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Vermont: Cellphone use while driving ban begins Oct. 1

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Drivers who use hand-held cellphones and other electronic devices while driving after a new law takes effect Oct. 1 should be prepared to be stopped and fined, according to the head of the Vermont State Police Traffic Safety Division.

There will be no grace period after the law takes effect, Lt. Garry Scott said, but efforts are being made ahead of the new law to remind motorists of the ban so they will put away their phones and other devices.

"We're trying every media market we can get to," Scott said.

Glen Button, the director of enforcement and safety for the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, said that a survey last month determined 78 percent of Vermonters knew about the upcoming ban.

Yet police and others are doing radio announcements, posters are being put up around the state and officials are hoping Vermonters will begin talking among themselves about the ban's enforcement. Roadside signs are also noting the incoming law.

Button said that on Sept. 30, the day before the ban takes effect, Vermont Emergency Management will be spreading the word with automated phone calls.

"We're fairly confident that the word is out to the public that the law does take effect," Button said. "But one of the things that we've been emphasizing is that driving is that ... driving is serious business and they really need to focus on driving safely."

Motorists will still be able to use their phones, but only if it's hands free, such as having it mounted in a stationary location in the vehicle.

The Vermont Legislature passed the ban earlier this year after lawmakers heard testimony about the dangers of distracted driving.

Button said that Vermont will be the 15th state to prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving and police may cite a driver without any other traffic offense taking place.

Scott said research from other states indicates it's unlikely there will be an immediate reduction in the number of crashes after the law takes effect. And a hands-free requirement only goes so far in keeping drivers focused on the road.

"The research indicates that even if you are talking on your phone you are still distracted, whether it's in your hand or not," Scott said. "We're just hoping that people use common sense, that when you're driving that you should be paying complete attention to what you're doing."

Categories: State/Local

Candidates all business at gathering

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Bolton Landing

Four years ago, the annual state Business Council gathering at The Sagamore Resort drew national attention when Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino nearly came to blows with New York Post reporter Fred Dicker. The episode, captured on video that quickly went viral, led many voters to view Paladino as too undisciplined to run the state.

In keeping with the low wattage of this year's race for governor, the 2014 gathering offered a far more subdued scenario on Friday morning as this year's GOP aspirant, Rob Astorino, waited for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to arrive and address the business leaders.

It was a long 10 minutes, as a throng of smartphone-toting reporters wondered if there would be a confrontation between the candidates, who have been battering each other with increasingly hard-hitting commercials and criticism in recent weeks. There was also speculation that Cuomo's aides might have been looking for an alternate entrance to the ballroom, where Business Council members — who had heard a speech by Astorino on Thursday evening — waited for the governor to arrive.

Two weeks ago, Cuomo refused to shake hands with his Democratic primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout, at a labor parade, where she was walled off by his aides.

But not this time. Cuomo strode in and briefly shook hands with Astorino, who asked when they would meet for debates. "Tell me when," Astorino said as Cuomo passed by with a deft pat on the shoulder.

Cuomo's speech was standard, although tailored to the Business Council's interests. He spoke about how he has reduced the state's public-sector work force and kept spending growth below 2 percent in an effort to balance the budget.

He also talked up his START-UP NY tax-break program for new businesses, and urged members to support him in his effort to revive upstate and tame the state's "killer" property taxes.

Cuomo said he might use some of the state's newfound $6.2 billion surplus, fueled by a series of regulatory settlements with large banks, to spur local government consolidation and to continue priming the upstate economy.

In a Q&A session with reporters after the speech, Cuomo didn't rule out supporting Buffalo-area incumbent Republican state Sen. Mark Grisanti, who is running for reelection on the Independence party line after he was defeated in a primary by conservative candidate Kevin Stocker. Grisanti is one of four Republicans who voted for same-sex marriage in 2011, and the only one still in office.

"This is a personally difficult situation for me, and I'm thinking about it," said Cuomo, who called Grisanti a political ally. "I haven't reached any conclusions."

But Cuomo has also vowed to work for full Democratic control of the Senate — something that would seem to require him to support Grisanti's Democratic opponent, Marc Panepinto, in one of a handful of tightly contested races.

Cuomo was asked if he could work with a Democratic Senate majority after four years of working with the chamber's Republicans.

"We have a very eclectic group," Cuomo said of the Legislature's ideological spectrum, which he said runs from "wild liberals" to "ultraconservatives."

"Whoever the people elect, I see it as my job to then figure out how to work with them," he said.

Cuomo said he expected to debate Astorino, but would leave the details to his campaign staff.

Although his visit to Bolton Landing was categorized as an official gubernatorial trip, Cuomo used a private helicopter to travel there "out of an abundance of caution" because of its political import. A campaign spokesman declined to name the donor, saying it would be disclosed in future filings with the state Board of Elections.

Four years ago, the Business Council, in a break from recent tradition, endorsed Cuomo over Paladino. Spokesman Gary Hughes said council members haven't yet decided what they'll do this time.

"We have a process we will follow, and it hasn't been completed yet," Hughes said in an email.

When asked what Cuomo thought of Astorino attending his speech unannounced, the governor said, "I hoped he enjoyed it.''

Rkarlin@timesunion.com 454 5758 @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Security ramp up in New York

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Albany

New York is starting to deploy National Guard troops and additional police to beef up security at major transit points and other locations in response to a heightened threat of terrorism.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, accompanied by state lawmakers, said Friday that the stepped-up security is already under way and likely to last months, but it isn't in response to any specific threat.

Cuomo said the increased tensions with international terrorist organizations are undeniable.

"It's also undeniable New York is a possible target of a terrorist attack, either in retaliation for actions this country may be taking or as an offensive gesture," he said. "Our responsibility is to make sure we're doing everything that is prudent to be ready, to be prepared and to anticipate."

An announcement of a joint plan with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is planned next week. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will be involved, with strengthened security at airports, trains and terminals, as well as police in New York City and the greater metropolitan area, Cuomo said. He said the increase will be visible, with hundreds of additional personnel deployed, and it will cost the state tens of millions of dollars in the short term.

"The issue of money is really irrelevant," said Sen. Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican and co-leader of the state Senate. He said there's no question there are groups that want to hurt and kill people in New York.

"New Yorkers know this great international city is a top target for terrorists," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat. "The 9/11 attacks taught up painful lessons of the need for vigilance."

Jetliners hijacked by terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center towers in his district in 2001, killing almost 3,000 people.

Silver noted the Jewish High Holy Days are coming up, as well as the United Nations meeting, which further stretches police. "This is a critical time to set forth a coordinated plan to respond to the potential threats that may exist," he said.

Categories: State/Local

Rochester man denies plot to aid terror group

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Rochester

A man accused of plotting to kill members of the U.S. military and others pleaded not guilty on Thursday to new federal charges that he tried to aid the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Mufid Elfgeeh, 30, entered the plea in Rochester to three counts of attempting to provide material support and resources to the group, designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S.

According to an indictment Tuesday, the Rochester food store owner tried to arrange for three individuals to travel to Syria to join the extremist group in 2013 and early 2014. Authorities said two of those people were actually FBI informants.

Elfgeeh was arrested in May after federal authorities said he bought two handguns and two silencers as part of a plan to kill members of the U.S. armed forces returning from war and Shiites in the Rochester area.

The investigation included linking Elfgeeh's home computer to tweets from alias Twitter accounts expressing support for al-Qaida, violent holy war and Sunni insurgent groups in Syria, according to court papers.

In an affidavit seeking court permission to obtain some of Elfgeeh's social media and messaging records, an FBI agent said Elfgeeh asked for donations to be sent along to jihadists in Syria and asked one of the FBI informants to help raise money for a Yemeni man to travel to Syria. That man subsequently had trouble getting a visa to enter Turkey, according to the court documents, which also said Elfgeeh encouraged the informants to join the fight in Syria and said he would join them.

The FBI said it had been investigating Elfgeeh, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Yemen, since early last year.

The FBI said it paid one of the informants $21,700 and provided help on immigration matters for that person's family. The other informant, who had two previous convictions for drug offense a decade ago, was paid $7,000.

Elfgeeh's lawyer didn't return a call seeking comment.

Categories: State/Local

Rhetoric heats up on sexual harassment

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Albany

Calling sexual harassment and domestic violence "a crisis facing our nation," Republican attorney general candidate John Cahill said if elected he'd create a special division dedicated to fighting them.

"We need to have a much more coordinated approach to dealing with this issue," Cahill said Thursday in a news conference outside the Robert Abrams Building for Law and Justice, which houses personnel in the attorney general's office.

Sharpening his rhetoric, Cahill said Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was "complicit" in the sexual harassment of legislative staffers allegedly committed by Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who was forced from office in 2013.

Cahill was referring to confidential settlements reached between the Assembly's Democratic leadership and two of Lopez's alleged victims. Schneiderman has defended his office's role, saying that staffers only approved generic agreements and played no role in the requirement that they be kept secret.

Schneiderman's campaign spokesman said the Democrat "has worked aggressively to prevent domestic violence," and pointed out that the former state senator led the effort to expel Sen. Hiram Monserrate from the chamber after he slashed his girlfriend's face.

Cahill said he would work to coordinate local efforts to reduce violence against women in the workplace or at home. "All of the law enforcement agencies of this state should be working together to solve this problem," he said.

Also Thursday, the state Board of Elections said it was satisfied with Cahill's release of selected questions from an internal poll touted in a letter to donors.

The selected poll questions paint a picture of a tightening race, with 29.7 percent for Cahill, 36.8 percent for Schneiderman and 33.5 percent undecided.

State law requires the filing of any internal poll results that are disclosed to the public, even in a limited way. Pollsters and election law attorneys noted that it was hard to assess the reliability of the poll without seeing all the questions asked — including "preparatory" questions that can be used to guide a respondent to a desired response.

Attorney and election law expert Jerry Goldfeder said Cahill's partial release was insufficient, and expressed disdain at the board's reliance on a 30-year-old advisory opinion to allow it.

"The Election Law demands that he needs to release the entire poll," Goldfeder said.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Bruno does asking as tables turn

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Bolton Landing

You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.

Next stop: The Bruno Zone, a realm where politicians get to pose the questions to journalists.

This political wormhole opened up Thursday morning at the state Business Council's annual meeting, where former Senate Republican Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno moderated a roundtable with Capitol reporters.

Yes, that Joe Bruno, the Brunswick lawmaker whose legal difficulties have in recent years been chronicled by many of the same journalists.

For Capitol watchers, it was a surreal yet informative hour-long session, with Bruno and reporters offering their takes on, among other things, the recent primaries, the debate over hydrofracking, the media's relationship with elected officials and the scandal surrounding the Moreland Commission.

"I keep reading about a Senator Moreland — I don't know who the hell he was," Bruno said, prompting laughs from those gathered at The Sagamore conference center. "After the reporters — Capital New York's Jimmy Vielkind, the Daily News' Ken Lovett and WCNY's Susan Arbetter — discussed the Moreland scandal currently dogging the governor's office, Bruno turned to the crowd and got serious.

Federal investigators, he said, don't understand the way Albany politics works."Are you listening?" he asked. "Because here are the people who report the news and they're saying, pretty much, that the feds don't really know what the hell goes on in government in New York state. That's a fact: They really don't understand it. And you know what's worse? They don't want to understand it, and that's a fact. You have to hold them accountable."

Bruno was acquitted of federal corruption charges earlier this year after his 2009 conviction was voided by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that pared back the scope of the "honest services" law that had initially been used against him.

Prosecutors had charged that Bruno had used his office to generate business for his outside consulting company.

Bruno admitted that he had an "up-and-down" relationship with members of the press, but except for a few good-natured shots at reporters Bruno's conversation about the interaction between journalists and elected officials was even-handed. "It's a heck of a lot more fun, let me tell you, asking the questions than preparing the answers without stepping into it," he said after the roundtable had concluded, and he was once again facing reporters' microphones.

"When I would talk sometimes, I'd talk for 20 minutes, they'd pick out one line in the press," Bruno said. " ... A press person has an objective usually when they're questioning ... and the person in office doesn't want to be saying the wrong thing, because (with) almost any issue there's supporters and detractors. So the less you can be pointed, the better off you are."

Bruno also complained public officials don't have as much protection against libel and slander.

Categories: State/Local

New York seeks comment on its open space plan

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

ALBANY — New York state is seeking comment on its open space plan.

The 2014 State Open Space Conservation Plan is a draft blueprint for how New York can protect its air, water and land, promote outdoor recreation, manage its park system and prepare for climate change.

State environmental and parks officials are seeking public comment through Dec. 17, either in writing or at public hearings. The hearings will be held around the state in late October.

State officials say they are open to suggestions on topics that include promoting tourism, improving public lands and creating more accessible public lands near cities.

The plan will be submitted to the governor next year.

—Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

Court of Appeals hears appeals on civil confinement cases

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Should a rapist and incorrigible criminal with a long and violent history be locked up in a psychiatric hospital after serving out his rape sentence in prison?

In some cases, the law says "yes'' if the person has a "mental abnormality'' that would make him or her likely to commit more sexual assaults.

But deciding and even defining that abnormality can be tricky, as was evident at the state Court of Appeals on Thursday when judges heard two cases that raised questions about precisely what it takes to keep convicted rapists in secure hospitals under the state's seven-year-old Civil Confinement law.

The cases are among several that the state's highest court has fielded in the past few years in what appears to be growing scrutiny of the complicated and controversial statute.

On the one hand, no one wants dangerous offenders to be released. But there is a obligation to make sure that only those who truly meet the criteria for civil confinement or commitment are locked up.

"How nervous should we be about what we are turning loose on the community if we go your way?" Court of Appeals Judge Robert Smith asked Albany appeals lawyer George Hoffman. He was representing a Greene County man with a long criminal record but whom Hoffman argued was civilly confined under a diagnosis of ''anti-social personality disorder'' that didn't meet the threshold for forced hospitalization.

Both Hoffman and Long Island lawyer Ana Vuk-Pavlovic were arguing that their clients shouldn't be locked in a hospital for the diagnosis of "anti-social personality disorder" that wasn't linked to a sexual abnormality.

Hoffman conceded that his client, referred to as "Donald DD,'' is no candidate for sainthood.

Donald DD was convicted for numerous sexual assaults over the years and he was alleged to have molested his children as well. He was also described as habitually violent and a thief.

But the idea behind civil confinement is to keep impulsive sex abusers, not thugs, in hospitals where they can be confined and treated.

Those who are confined have their identities shielded because they have been deemed mentally ill.

Vuk-Pavlovic's client, Kenneth T, was first convicted of rape in 1983, paroled in 1999 and convicted of attempted rape in 2001. The state moved to confine him as his release date of 2008 approached.

Vuk-Pavlovic said that Kenneth T had been diagnosed with paraphilia, or an uncontrollable sexual arousal associated with a specific object or activity.

She said that paraphilia is controversial and the subject of "serious debate" among mental health professionals.

Following Thursday's arguments Hoffman said that civil confinement cases can involve battles of experts.

Prosecutors often hire psychiatrists or psychologists who tend to argue that some people have the kind of "mental abnormalities'' that warrant confinement while defense lawyers hire experts who say they don't.

According to a recent report from the state Office for Mental Health, which operates the hospitals where confined sex abusers are kept, between 2007 and 2013, 276 people were found to have mental abnormalities that required confinement.

When civilly committed, people are sent to secure state-run psychiatric facilities in Marcy and Ogdensburg.

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

Categories: State/Local

Now' focuses on Hawkins, campaign

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Don't miss this week's episode of "New York Now," the award-winning co-production of WMHT and the Times Union. This week's highlights:

Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio talks to Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins about his platform and his desire to be included in any debates involving major-party candidates Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rob Astorino.

Times Union state editor Casey Seiler joins Ken Lovett of the Daily News and Laura Nahmias of Capital New York at the Reporters Roundtable to discuss progress on medical marijuana, unserious ads in the gubernatorial election and a skirmish over internal polling in the attorney general's race.

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

—By Casey Seiler

Categories: State/Local

Panel is not 'independent'

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Albany

The proposed panel that would draw New York's all-important political lines can't be described as "independent" on the November ballot, a state Supreme Court justice ruled Wednesday.

In a victory for good-government groups opposed to a constitutional amendment on political redistricting, state Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath of Troy ordered the state Board of Elections to drop the adjective "independent" from the language of Proposal No. 1, and stated that the new commission "cannot be described as 'independent' when eight out of the 10 members are the handpicked appointees of the legislative leaders and the two additional members are essentially political appointees by proxy."

The lawsuit against the Board of Elections ballot language was spearheaded by Common Cause. A spokesman for the board didn't respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

While the question of the language change might seem penny ante, reformers argue that fixing the once-a-decade process of determining the size and shape of political districts could quite literally change the landscape of democracy. Critics say the current system, in which the majority conferences in both houses craft and approve the lines, allows elected officials to select their voters instead of the other way around.

The compromise that will be put before voters on Nov. 4 was worked out between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders in March 2012 as part of a complex state budget deal.

It would create a panel of eight members appointed by leaders of the state Assembly and Senate, plus two others chosen by the initial eight.

The panel would begin its work in 2022, using data drawn from the next U.S. Census. Its maps would still have to be approved by the Legislature, which after two rejections would be able to adjust the lines within certain limits.

The plan has created a schism within New York's good-government groups, with Common Cause and the state Public Interest Research Group among those who view it as an unacceptable substitute for more truly independent redistricting. Other groups, including Citizens Union and the state League of Women Voters, are supporting a yes vote on the change, arguing that it represents the best option for progress.

Opponents of the proposal were determined not to allow a reprise of last fall's casino expansion vote, where the Cuomo administration submitted ballot language to the state Board of Elections that was viewed as wildly promotional of a yes vote.

Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner was one of four plaintiffs in the case. The defendants were Board of Elections Commissioners James Walsh and Doug Kellner.

In his ruling, McGrath knocked the idea that the commission's redistricting plan would be "more than a recommendation to the Legislature which can reject it for unstated reasons and draw its own lines. ... The plan can be rejected for the purely partisan reasons that this commission was designed to avoid."

In what Common Cause called "the most stunning rebuke" to the language, McGrath slagged the constitutional change's sliding requirements for the legislative vote to approve the commission's map: a simple majority if the houses are controlled by different parties, but a two-thirds vote if one party controls both the Assembly and Senate.

"The court is not aware of any other law in New York state that has ever required a commission or any legislative body's vote approval to be dependent on the political make-up of the Legislature," McGrath wrote.

"The judge is right: The proposed redistricting commission is as 'independent' as a puppet," said NYPIRG's Blair Horner in a statement. " ... New Yorkers should reject Proposal 1. It is not reform. It is merely the status quo masquerading as reform."

Dick Dadey of Citizens Union said the decision in no way alters his group's support for the change.

"Nothing in this decision changes the substance of the amendment that bans partisan gerrymandering and creates and fair and impartial redistricting process," Dadey said.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Tax disclosure dispute

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Albany

It's tax time in the North Country's congressional race. Republican candidate Elise Stefanik promises to release her personal returns this week, while her Democratic opponent Aaron Woolf says he'll release his effective tax rate, but not his returns.

The issue bubbled over on Monday when Stefanik gave out her transparency and accountability plan and a few preliminary tax numbers. Woolf campaign workers said the Democrat had released his own government overhaul plan in June, calling for an end congressional perks — something Stefanik's plan mentions as well.

On Wednesday, Woolf said he would release his effective tax rate next week and explained his decision to keep his tax records private.

"There's a line that is a personal line that I don't think we should cross in a congressional race," Woolf said in a call with reporters. "I think it's fair for the public to know what our effective tax rate is for our family because we are advocating for things like the Buffett Rule that mean that people of means should be paying their fair share. With respect to the returns (sic) itself ... I think my opponent is bringing this up to distract from what we consider to be the real issues."

A Stefanik spokesman scoffed at Woolf's assertion.

"Failing to release tax returns at a time when the need for fundamental tax reform has never been greater and to say it's a personal attack fails the smell test for voters, and is insulting to hard-working farmers and middle-class families and small business owners ... ," said Stefanik spokesman Lenny Alcivar. "If you want to raise taxes, let's see what your own look like."

The Buffett Rule, which would require anyone making $1 million a year or more to pay at least a 30 percent tax rate, has become the latest debate in the 21st Congressional District race. Woolf favors it; Stefanik hasn't taken a position. Woolf said his family would be subject to the rule.

Woolf was joined on the conference call by Rep. Bill Owens to play up the candidate's economic proposals, including passage of the Buffett Rule as well as increasing the minimum wage and closing corporate tax loopholes.

Woolf also commented on Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello telling North Country Public Radio that he distrusts the official narrative about the 9/11 terror attacks. Funiciello penned a 2010 Times Union essay about the need for more investigation into the attacks, and the need for "a 9/11 Truth Center and a Free First-Responder Clinic" at Ground Zero.

"I think that it's incredibly offensive that anybody would allege that our government had a hand in detonating those buildings," Woolf said.

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

Categories: State/Local

Contentious casino hearings likely

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Albany

Opponents of casinos in some communities have their sticks ready and look forward to treating developers like pinatas next week.

They plan to swing at 16 plans in three regions when the state casino siting board conducts a series of hearings expected to draw hundreds of people.

Interviews with some activists point to stiff opposition against casinos that will be demonstrated to the five-member board at the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. sessions in Colonie on Monday, Poughkeepsie on Tuesday, and Ithaca on Wednesday.

Casino advocates will also be out in force. The planners of a Howes Cave casino have arranged for three busloads of backers for their Schoharie County project to appear at the first session on Monday at the Holiday Inn Turf. One of the supporters scheduled to speak, business owner Susan McGiver, last week appealed to the siting board members to help her economically hard-hit community.

While some speakers will say their towns are more deserving of a casino than neighboring communities, others will argue against locating casinos near their homes.

One group opposed to the proposed Lago Resort & Casino planned for the Seneca County town of Tyre plans to call attention to an incident that the developer, Wilmorite Management Group of Rochester, was caught up in in the 1980s.

Desiree Dawley, a member of the anti-casino group in Tyre, said she has booked 21 slots in Ithaca for speakers against the Wilmorite project proposed for just off the Thruway near Rochester. Her group will attempt to get on the record Wilmorite's role in the racketeering and extortion case against former Danbury, Conn., mayor James E. Dyer. In Dyer's trial, a Wilmorite official testified that he gave the mayor $60,000 and that Wilmorite CEO Thomas Wilmot authorized the payments, according to an Associated Press article.

Dyer was acquitted in 1990, and the federal prosecutor called Wilmorite a victim of Dyer's scheme to shake down developers in his city. The prosecutor also said the two top officers of Wilmorite received immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony, according to the Hartford Courant newspaper.

Steve Greenberg, a spokesman for the Rochester developer, said he was stunned that anyone would consider the matter newsworthy since the case is so old and his client was depicted as an injured party. "This is a NIMBY minority trying to block jobs, revenue and tourism for the people of Tyre and Seneca County that will stoop to any level possible to try and sully the reputation of one of the state's preeminent development companies and that's outrageous," he said.

Dawley said describing Wilmorite as a victim is "ludicrous." She said the matter is an example of the offensive conduct of the developer. She said she sent a package of material about the Danbury case and other information she's collected about Wilmorite's pursuit of casino projects nationwide to Gaming Commission Chairman Mark Gearan.

A union fighting with Rush Street Gaming intends to bring several workers of Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming's Pennsylvania and Illinois casinos to Monday's hearing. The workers have complained about roadblocks put up by casino managers to unionization, said Unite HERE researcher Jon Scolnik. Rush Street plans casinos in Schenectady and the town of Newburgh.

However, the Gaming Commission on Wednesday published its rules of engagement for the hearings in an attempt to cut down on disruptive behavior and irrelevant commentary. Personal attacks or inflammatory language will not be allowed, and speakers must stay on point and can't be employed by the applicant, the commission said.

The group Save East Greenbush and its sympathizers have reserved 32 slots on Monday, said member Cara Benson. She said the group's speakers will reiterate complaints about the process taken by the East Greenbush town board that are the subject of its pending lawsuit.

Meanwhile, in Poughkeepsie on Tuesday, the Sterling Forest Partnership has set up 10 slots for people to voice opposition to the $1.5 billion project proposed by Genting in Tuxedo near the state forest. The group is also threatening a lawsuit, said Rodger Friedman, chairman of the partnership.

A group called CasiNo Orange, which objects to all six casino projects proposed for Orange County, will send several people to the Poughkeepsie gathering. The group says the three projects in the Catskills deserve consideration for a license.

Stephen Q. Shafer, head of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York, who will testify in Poughkeepsie, said he will remind siting board members that licenses do not have to be awarded to any bidder.

"Most people assume that the New York State Gaming Commission has to award four new casino licenses," Shafer said. "The law did not mandate a single one."

jodato@timesunion.com518-454-5083@JamesMOdato

Categories: State/Local

New data show holes in legal aid for poor

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Albany

In a new report examining public defenders in five counties, the New York Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday called state efforts to defend the poor in criminal cases an abject failure.

NYCLU is scheduled to go to trial next month in Albany in a lawsuit arguing that New York systemically provides inadequate staff and money for constitutionally required defense lawyers. The suit first filed in 2007 seeks defense attorneys at all arraignments, smaller caseloads and better funding with the state taking over the county-based system.

"For more than 50 years New York has been violating the United States Constitution, the state constitution and the laws of New York state by failing to provide adequate public defense services to poor people who stand accused of crimes," Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. "Every day in courtrooms across many parts of the state, New Yorkers are denied their right to meaningful representation just because they're poor. The consequences are devastating."

Many languish in jail and lose jobs, homes and families, while taxpayers pay for jails and prisons and public defenders face overwhelming caseloads, the report said.

That state office reported last year that it would have cost $111 million to bring defender caseloads in the 57 upstate New York counties down from an average of 719 to the recommended national standard of 400 maximum. The counties were already spending nearly $166 million for indigent defense.

Categories: State/Local

Tkaczyk: Amedore wrong on bill

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Albany

Republican state Senate candidate George Amedore slammed incumbent Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, on Tuesday by linking her to a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to vote and run for office, among other rights.

The Tkaczyk campaign pointed out a problem with Amedore's attack: The Duanesburg Democrat doesn't support the bill.

The proposal comes from Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat who supports giving undocumented immigrants the right to vote in local and state elections, serve on juries, run for office, obtain driver's and professional licenses, and access various state benefits.

Immigrants would have to prove they have been living in New York state for at least three years and are paying taxes to benefit from the law.

"Unlike my opponent ... I stand in complete opposition to this dangerous and costly legislation," Amedore said in a statement, calling the measure the "type of extreme legislation makes a mockery of our Constitution and violates state and federal laws, leaving the door open for fraud and rampant abuse of taxpayer dollars."

Echoing the Senate GOP's main line of attack this fall, Amedore added that similar radical proposals will be the norm if Democrats control the narrowly divided chamber next year.

"Sen. Tkaczyk does not support the 'New York is Home' bill, and George Amedore should be ashamed of himself for spreading lies about the senator's positions," Tkaczyk spokesman Jim Plastiras said in an email.

The same Amedore statement said Tkaczyk votes with her "NYC colleagues 97 percent of the time."

Plastiras rebutted that claim as "meaningless" because Senate Republicans, in league with the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, control what bills come to the floor.

Citing a recent report on the 2014 legislative session from the state Public Interest Research Group, Plastiras said Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos — and several other GOP senators — voted in agreement with Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins more often than Tkaczyk did.

For all the back-and-forth, it doesn't appear Rivera's legislation is going anywhere: "This bill isn't moving," a top Senate Democrat said.

Amedore, a former assemblyman from Rotterdam, lost a razor-thin 2012 race to Tkaczyk in the 46th Senate District, which curves from west of the Capital Region to the west bank of the Hudson across from Poughkeepsie.

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

Categories: State/Local

License hearings planned

Albany Times/Union - 59 min 59 sec ago

Albany

Capital Region public officials who want a gambling house in their communities are set to speak on Monday in Colonie at the first of three state hearings concerning proposed casinos in New York.

Reservations for speaking times — during the first 25 minutes of every hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — are booked, leaving first-come, first-served opportunities for the remainder of the time. The event, at the Albany Holiday Inn Turf in Colonie, is expected to focus on the four casino proposals for the Capital Region — at Howes Cave, Schenectady, Rensselaer and East Greenbush.

State Gaming Commission officials say several elected leaders are scheduled to speak, as are a representative of the Girl Scouts, which operates a camp near the site of a proposed East Greenbush casino and has not shown support for that project.

The commission's Facilities Location Siting Board is conducting 36 hours of hearings in the three casino zones, each eligible for up to two of the four licenses that may be awarded upstate.

Monday's session, which is the only one expected to draw all five members of the siting board, will be followed by hearings on Tuesday in Poughkeepsie and Wednesday in Ithaca.

Foes of the casino in East Greenbush, particularly a group called Save East Greenbush, will be out in force at the Monday hearing, said spokeswoman Cara Benson. The group's lawyer, Jeff Meyer, reserved the 8:05 a.m. speaking slot.

At noon, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan will discuss why she supports the East Greenbush project, called Capital View Casino, proposed by Saratoga Harness and Churchill Downs.

"I will speak about the potential economic development impact of the casino proposals, and obviously we have an agreement with the East Greenbush project," she said. The developers agreed to give $11 million over 10 years from casino proceeds to help support business initiatives in Albany.

Proponents of a competing project, a Hard Rock Cafe-branded casino at Rensselaer across the river from Albany, will be represented by Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer, who will speak at around 3:20 p.m., and Albany City Common Council Member Ron Bailey.

"I've been fighting for jobs," said Bailey. "The one closest to us is the one that we need." Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy will speak in favor of the Galesi Group/Rush Street Gaming proposal, called Rivers Casino, for his city, which is also endorsed by Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane.

Unite HERE, which has sent letters to the Gaming Commission about Rush Street's alleged anti-unionization actions in Pennsylvania and Illinois, plans to send written comments if its representatives don't attend the hearing, said the union's Jon Scolnik.

Lee Park, a spokesman for the Gaming Commission, said the commission and siting board members have received thousands of pages of correspondence about the proposed casinos — more than 500 emails alone from opponents of Genting's proposed casino in Tuxedo. The board intends to recommend projects for licenses next month.

jodato@timesunion.com518-454-5083@JamesMOdato

Categories: State/Local

Charter schools seek equity

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 09/20/2014 - 2:07pm

Albany

A coalition of charter schools is suing the state, claiming they have been underfunded compared to the mainstream public schools, with the result being that their students are denied a constitutionally guaranteed "sound basic education."

If that term sounds familiar, it's because it was used almost two decades ago when the Campaign for Fiscal Equity went to court contending that New York City schools were being shortchanged by state funding formulas.

But now, the Northeast Charter Schools Network contends that, since regular public schools get more state funding, they are at a disadvantage.

"Because charter school children are being shortchanged this way, the state is denying these students funding, resources and support they deserve and need to fully participate in society as adults," Harold Hinds, the Charter Network's legal director, said Tuesday in Buffalo, where the suit was filed in Erie County state Supreme Court.

Much of the problem, Hinds said, is because state school funding formulas provide no building aid for charter schools. Other public schools use $2.7 billion in such aid annually to pay for needs such as new school buildings as well as computers and science equipment. Because they are publicly funded and open to students free of charge, they argue that charters should be on an even footing.

The suit also argues that minority and students who live in poverty — the bulk of charter students — suffer a disproportionate impact from the current funding system.

In addition to the Charter Schools Network, parents and students in Buffalo and Rochester are bringing the complaint.

As an example, Hinds said, students in Buffalo City Schools are funded at $23,524 each per year. But money for charter students works out to three-fifths of that, almost $10,000 less.

With more than 107,000 children in the state's 250 charter schools and waiting lists of more than 50,000, "the total number of charter school children being deprived of their rights is staggering," said Hinds.

State officials couldn't comment, saying the suit hasn't yet been served on them. The action names Gov. Andrew Cuomo, members of the Legislature, Budget Director Robert Megna, the Board of Regents and Education Commissioner John King Jr.

Charter opponents, including the Alliance for Quality Education, a group aligned with teachers unions, notes that the state still hasn't caught up on funding levels ordered by the state Court of Appeals, which ultimately agreed with CFE.

"We are $5.9 billion behind on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity commitment, and this proposal will only divert more money away from public schools, at the expense of our children," CFE Advocacy Director Zakiyah Ansari said in a prepared statement.

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

Categories: State/Local

Astorino son dives into politics

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 09/20/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Governor, Sean Astorino would like a word with you.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino's young son, Sean, appeared in an online video on Tuesday asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to please seek permission the next time he wants to remove the younger Astorino from a photo with his father, and to "stop telling lies about my dad on TV."

The video was in response to a television ad, released last week by the Erie County Democratic Committee, that showed Cuomo supporting the Buffalo Bills and reminding voters that Astorino is an unabashed Miami Dolphins fan. In the ad, a photo of Astorino and his son at Sun Life Stadium in Miami was doctored so that only the elder Astorino appeared. At stops in Syracuse and New Paltz, Cuomo was asked about the ad and the boy's response.

"I think the Erie County Democratic Committee said that was the law — by law they had to do that," Cuomo said in New Paltz of the photo alteration.

"My campaign is not going to be about any of this silliness."

Categories: State/Local

Choices limited on wage menu

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 09/20/2014 - 1:07am

When it comes to the question of minimum wage for restaurant workers, the Cuomo administration will this winter likely choose from a fairly clear menu of options.

In Column One the governor can burnish his liberal credentials by granting, through his appointed labor commissioner, Peter Rivera, an increase in the minimum wage paid to "tipped workers," including waiters and waitresses who rely on tips to achieve the state's $8-an-hour minimum wage.

Column Two would maintain the status quo and satisfy the business community, including restaurant owners, who say forcing them to pay more will inevitably lead to fewer restaurant jobs.

Proponents of both sides were already offering their viewpoints on Monday.

"He's talking about making New York a national progressive leader," Michael Kink of Strong Economy for All said, referring to the points that Cuomo would win with progressives by ordering higher pay.

"You would see a lot of employers either cutting employee hours, or increasing menu costs," countered Jay Holland, government affairs coordinator for the state Restaurant Association. The cost of higher wages, he said, would be passed along to diners.

Those arguments will be reverberating in the coming months as a special Wage Board, set up by the governor during the most recent minimum wage hike, looks at whether "tipped worker'' pay should go above its current level.

The specially appointed board, which met for the first time on Monday, will be conducting hearings around the state in coming months. By February they are to make a recommendation to Rivera about tipped wages.

Tipped workers, such as restaurant staffers, currently get a $5 per hour minimum wage. The idea is that tips put their earnings above the normal state minimum of $8 per hour. If business is slow or they don't get that amount, the employer is supposed to make up the difference.

But critics like Kink and members of Citizen Action say there's no guarantee that people are getting the $8 per hour. Tips, often paid in cash, can be hard to track and unpredictable. They'd simply like tipped workers to get the $8 per hour before tips.

Restaurants say that will either cause them to raise prices, cut jobs or both.

The question resounds on a personal level for people on both sides of the argument.

"It's entirely impossible to make a budget when living on a tipped income," said Melissa Fleck, an executive assistant for the activist organization Citizen Action, who spent 15 years working in restaurants until June 2013.

While she enjoyed the camaraderie and people she met while waitressing in restaurants throughout the Capital Region, she said the volatility of earnings makes it a tough life. Tips can go up or down depending on the weather, the shift a waitperson is assigned or any other number of factors.

And from her experience, it isn't just teens or people working their way through school who work in restaurants these days.

"I've definitely worked next to some very highly educated people. It's not just 19-year-old college students," she said.

On the other hand, Brad Rosenstein, owner of Jack's Oyster House, believes a mandated pay hike could drive some marginal restaurants out of business.

While the venerable Jack's does well and waiters there make far in excess of minimum wage, Rosenstein said he knows of numerous smaller restaurants that are clinging to survival, with many still feeling the impact of the 2008 recession.

"There are a lot of restaurants out there that are really on the cusp of staying in business or going out of business," he said.

Either way, any discussion of restaurant pay, as well as for other "tipped workers'' such as hotel bellhops, affects a lot of New Yorkers and Capital Region residents.

According to data presented to the Wage Board by Department of Labor researchers, 135,550 people work as waiters or waitresses in New York.

In the broader hospitality industry, including lodging, the total employment was 677,538 in 2013. Of that, 39,052 worked at 2,891 establishments in the Capital Region (the most were in New York City with 303,725 working in 20,380 businesses).

The debate is just starting, but one party that may be absent is the Legislature. The authority belongs to the Cuomo administration's Department of Labor, and raising the wage can be done without legislation.

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

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo now a rare sight in the region

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 09/19/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

The governor's mansion hasn't seen much of its intended occupant in recent months.

Whether you chalk it up to an election year or the scandal surrounding the Moreland Commission, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has spent far less time in the Capital Region this year than in any other period in his administration.

Generally speaking, New York's modern governors going back at least as far as Nelson Rockefeller have tended to do most of their official work out of New York City after the state Legislature abandons the Capitol at the close of the legislative session in late June. Cuomo has been no exception, though his absence from Albany this year marks a steep falling-off.

Since this year's session ended on June 20, the governor has spent all or part of just three days in the Capital Region, according to public schedules posted on his official website. He has made only one public appearance in that period, a tightly controlled July 15 visit to the GE Global Research labs in Niskayuna to announce the creation of the Power Electronics Consortium.

During the same period in 2013 — from the close of session to Sept. 15 — the governor spent at least part of 10 days in the Capital Region, usually in Albany. In 2012, his schedules show Capital Region visits on 12 days.

During the same stretch in 2011, his first year in office, Cuomo was here for at least part of a whopping 35 days. The final two weeks of that period, however, were complicated by the onslaught of Tropical Storm Irene, which ripped through a large swath of upstate and kept Cuomo in almost constant motion.

This year, the governor's summer has been complicated by another kind of storm: the controversy over his administration's management of the Moreland Commission panel on public corruption, which re-erupted on July 23 when the New York Times published a long investigative piece about the premature demise of the ethics investigation. The release of that piece, and the subsequent media furor, coincided with an uncharacteristic five-day stretch in which the governor held no public appearances before finally emerging to answer reporters' questions in Buffalo.

The governor hasn't held any sort of media availability in the Capital Region — no news conferences, no stand-up Q&As, no radio interviews — since then.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in an email that, "The governor serves all New Yorkers, period. Sometimes that requires him to be in the state Capitol and sometimes he has to be in other parts of New York."

Azzopardi noted that statehouse reporters are always welcome to accompany the governor to other regions: "It's a big and beautiful state, and we encourage the Albany press corps to go out and see it."

David Catalfamo, who served as former Gov. George Pataki's director of communications during the Republican's final term, said that he wasn't surprised by Cuomo's absence from the Capitol and environs.

"I don't think that's too freaky, especially in an election year," said Catalfamo, now a political consultant for Park Strategies. "Really, there's no difference in terms of running the government, whether you're here or there."

He noted that the governor's father, Mario M. Cuomo, was the exception to the general rule of governors spending the non-session months working out of their downstate offices. Instead, the elder Cuomo made the Governor's Mansion his family's year-round home.

Cuomo's commanding 60 percent to 33 percent win over Zephyr Teachout in last week's primary was shaded by his poor performance in more than 30 counties, including the greater Capital Region. In Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties, the results turned the statewide percentages upside down in favor of Teachout.

Political consultant Bruce Gyory dismissed the idea that Cuomo's decision to devote his energies elsewhere in the past three months had anything to do with those tallies.

"In an election year, you're always going around the state," said Gyory, who warned that it was "apples and oranges" to compare Cuomo's past calendars to this year's itineraries.

Like Cuomo and others, he said the governor's poor performance outside of the New York City and Western New York population centers was "a function of low turnout and a creative use of issues" by Cuomo's critics within the Democratic Party.

He predicted that the same Capital Region counties would go for Cuomo in the general election.

"It's like judging a game at halftime," Gyory said.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

State PBA gets behind DiNapoli for re-election

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 09/19/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

The Police Benevolent Association of New York State law enforcement union, which represents officers patrolling state universities, parks and wilderness areas, made Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's re-election effort its first-ever statewide endorsement. The union cited DiNapoli's management of the Common Retirement Fund and reforms he put in place to shore up the office's ethical structure.

The Democrat, who is seeking his second elected term in office after being appointed to the post in 2007, said he had "tremendous respect" for the work done by the union's members.

His Republican opponent, Bob Antonacci, is still trying to meet the requirements of the "pilot program" for public financing of campaigns. A spokesman for Antonacci said it was close to meeting the need for 2,000 individual state donors, though it had more work to do to raise $200,000 from them in sums ranging from $10 to $175. The Antonacci campaign hopes to meet both benchmarks by the end of September, thereby unleashing a 6-to-1 match for donations in that range.

DiNapoli repeated his criticism of the pilot program, which was unveiled in late March by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders as part of the state budget deal. Although he strongly supports public matching for campaigns, DiNapoli chose not to opt in to the experiment.

"One of the concerns that I identified ... is that I felt, putting aside how (the program) impacted on me, it was going to make it very difficult for anybody challenging me to participate," DiNapoli said.

" ... If this doesn't work — let's say (Antonacci) is not able to qualify or he qualifies in only a minimal way — I don't want people to say, 'Oh, it didn't work. ... DiNapoli didn't participate, the other guy wasn't able to get any significant resources,'" he said. "I'm not one of a conspiratorial mind, but I certainly hope this wasn't put out in a way that it was meant to fail."

DiNapoli said he was open to debating Antonacci.

Asked whether he'd be appearing alongside other candidates, DiNapoli reiterated his support for the full Democratic ticket, including Cuomo and his running mate Kathy Hochul. "I'm sure (campaign season) will have me in contact with many of our Democratic candidates — I think we've got a great slate," he said.

The PBA union, which has previously made endorsements in legislative races but not in a statewide contest, was born three years ago out of dissatisfaction by members of the law enforcement arm of Council 82.

A Siena Research Institute poll in August gave DiNapoli 58-24 percent lead over Antonacci.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local
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