to go west to seek your fortune — specifically, to the Lone Star State.
And the Republican said he'd be up for a debate with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, on the best ways to foster an attractive state business climate.
"States competing against each other is how America becomes stronger," Perry told Fred Dicker of WGDJ on Tuesday morning, before he left Texas for New York.
Perry faint-praised Cuomo for recent policy initiatives that he said displayed a recognition that New York needed to be, well, a lot more like Texas.
Perry's advocacy group Americans for Economic Freedom has launched a 30-second television spot featuring the Texas governor. "If you're tired of New York, there is an option: Texas," he says in the ad. "Creating jobs, creating success, leading the way."
Cuomo has launched similar ads, airing nationally and touting New York's new initiatives to attract businesses, including the START-UP NY plan, which grants deep tax breaks to companies that relocate to designated zones close to public universities as well as a handful of private sites.
In the radio interview, Perry called New York's recent improvement from 50th to 48th on the fiscally conservative Tax Foundation's list of state tax climates "kinda small ball." He dinged Cuomo for his failure to make a decision on whether to allow the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as hydrofracking in the Southern Tier. The process has been legal in Texas and many other states for years.
Perry also had warmish words for Cuomo's support for "accountable" charter schools.
He said his meetings with business leaders during his visit would remain confidential. Perry's critics have dubbed these trips, which have taken him to California and other states seeking recruits, as "partisan job piracy" and naked attempts to boost Perry's national profile.
A presidential candidate in 2012, Perry said he would make a decision about his willingness to run again sometime in 2015.
Asked what he thought of the prospect of running against Cuomo in 2016, Perry chortled and said, "I don't know about that."
firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5619 • @CaseySeiler
The attorney general's office defended its subpoena Tuesday seeking data from New York state "hosts" who offer their properties for rent on the popular site Airbnb.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's investigation seeks to learn if Airbnb's hosts are paying all applicable state and local taxes on the services they offer to their renters. It also seeks to assess whether they're violating state Multiple Dwelling Law, which includes bans on rentals of less than 30 days unless the owner remains on the premises. Violating this provision is a misdemeanor.
The San Francisco-based company is seeking to quash the subpoena as an overbroad invasion of its hosts' privacy.
Issued in October, the subpoena seeks three years of information, including each host's name, address, user ID on the site and addresses of all their rental units, plus the date, durations and rents charged through Airbnb transactions, and the method of payment for each.
The 90 minutes of oral arguments before Acting state Supreme Court Justice Gerald Connolly also included an effort by the attorney general to seek the total gross revenue received by each host.
The office has said its own simple searches for properties on the site turned up hundreds of apparent violations.
Airbnb attorney Roberta Kaplan told Connolly that the subpoena had a "quite extreme and incredible scope," and said her client had repeatedly sought guidance from the state office on how its hosts might be subject to often vague tax laws. She also noted that since Multiple Dwelling Law applies only to New York City, the subpoena's request for information on all hosts in New York state ventured too far. (An Airbnb spokesman, however, noted that upwards of 90 percent of the sites New York rentals were in the city.)
"This is private information, confidential information," Kaplan said.
Connolly seemed responsive to the idea that the subpoena might be overbroad at least in its geographic reach, and in questions for both attorneys asked if it might be possible to address that problem in a narrower version.
"We do not have a problem with limiting the subpoena," assistant Attorney General Karla Sanchez said, adding the court had it within his powers to amend the order.
The popularity of Airbnb in New York City has upset the lodging industry as well as housing groups that believe the boom in private rentals is squeezing the perpetually tight residential market.
In response, Airbnb has mounted an aggressive public relations campaign, and insists that it's doing everything it can to eliminate bad operators — including professional property managers who hawk multiple locations on the site — from its listings.
"Today, the attorney general again made it clear that he remains determined to comb through the personal information of thousands of regular New Yorkers just trying to make ends meet," said David Hantman, Airbnb's head of global public policy. "We were proud to stand up for our hosts who share their homes and against this overbroad, government-sponsored fishing expedition. Cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Hamburg are embracing the sharing economy and New York shouldn't be stuck playing catch-up."
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Weeks after losing its largest client — New York state — the not-for-profit organization that was originally touted as a national database for K-12 students is going out of business.
"In full alignment with the inBloom board of directors and funders, I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months," said Iwan Streichenberger, inBloom's CEO, in a letter posted on the Atlanta-based organization's website on Monday.
"It wasn't an easy decision, and the unavailability of this technology is a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning," Streichenberger said.
He took particular aim at New York, where lawmakers passed legislation that effectively bans inBloom from continuing to work with the State Education Department. Streichenberger said the action was based on "misunderstandings."
Set up with an initial $100 million in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York, inBloom aimed to create detailed data profiles of K-12 students. Information ranging from test scores to health histories would be stored in an internet "cloud." Students, teachers and parents could access that data through a password-protected interface.
The idea was to standardize individual student data across school districts and states, and to use the information to tailor programs to individual kids.
But the concept hit headwinds over concerns about student privacy as well as what some called the "corporatization" of education. Much of the anger was multiplied by ongoing rancor over the state's troubled implementation of the Common Core educational standards.
"The vision of the future by these corporate reformers is to outsource education, put kids on computers with software and call that personalized learning," said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, a leading inBloom critic.
But others said schools should keep pushing to use data as an educational tool.
Proper use of such information can be a "game-changer," said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, which supports the use of data studies to inform education decisions.
"That demand for information isn't going to go away," she said.
The closing of inBloom doesn't mean that New York or other states will stop collecting and storing student data. That's one of the requirements of the federal Race to the Top program, which is providing the state with $700 million to enact a number of reforms. The data project was funded with $50 million of RTTP money, but none of that actually went to inBloom, according to the State Education Department.
InBloom has deleted all New York-based data, and the state will continue to work on developing a new system. State officials have also been talking with regional public school BOCES, which already collect and store student information.
"It's something we are already doing," said Charles Dedrick, superintendent of the Capital Region BOCES, one of a dozen "Regional Information Centers" charged with gathering and keeping data.
He said 85 percent of their member school districts have digital portals that allow parents to track items like their kids' homework assignments and grades online.
InBloom, though, was building a more expansive system that could have accommodated 400 data points.
Some of them were controversial, such as information about whether a student lived with foster parents, or whether he or she left school due to illness or was a crime victim. Disciplinary records also might have been tracked, leading critics like Haimson to view it as scholastic version of Big Brother.
That led to a level of distrust, say those on all sides of the issue.
"People have a general fear of centralized national-level data bases," said Dedrick.
"Parents and the public heard all about the scary parts," said Guidera. " ... They didn't hear about the benefits.''
She believes the inBloom episode illustrated the need to better explain new initiatives as well as to listen to public concerns.
"There are a lot of lessons to learn about the importance of listening," she said.
firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the state is "in better fiscal shape thanks to an improving economy and difficult fiscal choices" made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature.
The praise, released along with his office's analysis of the three-week-old enacted state budget, was mixed with concern over the use of "temporary funding streams" and other spending practices to balance the books. Such practices are often referred to as "one-shots."
The analysis, released Monday, pointed to approximately $115 million that was transferred from the state Mortgage Insurance Fund for housing and homelessness programs and grants to Yonkers and Rochester, and up to $90 million in transfers from the New York Power Authority for energy or economic development purposes, "all of which may be spent off-budget at the discretion of the budget director," DiNapoli's office noted.
Similarly, the budget includes some $500 million in "sweeps" of various funds, with the dollars to be allocated at the discretion of the executive branch.
Other temporary revenue sources include an estimated $4.9 billion in state resources and $2.7 billion in federal aid related to Superstorm Sandy recovery and the Affordable Care Act.
In a reversal of fortune for his office, DiNapoli said that the budget legislation restores to comptroller's office the right to audit charter schools outside of New York City (where the city comptroller has that role).
The state comptroller's power to audit charter operations was called into question by a recent state Supreme Court decision that resulted from a lawsuit brought in opposition to a New York City charter audit.
In the Capital Region, DiNapoli's office has raised questions about the financial arrangements that exist between Albany's Brighter Choice Foundation and the charter schools that operate with its aid.
However, the budget removes from the comptroller's review the $4 billion that will be coming to the state over the next two years from the federal grant of the state's Medicaid waiver. The Department of Health will have "complete control" over those funds, DiNapoli's office noted, "diminishing oversight, transparency and accountability in state procurement."
The previous fiscal year ended well for the state, DiNapoli's office reported. The state was able to deposit $175 million in its "rainy day" reserve fund for the first time since 2008,
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One by one, a panel of experts made a series of recommendations Monday aimed at restoring accountability and credibility to the beleaguered Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, yet most returned to a common theme: Find a way to depoliticize an agency that has come to be perceived as, in one panelist's words, "a cookie jar" for the two governors who control who serves in leadership positions.
The occasion was a special meeting of the Port Authority's oversight committee called in the wake of months of embarrassing revelations about apparently politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last fall, a scandal that has dogged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration since it was revealed that the closures were engineered by an aide in his office and a Christie associate at the Port Authority.
Four Port Authority officials have resigned since then, including chairman David Samson, though Samson was not implicated in the lane closure scheme.
Failing to act now would put the agency "perpetually on the defensive against an aroused public," said Martin Robins, founding director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University and a former director of planning at the Port Authority.
In describing the current climate, Scott Rechler, the Port Authority vice chairman who chairs the oversight committee, said some of the challenges faced by the agency had their genesis in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, years when the decision to rebuild the World Trade Center distracted the agency from its core mission of operating the ports, airports, bridges and tunnels in the New York region.
"That was an incredible crisis that this agency went through, and it just shook it up and it's now at a point where it's got to rebound," he said. "Today, we have another crisis and I think we're not wasting the crisis, we're using it to force change. The political winds for change and reform are at our back and that's why we're having sessions like we've had today and why we're going to continue to push ahead with tangible reforms."
Front and center among those reforms is the way the Port Authority is structured at the top. Currently, the governors split board appointees evenly; New York's governor appoints an executive director and vice chairman and New Jersey's governor appoints the deputy executive director and chairman.
Several speakers Monday suggested having the board choose an executive director, after a nationwide search; the panel and some of the committee members also floated the idea of giving more power to the executive director rather than have that position and the deputy's position be co-equal.
After months of contentious debate, the owners of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway have abandoned plans for a full-blown casino at Saratoga Springs' 10-year-old racino in favor of a new site off Interstate 90 in East Greenbush.
The move fundamentally resets the chessboard as multiple developers vie for what will likely be the lone casino license handed out in the Capital Region.
James Featherstonhaugh and Daniel Gerrity, the partners behind the racino at the Saratoga harness track, have purchased about 72 acres off Route 4 between I-90 exits 8 and 9 in a section of town known as Thompson Hill, Featherstonhaugh told the Times Union on Monday. There, across Route 4 from a FedEx distribution center and a Walmart, they propose to build a $300 million resort casino.
The partners have also acquired an option for 80 adjacent acres and nearly 300 more acres six miles away off Exit 11 in Schodack, where they intend to build an 18-hole championship golf course and spa at the Evergreen Country Club to complement the new gambling complex.
"Our decision there is final: We're going to bid from East Greenbush," Featherstonhaugh said, praising "the most spectacular" vistas of Albany. "I'm really excited about the location and what we can do there."
The new strategy comes less than a week after the suburban Rensselaer County town quietly passed a generic resolution supporting "any reasonable" casino development, and after months of rancor in the Spa City between factions supporting and opposing gambling expansion at the racino. That bitter debate had cast serious doubt on the viability of a Saratoga bid.
"It had become apparent to us that no matter how much we and the city worked together that it was unlikely that we were going to be able to bid from Saratoga in a robust enough way to win a license," Featherstonhaugh said. "The city of Saratoga, for whatever reason, is not comfortable supporting a facility of the kind, size and nature which would be needed to win a license."
The 100,000-square-foot project would include a 300-room hotel, nightclub, sports bar, show room and 20,000 square feet of high-end retail space, and create 1,700 construction jobs and 1,700 permanent positions, Featherstonhaugh said.
Plans also call for partnerships with local entertainment venues — a chief source of opposition in Saratoga Springs — and athletic fields for youth sports.
While East Greenbush had been included in early speculation about where a Capital Region casino might wind up, town Supervisor Keith Langley said Friday that he had not seen "any formal presentations."
In a statement Monday, Langley said the Town Board is eager to learn more about the proposal.
"It appears we may have a solid proposal that can be placed before the town for review," Langley said, citing the potential financial boost of as much as $7 million annually to the cash-strapped town.
"That amount of funding would help correct town financial issues and help provide property tax relief to our residents if the project moves forward," he said.
Wherever in the eight-county Capital Region the casino lands, the host county will receive $11.4 million in annual community aid. That aid will be split with the host municipality — a promise that has enticed fiscally challenged communities.
A bid could also arrive from Schenectady.
News of the shift came two days before would-be casino operators must pay their $1 million application fees to the state Gaming Commission on Wednesday ahead of an applicants' conference April 30.
Empire Resorts, which plans a $750 million casino project in Monticello, and Greenetrack, proposing a $400 million resort complex in Orange County, were among the first wave of depositors Monday.
The Gaming Commission plans to release the list of groups that made the fee payments on Thursday.
With the applications — due June 30 — for the $50 million Capital Region gambling license, aspiring casino developers will have to show local support in the form of a resolution from the town board or city council.
Last month, the Saratoga Springs City Council unanimously backed a resolution opposing the state law authorizing the construction of four upstate casinos because of what the resolution's backers described as a lack of sufficient local control.
While that resolution did not specifically mention the proposed racino expansion, it was widely interpreted as a rebuke of the project.
Featherstonhaugh said the racino will still push ahead with a planned $30 million expansion to its existing Saratoga Springs facility, including a 108-room hotel and event center. That expansion combined with a casino license in East Greenbush should be able absorb job cuts resulting from the loss of the local gambling monopoly currently enjoyed by the racino's nearly 2,000 video lottery terminals, Featherstonhaugh said.
Gerrity, the majority owner of the racino, said last month that a casino elsewhere in the Capital Region could slash the racino's business in half.
Because of its long-standing ties to gambling at the historic Saratoga Race Course and the racino, Saratoga Springs was initially viewed as a natural front-runner in the sweepstakes for casino expansion. But in the aftermath of November's statewide vote — in which Spa City residents opposed the constitutional amendment 57-43 percent — forced the owners to look elsewhere.
"There was no 'aha' moment when the decision was made," Featherstonhaugh said, adding that he had looked at as many as 15 alternate sites over the course of "months."
"Certainly after the (City Council) vote, we all realized it," he said. "But I was very concerned about it from quite early on ... although we were committed to making an effort, just out of respect for, affection for and commitment to the community up there."
Rensselaer County, just across the Hudson River from Albany and about 40 minutes from western Massachusetts, holds an obvious appeal. Also, East Greenbush voters backed the November ballot measure by a nearly 52-to-48 percent margin.
In January, the city of Rensselaer's Common Council voted to try to lure a casino developer to 24 riverfront acres. Mayor Dan Dwyer said that site, owned by the construction firm U.W. Marx and known as De Laet's Landing, is still in play.
"Operators are interested in the property," Dwyer said Monday. "We're shovel-ready."
A Rochester-area developer, David Flaum, has already announced plans to partner with Capital District Off-Track Betting to apply for a license to build a $300 million to $400 million casino, indoor waterpark and hotel off Exit 23 of the Thruway in Albany.
In a statement, Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino welcomed the interest in her county.
"I have no doubt that a casino here can have a positive impact through the tax relief it will allow for and the job creation and economic vitality it will create," she said.
Dennis Yusko, Kenneth C. Crowe II and James M. Odato contributed. • firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5445 • @JCEvangelist_TU
The annual Easter parade along New York's Fifth Avenue was held on Sunday.
In many ways, it felt like any other pre-marathon Sunday in Boston.
Families celebrated Easter, diners enjoyed the spring weather at sidewalk cafes, and runners — easily identified by their trim builds and colorful jackets — picked up last-minute supplies for what will be the second-largest field in the history of the Boston Marathon.
But even as runners focused on the exhilaration of crossing the finish line, the festive atmosphere was inevitably tinged with sorrow, as runners, family members and spectators recalled the twin bombings at last year's race that killed three people and injured 260.
Marathon runners were blessed at an emotional church service that celebrated Easter and remembered the victims, while heightened security measures, including bag checks, were in place at marathon events.
"It's different, coming back," said Gisele Goldstein, 55, of Germantown, Tenn., who planned to run her 12th Boston Marathon this year. "It's not just me — there's a sadness."
At City Hall, a fast-moving line of several hundred runners and their families stretched around the building, where race organizers served a pre-race pasta dinner.
"So many of us are running this year because of that day," said Justin Jackson, 32, of Chicago.
Preparing for Monday's race has been emotional, he said. While it had not initially occurred to him to be nervous about another terrorist attack, a bomb scare on Tuesday night "regenerated the worry that there might be crazy people out there."
There have been other tense moments — such as when an alarm went off on Friday during the Runners' Expo at the Hynes Convention Center. People were spooked, Goldstein said, even though it turned out to have been a test.
But runner Susan Campbell, 41, of Waverley, Nova Scotia, said she felt completely safe returning to Boston this year.
"What are the chances of it happening again?" said her husband, Andy Legere, 41, who was planning to cheer her on near the finish line, along with their two daughters.
"I never had any doubts about coming back," Campbell said. Still, she felt a weight this year when she collected her bib near the finish line. "It was a little sad, walking up Boylston Street and remembering."
Ricardo Corral, 53, of New York, who planned to race in the hand-cycle division of the wheelchair race on Monday — his eighth marathon — said he was reassured by the heightened security.
"We are not nervous," he said. "We know the police will be here to protect people."
Corral added that it was especially important to him and his teammates to return this year, to support Boston and each other. "As the signs say, 'Boston Strong,' " he said. "That's why we come back."
That determination was echoed by many runners, including Scott Johnson, 54, of Atlanta.
"There's a sense of resiliency," said Johnson, executive director of the Scott Rigsby Foundation, a nonprofit that supports people who have lost limbs and has raised money for last year's bombing victims.
"It's sadness, but it's also a kind of fortitude. Two people created the violence, but millions counter it with love and support. I like those odds!"
Ben Rancourt, 64, of Sainte-Germaine, Quebec, was planning to run his eighth Boston Marathon along with his three younger brothers.
"We're going to buy beer for the after party!" he said. "We'll see, tomorrow, with the fans on both sides of the road — it will feel very great!"
"Just Do It" has been a familiar Nike slogan for years, but some parents are wondering what it was doing on some of New York's Common Core standardized English tests.
Brands including Barbie, iPod, Mug Root Beer and Life Savers showed up on the tests more than a million students in grades 3 through 8 took this month, leading to speculation it was some form of product placement advertising.
New York state education officials and the test publisher say the brand references were not paid product placement but just happened to be contained in previously published passages selected for the tests.
Some critics aren't so sure and questioned why specific brand names would be mentioned at all. "It just seems so unnecessary," said Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which monitors marketing directed at children.
"It would be horrible if they were getting paid for it," he said. "But even if they're not, it's taking something that should not be a commercial experience and commercializing it."
The test questions have not been made public, and teachers and principals are barred from discussing them. But teachers posting anonymously on education blogs have complained that students were confused by the brand names, which were accompanied by trademark symbols.
The Nike question was about being a risk taker and included the line, "'Just Do It' is a registered trademark of Nike," according to students who took the test.
Sam Pirozzolo, of Staten Island, whose fifth-grader encountered the Nike question, said there was apparently no reason for such a specific brand.
"I'm sure they could have used a historical figure who took risks and invented things," Pirozzolo said. "I'm sure they could have found something other than Nike to express their point."
Deborah Poppe, of West Hempstead, Long Island, said her eighth-grade son was similarly puzzled by a question, which drew complaints for a second straight year, about a busboy who failed to clean some spilled root beer — Mug Root Beer, to be exact, a registered trademark of PepsiCo.
'"Why are they trying to sell me something during the test?'" she quoted her son as saying. "He's bright enough to realize that it was almost like a commercial."
Representatives of the New York State Education Department and Pearson, the education publishing giant with a $32 million five-year contract to develop New York's tests, said the companies did not pay for the exposure.
"There are no product placement deals between us, Pearson or anyone else," said Tom Dunn, an Education Department spokesman. "No deals. No money. We use authentic texts. If the author chose to use a brand name in the original, we don't edit."
An archaeology professor at SUNY Adirondack is hoping a dig at Lake George Battlefield Park this summer will help determine which parts of the site were used during the French and Indian War and which were utilized during the American Revolutionary War.
David Starbuck, an adjunct professor and head of the SUNY Adirondack archaeology field school, already held digs in 2000 and 2001 at the 35-acre park on the lake's southern shore that unearthed an intact bayonet and a compass. His team of students and volunteers also found regimental buttons, but none contained numbers — which would indicate they were used by Revolutionary-era soldiers.
Starbuck said he hopes that more artifacts can be found that will make clear which parts of the site around Fort George Road were used during the many encampments that were there in the 18th century — from the Battle of Lake George during the French and Indian War in 1755, to British construction of what would have been the crown's largest fort in the country, to patriots taking over the site at the start of the Revolutionary War.
"It was nonstop action for 25 years," said Starbuck. "This is one of the most dynamic places in the region."
Starbuck said he has verbal confirmation that the state will allow him and approximately 30 students, staff and volunteers to dig pits at various locations in the park between July and August.
The park already has visual historic markers in the form of exposed stone foundations from early structures, in particular part of the southern bastion of Fort George, which was never completed. Starbuck said that if more artifacts are found, markers can be placed explaining more of what the site was used for during the 1700s. The park sits just north of Million Dollar Beach, one of Lake George's most prominent visitor destinations.
"This time we do want to expand the area we're looking at," Starbuck said. "People tend to look at central core areas, where you see visible foundations. We want to test more in other directions."
Starbuck has been leading digs in Lake George and Fort Edward since 1991. During the academic year he is a full-time professor at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, but in the summer he lives at his 18th-century family farm in Chestertown, Warren County, while teaching at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury.
The Battlefield Park work will pair with a dig done last year at Million Dollar Beach by the State Museum. That excavation was originally done to find French and Indian War relics, but instead uncovered Native American arrowheads and sharp-edged rocks that date to as long ago as 8,000 B.C. The rare find indicated the tools were carried by nomads who had come from what is now Pennsylvania or Central New York.
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The Brooklyn Navy Yard from above (ohny.org)
NEW YORK - The City's industrial portfolio is quite robust, spanning multiple sites in all five boroughs. To date, no spot has been more successful in both attracting business and creating jobs than the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The 300 acre City-owned site has been at or near full occupancy for almost a decade. It currently houses 330 businesses and 7,000 jobs, a number expected to climb to 12,000 in the next five years. In addition, the model has been studied by the Pratt Center, and other cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, and San Francisco are using that study to apply what has worked to develop their own industrial zones.
On Thursday, April 24, the City Council's Economic Development Committee, chaired by Council Member Dan Garodnick, held a hearing to discuss the Navy Yard model and to inquire if it could be used at other City-owned sites like the Brooklyn Army Terminal. In short, the answer is no.
While the Navy Yard blueprint is a good one, the complex system by which the other City-owned properties are run will prevent the replication of a successful model.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard, while owned by the City, is operated by a non-profit (Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation). The model, for the most part, is self-contained. All revenue goes back into the site to rehabilitate buildings, create workforce development programs, and perform maintenance. The Yard receives annual capital funding from the City ($200 million last year, with the State kicking in roughly $50 million), but that money is goes to road repair, sewer maintenance, and other infrastructure needs. Capital funding is not used for turning buildings into attractive work environments for businesses.
The Brooklyn Army Terminal, on the other hand, is a part of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which has an industrial portfolio that also includes Industry City and Hunts Point, among other sites. The revenue brought in through these properties does not stay within the sites themselves, but goes to fund the vast EDC portfolio. This set-up allows for funding to a variety of programs that have been beneficial to the city such as incubator spaces and workforce training programs. EDC revenue from industrial assets even helped fund the much-anticipated Cornell Technion Campus slated to open on Roosevelt Island in 2017.
There is one shortfall to the EDC model, however. It leaves some of its industrial properties without the funding needed to reinvest and develop existing spaces, a piece that has made the Brooklyn Navy Yard so successful. This has resulted in the EDC looking to the City for more capital funding to build out its sites. EDC sites that are tenant-ready are nearly at capacity.
Currently, Brooklyn Army Terminal has 500,000 square feet of "raw space" that is awaiting capital funding from the City to bring the space up to code. Zac Smith, chief operating officer for EDC, said during a phone interview on Thursday that they are asking the City for roughly $60 million in capital funding to build out the space, an amount he added was a conservative estimate. Smith said that to date the City has not made a decision.
As the city's industrial sector continues to grown and the ever-popular Brooklyn Navy Yard heads toward maxing itself out, it would be advantageous to find the most efficient way to build out prime space (such as that at the Army Terminal). The City already has a highly successful working model in its portfolio, why not just use the Navy Yard model at EDC?
"I think the EDC's position is there are consequences, both good and bad, to adopting a purely Navy Yard model for industrial assets like the Brooklyn Army Terminal," said Smith during his testimony at City Council on Thursday. He added that moving to a Navy Yard model would cut off the revenue for all other things the EDC funds.
"I think that is something that needs to be considered when you talk about truly applying the so-called 'Brooklyn Navy Yard model' to Brooklyn Army Terminal," Smith said.
Smith said while the EDC is not in favor of creating self-sustaining units at each of the industrial sites the City owns, it is open to using some pieces of the Navy Yard model that have been successful.
He cited the Navy Yard's ability to attract smaller manufacturers by cutting up its assets into smaller units, saying this has been key to gaining quality tenants. At the Army Terminal that will be more difficult because there are only two very large buildings, which are being carved into spaces of 20,000-40,000 square feet. By comparison, the Navy Yard offers average space of 6,000 square feet. While it might not be best-suited for the Army Terminal, this practice may be useful at other sites.
Workforce development has been a huge success for the Navy Yard, due in large part to the opening of Building 92 two years ago. The center, which is accessible to the public from the street, was funded by a reinvestment of the Yard's revenue. The EDC properties do not have anything comparable, but do work with the city's workforce development programs.
"This is an area where there is a lot more potential and we think we can do a lot more," Smith said about workforce development. He added that while something like Building 92 on EDC properties could be good, EDC would not have the opportunity to fund them the way the Navy Yard did because they don't directly reinvest their funds.
"It strikes me as an odd framework for the city," Council Member Garodnick said on Thursday, "to have multiple industrial parks, even in the same borough, where some of them are getting capital funds through some direction of government [and] others are getting capital funds from another direction of government."
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette