Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn't had the warmest of relationships with teachers since Karen Magee won the presidency of the New York State United Teachers union earlier this year.
In April, she told The Buffalo News that she couldn't imagine the union endorsing Cuomo. The union didn't make an endorsement when Cuomo faced a Democratic challenge from Zephyr Teachout.
Late Wednesday night, Magee and NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta wrote a letter to Cuomo's Republican challenger, Rob Astorino, and other candidates that in part criticized the governor for comments made Monday that likened the public education system to a "monopoly" he'd work to "break" in his second term. The letter also lauded his challenger, Republican Rob Astorino, for an open letter he wrote to "our esteemed teachers."
"Gov. Cuomo's remarks disrespect teachers, parents and the democratically elected school boards who ensure local schools are the farthest thing possible from a 'monopoly,'" NYSUT's leaders wrote. "We thank Rob Astorino for acknowledging that New York State has one of the finest teaching forces in the nation."
While the letter fell far short of endorsing Astorino, it raised the question of how well the union and its advocates will fare under either candidate.
"Frankly, I haven't seen a huge difference in the basic emphasis (on education) between Cuomo and Astorino," said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed group that pushes for increased spending. "They both are running with an agenda that is damaging for our public schools."
In a policy book released last week, Cuomo proposed increasing investment in public education, expanding the state's Master Teacher Program, which incentivizes top science, technology, engineering and math teachers and would be broadened to include teachers in other areas; he also wants to create an education transparency system that would allow parents to view various performance indicators for educators and school districts.
Astorino's education proposals call for the removal of the Common Core standards in favor of more district-controlled yardsticks.
Magee, who lives in Westchester County, said the union will work with whomever is elected.
"(Astorino) and I have had differences in the past — he is my county executive — and the governor and I have had differences," she said Thursday. " ... It's not about where we disagree: It's on what we can do to move forward an agenda that's important for the future of the children of the state."
In his own open letter to teachers and public employees, former Gov. David Paterson defended Cuomo's work on education.
The governor "has said repeatedly charter schools cannot replace the need for a top-flight public education system," wrote Paterson, now Cuomo's handpicked state Democratic Committee chair. "He constantly stresses the need to treat teachers as the professionals they are. ... As far as 'respect' is concerned, the governor's mother was a public school teacher and his daughter attends public school."
Astorino's spokeswoman Jessica Proud echoed that theme: "As a former school board member who is a product of public schools and whose three children go to public schools, Rob has always been a fierce supporter of a strong public education system."
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After more than five years as chancellor of the State University of New York, Nancy Zimpher is on the verge of getting a substantial pay raise, according to interviews.
Zimpher's annual base pay of $490,000, lagging behind that of the new City University of New York's chancellor, could rise by a few hundred thousand dollars, according to people familiar with a confidential review of her compensation package.
The SUNY Board of Trustees may be outlining, and potentially voting on, an amended "contract" for Zimpher, 68, as soon as next week, according to Chairman H. Carl McCall.
Zimpher's total pay is unclear. When she left the University of Cincinnati president's post to take the SUNY job in June 2009, she accepted a deal that included the base salary of $490,000 plus a $90,000 per year housing allowance and deferred compensation of $55,400 a year. She also was provided a driver and car for official use and access to a SUNY apartment in New York City.
However, four years ago, after the Times Union reported she planned to give some of her top administrators $30,000 raises plus other stipends, legislators called her to a hearing to explain her proposed added spending. She decided to drop some of the stipends and forgo her own $90,000 housing allowance to pay for the raises.
Since then, the Empire Center for Policy Research, a fiscally conservative watchdog group, reported her total compensation in 2012 as $685,960 and in 2013 as $657,954. The sums likely include the deferred compensation and the return of her housing allowance, a spokesman said.
Her husband, Kenneth R. Howey, joined her when she moved from Ohio. He is employed as a senior fellow at SUNY's Rockefeller Institute of Government with expertise in urban teacher education, school renewal, and P-16 partnerships. His base pay is $171,754, according to the Empire Center.
Her spokesman said SUNY discontinued renting an apartment for Zimpher's official visits to New York City and that she pays for a studio there for her personal and professional use.
In an interview Thursday, McCall said the board of trustees is pleased with Zimpher's performance and wants to retain her. He said the board has been examining her compensation in comparison to those of " a number of peers" in other states and that the salary matter will be on the agenda for next Thursday's board meeting. He said the plans for Zimpher will be publicly disclosed at the Thursday meeting.
Later in the interview, he sounded less certain about the agenda for the gathering.
He referred to an interest in arranging a contract renewal for Zimpher, although it is not clear the agreement she made with the board in 2009 had an expiration date.
It provided less money than James B. Milliken, 57, received when he assumed the post of CUNY chancellor in June at a rate of $670,000 per year plus a car (and a driver as needed) and a residence with rent of $18,000 a month.
He runs a system with 274,000 students. The SUNY system has 465,000 students.
McCall wouldn't say which peers the board is using to judge a fair salary for Zimpher, however a source close to the university said Milliken's compensation has set the bar. Milliken received almost $200,000 more than his predecessor in the CUNY post.
Other states pay their public higher education system chief sums in the mid-$300,000 range to more than $1 million, and some states are beefing up compensation. For instance, the Texas state university system hired a chancellor in August at $1.2 million, which exceeded his predecessor's base pay of $750,000.
In Florida, a new chancellor took over this year at a salary of $355,000, plus a $55,000 housing and vehicle allowance, with the opportunity of a 7 percent incentive bonus each year.
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The Schenectady-based food truck called the Wandering Dago — attacked for its controversial monicker, beloved for its paninis, tater tots and milkshakes — has served up a second lawsuit against New York state.
The new suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Albany, claims that Wandering Dago co-owner Andrea Loguidice was fired by the Department of Environmental Conservation on trumped-up charges a month after a superior warned her against taking a more active role in the business, and reminded her that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had denounced its name.
In late August 2013, Loguidice and her partner Brendan Snooks filed suit against the Office of General Services and the New York Racing Association, claiming that the truck had been rejected by OGS's summer lunch program on the Empire State Plaza and banished from the Saratoga Race Course on the first day of the 2013 meet due to state officials' objections to its name. That lawsuit, which is in discovery, is moving forward.
"I think (Loguidice's firing) was in reaction to the fact that she brought the lawsuit," said George Carpinello of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, who represents her in both actions.
While "dago" is generally known as a slur on Italians, the truck's owners insist the truck's name is intended as a tribute to her ancestors, Italian-American laborers who were paid "as the day goes."
The Wandering Dago's lawsuit against OGS and NYRA was just a month old when Loguidice accepted an offer to become a senior attorney in the Remediation Bureau of DEC's Office of General Counsel. "I think the people who hired her were unaware of the connection" between Loguidice and the suit, said Carpinello.
Three weeks after starting work, however, she was called into a meeting with Stuart Brody, the office's ethics counsel.
"Brody told Loguidice that the purpose of the meeting was to be prepared in the event that there was a challenge to Loguidice's employment from the governor's office," the suit states.
"Brody stated that by bringing an action against state officials Loguidice was effectively attacking the governor, whom Brody regarded as her ultimate boss," the lawsuit says.
After Loguidice agreed to drop any work on the day-to-day operations of the truck, Brody sent a memo to Deputy Commissioner Edward McTiernan, who led the counsel's office, finding "no actual or apparent conflict of interest" between Loguidice's work at DEC and the Wandering Dago.
Loguidice's duties at DEC included matters related to the Hudson River Natural Resources Damage Assessment, the multi-agency, state-federal look at General Electric's PCB contamination.
Her first performance review, dated May 29, sported top marks: Of the eight "performance factors," four said she "Meets Requirements" and the rest said Loguidice "Greatly Exceeds Requirements."
A week after receiving the review, Loguidice sent an email to Brody and McTiernan asking if she could be permitted to take a more active role in the Wandering Dago's operations on weekends. In a July 2 meeting to discuss that request, Brody asked her if the litigation might intrude on her work, and once again reminded her that Cuomo had denounced the truck's name. Ultimately, DEC never provided an official opinion on her request.
Events took a turn on July 9, when the Wandering Dago catered lunch for 50 GE employees at One Research Circle in Niskayuna. The event was paid for by Wind River Systems, a software company. Loguidice later said she wasn't aware the job had been booked; GE isn't mentioned on the contract, the suit says.
On July 14, the Schenectady Gazette ran an update on the Wandering Dago and its lawsuit. (Loguidice was mentioned but not quoted.) The same day, Loguidice was called into a meeting with Phil Lodico of the counsel's office and Benjamin Conlon, chief of the Remediation Bureau. According to the court document, Conlon "accused Loguidice of having done business with GE via Wandering Dago" — a potential conflict of interest due to her work on matters related to PCB contamination in the Hudson. In a conversation that afternoon with Loguidice, the lawsuit says, "Conlon stated that he had reviewed the calendar on the Wandering Dago's website after receiving a telephone call from an unidentified state official."
Despite her attempts to explain the circumstances of the Wandering Dago's catering at One Research Circle, at the end of the workday on Aug. 5 Loguidice was presented with two letters signed by DEC's director of personnel: one accepting Loguidice's resignation, the other ordering her termination. She was given until 9 a.m. the next day to make her choice.
Loguidice was also given a new job evaluation that said she "Fails to Meet Requirements" on five of the eight performance categories. It said she had committed "Violations of laws and policies governing public employee conduct including creating a conflict of interest," but offered no narrative explanation of the charge.
On Aug. 12, Carpinello delivered a letter to McTiernan stating that Loguidice would not resign. She was fired the next day.
The suit, which names seven DEC officials, claims the agency abridged Loguidice's freedom of speech and due-process rights in violation of the state and U.S. constitutions, and seeks her reinstatement plus monetary damages, including attorney's fees.
Carpinello said that while Loguidice was still within her probationary period at DEC, even "at-will" employees can't be terminated on unconstitutional grounds. "The DEC acted appropriately in this matter," said agency spokesman Tom Mailey. "The suit will be reviewed."
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The two candidates vying for the 46th Senate District seat traded barbs Thursday over sizable donations each has received.
Rotterdam Republican George Amedore's campaign charged that state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, used a campaign finance loophole to skirt maximum contribution limits.
Campaign filings submitted last week to the state Board of Elections show a series of large donations to the Ulster County Democratic Committee made by the union-backed groups including the New York State Nurses Association Political Action Committee ($60,000); the Communication Workers of America District One PAC ($102,300); and the 32BJ United American Dream Fund ($102,300).
Records show subsequent transfers from the Ulster committee worth $60,000 and $100,000 going to the Tkaczyk campaign. Amedore's camp called the cash flow an attempt to bypass regulations that cap individual and PAC donations to state Senate candidates at $10,300.
"For someone who has now run two campaigns on a pledge to take the money out of politics, Cecilia Tkaczyk seems to have no trouble evading the law to continue to reap the benefits of massive contributions from liberal New York City special interests," Amedore spokeswoman Eileen Miller said.
A Tkaczyk spokesman scoffed at the charges. "George Amedore and his handlers are trying to distract attention from his extremist voting record and the fact that he has received nearly $1 million from wealthy New York City landlords," said Jim Plastiras.
Tkaczyk's campaign has repeatedly called out Amedore for money spent by the Real Estate Board of New York on the Republican's behalf. REBNY's Jobs for New York political arm has spent on ads, robocalls, literature and media for the Amedore campaign, filings show.
Senate Democratic operatives pointed to Amedore receiving contributions totaling $35,000 from LLCs tied to Glenwood, a real estate firm based in New York City.
Legally speaking, the donations to Tkaczyk seem to be sound.
"If (the unions) are not giving with an explicit precondition that they launder the money to specific candidates, that should be legally fine," said Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "It's not that different from what every party committee at the state level does."
But he said the donations point to a need for campaign finance reform.
"It definitely speaks to the need to rein in contribution limits to political parties," Mahoney said. "There are hundreds of party committees in the state, and a donor could feasibly give to all of them and have them transfer money to one candidate."
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New York Now hosts state attorney general
This week's episode of "New York Now," the award-winning co-production of the Times Union and WMHT, offers an election-eve extravanganza. Highlights include:
Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio sits down with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to talk about his first term and his election challenge from Republican John Cahill.
TU state editor Casey Seiler plays referee as good-government advocates Blair Horner of New York Public Interest Research Group and Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters debate Proposal 1, the constitutional amendment that would change New York's redistricting process.
"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday on WMHT Ch. 17.
FORT KENT, Maine (AP) — A nurse who vowed to defy Maine's voluntary quarantine for health care workers who treated Ebola patients followed through on her promise Thursday, leaving her home for a bike ride.
Kaci Hickox and her boyfriend stepped out of their home Thursday morning and rode away on bicycles, followed by state police who were monitoring her movements and public interactions. Police couldn't detain her without a court order signed by a judge.
Hickox contends there's no need for quarantine because she's showing no symptoms. She's also tested negative for the deadly disease.
State officials were going to court in an effort to detain Hickox for the remainder of the 21-day incubation period for Ebola that ends on Nov. 10
It was the second time Hickox broke quarantine. She left her home Wednesday evening briefly to speak to reporters, even shaking a hand that was offered to her.
"There's a lot of misinformation about how Ebola is transmitted, and I can understand why people are frightened. But their fear is not based on medical facts," Norman Siegel, one of her attorneys, said Wednesday.
Hickox, who volunteered in Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders, was the first person forced into New Jersey's mandatory quarantine for people arriving at the Newark airport from three West African countries. Hickox spent the weekend in a tent in New Jersey before traveling to the home she shares with her boyfriend, a nursing student at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
"I'm not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it's not science-based," she told reporters Wednesday evening.
Generally, states have broad authority when it comes to such matters. But Maine health officials could have a tough time convincing a judge that Hickox poses a threat, said attorney Jackie L. Caynon III, who specializes in health law in Worcester, Massachusetts.
"If somebody isn't showing signs of the infection, then it's kind of hard to say someone should be under mandatory quarantine," he said.
Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, has killed thousands of people in Africa, but only four people have been diagnosed with it in the United States. People can't be infected just by being near someone who's sick, and people aren't contagious unless they're sick, health officials say.
Guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend daily monitoring for health care workers like Hickox who have come into contact with Ebola patients. But some states like Maine are going above and beyond those guidelines.
The defense department is going even further. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered military men and women helping fight Ebola to undergo 21-day quarantines that start upon their return — instead of their last exposure to an Ebola patient.
President Barack Obama warned that overly restrictive measures imposed upon returning health care workers could discourage them from volunteering in Africa.
But Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who canceled campaign events to keep tabs on the situation, maintained that the state must be "vigilant" to protect others.
State law allows a judge to grant temporary custody of someone if health officials demonstrate "a clear and immediate public health threat."
The state's court filing was expected Thursday, officials said.
If a judge grants the state request, then Hickox will appeal the decision on constitutional grounds, necessitating a hearing, Siegel said.
Siegel said the nurse hopes her fight against the quarantine will help bring an end to misinformation about how the Ebola virus is transmitted.
"She wants to have her voice in the debate about how America handles the Ebola crisis. She has an important voice and perspective," he said.
Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland and Alanna Durkin in Augusta contributed to this report.
It's not often that a political party criticizes its gubernatorial nominee less than a week before Election Day.
But such was the tricky position the progressive Working Families Party found itself in Wednesday, when it issued a statement rejecting Gov. Andrew Cuomo's recent comments that he would work to "break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies" — the public education system in New York.
The Democratic governor has butted heads with unions over his strong support for charter schools, the implementation of a more rigorous teachers evaluation system and a tax cap that constrains local spending. Cuomo made the comments in a Monday discussion with the editorial board of the Daily News, at which he talked about plans to pursue more carrot-and-stick tactics to improve education if he's elected to a second term.
The paper report Cuomo calling for "real performance measures with some competition, which is why I like charter schools."
"Gov. Cuomo is wrong on this one," said Bill Lipton, state director for the Working Families Party, in a statement. "His proposed policies on public education will weaken, not strengthen our public education system, and they would represent a step away from the principle of high-quality public education for all students."
The Alliance for Quality Education, which receives funding from teachers unions and advocates for increased education spending, marshaled its legislative allies — all Democrats — to join the pile-on over Cuomo's comments.
State Sen. Bill Perkins of Harlem said it was "unacceptable that Gov. Cuomo would further disempower and denigrate our public schools."
Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, a former Albany school board member, called it "troubling to read that the governor, just days before the election, is blaming teachers again, and is now slamming the 'public' in public education in favor of increased privatization via charter schools."
Cuomo's gubernatorial opponents jumped in as well. From the right, Republican Rob Astorino released a statement noting that his wife is a special education teacher and saying the governor's "adversarial stance toward teachers borders on disdain." From the left, the Green Party's Howie Hawkins said Cuomo was treating public education "as some corporate entity. ... The remarks made clear that Cuomo is an enemy of our public education system. And that he wants to break it."
Cuomo's campaign spokesman referred question to Peter Kauffmann of the state Democratic Committee: "This is all political blather," he said in a one-sentence email.
The flap presented a last-minute reminder that Cuomo, though far ahead in the polls, has an often-fractious relationship with New York's progressives.
Despite the WFP's concerns over the depth of his commitment to liberal issues, the party decided to hand Cuomo its gubernatorial nomination in late May. At a raucous convention in Colonie, delegates turned down Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout's bid, prompting her to mount a robust but unsuccessful left-flank attack on Cuomo in September's Democratic primary.
Perhaps in response to the pressure from the minor party, Cuomo in midsummer decided to launch his own: the Women's Equality Party, designed to focus energy behind his proposed 10-point women's-rights bill, including a reproductive rights plank that has left all the measure's elements blockaded in the Legislature.
Votes for Cuomo on the Women's Equality line could imperil the Working Families Party's ballot position for the next four years, which will be determined by the order of each party's tally in the contest for governor on Tuesday.
In the final paragraph of the WFP's statement of rebuke, Lipton said that the party had endorsed Cuomo because of his commitments to raise the minimum wage, fight for public financing of elections and to pass the full 10-point Women's Equality Act, the DREAM Act (which would open education aid to children of undocumented immigrants) and the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.
"But we'll never hesitate to criticize him when he's wrong, as he is on this issue," Lipton said. "A vote on the WFP line for governor is a vote to get those crucial progressive policies passed and to strengthen the WFP."
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That's how Gov. Andrew Cuomo described his visit to Staten Island's Oak Wood neighborhood on the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which destroyed homes in that neighborhood and throughout parts of New York City and Long Island.
In an appearance alongside boarded-up homes with an excavator waiting in the background, Cuomo recalled the devastation and highlighted the recovery the state has made since Sandy struck Oct. 29, 2012.
In Oak Wood, the recovery has included state buyouts of homes — something New York had never done, Cuomo said — in anticipation of returning the area to natural wetlands. There also was the announcement Wednesday of six fuel reserve facilities across upstate that first responders would be able to tap in some emergency situations.
The six facilities will be placed in Rensselaer, Rochester and Buffalo as well as Onondaga, Oneida and Broome counties. The Upstate Strategic Fuel Reserve Program will divvy up 2.5 million gallons of gasoline and ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel among the six facilities, the administration said.
The system will be managed by Buckeye Terminals LLC, which operates a crude oil terminal at the Port of Albany and acquired the operations of Hess on the Rensselaer side of the river, where the reserve facility will be placed. The program is part of Fuel NY, which was developed after Superstorm Sandy in response to fuel-supply disruptions in much of the downstate area.
In a statement, Cuomo said the addition to the state's emergency infrastructure "makes it the strongest of any state in the nation, and is one more way that we are building back better."
The state Firemen's Association applauded the establishment of the reserves, noting that in recent storms across the state fuel has been critical not only for emergency vehicles but also for power tools.
"One thing we'd like to see moving forward ... would be some way to establish a preference for volunteer firefighters to have access to fuel during an emergency," said association spokesman Robert Leonard. "One of the challenges we faced on Long Island, at least during Sandy, was that the individual volunteer firefighters were sometimes hard-pressed to maintain fuel levels in their cars so they could respond to the firehouse, get on the fire truck and go to the emergencies."
State officials said how much fuel would be available and who could receive it in an emergency would be decided on a storm-by-storm basis.
On Staten Island, Cuomo released a report detailing the state's recovery progress and the NY Rising program, which also focuses on efforts in parts of the Capital Region slammed by 2011's tropical storms Irene and Lee. Cuomo has incorporated the destruction from those tempests into his "new normal" rhetoric when discussing extreme weather events and the corresponding need to rebuild with resiliency.
Cuomo shied away from politics and didn't touch the political side of extreme weather when talking with reporters on Staten Island, citing the visit as a "government event."
Earlier this week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino repeated an attack — first lobbed months ago — that Cuomo had diverted $37.5 million from Sandy recovery to pay for television commercials to boost his re-election bid. The Westchester County executive charged that Cuomo requested a waiver from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to spend the recovery money on the ad effort.
"That's nonsense," Cuomo curtly replied when asked about those charges on Staten Island. A few hours earlier, he categorized it as "political baloney" during a phoned-in interview on Fox Business Network's "Opening Bell with Maria Bartiromo."
Cuomo said the federal government ran commercials to spur tourism in areas affected by Sandy, and that the effort had nothing to do with politics.
Eric Anderson contributed. email@example.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10
Fort Kent, Maine
A nurse who treated Ebola patients in West Africa said Wednesday she plans to end her voluntary quarantine, signaling a potential showdown with state police monitoring her home and state officials seeking to legally enforce it.
State officials were seeking a court order allowing state troopers to detain Kaci Hickox, said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.
Hickox, who has shown no symptoms of Ebola, told NBC's "Today" show and ABC's "Good Morning America" she was abiding by the state's voluntary quarantine by having no contact with people Tuesday and Wednesday. But she said she'll defy the state if the policy isn't changed by Thursday.
"I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me even though I am in perfectly good health," Hickox said on "Today."
Her lawyer, Norman Siegel, said she isn't willing to cooperate further unless the state lifts "all or most of the restrictions." But state officials continued to assert that she should remain in isolation until Nov. 10, the end of the 21-day incubation period.
A judge would have to grant the state's request in what could serve as a test as to the legality of state quarantines. Until an order is signed by a judge, state police will monitor Hickox's movement and interactions if she leaves her home, Mayhew said.
Generally, states have broad authority in such matters. But Maine health officials could have a tough time convincing a judge that Hickox poses a threat, said attorney Jackie L. Caynon III, who specializes in health law in Worcester, Massachusetts. "If somebody isn't showing signs of the infection, then it's kind of hard to say someone should be under mandatory quarantine."
Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, has killed thousands in Africa, but only four people have been diagnosed with it in the United States. People can't be infected just by being near someone who's sick, and people aren't contagious unless they're sick.
Guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend monitoring health care workers who have come into contact with Ebola patients. But states, like Maine, are going beyond guidelines.
Hickox, a volunteer in Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders, had already spent the weekend in a tent in New Jersey under that state's quarantine.
"I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk," she said.
Schneiderman, Cahill will debate Thursday
Albany — Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, will debate his Republican opponent, John Cahill, at 7 p.m. Thursday on Time Warner Cable News and NY1.
This will be the only debate between the candidates.
Cahill, a one-time adviser to Gov. George Pataki who is now an attorney in an energy consulting business, visited the Capitol on Wednesday, where he encountered a handful of polite protesters who carried signs asking him to release his list of legal clients. Cahill has refused to do so.
Schneiderman has a lead of more than 20 points in the most recent Siena Research Institute poll.
— Casey Seiler
Gibson maintains his commanding poll lead
ALBANY -— Once thought to be a contest to watch, the race for the 19th Congressional District could end up as a blowout for the incumbent, according to a Time Warner Cable News/Siena Research Institute poll released Tuesday night.
In his third race for the seat, Republican Rep. Chris Gibson leads Democratic challenger Sean Eldridge by 58-35 percent, virtually unchanged from Gibson's 57-33 percent lead seven weeks ago.
Voters by a 60-25 percent margin have a favorable view of Gibson, while their feelings about Eldridge are split: 33 percent view him favorably, 35 percent unfavorably.
"Gibson heads into the final week of the campaign largely unscathed and with a commanding 23-point lead over Eldridge," said Siena spokesman Steven Greenberg.
The poll found that feelings about the two major-party gubernatorial candidates are equally divided in the sprawling district: Republican Rob Astorino is viewed favorably by only 35 percent of voters, while Andrew Cuomo is viewed favorably by only 37 percent.
— Casey Seiler
Setback or success? Cuomo book struggles
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo's political memoir "All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life" is experiencing some struggles of its own on the sales charts.
The book, released nationwide Oct. 14, sold 1,500 copies through Sunday, according to Nielsen BookScan, which covers roughly 85 percent of the print market.
Cuomo was paid $188,000 by HarperCollins in 2013 for the book, according to tax returns. His total payout had been reported above $700,000, though he has refused to disclose additional details about his deal with the publisher, an arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
On Amazon, "All Things Possible" was No. 23,929 in sales on Wednesday night.
— Casey Seiler
Gov. Andrew Cuomo "has gone too far," Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino's wife, Sheila, said Wednesday in a sharp-tongued video response to negative political advertisements targeting her husband.
The Westchester County executive's wife harshly criticizes ads regarding a Westchester housing dispute, her husband's much-criticized "soup is good" comments about Medicaid coverage and one that slams Astorino's stance on the SAFE Act.
Those ads were produced by the state Democratic Committee, not the Cuomo campaign.
"Governor, you've got to be kidding me," Sheila Astorino says. "All summer and autumn long my children have had to watch you throw mud at their father. We stopped watching TV for a while, but then you started sending nasty mail."
The second half of the video is devoted to the SAFE Act ad, which debuted on Tuesday. The ad mentions comments Rob Astorino made this summer about marksmanship programs for students.
"But, now, you've really gone too far for this mom and schoolteacher," she says. "Telling people my husband wants guns in classrooms — guns in classrooms! — you can't be serious.
"You used an extracurricular rifle safety program in a rural upstate county to make it sound like Rob would threaten safety of schoolchildren," she continues. "How dare you? How dare you try to scare parents and teachers with something as serious at that?"
State Democrats don't see anything wrong with the SAFE Act ad.
"We encourage Mrs. Astorino to ask her husband about his support for programs that teach teens with discipline problems how to use guns," state Democratic Committee spokesman Peter Kauffmann said, referring to a Time Warner Cable News story. In that story, the president of the Sullivan County Friends With Firearms, Christine Schiff, is quoted as saying she wants to give a firearms fundamentals program to students who have discipline problems in schools. The story paraphrased Astorino as saying he supports Schiff's goal.
At the time, the Astorino camp said he would support marksmanship programs in communities that want them.
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New York State United Teachers filed a motion on Wednesday to dismiss the lawsuit currently challenging the state's teacher tenure law, saying it will harm public education.
The suit seeks to disband the seniority-based tenure system under which junior teachers are laid off first during financially difficult times, allows lengthy due process hearings for teachers and offers a three-year probationary period — a system that the lawsuit says ultimately hurts students.
"From the moment this lawsuit was filed, I have made clear that NYSUT's defense would be vigorous and unwavering against this meritless assault on public education and employment rights," NYSUT President Karen Magee said in a statement. "Our motion to dismiss is as strong legally as this lawsuit is weak."
The motion to dismiss the case was filed with the Supreme Court in Richmond County, according to NYSUT. Other motions to dismiss are expected to be filed by the United Federation of Teachers, New York state, New York City and the School Administrators of New York State.
Keoni Wright, a lead plaintiff in the case and the father of two children in the New York public school system represented in the lawsuit, issued a statement Wednesday regarding NYSUT's motion.
"Concerns we have about the quality of our children's education have been ignored or denied at every level," Wright said. "So it comes as no surprise that administrators and bureaucrats claim that parents — those with the largest interest in the well-being of their children — don't have standing. This is exactly why we have turned to the courts. We won't be dismissed any longer."
State Supreme Court Justice Phillip Minardo allowed NYSUT's request to intervene earlier this month after the organization filed a motion on behalf of seven teachers and the statewide union.
In approving the motion, Minardo allowed those teachers and NYSUT to be parties in the suit, which in turn allows them to fight and defend the tenure law.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit — which has been consolidated to include filings from both former CNN anchorwoman-turned-activist Campbell Brown and numerous children in the New York City public school system — have until Dec. 5 to respond to NYSUT's motion. Arguments in the case are scheduled for Jan. 14.
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There are now fewer restrictions on marriage in New York, though the change is probably not one you were expecting.
The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the 14-year marriage of a Rochester man and his Vietnamese half-niece is legal under state law. The ruling is one of few regarding the marriage of a half-uncle or half-aunt to a half-niece or half-nephew in the state since such marriages were made illegal more than 100 years ago.
Huyen Nguyen, then 19, married her 24-year-old half-uncle, Vu Truong, in 2000. Nguyen's mother is Truong's half-sister.
In 2007, their union was brought before immigration officials who tried to send Nguyen home by declaring the marriage void. The 2nd Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals then asked the state's highest court for its opinion on the marriage's legality.
The court in a 6-0 decision declared the marriage "not void as incestuous."
Judge Robert Smith wrote that while state law prohibits primarily parent-child and brother-sister marriages — "grounded in the almost universal horror with which such marriages are viewed" — there is no comparably strong objection to uncle-niece marriages. Smith wrote that the domestic relations law prohibiting some whole- and half-blood marriages "has not been viewed as expressing strong condemnation of uncle-niece and aunt-nephew relationships."
He also wrote that both parties agreed that genetic risks of half-blood uncle-niece marriages are the same as that of first cousins, relations who can legally marry in New York.
"I conclude that it was not the Legislature's purpose to avert the similar, relatively small, genetic risk inherent in relationship like this one," Smith wrote.
Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote in her concurring opinion that the court didn't receive any scientific evidence that would allow it to draw a conclusion about the genetic ramifications of such half-blood marriages.
Michael Marszalkowski, a Buffalo lawyer who represented Nguyen, said the couple's first reaction to the high court's decision was one of relief and joy.
"It's an incredible weight lifted off their shoulders," Marszalkowski said, later adding that the next step is to seek a green card from immigration authorities. "The husband was so happy."
Very few cases of this type of half-blood marriage have been brought before New York courts since 1893, when whole- and half-blood uncle-niece and aunt-nephew marriages were prohibited.
Marszalkowski called this case client-specific, and said his research suggested "less than a handful" of similar cases.
In the three instances when the matter came before state courts previously, "every one of those was a fight over money, so it was a question of someone trying to exclude someone else in using the relationship as a way to get an advantage," he said.
Albany Law professor Vincent Bonventre, one of the state's top court-watchers, said the decision would set precedent. "The court made it clear that its construction of the statute applies to criminal cases or civil cases: It's universally applicable," Bonventre said. "From now on, unless the Legislature changes the rule, a half-uncle is permitted to marry a half-niece."
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A nurse who fueled Ebola fears by flying to Cleveland after being infected by her dying patient was released Tuesday from a hospital isolation unit, where doctors defended her as a courageous front-line caregiver.
While world leaders appeal for more doctors and nurses on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic, health care workers in the United States are finding themselves on the defensive.
Lawyers now represent both Amber Vinson, who contracted the virus while caring for a Liberian visitor to Texas, and Kaci Hickox, who is challenging the mandatory quarantines some states are imposing on anyone who came into contact with Ebola victims.
President Barack Obama said the Ebola response needs to be "based on science."
"We've got to make sure that those workers who are willing and able and dedicated to go over there in a really tough job, that they're applauded, thanked and supported. That should be our priority. And we can make sure that when they come back they are being monitored in a prudent fashion," Obama said after calling Vinson from the White House.
Vinson's trip home to join her bridesmaids for wedding preparations was one of several moves by doctors and nurses that could have exposed others in the United States.
In Ohio alone, 163 people were still being monitored Tuesday because of contact or potential contact with Vinson in a bridal shop and on the airplanes she used.
Vinson arrived in Dallas on Tuesday evening, after tests showed she is now free of the virus.
The 10 State Police commands across the state have been ordered to send troopers to patrol major passenger rail stations in New York City as part of a new counterterrorism effort.
A force of about 40 troopers will staff positions at Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan in the plan.
Commanders have been notified to dispatch uniformed troops from their ranks in the wake of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Sept. 24 announcement of a New York-New Jersey commitment to immediately beef up security at transportation hubs.
State Police spokeswoman Darcy Wells would not disclose the size of the detail, although a police source put the number at about 40.
"The bistate agreement to substantially increase security at transportation hubs and critical infrastructure in the metropolitan area is effective immediately," the joint news release from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Cuomo stated five weeks ago.
"Over the next 100 days, a surge in law enforcement and military personnel will join forces within the metropolitan area to engage in counterterrorism operations by increasing visibility, inspections and surveillance on and at trains and train stations, airports, landmarks, and bridges and tunnels."
A Cuomo spokesman had no comment on why the uniformed troopers were being assigned now.
Thomas Mungeer, president of the troopers union, said some members began riding Long Island Railroad and Metro North trains about two weeks ago. He said he heard about the staff call for the railroad stations on Monday but had not seen the order.
"I figured it would happen," Mungeer said. "If it helps put people at ease, I'm all for it, or if it prevents even one act of terrorism."
He said the force has 2,700 troopers and could use more. The troopers have been working under an expired contract since March 31, 2011. The detail will likely result in extra overtime and travel costs.
Wells had no estimates on the budget impact.
Cuomo said a "classified" analysis and coordination plan was to be completed by Oct. 24. It is unclear if that triggered the call for assets.
"The New York City area has always been a top target for terrorists wishing to spread hatred and fear, and we would be in a state of denial to say that what is going on internationally has not raised that danger," Cuomo said. "That is why New York and New Jersey are increasing our level of partnership and cooperation — because public safety is paramount and joining together is the best way to defend against any possible dangers."
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A sleep-deprived engineer nodded off at the controls of a commuter train just before taking a 30 mph curve at 82 mph, causing a derailment last year that killed four people and injured more than 70, federal regulators said Tuesday.
William Rockefeller's sleepiness was due to a combination of an undiagnosed disorder — sleep apnea — and a drastic shift in his work schedule, the National Transportation Safety Board said. It said the railroad lacked a policy to screen engineers for sleep disorders, which also contributed to the Dec. 1 crash. And it said a system that would have applied the brakes automatically would have prevented the crash.
The board also issued rulings on four other Metro-North accidents that occurred in New York and Connecticut in 2013 and 2014, repeatedly finding fault with the railroad while also noting that conditions have improved.
"We truly take to heart all the issues that have been stated," Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti said. As an example, he said the railroad already has begun a test project on engineer sleep apnea that will be expanded.
SAFE Act TV ad debuts
ALBANY — The state Democratic Committee has made the SAFE Act gun control law the subject of its latest television ad boosting Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The new spot, titled "Safety," credits Cuomo for passing the "smartest gun law" in America as a headline says New York passed the nation's toughest firearms measure. It also credits the SAFE Act with saving lives.
The ad then turns sinister, hitting Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino for his calls to repeal the legislation, which the ad argues would scrap its heightened criminal and mental health background checks. Astorino has said he supports strengthening mental health systems to combat violence.
A state Democratic Committee spokesman would not discuss the regional strategy behind the ad.
The SAFE Act has played better among Democrats and downstaters, while polling data show that majorities of Republicans and upstate residents oppose it. Still, the same polls have shown that guns and the SAFE Act are the top issues for only a small percentage of likely gubernatorial voters.
— Matthew Hamilton
Contending its members are in danger, the union that represents prison guards statewide launched a campaign Tuesday to publicize what it describes as an increase in assaults by inmates.
The attacks, according to the state Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, correspond to the most recent round of prison closures; four were shuttered in July.
"We're just met with lip service," said Mike Powers, the newly elected president of NYSCOPBA, which represents nearly 20,000 correction officers who work in state facilities.
Part of the problem, he said, is that correction officers are seeing dangerous inmates in medium-security prisons when they should be in maximum-security facilities. They believe it's a policy intended to ease what had been overcrowding in the maximum prisons.
Powers also contends the state is underreporting the level of serious attacks against correctional officers.
Prison officials disagree. "The safety of our employees is a primary focus," said Anthony Annucci, acting commissioner of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, in a statement.
The agency notes that they are putting in security measures, including better lighting in inmate walkways, more extensive video surveillance and additional metal detectors.
They've also activated a special security team that has visited 11 facilities since last December to gather information about assaults. And they are using "body orifice security scanners" to help cut down on contraband like razors or other sharp objects,
Since 2009, 24 prisons or annexes have been closed, state records show.
Medium-security prisons seem to be the hardest-pressed, said state Sen. Thomas O'Mara. The GOP lawmaker from Elmira has 2,000 correctional officers in his district, and attended Monday's NYSCOPBA conference at Attica.
He noted an attack in September at the Elmira Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Chemung County, in which an officer was stabbed seven times in the chest as he entered an inmate's cell to search for contraband. A subsequent lockdown turned up 70 weapons.
Starting this fall, the state has changed the way it classifies assaults on correction officers, employing a ranking system that includes a new category of "severe'' assault — including "obvious disfigurement" and "substantial risk of death or have caused death."
Despite the dispute, jobs for correction officers aren't going away. DCCS this fall has run two eight-week training courses for 150 new correction officers who are headed to prisons all over the state, replacing retirees. Three more classes will begin in December and January.
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The end-of-the-year due date for the completion of the Health Department's report on the potential impacts of hydrofracking isn't Gov. Andrew Cuomo's deadline.
Clarifying what the governor said in last week's gubernatorial debate, his office on Tuesday said that acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker was the one who determined the timeline for the submission of his agency's work on the controversial natural gas drilling technique.
"The health commissioner indicated that the study will be completed by the end of the year, so that's when the governor expects it," said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.
An administration official said the report would be made public by the end of December, as well.
In the Oct. 22 debate, Cuomo observed that his two principal opponents, Howie Hawkins of the Green Party and Republican Rob Astorino, were seated to his left and right — a fair approximation of their respective stances on the safety of fracking, he said.
"I say, 'I'm not a scientist — let the scientists decide,'" Cuomo said. "It's very complicated, it's very controversial, people have very different opinions. Academic studies come out all different ways."
"Let the experts decide," he continued. "Now I've asked the expert commissioner of the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation, 'Give me a report — it's due at the end of this year.' Whatever the experts say is right; that's what I will do. Because frankly, it's too difficult for a layman."
The state has been weighing the question of whether to allow fracking in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation since Gov. David Paterson was in office.
In September 2012, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens asked then-Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to review the DEC's work on fracking's potential health impacts. Despite statements of imminent completion, that worked has gone on for more than two years.
Shah resigned in April without completing the assignment.
Cuomo has been harshly criticized by Astorino as being "politically paralyzed" on the issue, which continues to receive a split opinion in many polls. The drilling industry insists that hydrofracking, which uses a small amount of chemicals and a large amount of water to crack open gas-bearing shale deposits, is safe and points to booming regional economies in dozens of other states, including Pennsylvania.
Environmental groups, however, see the technique as a perilous threat to land and water.
"If Gov. Cuomo truly listens to the science, the only way he can protect the health of New Yorkers and our water is with a statewide ban on fracking," said Isaac Silberman-Gorn of Citizen Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking.
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