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Theater renovation evokes pain of white supremacy

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

Birmingham, Ala.

Growing up in the 1950s, William Bell had to enter Birmingham's segregated Lyric Theatre though a side entrance, marked "COLORED," that was walled-off from the elegant lobby. He climbed a dimly lit stairwell to watch movies from the steep balcony where black patrons had to sit for generations.

Now the mayor of Birmingham, Bell recalls the Lyric's beauty, but also the way it isolated black people.

The inequity built into The Lyric Theatre's very architecture is a painful reminder of the city's ugly past as one of the most segregated places in America.

But it also serves as a living history lesson, a symbol of how the Deep South has changed since the courts ended discriminatory Jim Crow laws.

Preservationists had to decide whether to keep reminders of The Lyric's discarded color line before they unveiled an $11 million restoration of the 102-year-old theater, which had been closed for decades. In this case, they chose to highlight the history, installing a glass door etched with the words "Historic Colored Entrance" in the lobby wall, so that patrons can peer into the past.

Across the South, people are struggling with similar questions: What does a changing region do with the vestiges of back-alley service windows, segregated waiting rooms, dual water fountains and abandoned schools that once formed the skeleton of a society built on oppression?

Northern states have such reminders, too. A black heritage trail in Portsmouth, N.H., includes all-black burial grounds and a plaque explaining that blacks had to sit in designated pews in New England churches through the mid-1800s. In Detroit, murals decorate a 6-foot-tall concrete wall built in 1941 to separate a new development meant for whites from an existing black neighborhood.

But the issue has become particularly acute in the South, where millions still remember living through segregation. More so than in the past, many older people and younger generations feel a need now to discuss the legacy of Jim Crow, said Robert Weyeneth, a University of South Carolina history professor who specializes in preservation.

"It has become more complicated today because people are more willing to think about the preservation of the architecture of white supremacy," Weyeneth said. "Initially, no one wanted to save these things."

It makes some people uncomfortable to be reminded of segregation at the Lyric, but the mayor believes people must see history as it really was, even if that means glancing up at the segregated balcony where he sat as a young boy. The ornate theater was beautiful, he recalls, but blacks up there could never mingle with the white patrons far below.

"The best seats were on the front row of the balcony because you could flick popcorn or peanuts down and it would land in their hair," said Bell, now 66, grinning at the memory.

"We should not shield ourselves from our past," he added.

Categories: State/Local

Gibson lays out polished platform for a campaign

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

Albany

Chris Gibson says his newest state campaign committee is exploratory.

But in a Tuesday appearance, the Kinderhook Republican congressman sounded not as if he was trying out campaign rhetoric ahead of a possible 2018 run for governor; rather, he sounded as if he was brandishing polished talking points he thinks could win the day more than two years from now.

The 19th Congressional District representative detailed a four-point approach he says could win the day in 2018, even if Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues prolific fundraising that has made him unbeatable in the past two elections.

Gibson maintains power over education policy should be returned to the local level, gun control should be rethought to emphasize safety without trampling on the Second Amendment, the state's economy needs to be revamped through tax cuts and new policies, and ethics must be addressed from the top down through example.

He appears to have rehearsed more than just a policy plan, too.

The Republican uses phrases like "reality-based assessment" when referring to what legislation actually could get done with a Democratic-held Assembly. He criticizes state government in Albany's own lingo (he decried the so-called "three men in a room" process). He is apt to compare governmental leadership to the way in which he led troops during his time in the Army.

And he is taking a page out of the traditional Republican playbook, highlighting that a recent study showed New York is 50th out of 50 states in terms of tax burden.

"I think this state is starving for truth and leadership," he said of why he would form a committee more than two years before the next election. "Given my background, I've seen the human condition under some of the most austere and difficult circumstances imaginable, led men and women in combat, had to bring people together to get hard things done. In the Congress I have continued with that approach, using the appropriate judgement and temperament to get things done."

It would seem Gibson has studied more than just his polished talking points, too. He detailed election scenarios and analyzed where he needs to drive turnout to be competitive in 2-to-1 Democratic New York.

While the upstate vote must be there to win, Gibson expressed confidence in his appeal to voters in even more heavily Democratic New York City, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo outpaced Republican Rob Astorino (who hasn't ruled out his own 2018 bid) in 2014 by roughly 600,000 votes.

"We've got to do better getting our base out," Gibson said, citing the fact that not even 50 percent of city Republican turned out in 2014. He also cited his upbringing in a working class family as a way to appeal to union members. He was unabashed that his military service is a way to appeal to veterans regardless of party.

Even visitors to the new Gibson for New York website are greeted by an image of the congressman overlaid on an image of the Manhattan Bridge. Photos on other pages depict the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn waterfront.

"When you look at New York City, and the fact that we're starting earlier and the fact that I'm going to get help in the city reaching communities that in the past we haven't had support (in), I think you can see that we certainly will grow on the 18 percent, which was the total amount of the vote we got in New York City in 2014," he said.

A moderate lean likely doesn't hurt, either.

Gibson is quick to point out he has been ranked as one of the most bipartisan lawmakers in Washington. One of his most frequently used talking points is the need to put "conserve" back in "conservative," a nod to his recognition of the impacts man has had on climate change, breaking with many national Republicans.

Even with that moderate lean, Gibson goes into his exploration period seemingly with the support of some of the state's more conservative figures. Assemblyman Bill Nojay, R-Pittsford, who has been organizing for Donald Trump in New York, said in a Monday statement, "A Governor Gibson would reestablish New York as the Empire State, a place where jobs will grow and families can thrive."

A Cuomo campaign spokesman declined to comment on Gibson's more formal foray into gubernatorial politics.

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

Categories: State/Local

Bill lets terminal patients get aid in dying

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

Albany

Supporters of legislation that would set up the process through which physicians could provide terminal patients with a fatal dose of medication don't want it referred to as an "assisted suicide" bill. "Aid in dying" is more accurate, they argue.

The bill, carried in the Assembly by Democrat Amy Paulin and in the Senate by Republican John Bonacic, includes what supporters say are sufficient safeguards to protect against abuse or coercion of the ailing patient, including:

The patient's attending physician would have to to determine that a patient was likely to live only six months;

Any patient whom a physician suspects of suffering from depression or any other psychological condition would have to be examined by a counselor to ensure that mental problems were not impeding their decision-making on ending their life;

The patient's request for lethal medication would have to be signed by two witnesses, including at least one who does not stand to benefit financially from the person's death.

"The intent of this bill is to provide terminally ill patients to choose the time, place and manner of their death, and to allow health care professionals to provide them with the means without incurring liability or professional disciplinary action," Paulin said at a Tuesday news conference at the Capitol.

The Assemblywoman described her sister's protracted death from ovarian cancer, which followed almost a year of feeding tubes and chemotherapy that proved to be fruitless. She went into hospice and ultimately made the decision to stop taking nutrition.

"It was agonizing," Paulin said. " ... She chose that. I don't see any difference, except that this is more peaceful and with more dignity."

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said that New York law has held for decades that patients have a right to refuse treatment, include life-sustaining care.

"To me, I don't see any meaningful philosophical or clinical or ethical or religious difference between a patient saying 'Stop life-sustaining treatment, give me pain management even though it may be clear that that will depress my breathing and shorten my life' ... and a patient having the right to say, 'I want medication that will enable the suffering and the pain to come to an end,'" Gottfried said.

Opponents of the bill, however, see a significant difference.

"You withdraw the treatment, the patient dies of the underlying illness," said Kathleen Gallagher, the state Catholic Conference's director of pro-life activities. "You give them pills, they're going to die from that overdose of lethal drugs."

Gallagher noted that all the safeguards in the legislation are imposed before the medication arrives in the household.

"There's absolutely nothing to stop coercion," she said, "or somebody mixing it up in a patient's food (or) tricking a patient into taking it because of financial exploitation."

"It's absolutely suicide," she said of the bill's end result.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

NY lawmakers propose tax deferrals to defray childcare costs

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

ALBANY — Democrats in the New York state Senate say the state should allow families with young children to defer some of their state income taxes to help them cover the cost of childcare.

The proposal announced Tuesday would allow families to keep up to $2,000 of their state taxes to pay for childcare. The amount would be repaid over up to 10 years, interest free, once the child has entered school.

Other ideas from the Senate's Democratic minority include a law allowing workers to take paid-time off to care for a new child or sick loved one, increased childcare subsidies and help for new mothers dealing with postpartum depression.

Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says the measures are intended to help the "youngest New Yorkers" and their families.

Categories: State/Local

Lawmakers tell mayors they need to live with tax cap

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

Albany

A key lawmaker warned mayors and municipal leaders from around the state Monday that there wasn't much chance the local property tax cap would be loosened through legislation this year, given the divergence of views about the law.

"No one really anticipated we would be at this juncture," Sen. Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan told attendees at the annual meeting of the state Conference of Mayors at the Albany Hilton.

He was referring to the 0.12 percent increase by which localities can raise their property tax levies without needing a two-thirds override vote.

The state's cap ties increases without overrides to 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.

This year's low inflation led to the 0.12 limit, which for most practical purposes means that municipalities as well as school districts can't raise their property taxes without a politically risky override.

With that in mind, municipal leaders asked legislative leaders how they might loosen the cap — or get more state aid.

Changing the cap would be difficult because lawmakers have differing views on the measure, which is highly popular with voters but forces local government and school officials to make difficult spending decisions.

"I can't represent that I can do exactly what you want without the blessing of the members of our conference," Flanagan said.

Lawmakers did offer other options for cost savings, though.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who spoke separately from Flanagan, as well as Assembly Democratic Majority Leader Joe Morelle spoke of developing more municipal grants from the state budget such as AIM or Aid and Incentives to Municipalities.

The governor's budget proposal for that category, which is similar to unrestricted block grants, is pegged at almost $715 million, the same as the previous year.

Stewart-Cousins said she believed it was time to at least consider a change such as a straight 2 percent cap.

"I think we have to start talking about it," she said. "I mean, people expected a 2 percent tax cap and right now it isn't, and again there are still things to be done. There are roads to be paved and bridges and schools.''

Flanagan pointed out that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed through the cap in his first term, remains a strong defender of the plan.

Like the governor, Flanagan noted that a two-thirds majority can override the cap.

Many town boards and councils, for instance, are composed of five members and three members could override.

Local officials, though, may fear voter backlash in some cases, especially in an election year, for raising taxes above what is essentially the inflation rate.

For most school districts, the cap can be overridden by a two-thirds supermajority of voters in the district.

rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Garcia confirmed to Court of Appeals

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

Albany

Call it a sign of the times: The state Court of Appeals' newest associate justice has experience prosecuting terrorists.

Former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia took part in the cases against the conspirators who carried out the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the attacks five years later on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He also spent two years as assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the federal Department of Homeland Security.

At a Monday hearing of the state Senate's Judiciary Committee, Republican Sen. Tom Croci referred to Garcia's "in-depth knowledge" of security issues as well as his experience in commercial litigation, his concentration for the past several years at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm.

Garcia served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2005 to 2008 — the job currently held by Preet Bharara. He has also chaired the ethics committee of FIFA, the scandal-plagued organization that governs international soccer, but left that post in 2014 in protest over the way the group handled his report on problems in bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.

FIFA's head at the time Sepp Blatter, later resigned as a corruption scandal enveloped the organization.

After a generally friendly interview and unanimous approval by the Judiciary Committee, Garcia was quickly confirmed by the full Senate just a few hours after Janet DiFiore was sworn in as the state's newest chief judge and associate justice of the Court of Appeals.

Garcia, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's sixth appointment to the high court since taking office in 2011, replaces Susan Read, who retired last year.

Garcia's confirmation brings the court back up to its full complement of seven members for the first time since Read's departure. While the state Senate missed its 30-day deadline to approve DiFiore's nomination by three weeks, it acted ahead of schedule on Garcia's pick.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara heads to Albany

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara is heading to Albany — a place he has sharply condemned as the epicenter of New York's political corruption.

The U.S. Attorney for New York's Southern District is scheduled to address a meeting of the state's Conference of Mayors on Monday at noon and then speak at a performing arts center later in the day.

SEE CASEY SEILER'S COLUMN ON PREET BHARARA'S ALBANY VISIT

Last year, Bharara's office successfully prosecuted former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, who were found guilty of unrelated felony corruption charges.

Bharara's office has also investigated Gov. Andrew Cuomo's handling of an anti-corruption commission, though earlier this month Bharara said the probe found insufficient evidence of a federal crime.

Categories: State/Local

Funeral held for crane victim

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

New York

A pedestrian killed by a collapsing crane was eulogized Sunday as a man of kindness and generosity as the final remnants of the crumpled steel were removed from the Manhattan street where they fell.

David Wichs, 38, has been described by relatives as a mathematical whiz who graduated from Harvard University and worked at a computerized-trading firm.

His good deeds also made him "an angel," said Haskel Lookstein, rabbi emeritus of the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, where the funeral was held.

"We honor a very unique man whose life was a life of giving: giving from his possessions to causes he believed in passionately," Lookstein said.

The recipients included the Yeshiva of Flatbush, which had welcomed Wichs as a 14-year-old from Prague who barely spoke English and knew no Hebrew. "He never forgot it, and he gave back generously," the rabbi said.

"He gave an unusually large part of his income, but he gave of his person to everybody sitting here," Lookstein said. "He was a supreme mensch in every respect."

Wichs' widow, Rebecca Guttman, called her pain "unbearable."

"I want you to know that I will do my best to live for us both," Guttman told her fellow mourners.

Wichs' remains were taken for burial at Passaic Junction Cemetery in Saddle Brook, New Jersey.

Three other people were struck by debris and injured in the accident Friday.

"Given what happened here, it's extraordinary that there was not more damage, and it's extraordinary that we did not lose more people," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference Sunday in which he announced a four-point plan to increase safety when large construction cranes are operating.

The mayor said there will be new restrictions on crawler cranes during windy conditions. Fines for failure to safeguard equipment will be doubled. He said there will be increased enforcement of pedestrian safety alongside crane sites. And neighboring buildings will get more notifications about crane activities.

City officials say it could take weeks to determine why the crane collapsed while it was being lowered during strong winds.

Categories: State/Local

Firefighter accused of using blue light to pull over motorist

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

FLORIDA — A Guilderland man faces seven traffic tickets after police say he used the blue volunteer firefighter light on his vehicle to allegedly pull over another car in the town of Florida last month, Montgomery County deputies said Saturday.

John Russel James Cochran, 22, told police he had been driving a pickup with a large Peterbilt sticker on the back window on Jan. 23 when there were reports that the truck had signaled another motorist with the lights but then "sped off," deputies said.

The event was broadcast to local fire departments, then reported across social media, deputies said. That led to a sighting of the truck in Guilderland.

Cochran is scheduled to be in Florida Town Court on Feb. 18 for tickets alleging unauthorized use of a blue light, failure to dim high beams, following too close, an unregistered motor vehicle, littering, having an open container with an alcoholic beverage in the vehicle and having an unauthorized sticker in the rear window, deputies said.

Cochran is a fire department member in Albany County but he has been suspended pending the court outcome, deputies said. The department could not immediately be learned.

Categories: State/Local

One dead as crane topples

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

New York

A huge construction crane being lowered to safety in a snow squall plummeted onto a Lower Manhattan street Friday, killing a Wall Street worker and leaving three people hurt by debris that scattered as the rig's lengthy boom fell, officials said.

The mobile crane's boom landed across an intersection, smashed several car roofs and stretched much of a block after the accident around 8:25 a.m. at a historic building about 10 blocks north of the World Trade Center.

Robert Harold heard a crashing sound as the rig fell right outside his office window at the Legal Aid Society.

"You could feel the vibration in the building," said Harold, who recounted seeing onlookers trying to rescue someone trapped in a parked car and seeing a person lying motionless on the street. After the collapse, the crane's big cab lay upside-down in the snow with its tank-like tracks pointed at the sky.

The collapse killed David Wichs, a mathematical whiz who worked at a computerized trading firm, his family said. Born in Prague, he had immigrated to the United States as a teenager and graduated from Harvard University, said his sister-in-law, Lisa Guttman.

"He really created a life for himself. He literally took every opportunity he could find," she said through tears.

Mayor Bill de Blasio initially said the person killed in the collapse was in a car, but police later said he was on the sidewalk.

De Blasio said two people were seriously injured, while a third suffered more minor injuries.

Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler said inspectors found no problems then with the crane but would investigate further.

Categories: State/Local

Gay groups try to buy anti-gay church

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

New York

The end may be nigh for a Harlem church known for hateful public messages condemning gays and President Barack Obama to eternal damnation, and two groups that serve gay New Yorkers are hoping to get an ironic last word on the matter.

They want to buy the Atlah World Missionary Church at a foreclosure auction. One wants to turn it into housing for gay homeless youth.

The congregation's pastor has vowed not to let that happen.

"We're not going to be pushed like this," said Dr. James David Manning, who literally thumped a leather-bound Bible during an interview at his church this week. "I'm tired of people ramming their ideas down one's throat."

A fixture in Harlem, The Atlah World Missionary Church has never been shy about expressing its own blunt ideas. The billboard in front of the church is emblazoned with messages like one that said to gays "cursed be thou with cancer, HIV, syphilis, stroke, madness, the itch, then Hell." Others have gone after Obama, calling him "a Taliban Muslim illegally elected president."

When the news broke that the church owed $1 million to creditors and was facing a foreclosure auction Feb. 24, some quarters received it with glee.

One nonprofit group, the Ali Forney Center, has raised $175,000 on its website as part of an effort to buy the church and convert the building into transitional housing for homeless gay youths — the very population, its leaders say, that is most harmed by the Atlah church's message.

"We ask our kids why they weren't safe in their homes. ... The No. 1 reason is because of the hostile religious beliefs of their parents," said the center's executive director, Carl Siciliano.

Categories: State/Local

Ammo database developed at less than bullet speed

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

Albany

Controversy over the SAFE Act, the 2013 gun control law pushed through by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, continues across New York's political landscape.

The latest dispute erupted Thursday during a legislative budget hearing that revealed efforts to create an ammunition-sales registry are continuing — very slowly.

Margaret Miller, who oversees the state Office for Information Technology Services, told lawmakers that her agency had devised three options for setting up an ammunition database and presented them to the State Police, which under the SAFE Act would maintain the system.

At Thursday's hearing, Miller said all three potential designs for the system were rejected by the State Police.

The database would enable background checks by ammunition dealers, such as firearms or sporting good stores, for people buying bullets or shells. The dealers would have to report the sales, including the amount of ammunition sold, to the state. The program was intended to flag potential large purchases by individuals who might be planning acts of violence.

In July, Cuomo and Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan signed a memorandum of understanding stating that no money would go toward funding or deploying the ammunition database without the approval of Flanagan.

Several Republican opponents of the SAFE Act crowed that the deal effectively meant the database would never go on line.

The Cuomo administration insisted that was not the case, arguing the memorandum merely meant the system wouldn't be implemented until it was ready.

At the session, Miller also drew a rebuke from Western New York Republican Sen. Cathy Young, recently named chairwoman of the chamber's Finance Committee.

Young took issue with Miller's contention that more than $27 million had been allocated in the 2013-2014 budget to support the SAFE Act's provisions. "That was not a true statement — there was no lining out in the state budget regarding those funds," Young said.

Miller apologized.

"We have not yet spent money on the ammunition database," Miller said in response to another question from the lawmaker.

"You're aware of the MOU that's in place ... not to develop the database?" Young asked.

" ... We have done research, but that's all we've done with regard to the ammunition database," Miller said.

The database was originally supposed to be up and running in January 2014. What happened?

That depends on who you talk to.

"I spoke with the governor's office earlier this week and indeed they are working on it," said Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, on Friday.

Barrett said she spoke recently with Cuomo's Counsel Alphonso David and Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Terence O'Leary, who assured her the work was proceeding.

The extent to which Miller's agency is actively developing a database, however, isn't clear. Her office on Friday refused to expand upon her comments at the hearing, or provide any information about the three systems proposed to the State Police.

The Republican-controlled Senate isn't going to approve more spending on the project any time soon.

The SAFE Act, which also expanded the definition of banned assault-style weapons, has been a rallying point for many upstate GOP lawmakers who represent areas with large populations of hunters and shooting enthusiasts, many of whom view the law as an infringement on their federal Second Amendment rights. Flanagan, who hails from suburban Long Island, voted in favor of the bill, which passed a month after the killings in Sandy Hook. He has subsequently criticized elements of the law.

Cuomo has touted the legislation as one of the signal accomplishments of his first term, though it has put a significant dent in his support in many parts of upstate.

On the other side of the issue, the governor drew criticism from downstate Democrats after signing the memorandum in July. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called the two-way agreement "an ill-advised end run around the Legislature."

The governor's advocacy for more vigorous action against gun violence escalated sharply in September following the shooting of his aide Caray Gabay, who died days after being struck in the head by a stray bullet in Brooklyn.

Cuomo has said the establishment of the registry would be dependent in part on getting the proper technology. His office confirmed on Friday he was committed to the database.

Barrett was told that the database needs to be quickly and easily accessed by ammunition retailers, including those who live in regions without sufficient broadband capabilities.

"They don't want the system to prevent any significant delays for the purchaser," she said.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Woman, 82, finds birth mother, 96

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

Albany

Eighty-two years after she was born to a teenage girl and put up for adoption, Betty Morrell finally has met her 96-year-old birth mother, thanks to the dogged persistence of her granddaughter during 20 years of searching.

And as a bonus, she has forged a close friendship with a sister she never knew she had.

"After my adoptive parents died, that's when I started looking," Betty Morrell said Thursday by phone from her home in Spring Hill, Fla.

Morrell was born in 1933 in Utica to Lena Pierce, who named her Eva May. Social welfare officials took the baby away because Pierce, then 13, was herself a ward of the state.

Eva May was adopted by a family on Long Island and grew up as Betty Morrell, an only child. "I grew up a very happy child," Morrell said. "I was so content in the family I was adopted by."

She was in her early 30s when she started looking for information about her birth family. She had been told her birth mother had died during childbirth and was shocked when she eventually learned she was still alive.

Morrell lfinally earned she had four sisters and two brothers, and that her mother was alive and well, living in an assisted living apartment complex in Hallstead, Pa.

Categories: State/Local

Lawmakers question prison security, safety

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

Albany

Correctional officers in state prisons may soon be using pepper spray to quell potential fights with and among inmates.

They're deploying portable metal detectors to better ferret out homemade knives.

And they plan to cut the use of canned goods in prison commissaries, thus denying troublemakers the use of sharp metal lids that can be turned into weapons.

Another move: showing correctional officers a video dubbed "Games Inmates Play'' alerting them to efforts that prisoners may use to manipulate guards.

Despite these increased security efforts, lawmakers had plenty of questions during a budget hearing Thursday for Acting Corrections and Community Supervision Commissioner Anthony Annucci.

Several asked about the cost (an estimated $25 million, mostly for police and prison guard overtime) of June's prison break at the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.

That was when Richard Matt and David Sweat tunneled their way out of the prison, setting off a weeks-long manhunt. Matt was eventually shot and killed while Sweat was shot and recaptured. Investigations found evidence of laxity in the prison. Prison guard Gene Palmer was charged with two felonies for inadvertently helping the pair and a civilian employee, Joyce Mitchell, was convicted of helping Matt and Sweat.

Then came a series of newspaper reports in The New York Times about mistreatment and beatings of prisoners, followed by a Times Union exposé of corruption and mismanagement in the prison system's own internal affairs or Inspector General's office.

Annucci told lawmakers that he has since revamped the inspector general's office, replacing it with a new Office of Special Investigations with a chief reporting to him directly. Not everyone was impressed.

Manhattan Democratic Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell quipped that "I went out and bought some skinny jeans but that doesn't mean I'm skinny.''

O'Donnell, who earlier in the year led hearings on allegations of prisoner abuse, has called for an independent outside oversight agency.

Critiques came from those like O'Donnell, who was concerned with the treatment of inmates, as well as from GOP lawmakers who wanted more protections for guards as well as better information on and watchfulness of parolees. "I've seen way too many assaults on correctional officers,'' said Republican Assemblywoman Janet Duprey of Plattsurgh.

Finger Lakes Republican Sen. Mike Nozzolio got cheers from the audience when he called for more parole officers.

"If the parole system is not broken, it is severely cracked," said Rochester-area GOP Sen. Richard Funke, who recited three cases in which parolees killed people in the area.

rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Family leave, battle for Senate to be discussed

Albany Times/Union - 33 min 12 sec ago

Don't miss this week's episode of "New York Now," the award-winning coproduction of WMHT and the Times Union. Highlights include:

Matt Ryan of WMHT surveys the week's headlines, including the Assembly's passage of a paid family leave program.

Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio chats with Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins about the fight for control of the chamber and her support for Hillary Clinton.

DeWitt joins the TU's Casey Seiler and Matthew Hamilton at the Reporters Roundtable to discuss legislative jockeying over tax policy, and the controversy over state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia's visit to a charter school rally.

"New York Now" airs on WMHT Ch. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11:30 p.m. Sunday.

Categories: State/Local

After New Hampshire: Debates & Voting Dates Until New York

Gotham Gazette - 7 hours 40 min ago

image via NYC Board of Elections

On Tuesday, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump won their respective Democratic and Republican New Hampshire primaries by wide margins. This, after Sanders lost narrowly to Hillary Clinton and Trump lost to Ted Cruz in Iowa. On the Democratic side, there are only two candidates - Hillary Clinton came in second to Sanders in New Hampshire. For the Republicans, John Kasich came in second, adding a sense of momentum to his campaign.

Now, there are 48 more states and the District of Columbia to vote before the primary season is over. New York will be the 37th state to hold a vote when April 19 comes around.

It is unclear whether there will still be a race on either side of the aisle when voting comes to New York. The Republican field has a lot of winnowing to do and the two remaining Democrats could be in for a long slog - but, April 19 is a long way away.

Next up, South Carolina and Nevada take center stage. More debates are on the horizon, too, of course. The Democrats are set to debate on Feb. 11, March 6, and March 9. They're also scheduled to debate once in April and once in May, with dates and locations to be determined.

On the Republican side, there are debates set for Feb. 13 and 26; as well as for March 10. There could always be others added, of course.

As for the votes to take place leading up to New York, 34 states will have held either caucus or primary votes for both major parties, while two states - North Dakota and Kentucky - will have only held their Republican vote, with their Democratic vote coming later in the spring. The calendar is below.

Keep in mind that there are actually four election days in New York this year: presidential primary on April 19, followed by congressional primaries in June, state-level primaries in September, and the November Election Day.

The presidential primary calendar (if no party is noted, both major party votes will occur the same day):

Feb. 20
Nevada caucus (D)
South Carolina (R)
Washington caucus (R)

Feb. 23
Nevada caucus (R)

Feb. 27
South Carolina (D)

March 1
Alabama
Alaska caucus (R)
Arkansas
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March 8
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March 15
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March 22
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March 26
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{module Author Ben Max}

Categories: State/Local

Time for NYCHA to Stop Wasting Our Money

Gotham Gazette - 7 hours 40 min ago

photo via NYCHA

In following the news over the past years, it has become readily apparent that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) must either be severely underfunded or grossly mismanaged. Unfortunately it's the latter.

There is no shortage of issues that have come up that demonstrate the ineptitude of NYCHA leadership. From failing to protect residents in advance of Hurricane Sandy to toxic molds to turning on the heat only if it gets to 25 degrees, NYCHA is failing its residents. To say that NYCHA is mismanaged and wasting our tax money is an understatement. Officials are throwing it away, literally - NYCHA actually recently threw away $550,000 of new supplies that were purchased but determined to not be useful.

But wasteful spending doesn't end there. NYCHA attaches Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) to all of their rehab and construction projects. These costly provisions mandate that a vast majority of workers come from the union halls, leading to fewer contractors bidding on the work and diminished competition.

Officials agree to these provisions even though studies show PLAs increase construction costs up to 30 percent. These additional costs come from reduced competition and antiquated jurisdictional work rules that prevent efficiencies. At a time when Mayor de Blasio has taken a stand for increased affordable housing in New York City by standing up to the powerful trades unions and telling them that they've out-priced themselves, NYCHA is acquiescing to their every demand, to the detriment of taxpayers and tenants alike.

An increasing amount of work is being done throughout New York City by merit shop contractors, and with good reason. These men and women have found innovative ways to build the best projects in efficient, cost-effective ways, while still taking great care of their employees. Go to any private job site today and you will more than likely see a diverse group of professionals working together as a team to get the job done. There is no bickering among differing trades as to whose responsibility it is to do key tasks like you see on public or taxpayer funded job sites.

Unfortunately, while these advancements have made construction better and cheaper, our union counterparts have been left behind, instead being forced to rely on their political influence to get publicly funded work such as at NYCHA. But as more and more of the general public is becoming aware of how this impacts their wallets and how much farther their dollar could go, this is changing too.

These changes have spurred the unfortunate rhetoric and baseless claims from union bosses who see their empires slipping away.

Imagine how much work could get done with 30 percent more capital to work with? Maybe those elevators could finally get fixed or the mold would finally be eradicated. Perhaps NYCHA could be more prepared for a disaster. And what if, not to be too bold, NYCHA could actually turn the heat on before it hits 25 degrees?

As a public authority, NYCHA has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of this city. This should encourage its leaders to stretch tax dollars as far as they can to get the most bang for the buck. They also have a moral obligation to the tenants of their housing. This means they should do everything they can to get the best housing available at the most competitive pricing - making more housing available to those who need it.

NYCHA needs to be cleaned up, and the corruption and mismanagement that have plagued the tenants and taxpayers of New York City needs to be addressed. The process by which NYCHA officials spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars is a start.

Our message to NYCHA is clear: while you've gotten used to throwing our money away, you owe it to taxpayers and tenants to open bids up, create competition, and get the most bang for our buck.

***
Brian Sampson is the President of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter. The Association was founded on the shared belief that construction projects should be awarded on merit to the most qualified and responsible low bidders. The Chapter represents nearly 400 members in the construction industry throughout NYS.

{module Author Opinion}

Categories: State/Local

Sanders campaign delivering signatures for NY ballot

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 02/09/2016 - 11:07pm

Albany

A group of around 80 supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' White House bid rallied Thursday outside the Pearl Street headquarters of the state Board of Elections as they awaited the arrival of boxes of petitions.

Once filed, the petitions will allow Sanders to run on the April 19 Democratic primary ballot in New York.

Statewide, Sanders' supporters — including the state Working Families Party — said they had collected roughly 85,000 signatures. The stack of boxes on the counter at the board's offices were arranged by congressional district as they were taken in by elections officials.

Richard Sahr of East Nassau was one of the first petition-haulers to arrive at the fifth-floor offices. He spent a week collecting signatures in his predominantly rural stretch of the 19th Congressional District.

He described the general response to his outreach as "very positive."

"I went to one house where the guy went ballistic. ... 'He's a socialist! Are you crazy?'" Sahr said.

Volunteers in the sprawling 19th district, which stretches from Rensselaer County to Poughkeepsie, ended up collecting around 4,000 signatures, Sahr said — far above the initial goal of 500.

Sahr said he had to revisit about 15 people after he discovered he had mistakenly been given a New York City petition form.

Hillary Clinton's team reported filing roughly the same number of signatures.

Categories: State/Local

Elections complaint targets Heaney

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 02/09/2016 - 8:07pm

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated David Catalfamo's position. He is a spokesman for U.S. Congressional candidate Andrew Heaney.

Albany

A Washington, D.C., watchdog group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission that alleges Republican 19th Congressional District primary candidate Andrew Heaney's campaign is illegally coordinating with a super PAC, called New York Jobs Council, that has received donations from Heaney.

Campaign for Accountability, which bills itself as a nonpartisan watchdog and accountability group brought the complaint, which an FEC spokeswoman said early Wednesday afternoon was not yet on file with its general counsel's office.

Campaign for Accountability points to donations to the PAC made by companies owned by Heaney and his sister Allison. Heaney runs Heaney Energy Corporation, a fuel oil dealer.

New York Jobs Council has attacked the campaign of Republican primary candidate John Faso on Twitter, using hashtags such as "#NoToFaso."

Campaign for Accountability also raises concerns about the Heaney campaign working with two vendors that had consulted with the PAC, according to the complaint.

Other elements of the complaint are speculative, such as the charge that future public communications in the district made by New York Jobs Council could represent an in-kind contribution to the Heaney campaign, given its anti-Faso stance.

"In his role as executive director of the super PAC, Mr. (Rob) Cole disingenuously (to say the least) claimed in October that NY Jobs Council hadn't decided which candidate to back in the 19th District, but said, 'We know Mr. Faso is not going to be our chosen candidate,'" the complaint states, citing a Middletown Times Herald-Record article from Oct. 17. It goes on to allege that "eight out of the ten individual donors to the super PAC are associated with the Heaney campaign."

At other points, the complaint is less definitive, claiming Heaney "almost certainly" directed three companies he owns or controls to contribute to the PAC.

"This baseless complaint is just a desperate, slimy and cowardly effort by John Faso to deflect from his record as a disgraced lobbyist and political bagman," said David Catalfamo, a Heaney spokesman.

The Faso campaign said the complaint included "substantive allegations filed by a serious organization."

Attorney Elizabeth Beacham White, legal counsel for the PAC, called the filing "a frivolous complaint filed by a liberal activist group that harasses conservative leaders."

"This liberal nonprofit group's time would be better spent investigating John Faso's lobbying scandals," she said in an email, "unless of course he's behind these attacks?"The full complaint filed by Campaign for Accountability is below:

FEC Complaint Against Heaney for Congress and NY Jobs Council by Campaign for Accountability

Categories: State/Local

Tonko urges aid for water repairs

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 02/09/2016 - 8:07pm

Washington

Water main breaks like the one in Troy last month that flooded streets and basements will be commonplace unless the federal government significantly ups its spending on aging underground water-supply systems, Rep. Paul Tonko told fellow lawmakers Wednesday.

The Amsterdam Democrat appeared before the House Budget Committee to pitch his local-needs wish list, and chose the occasion to talk about the nation's basic need for safe and reliable drinking water.

He touched not only on Troy but also the scandal in Flint, Mich., in which children and adults suffered lead poisoning after officials started drawing water from a polluted local river as a cost-saving measure.

"It is extremely difficult for financially distressed cities, let alone small and rural communities, to find the funds to repair and upgrade their water systems," Tonko said. "Some older cities have been hollowed out and their unreliable, century-old water systems make it nearly impossible to attract new businesses and investments."

Flint, Troy and other areas with water problems are "not isolated cases," Tonko said.

There are about 240,000 water main breaks every year, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. On top of that, leaking pipes lose about 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water each day, Tonko said.

Tonko appeared alongside several other House lawmakers who also pleaded for federal dollars aimed at addressing local concerns. Next week, President Barack Obama roles out the administration's 2017 budget, which itself is little more than a wish-list subject to congressional scrutiny.

The fourth-term Democrat recalled touring water systems in the Albany-based 20th Congressional District, including a portion of Albany's 317 miles of pipes. Some of them are 135 years old, dating back to when Rutherford B. Hayes was in the White House, he said.

"Without adequate water systems, small businesses, major manufacturers, electric utilities, and farms cannot function, let alone grow," he said.

Tonko pledged to reinvigorate the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which provides federal dollars to support drinking water infrastructure. Created in 1996, its authorization expired in 2003 and it has not been reauthorized since. Flat funding levels have caused a "greater and greater burden to fall upon cash-strapped local governments," Tonko said.

dan@hearstdc.com

Categories: State/Local
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