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The History of New York City's Special High Schools

Gotham Gazette - 0 sec ago

Stuyvesant High School

As students prepare to take the entrance exam for the city's elite, 'specialized' high schools, debate swirls about these top schools, their admissions processes, and the diversity - or lack thereof - of their student bodies. Gotham Gazette offers context:

Although black and Latino students make up roughly 70% of the New York City public school system, they made up just 12% of the offers to attend one of the city's eight, test admissions based, specialized high schools this fall. Since the 1990s, consecutive mayoral administrations have grappled with how to reverse the steady decline of black and Latino students in the city's top schools (which has come as Asian students make up an increasing percentage of enrollment); and now, again, focus on the issue is building under a new administration that favors changing the system.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and the city's teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), have all voiced their support for overhauling the admissions policy to the city's specialized high schools. The current administration would like to exercise as much power granted to it under state law (which codified the test-only policy in 1972) and has convened a group of experts to propose changes that could make the process more inclusive - moving from test-only to multiple measures.

Although the City has no control over the test only mandate for Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Technical High Schools, it does have the authority to designate and un-designate specialized status for the five newer high schools that were established during Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor.

Last spring, state legislators introduced a bill that would broaden the criteria for admission beyond the single exam that now determines acceptance to eight city schools (the city's ninth specialized high school, LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts, offers admission based on an audition and/or portfolio assessment).

And, as of fall 2012 the U.S. Department of Education is investigating a federal civil rights complaint against New York City's specialized high schools, filed by the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund, which claims that the current admissions policy has a discriminatory impact on black and Latino students.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, proponents of the current admissions process have begun to organize in its defense. For example, alumni associations across the high schools under scrutiny have coalesced and issued statements supporting the test-only policy.

It's against this backdrop that current New York City eighth graders vying for a seat in the specialized high schools' 2015 cohorts will take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) on October 25th and 26th.

Last year, 28,000 students took the SHSAT for admission in the 2014-2015 academic year. A similar turnout is expected this testing cycle.

In order to contextualize the ongoing debate around New York City's selective enrollment public high schools, Gotham Gazette has compiled a timeline of relevant events including school foundings, court cases in New York City's educational trajectory, the introduction of state bills and relevant federal policy milestones.

Timeline
(from most recent)

2014 - SHSAT Testing
This year, the SHSAT will be administered (perhaps for the last time in its present form) to current 8th grade students on October 25 and 26. Current 9th grade students, students with special needs and those making up the exam can take it on designated days in November. Scores will be released to students and schools in March 2015.

2014 - New York City Council Introduces Package of Legislation to Promote Diversity in City Schools
On Wednesday, October 22nd, New York City Council members introduced one bill and two resolutions intended to build momentum around tackling diversity issues in New York City schools. According to recent reports, such as one released by the UCLA Civil Rights Project in March, local schools are among the most segregated in the country. The report states that in 2010, for example, of 32 school districts in New York City, 19 had ten percent or less white students.

Only one of the two resolutions is aimed directly at the specialized high schools, but all three deal with the notion of increasing diversity in the city's schools.

2014 - NYC Department of Education Seeks New Vendor to Facilitate the Standardized Testing Program for Entry to its Specialized High Schools
On September 29, the NYC DOE announced a Request for Proposals (RFP) from vendors to facilitate its specialized high schools standardized testing program. Its current contract with testing provider Pearson is scheduled to end this year. The city foresees administering the exam in partnership with the new provider for eighth graders in fall 2016. 

Aside from a mere changing of the guard, which is routine in procurement, the new contract is an opportunity for the City to make changes to the exam. In its RFP, the city lists the possibility of adding an essay to the multiple choice exam. It also seeks to align the test's content with the Common Core and has requested the next company to translate the exam into a range of languages such as Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu, for the first time. Proposals from bidders for the contract are due to the DOE by 1:00 pm on October 23rd.

2014 - A Coalition of Specialized High School Alumni Organizations Issues a Statement Backing the SHSAT-Only Admissions Policy
In late August, a newly formed Coalition of Specialized High School Alumni Organizations, which includes representation from all eight schools, released a statement in support of maintaining the test based admission policy. In the statement, the coalition asserts that the SHSAT is the only objective means of gaining entry into the city's specialized high schools, devoid of favoritism, bias and politics. Simultaneously, they call on the city to better promote the exam in underrepresented communities, expand the scope and quality of SHSAT preparation options and reinvest in the Discovery Program.

In response to this development, Mayor de Blasio reiterated his support of broadening admissions criteria beyond one exam. De Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina have stated that a group of experts are in the process of devising a proposal of additional admissions criteria, potentially, for admission to the five newer schools whose admissions policy the city can change.

2014 - Bills Seeking to Increase the Number of Specialized High Schools and Base Seat Allotment on Population of Public School Students per Borough are Introduced by State Assembly Member Catherine Nolan
In June, New York State Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, Chair of the Assembly's Education Committee since 2006, introduced two bills on the topic of specialized high schools. The first would add more schools to the ranks of those designated specialized and, thereby, subject to the state's test admissions based mandate. The second bill would require "the number of seats available in each borough for specialized high schools in the city of New York [to] be proportionate to the number of public school students in each borough."

The bills were introduced at the end of the state's 2014 legislative cycle, and did not get beyond the Assembly's education committee for a general body vote.

2014 - Bill to Amend Specialized High Schools' Admissions Process is Endorsed by Chancellor and Teachers' Union
New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) expressed their support for bills sponsored by Assembly Member Karim Camara and State Senators Simcha Felder and Adriano Espaillat, which would expand the admissions criteria beyond the SHSAT.

2014 - Bill is Introduced in New York State Legislature to Amend NYC Specialized High Schools' Admissions Process
In June 2014, Assemblymember Karim Camara and State Senators Simcha Felder and Adriano Espaillat (thereby forming a Senate Majority-Minority Partnership) filed bills in the Senate and Assembly, that would broaden the admissions policy to include "multiple measures of student merit," such as grade point average, attendance records, SHSAT and state test scores. Since the bills were introduced towards the end of the state's legislative cycle, they did not make it past the Education Committees in the State Senate or Assembly for a general body vote.

2013 - Bill that Would Grant New York City's Board of Education Control of Specialized High Schools' Admissions Process is Re-Introduced in the New York State Legislature
State Assemblymember Karim Camara and State Senator Adriano Espaillat re-introduced bills in the Assembly and Senate that would allow New York City's Board of Education (the PEP) to "establish procedures and standards for admissions" to the city's specialized high schools. The new admissions criteria would include "multiple measures of student merit" such as grade point average and other factors that the board would deem appropriate. These bills did not make it past the Education Committees in the State Senate or Assembly in order to receive general body votes.

2012 - The Federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights Launches Investigation into New York City's Specialized High School Admissions Process
As of November 2012, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has been investigating the federal civil rights complaint, filed by the NAACP and other groups, over the admissions policies of New York City's specialized high schools.

Although the Office of Civil Rights cannot impose changes on the admissions process, which is codified in state law, federal funding for public schools is dependent on fair and equitable processes. If the investigation concludes that the current policy has a disparate impact on any segment of the population, regardless of its intent, federal funding streams may be jeopardized.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education responded to Gotham Gazette's inquiry into the investigation:

"OCR is currently investigating whether the New York City Department of Education discriminated against black and Latino students by using a multiple choice test, as the sole criterion for determining admission to eight "elite" specialized high schools, which adversely affected admissions decisions for those students. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in all programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

For more on how OCR handles civil rights complaints, please see our Web site here."

2012 - NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Files Federal Civil Rights Complaint Against New York City Specialized High Schools
In September 2012, with the NAACP at the helm, a coalition of educational and civil rights groups filed a federal civil rights complaint with the United States Department of Education, claiming that the specialized high schools single-test admissions policy has a discriminatory impact on black and Latino students, consequently, violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations.

The complaint "...does not contend that federal law forbids any use of tests in the admissions process for Specialized High Schools; but it does contend that federal law prohibits admissions policies that inappropriately utilize scores on tests, like the SHSAT, that have not been properly validated as a fair predictor of student performance. In the absence of any attempt by the NYCDOE [New York City Department of Education] to validate the SHSAT and because there are equally effective, less discriminatory alternatives available, the NYCDOE should not be permitted to use the SHSAT as the sole criterion...." for admission to a Specialized High School.

2012 - Bill is Introduced in New York State Legislature that Would Grant New York City's Board of Education Control of Specialized High Schools' Admissions Process
In January 2012, Assemblymember Karima Camara and State Senator Adriano Espaillat introduced identical bills in the Assembly and Senate that would grant New York City's Board of Education (the PEP) control of the admissions process for specialized high schools, and subsequently, the ability to expand entry criteria beyond a single exam. The bills suggest additional factors for consideration such as grade point average and a personal statement. The bills did not make it past the Education Committees in the State Senate or Assembly for general body votes.

2011- New York City Specialized High Schools Institute (SHSI) Downsizes Due to Budget Constraints
The SHSI or "DREAM", created in 1995 and expanded under Chancellor Joel Klein's leadership in 2008, was slated for downsizing in 2011. According to reporting by Insideschools, the preparatory program would shrink by half beginning in 2012, forcing students to begin the program in the spring of 7th grade rather than the summer of 6th.

2009 - New York State Legislature Renews Mayoral Control of City Schools for Six More Years
In August 2009, the State Legislature voted to renew mayoral control of New York City Schools for six more years.

2009 - Race to the Top Educational Grants Program Established
The Obama Administration passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), with stipulations to stimulate the economy, support job creation, and invest in education. According to the Department of Education's executive summary, the ARRA includes $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund, "a competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform," such as building data systems to measure results and lifting caps on charter schools.

(Since its launch, New York City applied and failed to attain district level Race to the Top grants in 2012 and 2013. However, New York State applied for and received funds.)

2007 - Federal Lawsuit Claims New York City's Specialized High Schools Institute (SHSI) is Discriminatory
Asian-American parents in Brooklyn filed a lawsuit against the NYC DOE, claiming the city's SHSI admissions policy discriminated against white and Asian students by mandating them to meet income guidelines that did not apply to black and Latino applicants. That June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, that the consideration of race in K-12 school assignments was largely unconstitutional. In the wake of that decision and the local suit against SHSI, the NYC DOE changed its preparatory program's admission policy to be race neutral.

Eligibility for SHSI currently breaks down as follows:

"To be eligible to apply for DREAM 2016, a public school student must meet ALL the following criteria:

  • be a current NYC resident,
  • be a current 6th grade student,
  • be economically disadvantaged as defined by Title I Free Lunch status,
  • have a minimum scale score of 312 on the 2012 grade 5 NYS ELA exam,
  • have a minimum scale score of 306 on the 2012 grade 5 NYS math exam, and
  • have had a minimum attendance rate of 90% during grade 5."

2006 - Brooklyn Latin School is Founded as a Specialized High School
Brooklyn Latin School was founded in 2006. The school was established and designated as specialized by the PEP, subject to the SHSAT-only admission policy under New York State law 2590, section-g (Calandra-Hecht provision), during Joel Klein's tenure as chancellor. As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy.

2005 - Staten Island Technical High School is Granted Specialized High School Status
Staten Island Technical High School, opened in 1988, was granted specialized high school status by the PEP, under New York State law 2590, section-g (Calandra-Hecht provision), subject to the SHSAT-only admissions policy, during Joel Klein's tenure as chancellor. As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy.

2002 - Queens High School for the Sciences at York College is Founded as a Specialized High School
Queens High School for the Sciences at York College was founded. The school was established and designated as specialized by the PEP, subject to the SHSAT-only admission policy under New York State law 2590, section g (Calandra-Hecht provision), during Joel Klein's tenure as chancellor. As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy.

2002 - High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College is Founded as a Specialized High School
High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College was founded. The school was established and designated as specialized by the PEP, subject to the SHSAT-only admission policy under New York law 2590, section-g (Calandra-Hecht provision), during Joel Klein's tenure as chancellor. As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy.

2002 - High School of American Studies at Lehman College is Founded as a Specialized High School
High School of American Studies at Lehman College was founded. The school was established and designated as specialized by the PEP, subject to the SHSAT-only admission policy under New York law 2590, section g (Calandra-Hecht provision), during Joel Klein's tenure as chancellor. As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy.

2002 - Michael Bloomberg Becomes Mayor of New York City and New York State Legislature Votes through Mayoral Control of Schools
In 2002, Michael Bloomberg embarked on his first term as mayor of New York City. In June 2002, after months of deliberation between Mayor Bloomberg and the New York State Legislature, Governor George Pataki signed a bill granting mayoral control of New York City schools. The law did away with community school boards, gave the Mayor power to hire and fire the schools Chancellor, and the Chancellor authority over school district Superintendents. The law also ushered in changes to the city's governing Board of Education, such as its renaming by Mayor Bloomberg as the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP).

2001- No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)
The Bush Administration passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a reauthorization of the 1965 ESEA. Although NCLB had numerous stipulations, its new requirements for testing, accountability (public reporting of results by at-risk student subgroups), school improvement, and teacher qualifications received the most attention.

1996 - New York State Legislature Curtails Decentralization in New York City Schools
The school decentralization law passed in 1969 by the New York State Legislature was overhauled in December of 1996, thereby diminishing the power of the community board model. According to The New York Times, "the new New York City plan gives the schools chancellor enormous power to hire the people who run the city's schools, taking it from the 32 community school boards, many of which had become patronage mills for local politicians....Under the new plan, the chancellor has the power to remove a superintendent, a board member, or an entire board in districts that have performed poorly over a period of years on standardized tests and other measures of educational performance."

1995 - The Specialized High Schools Institute (SHSI) is Founded in New York City
New York City's Specialized High Schools Institute (SHSI), also known as "DREAM," was founded under the leadership of Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines. It is a city-run preparatory program for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). The test is a 2.5 hour math and verbal multiple choice exam. Although the preparatory program was open to applicants of any race, at its founding, the institute was explicitly geared toward increasing the number of students from underrepresented, mostly black and Latino city school districts to take the exam and get offered seats at a specialized high school.

1994 - Improving America's Schools Act of 1994
The federal Improving America's Schools Act of 1994 was passed. The Clinton-era policy was a reauthorization of the 1965 ESEA. The main objective of ESEA, improving educational opportunities and outcomes for low-income Americans, remained. The reiteration of the law introduced new standards and accountability measures for states and local school districts that receive Title I money.

1972 - New York State Legislature Passes Calandra-Hecht Bill Which Designates Certain High Schools as Specialized and Mandates an Entrance Exam as the Sole Criteria for Admission
The New York State Legislature passed the Calandra-Hecht bill, with sponsorship by Bronx politicians State Senator John Calandra and State Assembly Member Burton Hecht. The law established the category of specialized high schools, explicitly categorizing Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Technical, and Fiorello H. Laguardia of Music & Arts and Performing Arts as such.

Notably, the bill established a test-only admissions mandate for Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Technical High Schools. And, the bill gave NYC's Board of Education the power to designate and un-designate additional schools as specialized and subject to the Calandra-Hecht test-only provision of NY State's education law.

TEXT OF CALANDRA-HECHT BILL AMENDING SEC. 2590G,
SUBDIVISION 12 OF THE EDUCATION LAW

(a) Establish and maintain special high schools which shall at least include The Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Technical High School, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and the Arts — and such further high schools which the Board of Education may designate from time to time.
(b) Admissions to The Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School and such similar further special high schools which may be established shall be solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination, which shall be open to each and every child in the City of New York in the eighth or ninth year of study, in accordance with the rules promulgated by the N.Y.C. Board of Education, without regard to any school district wherein the child may reside. No candidate may be admitted to a special high school unless he has successfully achieved a score above the cut-off score for the openings in the school for which he has taken the examination."

1969 - New York State Legislature Passes New York City School Decentralization Bill
The New York City Decentralization Law of 1969 removed the City Board of Education from mayoral control and reorganized the city's public school system into community districts. According to The New York Times, "the State Legislature created 32 elected community school boards and a seven-member central Board of Education, appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor. The board chose the chancellor. But high schools remained under the control of the central Board of Education, as did school lunches, school construction, budgeting and maintenance. The community school boards governed only elementary and middle schools."

The bill was passed on the coattails of a 1968 school decentralization experiment in the Ocean-Hill/Brownsville section of Brooklyn that led to a series of city-wide teacher strikes. The resulting labor dispute is often described as one of the most contentious in New York City history.

1965 - Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was passed during Lyndon B. Johnson's administration, as part of his signature "War on Poverty" campaign. Among its provisions is the dissemination of federal funds to school districts with low-income students, also known as Title I (Title One) funding, in order to improve educational outcomes in low income communities.

1964 - U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964
Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Civil Rights Act is a package of legislation that prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, religion or sex. The act has stipulations on voter's rights, outlawing discrimination in public facilities, public education and employment. Title VI of the act, specifically, prohibits discrimination within programs and institutions that receive federal funds.

1961 - Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts is Established
The High School of Music and Art, founded by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia in 1936, and the School of Performing Arts founded in 1948, would merge to become the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. In 1969, the New York City Board of Education named the school's new Lincoln Center Campus after former Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia.

1954 - Brown v. Board of Education
The Supreme court case, Brown v. Board of Education, was the culmination of cases across several states challenging state-sponsored segregation in public schools. On May 14, 1954, the Supreme Court issued its decision that separate institutions are unequal and required states that institutionalized the segregation of public facilities to implement desegregation plans.

1938 - The Bronx Science High School is Founded and Entrance Exam Becomes Admissions Requirement
The Bronx High School of Science was founded as an all boys institution by the New York City Department of Education. It would become co-ed in 1946. The school was intended to mirror Stuyvesant High School's program. At the time of Bronx Science's founding, both schools collaborated with Columbia University to develop and administer a common entrance exam.

1934 - Entrance Exam Becomes Requirement for Admission to Stuyvesant
Then-principal Simon J. Wilson established a new policy of admitting students to Stuyvesant High School by entrance exam.

1922 - Brooklyn Technical High School is Founded
Brooklyn Technical High School was founded as an all boys technical institution. It would become co-ed in 1970.

1904 - Stuyvesant High School is Founded
Stuyvesant High School was established as a "manual training school for boys." It would become co-ed in 1969.

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Note: this timeline is not meant to be completely comprehensive and is a work in progress; feel free to send us feedback any time 
***
Timeline created by Katrina Shakarian with guidance from multiple sources; a special thank you for consultation to Professor David Bloomfield
@GothamGazette
@KatShakarian

Email Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Categories: State/Local

Tough talk in debate

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Buffalo

In what is slated to be their only debate before Nov. 4, Gov. Andrew Cuomo broke from his predicted script to directly address Republican challenger Rob Astorino and went toe-to-toe with harsh criticism from the Westchester County executive.

Cuomo and Astorino also faced off against Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian candidate Michael McDermott.

In the beginning, the top two candidates followed their campaign scripts. Cuomo addressed tax relief under his administration and mentioned an "ultraconservative" but didn't use Astorino's name. Astorino immediately hit on his central campaign theme: New York is losing.

Though the Buffalo News-WNED/WBFO- sponsored debate featured the four candidates on the ballot, Astorino and Cuomo addressed each other early and often.

On hydrofracking, Cuomo compared Astorino to Sarah Palin — "drill, baby, drill," he said — when addressing some and actor Mark Ruffalo, an anti-fracking activist, when addressing others. Astorino called Cuomo politically paralyzed on the issue.

On if extreme conservatives have a place in New York (a reference to a Cuomo radio interview from earlier this year that has repeatedly been used against him), Cuomo flipped the question around on Astorino, saying his platforms prove the Republican is anti-various groups, including women and minorities. Astorino responded by saying Cuomo disrespects women by supporting Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose chamber of the Legislature has been marred by sexual harassment allegations.

"I think tonight you saw the very angry Andrew," Astorino said after the debate. "The filthy, disgusting, race-card playing Andrew Cuomo. That's what he's been used to his whole life. Unfortunately, he's just void of any ideas."

Cuomo quipped: "I had fun. I think he was angry."

The two did talk policy in between the jabs.

On controversial hydrofracking, Cuomo made news by saying that the state Health Department's long-gestating review of its impacts is "due by the end of the year."

"I'm not a scientist — let the scientists decide," he said.

Astorino said he'd OK drilling immediately.

Cuomo defended his shuttering of the Moreland Commission in April, saying there was no abrupt stopping of the panel's investigations and arguing that it was always intended as a spur to achieving reform through legislation. He repeatedly referenced Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick's avowal that the panel was independent; the two other co-chairs of the Moreland panel have never spoken publicly on that question.

Astorino claimed that Cuomo "is swimming in the cesspool of corruption" and said Cuomo could "very well be indicted" as a result of Bharara's investigation.

The two third-party candidates were more issue-focused.

McDermott, whose opening statement thanked Cuomo for demanding he be included in the debate, frequently fell back on assailing the other candidates for attacking each other instead of trying to draw the public into the political process. "Vote Libertarian — what do you have to lose?" he said.

As the candidates gave their finals statements, Hawkins bemoaned the fact that this would be the only debate of this race.

"We barely touched on the issues," he said.

The debate on the shores of Lake Erie was preceded by the release of new polling data Wednesday morning that showed Astorino still has a virtual electoral mountain to climb before Election Day.

The Republican is down 21 points to Cuomo, according to Siena College. The one silver lining appeared to be that despite the large gap he must still overcome, Cuomo's numbers have gone down since July (60 percent to 54 percent) while Astorino's have gone up (23 percent to 33 percent).

Astorino gave his usual response: He won in "deep-blue" Westchester in 2009 after being down by a large margin.

Wednesday night's debate also was preceded by another debate: That over where, when and on what platforms the candidates would actually square off.

Astorino had repeatedly called on the governor to accept any debate — the Republican accepted all television invites extended his way — while Cuomo deferred to the campaigns to work out the details. Then the governor accepted two debates (Wednesday's and another on public radio in New York City) that the Republican's campaign made it seem like they were blindsided by.

Astorino obliged the invitation to come to Buffalo but turned down the offer of a one-on-one debate on the radio, citing the lack of a TV camera.

So after weeks of back-and-forth, did Wednesday night live up to Astorino's expectations? He said he got his message out about needing to cut taxes, adding later when asked why there aren't more debates, "You'll have to ask him."When asked, Cuomo said twice, "I did offer two. He turned it down."

Casey Seiler contributed. mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 •

Categories: State/Local

WMHT to broadcast Cuomo, Astorino debate

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

BUFFALO (AP) — A debate between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Republican Rob Astorino and two third-party candidates is likely to be the only opportunity voters have to see the candidates for New York governor interact before Election Day.

The hour-long exchange begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday and will be broadcast statewide on public television. In the Capital Region, the debate will be broadcast on WMHT.

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Michael McDermott will participate alongside the major party candidates.

Viewers can expect to see the contenders grapple with education policy, taxes, gun control, upstate economic development, Albany corruption and whether New York should authorize hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

More debates had been proposed by each of the candidates, but Wednesday's debate invitation was the only one that was accepted by both Cuomo and Astorino. Cuomo suggested a radio exchange between him and Astorino; Astorino wanted a series of televised debates with the governor.

Cuomo, who is widely believed to hold national ambitions, is well ahead in the polls. He is campaigning on his pragmatic approach that has coupled tax cuts and upstate economic development initiatives with liberal victories like gun control and same-sex marriage.

Astorino, the Westchester County executive, argues that Cuomo hasn't done enough to improve the economy. He opposes a gun control law championed by Cuomo, supports fracking and has criticized Cuomo's administration for allegedly meddling with an anti-corruption commission.

Hawkins, who finished third in the 2010 race, opposes hydraulic fracturing and supports a $15 minimum wage

The debate is sponsored by The Buffalo News, WNED-TV and WBFO-FM.

Categories: State/Local

No-tax plan on track

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Albany

The Capital Region has its first tax-free business under the START-UP NY initiative: ClassBook.com plans to greatly expand its current Rensselaer County operation by moving into space at 418 Broadway in downtown Albany. In announcing the designation on Tuesday, the Cuomo administration said the company would create 72 new jobs over the next five years.

The START-UP program, created last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to spur economic development around higher education centers, will allow the company's new operation to go without paying state and local taxes for 10 years — including state income tax for the employees whose jobs are created under the program's auspices.

ClassBook, an online provider of textbooks and other educational resources, applied for START-UP status through an affiliation with UAlbany. It will maintain offices and a warehouse in Castleton.

Although ClassBook currently employs fewer than a dozen full-time workers, its expansion plan calls for adding 62 jobs plus 10 full-time equivalents over the next five years, according to Michael Shimazu, UAlbany's associate vice president of business partnerships and economic development.

Shimazu said ClassBook has worked on recent research projects with the school's psychology department.

The company will invest $227,600 in setting up the new workspace over the five-year period, he said. It's likely that some of the newly created jobs will be based at other spaces designated to receive START-UP status. Those locations are currently being discussed.

Although the START-UP program was initially pitched as a way to attract business in clusters around campuses, designation can be conferred on any site located within a mile of any property owned or leased by a school — in UAlbany's case, nearby leased space at 99 Pine St.

Even more far-flung locations could be approved for tax-free status under certain conditions.

"At the end of the day, it's about attracting new jobs," said Jason Conwall, a spokesman for Empire State Development Corp., which administers the START-UP program.

The building to be occupied by the first wave of ClassBook's expansion is owned by T.L. Metzger & Associates, whose president, Tracy Metzger, is chair of the City of Albany Industrial Development Agency.

Linda Hillman, president of Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce, took a big-picture view of the company's decision to expand across the river.

"It's business — they have to do what's right for them," Hillman said. "... They're still in our region; they didn't move to South Carolina or anywhere else."

Anthony Pfister, CEO of ClassBook, said in a statement that he was pleased to be able to "expand close to home and create new senior-level professional positions and economic growth in the area."

The company will have to navigate one unique personnel hurdle: Current employees of the 22-year-old company will not be eligible to reap the substantial reward of not having to pay state income taxes for a decade. START-UP's rules make it clear that only those employed in new jobs — positions that don't result from the demise of an existing one — can tap that benefit.

"It can create a challenge, but the employees in place now are proud to be part of ClassBook.com and making the learning experience for students a better one, and they are excited about the growth of our company," Pfister said in an email. "And that sense of excitement overcomes any challenge."

The local news was part of a larger announcement that a new batch of 17 businesses will arrive or expand statewide as a result of START-UP. The new round of designations comes with a total investment estimated by officials at $14 million and job-creation commitments of at least 464 new jobs affiliated with UAlbany, as well as SUNY Buffalo, Cornell University, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, the University of Rochester and Stony Brook University on Long Island.

Tuesday's announcement brings the total number of businesses participating in START-UP NY to 41, representing what the administration projects as 1,750 new jobs and approximately $77 million in investment.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Public defender program gets a boost

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

A leading civil liberties group and the state reached a last-minute agreement Tuesday in a 7-year-old lawsuit over legal representation for the poor in parts of upstate New York, including Washington County.

As a result, lawyers for the New York Civil Liberties Union believe they have taken a crucial first step toward reforming a statewide system that has historically put indigent or low-income people at a distinct disadvantage when charged with crimes.

"Our settlement overhauls public defense in five counties and lays the foundation for statewide reform of New York's broken public defender system," Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, said in a phone conference laying out the settlement.

Initially, the deal ensures that defendants will have a lawyer present when they are charged with a crime; it sets the limit on caseloads carried by often overburdened public defenders and sets up a way to measure caseloads and the quality of defense.

That first phase should cost at least $5 million over the next two years, and lawyers hope it would quickly lead to an expansion for all counties statewide.

"It lays the groundwork for a strong state system," said Corey Stoughton, the NYCLU lawyer on the case.

The agreement focuses on Ontario, Onondaga (Syracuse), Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington counties. They were chosen because their public defense systems were each different, and represent a mix of urban, suburban and rural communities, all of which had flawed public defender programs.

The suit started in 2007 when Kimberly Hurrell-Harring, a 31-year-old nursing assistant and mother of two, was arrested for trying to take a small amount of marijuana to her husband in prison.

Her court-appointed lawyer met with her just minutes before her court appearance and she pleaded guilty to a felony even though what she did was a misdemeanor, Lieberman said.

She spent four months in jail, and lost her job and her home.

The NYCLU found a lawyer to appeal at no charge and got the conviction overturned.

Her original public defender, Patrick Barber, was later disbarred for other reasons.

The NYCLU took up the cause and filed suit on Hurrell-Harring's behalf in 2007 in state Supreme Court in Albany County. The trial had been set to start Wednesday.

In a statement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he welcomed the deal. "Today's agreement is a positive step for New York's judicial system that addresses long-standing inequities," he said.

And David P. Miranda, president-elect of the State Bar Association, added,

"Today's settlement is welcome," noting his group has called for a statewide state-funded indigent defense system since 2007.

"I congratulate Governor Cuomo and the New York Civil Liberties Union for reaching a settlement," added Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who also supports a statewide system.

Even for the five counties covered by the agreement, the changes will take some time.

For example, the agreement says the state has 20 months to guarantee that indigent defendants in the five counties be represented by a lawyer.

Nor will the improvements be cheap.

The deal orders the state to pay $2.5 million to the NYCLU and $3 million to the Schulte Roth & Zabel law firm for their work on the suit.

And while the agreement calls for several million dollars to start with, a related report earlier estimated that if all of upstate were to provide an adequate number of defense lawyers for the indigent, it would have cost $106 million per year in 2013. (New York City has a separate system of public defenders.)

As well as hiring more lawyers, the agreement calls for adequate non-lawyer services such as investigators and translators when needed.

Despite the court settlement, participants will be watching at budget time.

The Cuomo administration plans to put the initial funding in his 2015-16 budget plan, but that will have to be agreed upon with the Legislature.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

U.S. expands Ebola checks on travelers

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Washington

Fending off demands to ban travel from Ebola-stricken West Africa, the Obama administration instead tightened the nation's defenses against Ebola by requiring that all arrivals from the disease-ravaged zone pass through one of five U.S. airports.

The move responds to pressure from some Congress members and the public to impose a travel ban on the three countries at the heart of the Ebola outbreak, which has killed over 4,500 people, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, since it emerged 10 months ago.

Beginning Wednesday, people whose trips began in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone must fly into one of the five U.S. airports performing fever checks for Ebola, the Homeland Security Department said.

Previously, the administration said screenings at those airports covered about 94 percent of fliers from the three countries but missed a few who landed elsewhere.

There are no direct flights from those nations into the U.S; about 150 fliers per day arrive by various multi-leg routes.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said "we currently have in place measures to identify and screen anyone at all land, sea and air ports of entry into the United States who we have reason to believe has been present in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea in the preceding 21 days."

Since screening started Oct. 11 at New York's Kennedy airport, 562 people have been checked at the five airports, according to Homeland Security. Of those, four who arrived at Washington's Dulles airport were taken to a local hospital. No cases of Ebola have been discovered. The other airports are Newark's Liberty, Chicago's O'Hare and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson.

As the U.S. closed a gap in its Ebola screening, an Ebola-free African country said it would begin checking visiting Americans for the disease.

Rwanda's health minister said Tuesday that travelers who have been in the United States or Spain — the two countries outside of West Africa that have seen transmission during the Ebola outbreak — will be checked upon arrival and must report on their health during their stay. No Ebola cases have been reported in Rwanda, which is in East Africa. The U.S. Embassy in Rwanda said that country is banning visitors who have recently traveled to Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone, the three countries at the heart of the outbreak, as well as nearby Senegal, which had a single case

The change in U.S. policy falls short of demands by some elected officials and candidates for a ban on travel from the West African outbreak zone. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described the action as an "added layer of protection against Ebola entering our country."

The change comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention works to spread the word about its new protective guidelines for medical workers. The advice, released Monday night, had been sought by health workers after two Dallas nurses were infected while caring for a Liberian traveler, the first person diagnosed with the virus in the United States.

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo campaign rents email list to book publisher

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's re-election campaign rented its email list — containing contacts for Cuomo supporters as well as at least a few people who signed up for long-ago gubernatorial events — to HarperCollins, the publisher of his new memoir "All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life."

"In a series of compelling, behind-the-scenes stories, he recounts his dramatic personal and political setbacks, how he overcame them when he was written off," the promotional blast reads, "and reveals what he's learned about effective political leadership that enabled him to enact marriage equality, gun safety, and balanced budgets."

The email, zapped out Tuesday morning, included links to the bookselling sites Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million and Idiebound as well as HarperCollins' own portal.

HarperCollins publicist Tina Andreadis said in an email that the publisher "did rent a list from Gov. Cuomo's campaign for one-time use." She said the company paid "market value."

Bill Mahoney, a campaign finance analyst at the state Public Interest Research Group, received the email via an account he used to sign up for Gov. Eliot Spitzer's 2007 inaugural open house at the Executive Mansion on behalf of a colleague.

Election law prohibits the use of campaign resources for personal gain; Mahoney said the fact that HarperCollins paid for the list seemed to alleviate that ethical concern, though he added that it would be beneficial to know how much was paid to the campaign for the list, and whether it would be similarly available for any other commercial purposes.

Cuomo campaign spokesman Matt Wing did not respond to an email inquiring about the fee, and whether the list had been rented out before.

Cuomo was paid $188,000 by HarperCollins in 2013, according to tax returns. He has refused to disclose additional details about his deal with the publisher, an arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Cuomo isn't the only current or former gubernatorial candidate selling a book this fall: Cuomo's Democratic primary opponent Zephyr Teachout's tour for "Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United" is promoted on the website for the Teachout-Wu campaign.

Michael Murphy, a consultant for the campaign, said that the website hadn't incurred any maintenance costs since the primary.

Teachout is creating a new "social welfare" nonprofit, the Washington Park Group, to further the goals of her progressive agenda.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Astorino unveils plan

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Albany

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino on Tuesday released an "empowerment and opportunity" plan that fits with his education and jobs policies, and places a focus on family involvement — specifically that of fathers.

Astorino was joined at the plan's unveiling by state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a conservative Bronx Democrat who has endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's GOP opponent.

The plan starts with allowing "last resort" scholarships for children to attend a private or parochial school in their neighborhood where schools are failing, and an education investment tax credit that failed to be taken up for a vote during the most legislative session despite a push from state Catholic leaders and others.

Astorino also would create mentoring programs to assist inner-city entrepreneurs in starting and developing a small business in underserved communities.

He would use "performance-based tax incentives" to create micro-enterprise zones in inner-city neighborhoods to attract retail and other commercial uses.

The plan would also require that the name of a newborn child's biological father appear on the birth certificate, and relaxes penalties against some juvenile offenders while strengthening penalties against others.

He would encourage policies that would allow fathers to maintain relationships with their children even in the event of a significant unpaid child support debt.

The plan calls for treating first-time nonviolent juvenile offenders through community service and programs that would lead to a high school diploma, or a six-month "boot camp"-style incarceration for other young nonviolent, nonsexual offenders.

The plan would crack down on habitual criminals, calling for a law that would create a felony conviction for anyone with three misdemeanors in five years.

Astorino's plan would crack down on gun-related offenses, too: On top of any other sentence, it calls for an additional 10-year prison term for use of a gun in a crime, an additional 20 years if it goes off, and an additional 25 years to life if it injures or kills someone.

mhamilton@timesunion.com 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Casino hopefuls work out labor deal

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Albany

The developers of a proposed casino in Johnson City on Tuesday became the last of 16 bidders for a gaming license to secure a labor peace agreement, union and development team officials said.

The agreement between the Traditions Resort & Casino and the New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council concluded a bumpy negotiation that included the union's top officer, Peter Ward, alerting the Gaming Commission earlier this month of the failure of Traditions to meet the required labor peace part of the application for a casino license.

Three sticking points that held up an agreement for weeks were removed by the development team, said Tradition's Project Manager John Hussar. He said the obstacles included wanting to know the length of time that an organizing campaign could last, wanting an unsuccessful campaign to be followed by a cooling off period and wanting both sides to agree not to speak ill of each other.

The Traditions project in Johnson City is one of three proposed in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes zone. The operator of the casino would be the Seneca Gaming Corp., an arm of the Seneca tribe, which owns three western New York casinos.

The commission's siting location board met in executive session in New York City with consultants on Monday for more than two hours.

The stated reason: to discuss the financial history of the 16 applicants for up to four casino licenses upstate. The five-member board may announce its finalists for licenses before the end of October.

Categories: State/Local

Pitch for airport tax-free zones

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Albany

In a joint appearance with Vice President Joe Biden in Queens Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced downstate airport improvement plans that would include new START-UP NY zones at two smaller airports.

The primary reason for the announcement was plans for modernization and possible expansion at two of the nation's largest airports, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International, that have been expected since Cuomo's State of the State address in January, when he said the state would assume from the Port Authority management responsibility for construction at the airports.

But Monday's event also brought good news for Newburgh's Stewart Airport and Long Island's Republic Airport, where in addition to other improvements the state is proposing creating new tax-free zones under the START-UP program.

The initiative, which creates 10-year tax-free zones for businesses that establish new operations in the state, has primarily been focused at sites around SUNY schools and some private colleges and universities. The idea is for businesses that are brought in to fit with educational goals of each institution, and for the schools to potentially provide future employees for those businesses.

Though it has been less publicized, the program also allows for tax-free zones to be created at up to 20 strategic state assets — assuming they become affiliated with a college or university, according to the memo for the bill that established the program.

It's not clear what college either airport might partner with, or what companies might be brought in as tax-free tenants. A slide show presentation that accompanied Monday morning's event said the tax-free zone at Stewart would be used to attract businesses tied to the airport's distribution capacity and allow companies to move back-office manufacturing into one connected major distribution center (another upgrade would be creating a shipping hub at the airport).

The tax-free zones would still need to be approved by the START-UP approval board.

The airports aren't the first strategic assets to be earmarked for possible START-UP zones. Four shuttered correctional facilities, including the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in Wilton, were made eligible for that status when their closures were approved in this year's state budget.

The others are Butler Correction Facility in Wayne County, Chateaugay Correctional Facility in Franklin County, and Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

High school students get career training options for their exams

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Albany

High school students will have the option of taking tests about automotive schematics, carpentry or farming instead of the policies of Louis XIV or Jomo Kenyatta, according to a plan moved forward Monday by the state Board of Regents.

In a nod to the time limits schools face in this era of standardized testing and ongoing concerns about job readiness, students starting this spring will be able to substitute a career/technical exam or certification for one of the two Regents social studies tests now needed for a diploma.

Also envisioned in the swaps: certifications in the arts and foreign languages.

Education officials said the change was part of an effort to get more kids ready for jobs, and to build on some of the state's more successful vocational-oriented schools such as Aviation High in Queens or Ballston Spa High School's "P-Tech" program, which helps train students in clean or sustainable manufacturing techniques.

"We will want to replicate what we know is working," Education Commissioner John King Jr. said in a Monday news conference.

Currently, high school students need to pass English, math, science and two social studies Regents exams — in U.S. history and global studies — to graduate. Under the new plan, they can opt out of U.S. history or global studies, although those subjects will still be taught.

There should be more than a dozen alternates to start with, said King.

The idea is backed by the state Business Council as well as the New York State United Teachers union.

"We commend the board for recognizing the urgency in offering students robust, alternative pathways," Business Council president and CEO Heather Briccetti said in a release. The council had earlier endorsed the concept of more science, technology, engineering and math training — referred to as STEM subjects.

"Providing additional pathways to a high school diploma for all students, including those in CTE (career and technical education) programs, is the right move," NYSUT President Karen Magee said in a statement.

The plan has been in the works for several months, and should be finalized in January. Earlier reports cited social studies teachers as being unhappy with the move, which they feared could de-emphasize what they teach.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch stressed that students will still have to take and pass courses on global studies and U.S. history in order to graduate.

"We have not said that you do not need to pass these courses to be a high school graduate," Tisch said.

Local educators say they have long pushed for multiple routes, or pathways for students to earn their degrees, while allowing them to focus on their interests and play to their strengths.

"This is the kind of change we've been advocating for," said Ballston Spa Superintendent Joe Dragone.

The district's P-tech program allows students to work toward an associate degree in fields like clean manufacturing and energy or engineering.

Statewide, the move could come with costs as existing career programs gear up for the new standards.

King said funding would likely be funneled through BOCES programs, the regional service centers throughout the state that have historically operated vocational programs.

Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, joined King and Tisch to announced the new approach.

Businesses have retooled their manufacturing industries with automation and digitization, Brindisi said, requiring that today's factory workers be fluent in math, software and other academically rooted skills.

"They have very well-paying jobs available, but they have a hard time finding skilled labor to meet the job requirements," he said. "We're not providing a qualified workforce.''

The newly dubbed SUNY Polytechnic, which grew out of the University at Albany nanotechnology program, is expanding in the lawmaker's district.

And in the Capital Region, it appears that demand for tech workers could grow following Monday's news that GlobalFoundries will be taking over IBM's computer chip-making center in Vermont and Dutchess County. The chip maker currently partners with Ballston Spa students in several programs.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Clear path for justice

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Albany

Republican state Sen. John Bonacic, who chairs the chamber's judiciary committee, said in a Monday statement that while he's "disappointed" Gov. Andrew Cuomo chose not to renominate Court of Appeals Justice Victoria Graffeo, he doesn't anticipate any problem with the nomination of Cuomo's choice of Appellate Judge Leslie Stein.

"This is the governor's choice as he sees fit," said Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, who added that Stein "has the necessary qualifications to sit on the Court of Appeals. I do not think there will be a problem with her confirmation."

Cuomo's decision not to renominate Graffeo, an appointee of Republican former Gov. George Pataki, was criticized by some who saw it as a partisan rejection. The governor delayed announcing his choice two weeks past the legal deadline in order to push the timeline for the Senate's nomination vote beyond the Nov. 4 general election.

On Friday, Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos said in his own disappointed reaction to Cuomo's pick that he and Bonacic, among others, would embark on "an earnest and thorough review" of Stein over "the next few weeks."

Bonacic praised Graffeo's "wisdom, experience and exemplary service to the bench during her tenure."

Categories: State/Local

Astorino looks to bar travelers

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Albany

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino wants Gov. Andrew Cuomo to shut down gates at John F. Kennedy International Airport to stop any traveler from the three West African nations most affected by the epidemic.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, Astorino went farther, saying that everyone else on those planes should be turned away and returned to the flight's point of origin.

Astorino has been calling on the Port Authority to shut down all flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. On Thursday, the Port Authority's Executive Director Patrick Foye noted in a briefing with Cuomo and other officials that there are no direct flights from those nations into the metropolitan area.

Most travelers from that region, Foye noted, arrive in the U.S. via Paris or Brussels.

"It has to be dealt with in a severe and serious way immediately," Astorino said of the possibility that Ebola will arrive in New York.

As to how this shutdown should be accomplished, Astorino initially said that passengers from the affected nations should be turned away, and later expanded that to say that everyone on the flight — including, conceivably, American citizens who hadn't set foot in West Africa — should be prevented from disembarking rather than risk the possibility that they had become infected simply by being on the plane.

Ebola can only be contracted through direct contact with bodily fluids. So far, only two Ebola patients are confirmed to have contracted the disease in the U.S.: Two Dallas nurses who treated Liberian Thomas E. Duncan, who subsequently died of the disease. (Six other confirmed cases involve individuals who contracted the disease overseas.)

Astorino said that he would be willing to test the question of whether the state has the legal right to turn away international flights.

The candidate, who was briefly joined on the call by Republican Rep. Peter King, said Cuomo seemed to view the Ebola crisis as "a nuisance during his book tour."

A state Health Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Speaking to the media at an event in Queens, Cuomo was asked about the prospect of a federal flight ban on citizens from the three affected nations.

"That's up to the federal government," he said. "I think it's something they should seriously consider."

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

NYC campaign seeks volunteers

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Ads tout volunteering

NEW YORK — New York City wants more people to volunteer.

An ad campaign that targets people who don't volunteer will start appearing on 1,000 subway cars and 75 bus shelters on Monday.

It emphasizes that volunteering is good for you and good for the city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's chief service officer tells the Daily News more people don't volunteer in part because they don't know where to start.

A database at nyc.gov/service will match volunteers with nonprofits.

Jobs include tutoring students in after-school programs, helping residents who may be eligible for food stamps, tree planting and giving city tours.

—Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

DMV commissioner cited for speeding

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Albany

State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Barbara Fiala has pleaded not guilty to a speeding charge near her home in Broome County, according to a state official.

Fiala, the former Broome County executive, was ticketed Oct. 12 by Vestal police, said DMV spokeswoman Jackie McGinnis.

She called the alleged violation "unintentional and regrettable," adding that Fiala will accept any disposition the court recommends. After submitting a plea by mail, Fiala will likely receive an appearance date for Vestal Town Court.

McGinnis was unsure of how fast police allege the commissioner was traveling in her personal car.

Vestal Police did not return calls.

Fiala's son, Anthony Fiala Jr., 49, a Broome County legislator, pleaded guilty earlier this month to driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin reported. Binghamton Police charged him with DWI after he struck a bicyclist in a hit-and-run accident Oct. 2. The cyclist reported minor injuries, the newspaper said.

The report said he received a one-year conditional discharge, a $500 fine plus $395 in court surcharges. He was also ordered to use an ignition interlock device on any vehicle he owns or operates.

Categories: State/Local

AG hopefuls differ on job performance

Albany Times/Union - 19 min 2 sec ago

Albany

The race for state attorney general between the Democratic incumbent Eric Schneiderman and Republican John Cahill has turned into a debate over alleged sins of omission.

As Schneiderman runs on a four-year record of taking on malefactors large (big banks, public officials) and small (drug dealers, consumer scammers), Cahill has castigated him for what the Republican sees as insufficient responses to two of the most engulfing scandals that have swept through the Capitol: the Assembly's handling of sexual harassment charges involving former lawmaker Vito Lopez; and the premature demise of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Moreland Commission on public corruption — which included numerous members designated as deputy attorneys general by Schneiderman in order to enhance their subpoena powers.

"Where was the attorney general standing up to protect the (Moreland) investigation and to assert the independence of his office?" Cahill said in a recent interview. "He was nowhere."

Scheiderman, in contrast, argues that his office's efforts are making a difference in everything from cellphone security to the ability of financially strapped homeowners to hold onto their properties. The attorney general highlights his resistance to an initial federal settlement with large financial institutions related to the 2008 mortgage meltdown, a dissatisfaction that ultimately won the attention of the White House and helped secure much larger deals to recompense taxpayers and sanction the firms responsible.

Since midsummer, Cahill has endeavored to present Schneiderman as a passive enabler of misdeeds by, respectively, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose office negotiated confidential settlements with two of Lopez's alleged victims, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been accused of meddling in the proceedings of the Moreland panel.

Schneiderman, a former state senator from Manhattan first elected in 2010, counters that his office had minimal involvement in drawing up the Lopez settlement and was not aware that it would include a confidentiality clause that veiled the charges against the lawmaker brought by two female staffers. Just this month, the attorney general's office sued Lopez — who resigned in 2013 — to collect a $330,000 fine levied by the Legislative Ethics Commission, plus $70,000 in penalties. To the more general charge that he would countenance such misbehavior by an elected official, Schneiderman's campaign points to his leading role in drumming Hiram Monserrate out of the Senate in 2010 after the lawmaker was charged with slashing his girlfriend's face.

On Moreland, Schneiderman has been considerably more circumspect in his comments due to the ongoing probe into the affair by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Appearing before the Times Union's editorial board last week, Schneiderman said he deputized the Moreland members at Cuomo's request. After that, "I treated it as an independent commission," he said.

"I think at some point in time down the road I will be able to talk more about it," he said, "but I'm not going to compromise ongoing investigations."

Cahill last worked in government under former Gov. George Pataki, first at the Department of Environmental Conservation — rising to serve as commissioner — and then as the governor's secretary, a position akin to chief of staff. Since then he has worked in private practice, specializing in energy and environmental issues as a member of Chadbourne & Parke, a firm that also includes Pataki.

Citing his environmental experience, Cahill has devoted a great deal of time on the campaign trail to an issue that only tangentially involves the attorney general's office: He is a strong advocate for lifting of the current state ban on the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as hydrofracking. That decision will, however, ultimately be made by Cuomo — ostensibly at the end of a review process that is currently in the hands of the state Department of Health.

Cahill points to Schneiderman's legal challenges to the federal government's regulation of hydrofracking in other states, including a 2011 lawsuit concerning its effects on the Delaware River Basin, part of the New York watershed. That suit was dismissed in 2012.

Schneiderman "sent the message to the industry that on no uncertain terms are you coming here to do business in New York state," Cahill told the Times Union's editorial board last week.

Though opposition to hydrofracking is not a charge Schneiderman will run from, his allies in the environmental movement have called on Cahill to disclose his consulting clients, claiming that he might have violated lobbying laws — a charge Cahill vehemently denies.

Cahill has also promised to use the office to reform the implementation of Common Core education standards, another realm in which the attorney general's office holds little sway.

While recent polls have suggested the Schneiderman-Cahill race is closer that either of this year's other statewide contests — a Siena Research Institute poll released Sept. 26 showed the Democrat leading by 16 points, 50-34 percent — a more formidable advantage at this point in the race is Schneiderman's campaign funds: Oct. 3 filings with the state Board of Elections showed him with $4.7 million on hand, while Cahill reported just $289,000.

Two other candidates will appear on the ballot: lawyer and community activist Ramon Jimenez on the Green Party line, and Libertarian Carl Person, an attorney who sought the office in 2010.

The two major-party candidates will meet in just one debate, an Oct. 30 event in Buffalo to be broadcast on Time Warner Cable News.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619

Categories: State/Local

Astorino pushes to close gap

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:07pm

Ballston Spa

Sasha Presseisen has never voted Republican.

That changes in 2014.

Presseisen was one of roughly 80 people who gathered at a town hall meeting at Ellms Family Farm Sunday afternoon featuring Republican Rob Astorino, whose views on Common Core are taking Presseisen away from the Democratic vote total for the first time.

"I kind of let the issues speak to me and whatever issues speak loudest to me and are most important at the time, I align myself with that candidate, and this time with as the education Common Core plan is what spoke to me and my husband most," she said. "(Astorino) just seems so honest, and I don't trust (Gov. Andrew) Cuomo at all."

Presseisen marks one voter wooed, a couple million to go for Astorino, who had just 16 days from Sunday to erase a deficit that has yet to be less than 20 points. His message in Ballston Spa to try to win over voters was twofold: New York is on the wrong track and we can overcome the deficit to start fixing the state.

"They told me, 'You can't win. Why are you even running? You've got no shot,'" he said. "Well that's what they said in 2009 when I chose to run for county executive in a county of a million people, 49 percent of which are Democrats, 24 percent Republicans."

The 2009 comparison, when Astorino overcame a large double-digit deficit to beat incumbent Andrew Spano by 15 points on Election Day, is one the candidate has used repeatedly on the campaign trail. Sunday's town hall was full of other repeat messages (Common Core and the SAFE Act should go, taxes are too high, New Yorkers can't wait to flee the state and many already have) and some new ones. He slapped at Cuomo for a trip to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic over the weekend, saying he himself spent Friday in the South Bronx speaking Spanish with Dominicans instead. He also highlighted state Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz's recent endorsement, which elicited polite applause.

Cuomo campaigned in New York City Sunday, rallying with Hispanic leaders throughout the afternoon. He campaigned in the Capital Region Oct. 5 at a Women's Equality Party event.

Astorino outlined his path to victory, the same one he said another Westchester resident took to Albany 20 years ago.

"Let's do what another guy — a lot taller than I am — from Westchester in 1994 did," he said. "They said he couldn't beat a Cuomo, and George Pataki stunned the world. Why? Because upstate came out in record numbers. So if you do that here in Saratoga, let it begin with you, let it begin right here in Saratoga County."

Why voters come to the polls in, as Astorino hopes, record numbers may not be a matter of Astorino actually wooing them. While the Westchester County executive's message has resonated with some voters like Presseisen, there are others who are expected to be so-called "ABC" — anybody but Cuomo — votes.

"It's part both," Doug Van Vorst said. "But I support (Astorino's) values. I like the way he governs. He isn't a bully. That's not how you govern. You govern for the people."

Regardless of why voters come to the polls, Astorino just hopes they do in support of him.

"Upstate New York accounts for 50 percent of the vote," he said. "You have a disproportionate share of the vote this year. So if you come out to vote, the Sashas of the world that vote for me, for the first time a Republican, that's going to make a huge, huge difference."

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Around ny

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 7:07am

Vandal paints walls at Whitney Museum

NEW YORK — Police say a vandal has marred the walls of New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art for a second time in two months as it prepares to move.

Police say Christopher Johnson spray-painted graffiti on a blank wall at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It happened during a 36-hour marathon public farewell to the Whitney's current building and to a Jeff Koons exhibition.

Johnson was arrested on criminal mischief and other charges. The 33-year-old is awaiting arraignment. It's unclear whether he has a lawyer.

A museum spokeswoman says no art was damaged. The wall has been repainted.

In August, another man splashed a red substance on another wall in the Koons exhibit. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation.

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 1:07am

Election activity — including a gubernatorial debate — fills the calendar as the clock ticks close to the general election on Nov. 4.

MONDAY

• The group Grannies For Peace and Women Against War will be joined by Assemblyman Phil Steck for a noon press conference on the "Ground the Drones" initiative in the pressroom in the Legislative Office Building.

• The state Board of Regents meets Monday and Tuesday at the State Education Building in Albany.

TUESDAY

• The state Department of Environmental Conservation will take comments in its draft Open Space Conservation Plan at a series of forums (running from 1 to 2:30 p.m.) and public hearings (2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.) around the state, including at the DEC Region 4 Office, 1130 N. Westcott Road in Schenectady and in Room 19 of the Gideon Putnam, Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs.

WEDNESDAY

• The one and only televised gubernatorial debate of 2014 begins at 8 p.m. from Buffalo, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Republican Rob Astorino, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Michael McDermott squaring off. The event airs locally on WMHT Ch. 17 and WAMC Public Radio.

• Republican Rep. Chris Gibson and his 19th Congressional District Democratic challenger Sean Eldridge debate at Time Warner Cable; the encounter will be broadcast at 7 p.m.

THURSDAY

• The Public Service Commission meets in Albany at 10:30 a.m. The meeting will be webcast.

FRIDAY

• Reporters and politicos rush to their laptops and the website of the state Board of Elections as the final campaign finance disclosure deadline before the general election falls.

— Casey Seiler, NYSNYS.com

Categories: State/Local

Report: 34K people declared unfit to have guns in NY

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 1:07am

NEW YORK (AP) — Some 34,500 people are now listed as too mentally unstable to have guns in New York state under a less than 2-year-old law that is one of the nation's toughest concerning mental health and firearms, a news report Sunday found.

Fewer than 300 of the people on the list had handgun permits, which would then have been revoked, according to The New York Times' report, based on records obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request. Officials told the newspaper they were unsure how many guns were seized.

After the 2012 elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, New York began requiring mental health professionals to give county officials reports on patients seen as likely to cause serious harm to themselves or others. If county officials agree, the patients go on the list for five years and can't get handgun permits while on it. Patients can challenge the decision in court.

The patients' names and circumstances aren't public, but the Times cited examples described by a county health commissioner. They included two people who had attempted suicide with guns and a man whom it took six police officers to take to a hospital after he threatened a housing office worker.

Federal and many other state laws require an involuntary commitment or a legal designation of mental illness or incompetence before a person can lose gun rights.

New York officials say the state's law is potentially life-saving and properly focused. They note that 144,000 people were admitted to mental hospitals and psychiatric centers statewide in 2012 alone. The state has about 20 million residents, the U.S. Census Bureau says.

Keeping guns from 34,500 people "sounds really reasonable if you know the size of the system," state Office of Mental Health deputy commissioner John Tauriello told the Times.

Yet some mental health advocates fear that too many people are being deemed dangerous and that the law could discourage people from seeking help. The threshold for reporting could be seen as encompassing "anybody who expresses any kind of dangerousness," said Dr. Mark J. Russ, director of acute care psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Queens.

Gun control advocates say the potential consequences merit casting a wide net. If a gun has been taken from any dangerous person, "that's a good thing," said Brian Malte, a policy director at the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.

The National Rifle Association wants a process to ensure "these decisions are not being made capriciously and maliciously," spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.

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Information from: The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com

Categories: State/Local
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