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N.Y., N.J. set quarantines

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

New York

Alarmed by the case of an Ebola-infected New York doctor, the governors of New Jersey and New York on Friday ordered a mandatory, 21-day quarantine of all medical workers and other arriving airline passengers who have had contact with victims of the deadly disease in West Africa.

The move came after a physician who returned to New York City a week ago from treating Ebola patients in Guinea fell ill with the virus. Many New Yorkers were dismayed to learn that in the days after he came home, Dr. Craig Spencer rode the subway, took a cab, went bowling, visited a coffee shop and ate at a restaurant in the city of 8 million.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the case led them to conclude that the two states need precautions more rigorous than those of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends monitoring of exposed people for 21 days but doesn't require quarantine.

"It's too serious a situation to leave it to the honor system of compliance," Cuomo said.

Those who are forcibly quarantined will be confined either to their homes or, if they live in other states, to some other place, most likely a medical facility, the governors said. Those quarantined at home will receive house calls from health officials. Twenty-one days is the incubation period for the Ebola virus.

Dr. Howard Zucker, acting New York state health commissioner, said any medical personnel who have treated Ebola patients in the three Ebola-ravaged West African countries — Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — will be automatically quarantined.

Cuomo said anyone arriving from the three countries will be questioned at the airport about their contact with Ebola sufferers.

The governors gave no estimate of how many travelers could be quarantined, but Cuomo said "we're not talking about a tremendous volume of people coming in from these areas," and said there are no plans to hire more airport screeners.

Spencer, 33, an emergency room doctor, returned to the U.S. on Oct. 17 and sought treatment Thursday after suffering diarrhea and a 100.3-degree fever. He was in stable condition at a Bellevue Hospital Center isolation unit, and a decontamination company was sent to his Harlem home. His fiancee, who was not showing symptoms, was being watched in a quarantine ward at Bellevue.

Spencer's illness led lawmakers on Capitol Hill, scientists and other New Yorkers to wonder why he was out on the town after his return, and why stronger steps weren't taken to quarantine medical workers.

Health officials said that he followed U.S. and international guidelines in checking his temperature every day and watching for symptoms, and that he put no one at risk. But others said he should have been quarantined during the incubation period.

An automatic three-week quarantine makes sense for anyone "with a clear exposure" to Ebola, said Dr. Richard Wenzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist who formerly led the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

Aid organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, the group Spencer was working for, have argued that mandatory quarantines are unnecessary because people with Ebola aren't contagious until symptoms begin, and even then it requires close contact with body fluids.

On the streets of New York, Michael Anderson was critical of the U.S. government and Spencer.

"He's stupid, a complete idiot" for moving about in public, the Manhattan resident said at Grand Central Terminal.

The World Health Organization is not recommending the quarantine of returning aid workers without symptoms, spokeswoman Sona Bari said.

In other developments:

A Dallas nurse who caught Ebola from a patient was declared virus-free and released from a hospital in Bethesda, Md. Nina Pham, 26, said she felt "fortunate and blessed to be standing here today." She later got a hug from President Barack Obama at the White House. The other nurse is in an Atlanta hospital, where she was said to be "making good progress."

In Mali, authorities warned that many people are in danger because the toddler who brought the disease to the country was bleeding from her nose as she traveled on a bus from Guinea. The 2-year-old girl died at a hospital on Friday.

Categories: State/Local

campaign filings

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's re-election campaign has $15.8 million on hand after spending $8.6 million, according to filings posted Friday by the state Board of Elections. The most recent filing period began Oct. 4.

The campaign raised $731,736 in the same span.

Cuomo's Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, has just over $1 million on hand, according to his submission.

The new filing solved at least one mystery: It shows that the Cuomo-Hochul campaign received $2,000 from HarperCollins for the rental of a list of emails of Cuomo supporters and others (including a few people who had signed up for long-ago gubernatorial events).

The publisher of Cuomo's memoir "All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life" on Tuesday zapped out a promotional message for the book, which has had slow sales.

Good-government advocate Bill Mahoney of New York Public Interest Research Group, one of the many who were surprised to receive the publisher's email, noted that the payment was dated Friday.

A campaign spokesman said that the payment was not a flat rate but was determined by the number of emails that went through without bouncing back.

While the campaign's invoice for renting the list went out Tuesday, the calculation was worked out and paid by the publisher on Friday; more funds are expected to trickle in from the transaction by the next filing date.

Friday's filings show Republican state comptroller candidate Robert Antonacci with $119,350 on hand; he has struggled to raise the small-donor funds necessary to tap into a public matching pilot program. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli reported $1.8 million.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent, John Cahill, had not filed as of 7 p.m. Friday.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Taxpayers pick up legislator's bill

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

Albany

Taxpayers have spent nearly $75,000 in legal fees relating to abusive behavior by a member of the state Assembly, according to state records.

Billing records show that the Democratic-controlled Assembly spent that amount to hire the Whiteman Osterman & Hanna law firm to handle the appeal process of New York City lawmaker Micah Kellner, who was admonished for harassing a female staff member online in 2009.

A senior counsel at the firm, former Court of Appeals Judge Howard Levine, is a hearing officer in the case, in which the Assembly Ethics Committee is punishing Kellner.

A Democrat who represents parts of the upper East Side of Manhattan and Roosevelt Island, Kellner has said he isn't running for re-election. He couldn't be reached for comment on Friday.

Earlier this year, Kellner was stripped by Assembly Majority Speaker Sheldon Silver of his office budget.

The payment to the law firm was part of a list of recent bills authorized by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who releases expenses on a periodic basis.

Kellner's is the latest of several sexual harassment cases among Assembly Democrats.

Silver had earlier been criticized for authorizing payments to women who said they were harassed by former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

Legal fees in that case approached $700,000, according to recent reports.

And in January, former Buffalo-area Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak resigned amid allegations that he had harassed female staffers.

Last June, Silver stripped Kellner of his budget and office space amid reports he still had interns working for him.

Earlier, Kellner was stripped of his chairmanship of the libraries committee — he appealed and lost that decision.

He is still appealing the most recent decision.

Charles Lavine, who chairs the Assembly Ethics Committee, said he wasn't aware of any restitution requests from Kellner's alleged victim.

In other payments, the comptroller approved a number of construction jobs including $1.5 million to Murnane Building Contractors to renovate Building 5 at Harriman State Office Campus in Albany.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

NYC top cop: Hatchet attack was terror

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

New York

A brazen daylight hatchet attack against a group of police officers on a busy New York street was a terrorist act by a reclusive Muslim convert who ranted online against America but had no clear ties to international extremists, the police commissioner said Friday.

Police were examining Zale Thompson's computer for clues about a motive for the Thursday assault that left one of the officers seriously injured and ended with Thompson being killed by police. Police Commissioner William Bratton said Thompson's browsing history included organized terror groups, beheadings and the shooting in Canada earlier this week that officials there have called a terrorist attack.

Thompson was not on any watch lists, and officials found no indication he sought any training or affiliation to any groups.

Bratton said investigators were trying to determine whether the attack was planned or spontaneous but believe Thompson was self-radicalized. His father told officials he converted to Islam about two years ago and was described as a "recluse" who had been depressed lately.

Bratton said he was comfortable calling it a terrorist attack.

"This was a terrorist attack, certainly," Bratton said.

But he also stopped short of including the attack in the list of terror plots against the city since Sept. 11, 2001, saying the investigation was continuing.

Thompson, 32, had once served in the U.S. Navy and had a history of run-ins with the law over domestic violence in California in 2003 and 2004, police said. In recent postings on social media, he ranted about injustices in American society and oppression abroad, but the postings didn't point to any affiliation with a terror group or direct influence of radical Islam, they said.

Security video and witness accounts appeared to leave no doubt that Thompson purposely targeted four rookie New York Police Department officers who were in uniform and on foot patrol in a bustling Queens commercial district.

Moments before the attack, the bearded suspect was seen on a street corner crouching down to pull the hatchet out of backpack before he charged the officers and began swinging the hatchet with a two-handed grip, police said.

At the time, the officers were posing for a photo for a passerby. Without a word, Thompson swung at an officer who blocked the blow with his arm, police said. Another officer was hit in the back of the head and fell to the ground.

As the suspect raised the hatchet again, the two uninjured officers drew their weapons and fired several rounds, police said. The bullets killed the assailant and wounded a bystander, police said. A bloody hatchet, about 18 inches long, was recovered.

Officer Kenneth Healey remained hospitalized on Friday with a head wound. The bystander, a 29-year-old woman, also was being treated for a gunshot wound to the back. Both were critical.

Categories: State/Local

Takeaway moments from the Great Debate

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

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

WMHT's Matt Ryan looks at the week's headlines, including the takeaway moments from Wednesday's one and only gubernatorial debate.

TU state editor Casey Seiler analyzes the debate with Rob Astorino, and learns what the Republican candidate plans to do to close the gap with Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the clock ticks down to Election Day.

Ryan convenes the Reporters Roundtable with Joe Spector of Gannett News Service and the TU's Rick Karlin for more analysis of the debate, and Cuomo's surprise release of a second-term agenda.

"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and 10:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday on WMHT Ch. 17.

—Casey Seiler

Categories: State/Local

1st case of Ebola in NYC

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

New York

An emergency room doctor who recently returned to the city after treating Ebola patients in West Africa has tested positive for the virus, becoming the first case in the city and the fourth in the nation.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday urged residents not to be alarmed by the doctor's Ebola diagnosis. De Blasio said all city officials followed "clear and strong" protocols in their handling and treatment of Craig Spencer, a member of Doctors Without Borders.

"We want to state at the outset that New Yorkers have no reason to be alarmed," de Blasio said. "New Yorkers who have not been exposed are not at all at risk."

Spencer, who had been working in Guinea, returned six days ago and reported Thursday morning coming down with a 103-degree fever and diarrhea. He was being treated in an isolation ward at Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital, a designated Ebola center.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will do a further test to confirm the initial results, has dispatched an Ebola response team to New York, and the city's disease detectives have been tracing Spencer's contacts to identify anyone who may be at risk. The city's health commissioner, Mary Bassett, said Spencer's fiancee and two friends had been quarantined but showed no symptoms.

In the days before Spencer fell ill, he went on a 3-mile jog, went to the High Line park, rode the subway and, on Wednesday night, got a taxi to a Brooklyn bowling alley. Bassett said he felt fatigued Wednesday but not feverish until Thursday morning.

Health officials say the chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, are slim. Someone can't be infected just by being near someone who is sick with Ebola. Someone isn't contagious unless he is sick.

Bassett said the probability was "close to nil" that Spencer's subway ride would pose a risk. The bowling alley was closed as a precaution, and Spencer's Harlem apartment was cordoned off. The Department of Health was on site across the street from the apartment building Thursday night, giving out information to residents.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has killed about 4,800 people. In the U.S., the first person diagnosed with the disease was a Liberian man, who fell ill days after arriving in Dallas and later died, becoming the only fatality. None of his relatives who had close contact with him got sick. Two nurses who treated him were infected and are hospitalized.

According to a rough timeline provided by city officials, Spencer felt fatigue Wednesday and when he felt worse Thursday he and his fiancee made a joint call to authorities to detail his symptoms and his travels. EMTs in full Ebola gear arrived and took him to Bellevue in an ambulance surrounded by police squad cars.

Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian organization, said per the guidelines it provides its staff members on their return from Ebola assignments, "the individual engaged in regular health monitoring and reported this development immediately." As of Oct. 14, the organization said 16 staff members have been infected and nine have died.

Spencer, 33, works at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. He had not seen any patients or been to the hospital since his return, the hospital said, calling him a "dedicated humanitarian" who "went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population."

Four American aid workers, including three doctors, were infected while working in Africa and were transferred to the U.S. for treatment in recent months. All recovered. Health care workers are vulnerable because of close contact with patients when they are their sickest and most contagious.

According to his Facebook page, Spencer left for West Africa via Brussels in mid-September. He returned to Brussels Oct. 16.

Categories: State/Local

Cops kill hatchet attacker

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

New York

New York City police shot and killed a hatchet-wielding man on Thursday after he suddenly attacked a group of patrol officers without warning in broad daylight in a busy Queens commercial district.

At a news conference at a hospital where one officer was being treated for a serious head wound, Police Commissioner William Bratton said investigators were still trying to confirm the assailant's identity and determine a motive.

Security videotape and witness accounts appeared to leave no doubt that the man purposely targeted four rookie New York police officers, police said. Moments before the attack, he was seen on a street corner crouching down to pull the hatchet out of backpack before he charged the officers and began swinging the hatchet with a two-handed grip, police said.

Asked if the attack could be related to terrorism, Bratton didn't rule it out. He cited the fatal shooting of a soldier in Canada earlier this week — what officials there have called a terror attack — as reason for concern.

The attack occurred at about 2 p.m. while the officers were standing together on foot patrol, police said. Without a word, the man swung at an officer who blocked the blow with his arm. Another officer was hit in the back of the head and fell to the ground.

As the man raised the hatchet again, the two uninjured officers drew their weapons and fired several rounds, police said. The bullets killed the assailant and wounded a bystander, police said.

The officer was in critical but stable condition. The woman who was struck by a stray bullet was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the back.

Categories: State/Local

Astorino, Hawkins at Capitol; Cuomo shares policy plan in Manhattan

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

Albany

There was no down time on Thursday for the men who would be governor.

Fifteen hours after the only scheduled gubernatorial debate, Republican candidate Rob Astorino was at the state Capitol, renewing his broad-based attack on incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.

"I'm going to call for another debate right now," said Astorino, who has complained bitterly about Cuomo's failure to sign on to more than one televised debate. "Let's see if the governor has the guts to do that, the courage to do that.''

An hour later, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins arrived at the Capitol after traveling from the debate site in Buffalo. He claimed to have had just two and a half hours of sleep the previous night, and pointed to a coffee stain on his shirt to prove it.

Hawkins, who ended the hour-long debate by complaining that the participants had barely touched on the issues, used the Capitol visit to expand on his progressive "Green New Deal" agenda and accept the endorsements of local progressive activists and officials.

"I'm outraged that we have one debate for governor," said Albany County Legislator Doug Bullock, a Hawkins supporter. "What happened to our democracy?"

Meanwhile, the only candidate who currently keeps an office at the Capitol was in Manhattan, appearing alongside his running mate, Kathy Hochul, and former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton at an event to boost the Cuomo-created Women's Equality Party.

The most unexpected news of the day was the midafternoon release of "Moving the New NY Forward," a 245-page policy manifesto for Cuomo's longed-for second term.

Half adulatory progress report and half blueprint, the book included numerous previous Cuomo proposals yet to be achieved, including creating a public finance system for elections, closing the loophole that allows limited-liability companies to multiply their political donations, and passing the 10-plank Women's Equality Act, now augmented with an 11th plank designed to fight sexual assault on campus.

All three of those items have been resisted by one or both houses of the Legislature.

New proposals included creating a $1.5 billion "Upstate Revitalization Fund" to aid the region's hard-pressed urban centers; appointing a "Chief Small Business Officer;" a "Finish in Four" program that would prod higher education institutions to help students get their degrees in eight semesters; and expanding the START-UP NY tax-free program that would come with "additional, performance-based compensation to university presidents based, in part, on the success of their START-UP sites."

State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox questioned the timing of the release.

"Shame on Andrew Cuomo for waiting until 12 days before the election — and after the only scheduled debate — to release his second-term agenda," said Cox, echoing Astorino's call for more televised debates.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

SUNY Canton reacts to threat

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

Canton

Students at the State University of New York at Canton are being asked to shelter in place after an anonymous threat on social media.

The St. Lawrence County school says it canceled classes Thursday and locked down the campus after the second of two threats made on the social media app Yik Yak indicated that an incident may occur at noon. There were no incidents reported as of mid-afternoon Thursday.

The school said on its website that campus police were escorting people to their cars or dorm rooms from other buildings "out of an abundance of caution."

Police were investigating the threat.

Yik Yak is a virtual bulletin board aimed at college students. It uses geolocation tools that limit user interactions to others within a 1.5-mile radius.

Categories: State/Local

Retailer's hearing is postponed

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

Albany

Empire Wine, the Colonie retailer currently locked in a legal war with the State Liquor Authority, has had its SLA hearing pushed back to Dec. 3. The hearing, originally slated for Thursday, was also shifted from New York City to Albany.

Empire filed suit against the SLA last month, seven weeks after the authority sent the store a letter saying it was in violation of a regulation that allows the state entity to revoke, cancel or suspend a liquor license due to "improper conduct by the licensee," in this case shipping wine to customers in states that bar direct sales to consumers, or require out-of-state retailers to obtain permits for that privilege.

SLA Chairman Dennis Rosen has defended the regulator's action against Empire while insisting that the authority won't go after every New York state retailer that ships wine to off-limits states. The SLA's investigators, he said, respond to complaints, and the board only acts to pull a license when less punitive efforts have failed.

The SLA allows wine shipments from New York stores to 13 states.

Categories: State/Local

NYC subway system seeing record ridership

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 57 sec ago

NEW YORK — If it seems as if New York City's subways are getting more crowded, that's because they are.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says the subway system broke its previous single-day ridership record on five separate days last month.

The MTA said Wednesday that 6,106,694 customers rode city subways on Sept. 23.

That's the highest number since daily figures were first recorded in 1985.

Ridership also topped 6 million on four other days last month.

The previous ridership record of 5,987,595 was set on Oct. 24, 2013.

The MTA says subway ridership is approaching levels last seen in the 1940s when far fewer people owned cars.

—Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

New York officials: Doctor has Ebola, 1st in city

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 58 sec ago

NEW YORK (AP) — A Doctors Without Borders physician who recently returned to the city after treating Ebola patients in West Africa has tested positive for the virus, according to preliminary test results, city officials said Thursday. He's the fourth confirmed case in the U.S. and the first in the nation's biggest city.

A further test by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will confirm the initial test results.

A law enforcement official and a City official received notification of the preliminary test results and told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity Thursday night but weren't authorized to discuss the case publicly before a city news conference.

Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old emergency room doctor, returned from Guinea more than a week ago and reported Thursday coming down with a 103-degree fever and diarrhea. He was rushed to Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital, a designated Ebola center, and was being treated in a specially built isolation ward.

The CDC has dispatched an Ebola response team to New York, and the city's disease detectives have been tracing the doctor's contacts to identify anyone who may be at risk.

City officials say Spencer acknowledged riding the subway and taking a cab to a Brooklyn bowling alley in the past week before he started showing symptoms.

His Harlem apartment was cordoned off, and his fiancee, who was not showing symptoms, was being watched in a quarantine ward at Bellevue. The Department of Health was on site across the street from the apartment building Thursday night, giving out information to area residents.

Health officials say the chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person, are slim. Someone can't be infected just by being near someone who's sick with Ebola. Someone isn't contagious unless he is sick. Symptoms are similar to malaria and cholera.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has killed about 4,800 people. In the United States, the first person diagnosed with the disease was a Liberian man, who fell ill days after arriving in Dallas and later died, becoming the only fatality. Two nurses who treated him were infected and are hospitalized.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said proper protocols were followed every step of the way and it didn't appear the doctor had been showing symptoms for very long.

"The patient is in good shape and has gone into a great deal of detail with our personnel as to his actions the last few days so we have a lot to work with," de Blasio said earlier in the day. "We have a patient who has been very communicative and precise and who has only been back a very short time and has been quite clear about individuals he had close contact with."

According to a rough timeline provided by city officials, Spencer's symptoms developed Wednesday, prompting him to isolate himself in his apartment.

When he felt worse Thursday, he and his fiancee made a joint call to authorities to detail his symptoms and his travels. EMTs in full Ebola gear arrived and took him to Bellevue in an ambulance surrounded by police squad cars.

"As per the specific guidelines that Doctors Without Borders provides its staff on their return from Ebola assignments, the individual engaged in regular health monitoring and reported this development immediately," the international humanitarian organization said in a statement.

As of Oct. 14, the organization said 16 staff members have been infected and nine have died.

The international ER doctor works at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. He had not seen any patients or been to the hospital since his return, the hospital said in a statement.

Spencer is a "dedicated humanitarian" who "went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population. He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first," it said.

Four American aid workers, including three doctors, were infected with Ebola while working in Africa and were transferred to the U.S. for treatment in recent months. All recovered.

Health care workers are vulnerable because of close contact with patients when they are their sickest and most contagious. In West Africa this year, more than 440 health workers have contracted Ebola and about half have died.

The New York doctor is from Michigan and attended Wayne State University School of Medicine and Columbia's University Mailman School of Public Health.

According to his Facebook page, he left for West Africa via Brussels in mid-September. A photo shows him in full protective gear. He returned to Brussels Oct. 16.

"Off to Guinea with Doctors Without Borders," he wrote. "Please support organizations that are sending support or personnel to West Africa, and help combat one of the worst public health and humanitarian disasters in recent history."

———

Associated Press writers Frank Eltman, Cameron Young, Jake Person, Tom Hays and Deepti Hajela and researcher Susan James contributed to this report.

Categories: State/Local

Badge, 'raunch' become issues

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 58 sec ago

Albany

In races across the state, candidates are arguing about the usual topics — the Legislature's inability to get things done, rampant corruption and taxes.

But there's a twist in the race for the 111th Assembly District, where the fight is also centering on what one party calls raunchy websites tied to a top staffer of incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara. The incumbent's camp, meanwhile, is knocking GOP challenger Pete Vroman for what it describes as an unseemly reliance on law enforcement symbolism.

Both topics have been aired in mailed literature and radio ads. The district runs from the Schenectady-Rotterdam area west into Montgomery County, including Amsterdam.

The raunch-related charges come from surrogates for Vroman, a retired federal marshal who is taking on first-termer Santabarbara.

His mailers contend that Santabarbara's chief of staff once operated what they describe as a "raunchy" modeling agency.

"Assemblyman Santabarbara has some explaining to do," reads part of the Vroman mailer.

The Santabarbara camp admits that chief of staff Gerard Parisi had been a partner in MainStreetGirls.com, but insists the group did nothing more than organize modeling contests.

Moreover, the website for the venture — which featured photos of swimsuit-clad women — has been offline since 2010, noted Paola Horvath, one of the partners in the site. It was folded into another business that promotes products and events.

Meanwhile, Schenectady County Democratic Chairman Joe Landry has written to the U.S. Marshals Service, contending that Republicans shouldn't be using images of an official badge in its mailings for Vroman.

"Albany is messed up. It's time to send in a former U.S. Marshal," reads part of one mailer.

Landry's letter points out that Vroman took the marshal badge insignia off his website after an earlier complaint.

U.S. Marshals Service officials couldn't immediately comment on the imagery or "likeness" in the mailers, but they did say it was all right for Vroman to wear a marshal lapel pin in a photo that appears in a Facebook page.

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

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 58 sec ago

State spending up, debt down, report says

ALBANY — New York's comptroller reports that state government spending increased 3.3 percent to $137.5 billion in its last fiscal year, while its debt declined slightly to $63.3 billion.

The report on the state's fiscal condition for the 2013-14 year, which ended March 31, says spending increases have been in line with inflation, growing 8.4 percent since 2010.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says budgeting and the strengthening economy have helped address New York's structural financial imbalance, with a better cash outlook than a few years ago. But he said more progress is needed.

The report notes that state spending has been partially paid for through borrowing $17.1 billion since 2010, including a total of $2.7 billion in 2014.

— Associated Press

Cuomo memoir sales off to a slow start

ALBANY — A couple of days after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tempered expectations about how well his new memoir is selling, the first results are in.

About 900 copies of "All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life" sold in the first week after publication.

That's according to data Wednesday from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks industry sales and covers about 85 percent of the U.S. print market.

By contrast, Hillary Rodham Clinton's "Hard Choices" sold 100,000 copies in the first week and 247,000 since its June release.

Cuomo said Monday he's been too busy running for re-election, and running the state, to do a full-fledged promotional tour.

BookScan reports Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's "Off the Sidelines" has sold about 11,000 copies since Sept. 1 and about 78,000 copies of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's "A Fighting Chance" have sold since April.

-— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo, Astorino clash at Buffalo debate

Albany Times/Union - 2 min 58 sec ago

Buffalo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two did talk policy in between the jabs.

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

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

Astorino said he'd OK drilling immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: State/Local

WMHT to broadcast Cuomo, Astorino debate

Albany Times/Union - 5 hours 2 min ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: State/Local

No-tax plan on track

Albany Times/Union - 5 hours 2 min ago

Albany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Public defender program gets a boost

Albany Times/Union - 5 hours 2 min ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nor will the improvements be cheap.

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

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

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

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

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

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

U.S. expands Ebola checks on travelers

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 8:07pm

Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo campaign rents email list to book publisher

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 10/24/2014 - 7:07am

Albany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local
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