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Astorino looks to bar travelers

Albany Times/Union - 4 hours 24 min ago


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A state Health Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

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

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


Categories: State/Local

The Cuomo Record: Environment

Gotham Gazette - 4 hours 31 min ago

Governor Cuomo (photo: governor's office via flickr) 

 The following is part of our series, The Cuomo Record, examining incumbent Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo's first term as he seeks re-election heading to Election Day, November 4

Governor Cuomo has attracted attention throughout his tenure for delaying action on hot button environmental issues. Nowhere is this more glaring, of course, than the question of whether to permit high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has been a looming issue his entire term.

Cuomo's inconsistent and unclear response to issues such as fracking, or whether to allow an Albany facility to begin heating crude oil arriving from the Canadian tar sands, is the tip of the very complicated iceberg that is the incumbent Democratic governor's record on the environment.

If re-elected, Cuomo faces profound environmental challenges, such as the mounting impacts of climate change and the state's deteriorating water infrastructure. Cuomo's policy choices will have a tremendous impact on a range of issues, from brownfields clean-up to air quality.

Depending on who you ask, the Governor's first term shows a real path forward as the state seeks to develop a 21st century energy supply and delivery system, and adapt to a changing climate. Alternatively, he is seen as fundamentally unsupportive of environmental protection in the sense of consistent and aggressive enforcement of the state's environmental regulations.

In its endorsement of Governor Cuomo this week, the New York League of Conservation Voters cited "the Governor's record on clean energy and climate resiliency -- two of the most complex yet critical sustainability challenges facing our state." Cuomo has made substantial progress on these issues, they said, "even at a time of fiscal restraint."

The governor does not shy away from strong environmental action. His administration is quietly, but effectively working to close the Indian Point nuclear power facility. The State has also asserted its right to control large water withdrawals - by companies and municipalities - from the Great Lakes and local rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater.

But Cuomo is also open about the fact that his lead environmental agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), serves two masters: protecting the ecological and public health of the country's third most populous state; and promoting economic development.

The governor's ongoing strategy to balance the two objectives - environmental protection and economic development - raises important questions. State support for a new solar photovoltaic manufacturing facility in Buffalo, for example, shows the great potential of linking environmental and economic goals.

But what happens when one goal conflicts with the other? Laura Haight, Senior Environmental Associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) responded flatly, "clearly the environment is not a priority for this governor."

A Red Flag
The governor's recent attempt to utilize or "raid" $500 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund for the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge raised an enormous red flag for many environmental groups. Those funds were earmarked for water quality improvement projects, they point out.

"What is it ideologically that this administration thought it was OK to take a half-billion dollars that was dedicated to reducing water pollution and instead redirect that to a bridge," asked Peter Iwanowicz, the Executive Director of Environmental Advocates, an Albany-based watchdog group.

Iwanowicz served in the Spitzer/Paterson administration as deputy secretary for the environment, and then as acting commissioner of the state DEC.

"[The loan attempt] really strikes me as a clear indication of the ideology of this administration, having other priorities than a strong environment," Iwanowicz argued. He added that he sees a "lack of deep commitment that existed in previous administrations to ensure strong environmental protections."

Iwanowicz said the difference in approach to environmental protection between Andrew Cuomo and the governors that directly preceded him is like "night and day."

In response to such criticisms, Emily DeSantis, the state's chief public information officer for the environment, wrote, "Governor Cuomo has a strong record of advancing policies to protect New York's land, air, and water while increasing the state's reliance on clean energy. Any claims otherwise are simply wrong on the facts."

She added: "Over the past four years, Governor Cuomo has committed more than $17 billion in funding for transformational environmental and clean energy programs, which is more than Governor Pataki did over 12 years."

"At the Forefront"
Cuomo's comments about the long-term implications of Superstorm Sandy, and its connection to climate change, were said to have shifted the national dialogue about global warming. In September, the governor signed the Climate Risk and Resiliency Act, which requires state agencies to "consider future physical climate risks caused by storm surges, sea level rise or flooding in certain permitting, funding and regulatory decisions."

The legislation is the first of its kind in the U.S., said Jessica Otney, Director of Government Relations at the Nature Conservancy. "[Cuomo] has put New York at the forefront of this issue."

Yet while the Cuomo administration advocates for clean energy and a comprehensive approach to climate change; it also altered and then delayed the release of a federal study on environmental and health risks associated with fracking, natural gas pipelines, and storage, according to Capital New York. The study was finally released in December, 2013.

"This is a tale of two administrations," asserts Paul Gallay, president of Hudson Riverkeeper. "There's reason for hope and concern."

Gallay highlighted what Riverkeeper views as some of the most recent environmental success stories of the Cuomo administration: for instance, its "excellent enforcement results" in compelling the City of Albany to make major infrastructure investments that will reduce stormwater pollution, with the objective of making local waterways "swimmable and boatable."

The administration has facilitated the ongoing clean-up of polluted New York State waterways, such as Newtown Creek. And the Environmental Facilities Corporation, which made the incredibly controversial decision to approve the administration's Tappan Zee loan request, secured $340 million in federal Sandy relief money to help make New York City's sewage treatment plants and drinking water systems more resilient to climate change.

The Cuomo administration has also shown a "strong willingness," Gallay said, to engage in "serious dialogue" about spill prevention and emergency response planning related to the "explosive growth" in rail shipments of crude oil along the Hudson River.

But even in its approach to crude oil shipments, the administration has had a contradictory approach.

The administration issued a "Negative Declaration" in the case of Global Partners, a Massachusetts-based company which seeks to expand and upgrade its Albany facility so that tar sands oil can be moved by rail through New York.

That "Negative Declaration" means that no environmental impact review would be required for the expanded facility. After an outcry from environmental and community groups, the Cuomo administration is now saying its decision "is subject to a final future determination."

Delays in decision making on this, and other politically-sensitive environmental issues, have led to ongoing questions about the Governor's actual environmental standards.

The question of whether to allow tar sands crude to move through New York State is a "make or break issue for the environment and for the administration," said Gallay.

Safeguarding the Health of the Environment
Lost in the discussion of hot-button environmental topics is the question of whether the State is meeting fundamental imperatives, such as "protecting public health, improving air quality, or ensuring pure water," says Peter Iwanowicz.

Environmental Advocates, and several other organizations Gotham Gazette spoke with, maintain that the state's lead environmental agency continues to struggle to properly enforce state and federal regulations designed to protect public health.

While staffing at the DEC has essentially remained static since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011, the agency has lost approximately 800 employees since 2008. Many state agencies were downsized in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Laura Haight said, but the cuts at the DEC were "disproportionately" large.

The state's Environmental Protection Fund, which is supported by a real estate transfer fee, has similarly not been brought back to pre-recession levels. The Governor has the ability to increase state support for the DEC and the Fund, many environmental groups argue, especially now that the state's fiscal outlook is improving.

Jessica Otney at the Nature Conservancy maintained, however, that even though the Fund is smaller, it is now managed more efficiently and more of it actually finds its way to environmental capital projects.

The DEC has taken a variety of steps to enforce regulations with less manpower. This includes the establishment of a program allowing environmental offenders to avoid penalties - under specific conditions - if they "self-report" violations.

An analysis of state data released last September by Environmental Advocates found that New York's "formal enforcement" of provisions related to the federal Clean Air, Clean Water and Resource Conservation and Recovery Acts had "decreased by nearly 25 percent between 2009 and 2012." The study also found that inspections of polluting facilities overall dropped by 35 percent during the same period.

For example, DEC-conducted "stack tests", which verify whether data reported by potential air polluters is accurate, declined by almost 50% between 2009 and 2012, Environmental Advocates found. The State is still in compliance with federal Clean Air inspection guidelines, Iwanowicz noted, but enforcement has become far less robust.

The DEC sharply refuted the findings of the Environmental Advocates study after its release.

Over the past three years air emissions have actually declined by 20 percent, the agency pointed out. "Overall, facility compliance rates have continued to increase over the past decade," added the DEC, "which has resulted in fewer violations and, therefore, less need for enforcement actions."

"We have worked to reduce or eliminate many antiquated and cumbersome paper-based requirements, allowing us to redirect staff at vital projects," the DEC stated.

The Role of Inspections
Supporters of the self-audit policy, like the state's Business Council, say that the numbers of inspections and enforcement actions are one metric, of many, that inform New Yorkers about our overall environmental health.

The state tracks air quality through a system of monitors, the Business Council's Government Affairs Director, Darren Suarez, noted. These monitors would indicate if egregious air quality violations were taking place. "Whistleblower" employees and competitors in the marketplace would also put pressure on a polluter to reign in their actions, he said.

The challenge of finding and stopping polluters is evident in a location such as New York City.

According to the DEC website, the state has 14 air monitors within the five boroughs. The City has added at least 70 more, purposely installing them closer to ground level. Even with those added efforts, it is difficult to differentiate between sources of pollution - such as a power plant versus a waste transfer station - in densely populated neighborhoods.

"I was a [DEC] enforcement official in the first Cuomo administration," said Paul Gallay, referring to Andrew's father Mario. "In order to deter pollution you have to not just take the company's words for it, but you have to be out there on the street, you have to inspect, you have to do it've got to be aggressive," he stated.

Gallay observed that today, 24 years after his time at the DEC, the state has "more people, more permits, more sensitive activities, and 35 percent less staff."

A View from Inside the State's Environmental Enforcement Agency
A veteran DEC technical employee, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions about the agency. "It's a highly complex situation," the employee said, referring to the impact of diminished staff. Every department within the agency has been affected in different ways because of the nature of their work, and various state and federal funding streams, the employee said.

Nonetheless, the employee, who has almost 30 years of experience at the DEC, said that agency staff are very conscious of a need to "do more with less." They are also highly aware of their role, as DEC staff, in supporting business development.

Diminished staffing levels forces everyone to prioritize, said the employee. Issuing permits for new and existing businesses, for example, now takes precedent in this employee's unit over digging into and pursuing possible environmental violations. Why? The employee noted that processing such permits is required by state law, no matter what DEC's staffing levels are.

The employee also said that agency cost-saving measures, such as using subcontractors to carry out environmental inspections, or switching to a more streamlined form of registering potential polluters, has met with mixed success in terms of maintaining agency oversight.

Water Infrastructure Crisis
The state is in agreement with environmental groups that New York is facing a water infrastructure "crisis," both in terms of wastewater and drinking water. This makes the governor's attempt to use Clean Water funds for the Tappan Zee all the more bewildering.

The state's Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) provided $2 billion in financing and grants to municipal drinking water projects and wastewater treatment facilities in 2013-14, a "record-breaking year," said the governor's office.

The state also assisted Nassau County in securing $810 million in federal assistance for repairs to the Bay Park wastewater treatment facility, which was was flooded during Sandy.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, New York has reported $27 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years; along with $29.7 billion in costs related to upgrading wastewater treatment infrastructure.

"One-quarter of the 610 [sewage and wastewater treatment] facilities in New York are operating beyond their useful life expectancy," notes the DEC, "and many others are using outmoded, inadequate technology, increasing their likelihood of tainting our waters."

Who pays for such pressing - and fundamental - projects? Local, state and federal governments are all supposed to share the burden.

A key problem is the fact that individual municipalities, especially smaller ones, do not necessarily have the resources to borrow large sums from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which is administered by the EFC. This is compounded by the state's two percent cap on local property taxes (instituted by Gov. Cuomo), which essentially ties the hands of local governments.

Current levels of local investment in water infrastructure projects are a fraction of where they need to be, says a report released in September by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. For instance, municipalities are spending one-fifth to one-sixth of what the Department of Health believes is necessary to adequately upgrade drinking water systems across the state.

Gov. Cuomo can help to address this problem, environmental groups say.

"The environmental response to this situation would be...[asking] 'what are the impediments to local governments for accessing this money [the Clean Water Revolving Fund]'?," said Laura Haight. "There's nothing constraining the EFC from using this money for outright grants," she maintained.

Enormous Promise - and some Contradictions - on Climate Change
No other environmental issue poses such a long-term, and not fully-understood, challenge to New York State as does climate change. The governor's approach is enormously promising, say environmental and public policy groups, but major gaps remain.

On the one hand, the Cuomo administration has been much more open to the idea of permanently evacuating neighborhoods threatened by sea level rise, such as those on the east shore of Staten Island, than the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations have been.

At the same time, advocates for New York City's mass transit system, which plays a significant role in reducing the city's carbon emissions, say that the governor is starving its capital budget. This threatens the system's long-term viability, they argue.

The administration has just updated a highly-detailed examination of how climate change will impact every aspect of life in New York State, from local ecosystems to public health. The Cuomo team has also put forward a detailed strategy - with public input - that they say will "transform" infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection, and other elements in preparation for climate change.

Every group that Gotham Gazette spoke with about the Cuomo administration's approach to climate change brought up the administration's efforts to expand the use and generation of clean energy. All were supportive, yet several argued that the state's path toward a full-scale switch to renewables was still not clearly defined.

"Very Ambitious"
The state's efforts on solar, however, set it apart, says Jackson Morris, the Natural Resources Defense Council's Eastern Energy Director. The Cuomo administration has committed $1 billion - over a ten year period - to expanding the use of solar energy.

Morris said that New York's "NY-Sun" initiative will "scale up" solar installations and drive down their cost. The program "really puts New York on the map nationally as one of the leaders on solar," said Morris. "[It's] a huge victory for clean energy and climate change, and a reduction of emissions."

"New York State has one the most ambitious clean energy agendas in the country," stated Emily DeSantis of the governor's office.

One particularly interesting example of New York's focus on clean energy is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine-state carbon trading initiative designed to cap and reduce power sector CO2 emissions.

RGGI, which also includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, has implemented a new cap of 91 million short tons. DeSantis cited Cuomo's "leadership" in lowering the cap, which will then decline 2.5 percent each year from 2015 to 2020.

Cuomo has also established the New York Green Bank, the nation's "largest" of its kind, said DeSantis. The bank will support clean energy projects unable to access sufficient private capital. In one of several announcements about environmental initiatives in the weeks leading up to the election, the governor said the bank's first transactions would result in clean energy investments of more than $800 million.

And the Cuomo administration is moving to fundamentally change how utilities are regulated, which they say will "dramatically accelerate clean energy deployment." The way utilities - and ratepayers - contribute to the State's funding pot for clean energy is being re-thought as well.

While many of the hard details of the State's plans are not yet available, Jackson Morris described them as "very ambitious," arguing that they "will reshape the entire utility business model and how we operate the grid in New York State."

"At the heart of it," Morris said, "we want to have a business model for utilities in New York that drives them to invest in resources like energy efficiency, clean distributed [power] generation, and renewables both large and small." The goal, he said, is to make the grid "more responsive and nimble, and resilient...and, ultimately, cleaner."

All of these initiatives will help to achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, said DeSantis.

"We're going to hold him to that," said Laura Haight, referring to Cuomo's 80 by 2050 goal. "We want to see [ongoing emissions] targets, we want to see commitments, we want to see insure that we get there."

NRDC believes achieving 50 percent dependence on renewable energy by 2025 is a feasible goal for New York. Renewable sources like hydro, solar, and wind are currently about 23 to 24 percent of the state's total energy supply, Morris said.

"We do need more clarity on targets over the long-term for renewables and energy efficiency," agreed Morris. "What we don't have [in the initial proposals] on the utility side, is an overarching, driving target. What is our objective?...It's kind of this tension between moving towards a more market-based system, but we also need guardrails to ensure the state's energy mix continues moving in a cleaner direction."

It is not totally clear, Laura Haight added, whether the Cuomo administration is equating "clean" energy with "renewable" energy. The governor's draft energy plan (a separate document) envisions an ongoing role for natural gas, a fossil fuel. New gas pipelines, and related infrastructure, continue to be planned and built throughout the state, including New York City.

"One thing that's become clear is that if we want to make it to this 80 by [20]50 goal, we have to move away from natural gas," argued Haight. "We can't be investing more...that's a 30-year commitment...once we go down that road we're stuck on it."

What Do Voters Think?
In all likelihood, New York State will continue down the path on which voters find it now: a path which offers very significant promise in terms of moving the state toward clean energy and energy efficiency; a path in which New York's response to climate change is pro-active but not always consistent; and a path in which the regulatory structure that protects New York air, water, and general environmental health continues to be re-configured with economic goals in mind.

"The number one thing New Yorkers care about is jobs," observed Darren Suarez, from the New York State Business Council. Suarez was not arguing that New Yorkers are disinterested in environmental protection or preparing for climate change, but that so-called 'pocketbook issues' almost always trump others.

Suarez' point – and an operating principle of the Cuomo administration - is that environmental protection objectives have to be balanced with promoting business development and job creation. The mainstream environmental response to this argument is that enhanced environmental conditions are actually supportive of economic development. The two work hand in hand.

The new photovoltaic "gigafactory" to be built by Solar City in Buffalo could create as many as 5,000 jobs across the state. The Cuomo administration has committed $750 million to the project.

It does appear, in certain instances at least, that New Yorkers are prepared to place protecting air and water quality ahead of economic development.

A Siena Research Institute poll on fracking, released July 30, found that a majority of voters from the Catskill/Hudson Valley and Southern Tier/Fingerlakes regions agree that fracking would be an economic benefit to local communities, and that it would generate "much needed jobs for New Yorkers."

Nonetheless, over half of those polled still opposed allowing the practice in New York State. Sixty percent of the voters surveyed said that fracking posed an "unacceptable risk" in terms of contaminating ground water. And small majorities agreed "that fracking is too dangerous" because of the potential migration of both methane gas and fracking related chemicals to the surface.

The only general election candidate for Governor who openly supports a ban on fracking, and the restaffing of the state DEC, is Howie Hawkins from the Green Party. Cuomo has acknowledged that voters opposed to fracking played a role in Zephyr Teachout's surprisingly strong performance in the democratic primary and notes that he sees anti-fracking protesters at virtually all of his public events.

Cuomo said during the lone gubernatorial debate that he was leaving the decision about fracking in New York to scientists who are studying it - and that he expects the results of the study by the end of the year.

"While our statewide polling has consistently shown New Yorkers to be closely divided on fracking, here in the areas close to the proposed drilling a majority now says 'no,'" said Don Levy, the Siena Research Institute's director.

"Despite the allure of needed jobs and economic development, more voters in these areas are tipping their internal scale due to environmental concerns," Levy added.

This article is part of The Cuomo RecordGotham Gazette's series looking at the governor's first term. Find the other articles in the series here.

by Sarah Crean for Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

Make Girls & Boys High School a Community School

Gotham Gazette - 4 hours 31 min ago

Bernard Gassaway, left, talks about his resignation with Errol Louis (photo: @InsideCityHall)

The latest indictment of the Department of Education's management of failing schools was personified last week by Bernard Gassaway, the recently self-retired principal of Boys and Girls High School.

As he stepped down after five tortured years at the helm of the storied Bed-Stuy school, Gassaway took a verbal backhand to the DOE for failing to produce a plan to turn around the chronically failing school.

Predictably, the DOE shot back that Gassaway was the problem and that the they were planning to get rid of him anyway. But the hard truth is that we as a community – from DOE policy makers, Gassaway and school leadership to the parents and surrounding community-based institutions – ultimately failed the students of Boys and Girls and have been doing so for years.

I believe that the wider community of parents, teachers and neighborhood-based institutions - not just a singular principal or a fix-all plan handed down from Mount Tweed - has the resilience to produce a thriving learning environment if it is engaged through an effective community school model.

The mayor, having promised 100 community schools, has already designated 42 of them. Boys and Girls, in a cluster with other schools in the area, should be included in the next round.

Boys and Girls offers robust services as many community schools do, and is the site of countless community events. It also has the support of local politicians. However it struggles to offer the high academic standards and broad collaboration that are essential elements of effective community schools.

Specifically, parents and the surrounding community have remained under-informed regarding the school and under-engaged in determining its fate. A community school is not just a school within a neighborhood, but an academic and socio-economic hub for the surrounding community. Is this yet another supposed solution-in-a-box? No.

A community school model doesn't suddenly address all the challenges posed by poverty, institutional racism, and DOE bureaucracy. For instance, Boys and Girls will continue to fail under any plan, under any leader, if it continues to be used as the high school of last resort. But with adequate resources, intelligently invested in a community school model, Boys and Girls can begin to address the physical and emotional needs of not just the whole child, but the whole family.

While the Children's Aid Society in New York and Community in Schools, a national network of community schools, provide evidence that community schools demonstrate higher academic achievement levels, the model ultimately rises and falls on the strength and organizing skills of the community behind it.

This is a critical moment in the transition for Boys and Girls, which just named Gassaway's replacement. We've all seen principals, who, from a single centralized command, keep parents at a distance, see community institutions simply as service providers rather than partners, and treat peer schools as competitors. With so much pressure to meet city and state standards, schools often morph into fortresses and focus their attention inward. In effective community schools, principals are not dictators, but savvy community organizers and collaborators who know how to harvest the talent of the people and organizations around them.

Neither a new principal nor a new plan by the DOE will alone "fix" Girls and Boys. But within a community school framework, they can both provide a rare opportunity to re-think how to build investment and accountability among a broader set of people deeply engaged in the success of a school.

Mark Winston Griffith is the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a community organizing group developing leadership among Central Brooklyn parents.

Categories: State/Local

NYC campaign seeks volunteers

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 9:07pm

Ads tout volunteering

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

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

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

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

A database at will match volunteers with nonprofits.

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

—Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

DMV commissioner cited for speeding

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:07am


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

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

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

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

Vestal Police did not return calls.

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

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

Categories: State/Local

AG hopefuls differ on job performance

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:07am


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Categories: State/Local

De Blasio Administration Rejects Two Council Voter Registration Bills

Gotham Gazette - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:00am

Council Member Kallos at Thursday's hearing (photo: William Alatriste)

NEW YORK—In 2000 the City Council passed Local Law 29 which aimed to increase voter registration by requiring 19 city agencies to offer voter registration forms to its customers. It's fourteen years after the law's passage and compliance has been abysmal.

A report compiled by Center for Popular Democracy released this week shows during their walk-ins to 14 of those city agencies, 95 percent of people were never asked if they wanted to register to vote. Of those who self-identified as citizens, the report indicated 84 percent were not given a voter registration form.

On Thursday the City Council held an oversight hearing to discuss the poor compliance and introduce two bills aimed to increase voter registration at the city agency level. Intro 493, sponsored by Committee on Government Operations chair Ben Kallos, would require 15 additional agencies to be covered under the agency-based voter registration law. Intro 356, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, would assign a code to each agency that would be printed on the voter registration forms and allow the City to track how many forms are being utilized from each agency.

Both bills are being rejected by the de Blasio administration.

"We are committed to getting agency-based voter registration right," Mindy Tarlow, director of the Mayor's Office of Operations, said during her testimony. "But to get it done, we are going to need time and space to manage the agencies and correct long-standing behavior."

Tarlow pointed to Directive 1, issued by Mayor Bill de Blasio on July 11, 2014. In the directive—his first as mayor—he ordered each agency covered under Local Law 29 to prepare a plan showing how they would implement the requirements of the Charter and submit it within 60 days.

The directive also requires each agency submit a semi-annual report on how the plan is being implemented which will include the number of voter registration forms distributed, the number of registration forms completed, and the number of forms transmitted to the Board of Elections.

Tarlow said she agrees with the assessment that there is a problem, but she argued that with the administration already addressing the problem, it was too early for further legislation.

"It is hard. We are trying to bring a number of agencies along," Tarlow said, adding that before moving on new legislation, "we want a chance to feel like we have made some inroads."

Tarlow did not provide an exact timeline as to when the Council would see the results from Directive 1, but did promise to share preliminary reports with the Council some time at the end of November. Kallos jokingly said he looked forward to to reading it in between bites of his Thanksgiving dinner.

"We need the flexibility to watch this over time," Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, said during the hearing.

Intro 356
The administration's rejection of the second bill, Intro 356, is based less on Directive 1 and more on privacy concerns. Tarlow argued that by putting a code which would identify what agency a voter was getting services from may deter voters from registering at agencies.

"This is to protect the privacy of the individuals who receive services from government that they don't wish to be disclosed," Tarlow said in her testimony.

The council members now face the prospect of attempting to negotiate the bills with the administration.

On Thursday, Council Member Williams went through a lengthy back-and-forth with members of the administration as well as representatives of the Board of Elections (who testified in a later panel) to dispute objections. Williams argued there was already a code (the number 9) on all voter registration forms coming from City agencies and a separate code for those coming from CUNY.

Both Williams and Kallos asked if it was a matter of that information being released to the public or simply being documented. Tarlow said it wasn't a matter of determining who the person was, but what services they were seeking or receiving. She said the administration believes the fear of that information getting out would deter people from signing up to register to vote.

Williams pointed out information such as social security numbers, fax numbers, and driver's license numbers are all exempt from public reporting, but records are still kept. He argued this code could be exempt as well.

Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), said during his testimony the BOE did not believe this code could be exempt based on current law, but he admitted they did not have a chance to dive in deeply on the issue because they were preparing for the upcoming election.

"I don't know that I have been persuaded," Williams said.

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

Board of Correction Urgently Needs Reform

Gotham Gazette - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:00am

Public Advocate James listens to testimony from DOC Commissioner Ponte (photo: William Alatriste)

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued the latest in a series of reports on mismanagement at Rikers Island last week, pointing out that the city's jail costs twice as much per bed as similar facilities in other big cities and is besieged with violence. Over the last year the New York City Department of Correction has been buffeted by scandals, lawsuits, and accusations of incompetence, corruption, and mismanagement. Throughout this period the Department's main oversight body, the New York City Board of Correction has been largely missing in action. Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to intervene to reinvigorate this important but largely dormant oversight body under his control.

The Board of Correction was created in 1957 as part of the City Charter and has the authority to make rules for the Department of Correction, conduct investigations of conditions and acts of misconduct, and issue public reports. It also has the ability to issue subpoenas and hold oversight hearings. The Board is made up of 9 members that oversee a professional staff of investigators and monitors.

Currently three of the nine seats on the Board are vacant and the chair is a holdover from the previous administration. The City Council chooses three members and the city's judiciary has a say in three more, but these must be approved by the Mayor, who also appoints three members directly, including the chair.

In August, US Attorney Preet Bharara issued a scathing report outlining a "culture of violence" among guards at Rikers Island, especially in its juvenile facilities, and raised major concerns about the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year olds. Bharara has threatened legal action unless there are major reforms forthcoming.

His report was in response to widespread allegations of excessive force by guards—especially against juveniles, mistreatment including the deaths of people with mental illness in the "mental observation" unit, and widespread access to contraband, leading to the arrest of two corrections officers and a nurse in recent months. In August, The New York Times found that officer use of force had increased by 90% in the last 4 years.

The new Commissioner, Joseph Ponte, has recently been criticized for his appointment of William Clemons as Chief of Department. The city's Department of Investigation (DOI) had recommended demoting him after they found widespread failures to report violence in the juvenile facility where he was warden. The DOI, based on a review of video tapes and other documents, uncovered 375 incidents of violence that were not reported. Evidence of this wrongdoing was then withheld from the Department of Justice during its investigation.

The treatment of people with mental illness remains a profound problem at the jail. By some accounts 40% of those at Rikers have significant mental illness, including as many as 50% of juveniles. This vulnerable population is much more likely to be subjected to violence from both guards and prisoners and are heavily over-represented in solitary confinement units, where their conditions often worsen. Even the special mental observation unit is plagued with problems. In September of last year, Bradley Ballard died after days of neglect by guards and health workers—despite his obvious extreme distress. In March, homeless veteran Joseph Murdough literally baked to death in his cell because of faulty heating equipment and negligence, despite being on suicide watch.

This week the Associated Press reported that they have discovered 14 cases in the last 5 years where inmates at the jail died of preventable causes due to inadequate health care as a result of failure of guards to notify medical staff or failure of medical staff from the for-profit health group Corizon to provide needed treatment.

Mayor de Blasio needs to take a more active role in bringing about changes at Rikers. The Board of Correction, which could be a major player in investigating problems and making changes to rules and procedures has been at best a bit player. Despite the mandate to make public reports about problems at the jail, their last two reports, while useful, were remarkably thin—calling for enhancements on recreation time for people in solitary and pointing out some of the problems with mental health treatment through case studies of three inmates. After initially rejecting calls for major reforms to solitary, the Board is now preparing rules to restrict or eliminate its use for juveniles and those with mental illness and limit its use in general. Much more is needed.

There are currently three vacancies on the Board and the Mayor needs to step in and make strong appointments to revitalize the Board so that it can be a force in implementing reforms called for by advocates and the US Attorney. In particular, he needs to appoint a chair with a strong commitment to active intervention and a mandate to use its full powers of investigation to uncover abuse and recommend appropriate solutions. The Jails Action Coalition has urged that at least one of the new appointees be someone formerly incarcerated at Rikers and this seems like an important way of grounding the Board's work in real life experiences. Rikers could be a model of enlightened corrections policy; instead it is reviled as dysfunctional, dangerous, and corrupt. The mayor must change this.

Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to hte Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter: @avitale

Categories: State/Local

The History of New York City's Special High Schools

Gotham Gazette - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:00am

Stuyvesant High School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(from most recent)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eligibility for SHSI currently breaks down as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max:

Categories: State/Local

Astorino pushes to close gap

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

Ballston Spa

Sasha Presseisen has never voted Republican.

That changes in 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Upstate New York accounts for 50 percent of the vote," he said. "You have a disproportionate share of the vote this year. So if you come out to vote, the Sashas of the world that vote for me, for the first time a Republican, that's going to make a huge, huge difference." • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Around ny

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

Vandal paints walls at Whitney Museum

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

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

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

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

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

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

— Casey Seiler,

Categories: State/Local

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Information from: The New York Times,

Categories: State/Local

Assembly races on the less competitive side

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


While much of the attention in this year's legislative races has focused on the closely divided state Senate, the Assembly has its own dramas — albeit in a limited number of competitive contests.

To be sure, the chamber remains dominated by Democrats, who have a 98-to-40-seat edge. That's unlikely to change any time soon given the party's statewide enrollment advantage.

As in the Senate, most legislators in the Assembly are entrenched thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts and incumbent fund-raising advantages.

But in the Capital Region, an open seat and perceived weakness among some newcomers have sparked competition.

The issues raised by candidates often cover the same ground: worries about jobs and health care, the Common Core education reforms, and — invariably — property taxes and school funding.

Some races have gone negative, while others focus on putting the candidate in the best light.

The Capital Region's premier Assembly Nov. 4 contest is centered in the 113th District, which includes Saratoga Springs, the eastern part of Saratoga county and rural western Washington County. The old district had been solidly Republican for more than a century, but suburban growth in Saratoga County and the departure of GOP incumbent Tony Jordan — who left to become Washington County district attorney — has sparked an all-out slugfest that some insiders say could cost a total of $750,000 when spending by both sides is finally tallied. Both candidates are well-funded and will be able to tap get-out-the-vote efforts.

Republican Steve Stallmer was the top aide to U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, as well as the late Gerald Solomon. He also worked as a lobbyist for the New York State Associated General Contractors. A Saratoga Springs native, Stallmer has the backing of the county's well-organized Republican party and counts businesses as well as fellow lobbyists among his contributors.

Democrat Carrie Woerner makes her second run for the seat; she came within a few percentage points when she challenged Jordan in 2012.

Woerner, mayor of Round Lake and vice president of a conference management software firm, is being funded in part by the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, and is also getting support from public sector unions including arms of the statewide teachers union, NYSUT and SEIU health care workers.

Both say this is turning into a hard-fought race.

"I feel good about it, but I do expect it to be close," Stallmer said.

"I don't want anybody in this district to think I don't want this job," said Woerner.

Stallmer has hit Woerner on tax and spend issues in Round Lake, while she counters that increases stem from fire department improvements, which is actually paid for by growth in the nearby community of Malta.

111th District

Another emerging race is in the district from Schenectady County west into Montgomery County.

First-term Democrat Angelo Santabarbara is challenged by Pete Vroman, a retired federal marshal who is Montgomery County undersheriff.

While this would be his first elective office, Vroman cites his law enforcement experience as providing "problem-solving'' skills and the ability to work within a budget.

His police background could also be viewed as a counterweight to Santabarbara's experience as a former Army reservist.

Vroman's campaign has benefited from radio spots accusing Santabarbara's top staffer of co-owning a racy website. Vroman said the ads came from the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee.

According to the site's owner, the company in question, StarEventStaff, is a marketing firm. "Absolutely nothing associated with our website was inappropriate, and it is offensive that a political party would attempt to discredit a legitimate business in such a manner,'' co-owner Paola Horvath said in an email.

A look at StarEventStaff's site reveals that the business puts on promotions in which representatives, including college students, showcase products ranging from energy drinks to potato chips at various events.

The Santabarbara camp cites his work on nuts-and-bolts issues such as fire department funding and helping get tax credit for Proctors Theater. Many social media users also know Santabarbara through his prolific use of selfies.

110th District

Incumbent Democrat Phil Steck is being challenged by Republican Thomas Jasiewicz, who charges that the incumbent is a Common Core supporter.

Steck responded that Common Core, a national educational standards movement, was put in place before his arrival in the Assembly, although he believes the state Education Department has "completely botched" the program's implementation.

Steck said he's relying on mailers and door-to-door visits rather than broadcast ads or robocalls.

Other districts

If voter registration and campaign financing numbers are an indication, other area Assembly races appear to post large obstacles for challengers.

In the 109th District, for example, incumbent Patricia Fahy enjoys an approximately 45,000 to 16,000 Democratic-to-Republican enrollment edge, and her 32-day pre-election filings indicates she has about $36,000 on hand compared to $473 for challenger Jesse Calhoun.

In the 108th, incumbent Democrat John McDonald has a 42,000-to-9,500 edge in enrollments, and he had about $25,000 compared to GOP challenger Carl Gottstein's $1,400.

In the 112th, GOP incumbent Jim Tedisco has a 39,000-to-26,000 enrollment edge and he had a $152,000 on hand compared to challenger Jared Hickey's $3,400.

Voter numbers are a bit closer in the 107th where incumbent Republican Steve McLaughlin has 25,000 registered Republicans compared to 26,000 Democrats. But the district also has 7,300 Independence Party voters, and McLaughlin won that line over challenger and East Greenbush town board member Philip Malone in the September primary on a write-in ballot.

McLaughlin reported $10,500 compared to Malone's $8,000.


Categories: State/Local

Enterovirus waning in Capital Region and New York

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


A virus that has caused severe respiratory illness in children since the summer appears to be on the wane in New York.

Requests to the state's laboratory to confirm enterovirus EV-D68 have declined, as have reports of all types of enterovirus and other respiratory illness in New York's hospitals, according to the state Health Department.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week announced a faster lab test for detecting EV-D68 in patients with respiratory illness. But the state lab may not implement it unless test requests start picking back up, a state Health Department spokesman said.

The virus is linked to a nationwide outbreak of severe respiratory illness since mid-August. New York was among 32 states reporting cases of enterovirus were low or declining by mid-October, according to the CDC. Enterovirus activity was deemed to be elevated or increasing in 12 states, however, including neighboring Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

EV-D68 was determined to be the cause of severe respiratory illness in nine children treated at Albany Medical Center Hospital's intensive care unit this summer. The children all had underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, that also contributed to the severity of their illness.

Almost all of the 796 patients with confirmed cases of EV-D68 nationwide were children, according to CDC. Many have had asthma or a history of wheezing.

EV-D68 has been detected in specimens from seven patients who died nationwide, according to CDC. There have been no deaths related to EV-D68 in New York, according to the state Health Department.

EV-D68 is one of more than 100 enteroviruses, which cause flu-like symptoms in 10 million to 15 million Americans yearly, typically in summer and fall, according to health officials. This year has been unusual in that EV-D68 has been the most common type of enterovirus identified, according to CDC.

The state does not require doctors to report enterovirus cases. It does track children's visits to emergency departments for respiratory illness, which have declined since last month.

During the week ended Oct. 11, hospitals in 13 counties including the Capital Region reported 607 emergency department visits for patients under 18 for respiratory issues, compared to 926 such visits for the week ended Sept. 20, according to the state Health Department.

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo to nominate local judge to Court of Appeals: Leslie Stein started in Albany City Court

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


Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday said he would nominate a veteran Capital Region judge for the vacancy on the state's Court of Appeals.

In nominating Leslie Stein, Cuomo has put his stamp squarely on New York's highest court by shifting the majority of the seven-member panel from Republican appointees of former Gov. George Pataki to Democratic judges.

Stein, who is on the midlevel Appellate Division based in Albany, would replace Pataki appointee Victoria Graffeo, whose 14-year term is up. (The court will retain a four-to-three female majority.)

The nomination comes a few days after members of gay rights and pro-choice groups urged the governor to replace Graffeo, who had a conservative record on those issues.

Republicans called for Cuomo to reappoint Graffeo, who was known as a diligent and collegial judge.

"He's having it both ways," said Albany Law School Professor Vincent Bonventre. "He gets to effectively eliminate one fairly conservative Pataki appointee on the court and replace her with his own choice, who happens to be a moderately liberal Democratic judge.''

Democratic lawmakers as well as activists were pleased.

Senate Democratic leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins, who had issued a statement on Thursday calling for Graffeo's ouster, said Stein would be a "welcome addition" to the court.

M. Tracey Brooks, CEO of Family Planning Advocates, said the group is "extremely pleased," and said Stein had chaired a gender fairness committee in the Third Appellate Division, where she has served since 2008.

Like Graffeo, Stein is an Albany Law School graduate with local ties. While Graffeo worked for Assembly Republicans and served as solicitor general, Stein earned her first judgeship in 1997 when she was elected to Albany City Court after working in private practice.

She then went on to state Supreme, or trial, court and then to the Appellate Division.

Bonventre said Stein may be best known for her dissent in People v. Weaver, in which the Appellate Division said police acted properly when they used a GPS device to track a burglary suspect's car for 65 days.

Stein, however, maintained that it was a violation of privacy, and said police should have obtained a search warrant.

The Court of Appeals subsequently took Stein's side in what Bonventre said was a landmark decision under Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Stein was also on the Appellate panel that last year upheld the right of communities to ban hydrofracking based on the idea of local control. The Court of Appeals upheld that ruling.

Stein hasn't been solely focused on the law.

Pattie Beeler, president of The Woman's Club of Albany, said Stein has been an energetic vice president of that service organization and credits Stein with helping to revive the club in the 1990s after a long period of dormancy.

"She helped us navigate through some often difficult transitional periods," said Beeler, who was "thrilled and pleased that the governor is choosing Judge Stein."

The next step will be for the state Senate to hold confirmation hearings.

While Senate Republicans had earlier said they hoped Graffeo would be reappointed, there was no indication on Friday that Stein wouldn't be confirmed.

Bonventre said the governor will have more picks in the coming years as several sitting judges reach the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Cuomo will have to name a replacement for Judge Robert Smith by the end of the year. If he is re-elected to a second term, Cuomo in 2015 will nominate replacements for Lippmann, Eugene Pigott and Susan Read.

All but Lippmann were Pataki appointees.

Cuomo was on a trip to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico on Friday. The announcement of Stein's selection came in a prepared statement in which the governor praised her experience and work on behalf of women's rights.

"Justice Leslie Stein has extensive judicial experience and has worked throughout her career to help ensure that women, families, victims of domestic violence, and vulnerable New Yorkers have a voice in our legal system. She has also sought to advance the cause of women and diversity in the legal profession," Cuomo said in his release.

The governor has been paying particular attention to women's issues this year, including the launch of a new Women's Equality ballot line for his use and like-minded candidates.


Categories: State/Local

New lab is ready to begin its work

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

Bolton Landing

Researchers monitoring Lake George with a web of high-tech sensors unveiled a new lab Friday they say will give them an unprecedented and detailed view of the Adirondack lake.

The three-year "Jefferson Project," begun in 2013, aims to make Lake George the "smartest lake in the world" through a complex network of sensors analyzing the likes of stream runoff, rainfall, wind, currents and salinity. The new lakeside visualization lab in Bolton Landing will allow researchers to review high-resolution 3-D models that can be zoomed in as close as a half meter.

Data from the project developed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM, and the Fund for Lake George will be used to help preserve the lake. The 32-mile-long lake is famous for its clear waters. But it faces threats related to development, road salt runoff and invasive species.

"Now we're bringing state-of-the-art visualization capabilities to this complex project and starting to collect more sensor-based data that will help us more precisely understand and remedy the lake's challenges," said John E. Kelly III, senior vice president and director of IBM Research.

Twelve sensor platforms are currently being deployed around Lake George and its tributaries. Scientists say that since the lake is not too large and isolated by the surrounding mountains, it lends itself to the intensive study.

Categories: State/Local

Aiming for an 'Age-Friendly' City

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 1:00am

Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste)

NEW YORK—As New York City's population continues to grow, so does the number of its Baby Boomers. Of the city's 8.4 million residents, 2.6 million (31 percent) are age 50 or over, according to AARP. Brooklyn and Queens are home to the largest segments of the senior population, with 29 percent each.

The number of seniors over 60 is expected to increase by 50 percent by 2030, meaning elected officials must make adjustments to accommodate senior services. On Wednesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito laid out several new policy initiatives specifically aimed to aid this growing constituency.

"As a city, we should measure ourselves on how we help those who are most vulnerable – and our senior population is one of the most vulnerable among us," Mark-Viverito said an at an AARP/Governing Magazine roundtable on Wednesday. "We must protect the rights of our older New Yorkers to age in place with dignity."

The Speaker announced an expansion of the Council's age-friendly initiative and aims to establish age-friendly neighborhoods in 10 new districts. This initiative, in partnership with The New York Academy of Medicine and in conjunction with the Mayor's Office, was established in 2010. Mark-Viverito's own East Harlem district was part of the pilot program, along with the Upper West Side, and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

The Age-friendly Neighborhood Initiative brings together the senior population with policy makers and business leaders, helping communities craft policies tailored to meet the unique needs of older adults in each neighborhood.

Mark-Viverito said she saw the results in her own district with the expansion of special hours for seniors at the Thomas Jefferson Park Pool. Seniors at Union Settlement Jefferson Senior Center hadn't been using the pool (which was located just across the street) because the families and kids using the pool made them feel unsafe. The seniors boarded buses to go to a pool elsewhere.

At the age-friendly neighborhood initiative meetings, the issue was brought up and the pool changed their policy to designate senior-only hours. This policy change was so popular, it was later adopted as a citywide initiative.

Which districts will be in the program, how they will be selected, and by whom, has not yet been determined, according to a spokesperson for the Speaker. But Mark-Viverito said she is committed to bringing age-friendly initiatives to all 51 Council districts by 2018.

Helping Seniors in Poverty
One in five New York City households over the age of 65 lives in poverty, with Brooklyn and the Bronx reporting the highest rate at 26 and 25 percent respectively. As a senior, navigating what benefits one is eligible for and how one accesses those programs can be difficult, especially if much of that information is online.

According to Mark-Viverito, only 44 percent of eligible seniors in New York City are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). She also added that thousands of seniors could apply to have their rent locked in at affordable prices with the newly increased SCRIE regulations, but have yet to do so.

To help ease the process, the Council will partner with Hunter College's Silberman School of Social Work and the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging to explore better ways to help connect seniors with services and benefits.

'"We agree there is a lack of information out there around what services are available to older adults and what older adults are eligible for," Nancy Giunta, assistance professor at Hunter College's Silberman School of Social Work.

While many of the services are listed online, some seniors are not as computer savvy as their younger counterparts. Giunta said they have found that in their center older adults (and in some cases their caregivers) have difficulty using the websites and understanding the information they contain. As part of their college work, social work students at Hunter help seniors navigate sites and apply for any benefits they may be entitled to.

There are also programs like SMART-MH, a state-funded program which helps seniors battling mental health issues related to Superstorm Sandy. During program visits, workers are trained to not just deal with mental health problems, but also see if seniors qualify for other services and help them apply If they do.

Programs and partnerships such as these will be looked at carefully by the Council to try and further improve services for seniors.

Affordable Housing
Like virtually every New Yorker, seniors also struggle to find affordable housing. But often their choices are more limiting than the average New Yorker.

While a sixth-floor walk-up with laundry around the corner may work for the average 20- or 30-something, a senior in their 60s or 70s could have difficulties navigating stairs and distance. A trip to the laundry "just around the corner" for a senior can prove an arduous task.

In an ideal world the City would work to find ways to help seniors "age in place" which gives them the ability to live in their own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age. To do this, the City will need to work with the real estate industry and possibly lay out rules to make it easier for that to happen.

Mark-Viverito said in her speech on Wednesday that the Council will introduce legislation soon that will develop a guide for landlords and building owners aimed to help seniors. These best practices could include requiring handrails, larger door frames to fit wheelchairs, and other modifications to make it easier for seniors to continue to live comfortably in New York City.

"There are accommodations that need to be made in our housing to make it easier for seniors to age in place," Mark-Viverito said. "As we create housing, we should be taking into account accommodations that are needed because our population is aging."

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

Candidates for Attorney General Pursue Women Voters

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 1:00am

Eric Schneiderman at a campaign rally (photo: @PPNYCAction)

If the New York State Legislature passes the 10-point Women's Equality Agenda next year, among other things, the right to an abortion will become codified into state law. This right would be unalterable by anything but legislative action or judicial review at the highest level. And it would be the responsibility of the Attorney General, whether he is a Democrat or Republican, to uphold the letter of that law.

With the first and only face-to-face debate in this year's attorney general race just over the horizon, protection of women's rights has become a particular sticking point in the election battle between incumbent Democrat Eric Schneiderman and his Republican opponent, John Cahill. Both candidates are attempting to woo women voters, with Schneiderman consistently touting his record and Cahill picking holes in it.

Schneiderman, an ardent supporter of women's reproductive rights, has attacked Cahill on his pro-life stance. Cahill, at one time an advisor and chief of staff to former New York Governor George Pataki, opposes the 10th point of the Women's Equality Act, which will codify the essence of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in New York law. (The other nine planks of the plan, a creation of Governor Andrew Cuomo, include items such as establishing equal pay and strengthening human trafficking laws).

Two weeks ago, at a Planned Parenthood NYC event, Schneiderman criticized the "other side" for blocking pieces of progressive legislation that protect women's reproductive rights. Stressing the need for New York to become a model state in the country, he told a young crowd of ardent supporters, "Understand this, if we can't pass a pro-choice bill in New York, the message to the rest of the country is horrendous."

Schneiderman also spoke about the measures he took to protect women's interests in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decisions in the Massachusetts buffer zone and Hobby Lobby cases. The first decision struck down a Massachusetts law that imposed buffer zones against protestors at abortion clinics. Schneiderman, in response, asserted to all New York law enforcement that buffer zones would still be enforced in the state.

After the Hobby Lobby ruling, where the Supreme Court recognized a corporation's religious beliefs as reasons to deny contraceptive care to female employees, Schneiderman announced a proposal which would diminish the law's consequences and mandate a 90-day notification period for New York businesses which wanted to change insurance coverage. This week, citing these measures, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand endorsed Schneiderman for re-election.

But these were measures taken in reaction to outside events. When Gotham Gazette posed the question to the attorney general about the degree of discretion he can exercise in proactively pushing for women's issues, he said, "The office of Attorney General is tremendously important to protecting women's rights. First of all, I do have the ability to work on a legislative agenda. I pick my fights."

Schneiderman stressed that his voice was crucial in cleaning up the proposed law and rejecting arguments made by Republican opponents that "theres no need in New York to legislatively do anything because this is established law."

"The Attorney General of New York State should be a national leader on this. There's a need to protect the people in the state and there's a need to serve as a model for the rest of the country," he added.

Unfortunately for Schneiderman, his opponent has pounced on chinks in his armor.

Cahill's campaign has brought up what it sees as Schneiderman's three key failings toward women: Schneiderman's handling, or mishandling, of the sexual harassment scandals in the State Assembly in the last few years; the parole of a convicted rapist on the recommendation of the Attorney General's office; and the weak prosecution of a negligent plastic surgeon whose subsequent actions allegedly led to the deaths of four women. Additionally, Cahill has vowed that should he come to power, he will create an independently operating Division of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Harassment.

"Notwithstanding his personal opinions as a Catholic, John Cahill will work to uphold the laws of the state," said David Catalfamo, communications director for Cahill's campaign. "If you think there's a constant assault on reproductive rights in New York, I challenge you to point to even one," he said, pointing out that most Republicans in the state are pro-choice.

All aboard the Women's Equality Express, except Schneiderman
Despite his presence on the newly created, Governor Andrew Cuomo-led Women's Equality Party ballot line, Schneiderman has been a step removed from Cuomo and former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's new project. Schneiderman and Cuomo are known to not be on great terms.

As the Women's Equality Express rolls through the state, including a stop in New York City where Schneiderman spends most of his time, the attorney general has not been aboard. "Occasionally they have a rally or something that I show up at, but really I'm running my campaign," Schneiderman said when asked why he has not had a presence in the endeavor. "And actually my day job is still keeping me very busy," he added, wryly.

Schneiderman also said he hasn't been asked to sign the Women's Equality pledge put out by Gov. Cuomo and his running mate, Kathy Hochul, which seeks candidates to commit their support to the full Women's Equality Agenda (which Schneiderman is behind).

Schneiderman believes that what matters between him and his opponent is not what Cahill would do if elected, it's what he wouldn't do, and that includes enforcing the buffer zones for abortion clinics.

"People don't realize, there are 22 counties in New York State that still have some form of buffer zone restrictions. I sent out a letter to all law enforcement agencies saying (these) were still in effect. My opponent would not do that," he said.

In response to Gotham Gazette's question of whether Cahill could derail the push for women's equality in the state, Schneiderman said, "He will be a voice against passing the Women's Equality Act, he will be the voice of the top lawyer in the state saying, 'You don't need to do this.' That's an important factor in the legislative debate, in mobilizing the public on this issue."

Cahill does have supporters. Maureen Koetz, a pro-choice Republican who is running for State Assembly in the 65th district, has been vocal about her support for Cahill despite his ideological position. She lambasted the current attorney general for promoting a culture of abuse and sexual harassment in the state. "Sheldon Silver [Koetz' opponent] walked away with multiple violations. When the attorney general sits on the sidelines and lets that happen, it makes him complicit in that abuse."

Koetz, a veteran of the armed forces, is also a supporter of the 10-point agenda, albeit with some caveats. She said, "I think [the 10th point] could be re-written in a way that it could get bipartisan support."

In supporting him, Koetz says Cahill's personal beliefs won't stand in the way of him effectively carrying out his duties. "No one is disqualified because of a sense of mutual exclusivity or a difference in opinion."

She says Cahill's plan for handling domestic violence and sexual harassment is vital, and one that Schneiderman has failed to address. "The culture of abuse towards women in Albany is appalling and no legislative provision is going to change that. You have to vote it out," she said.

Women's rights groups have come out in force in support of Schneiderman. "It is incredibly important to ensure that the top enforcer of laws in the state actually believes in those laws. An Attorney General can have a huge impact on women's access to their reproductive healthcare," said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) NYC.

A recent, end-of-September poll shows Schneiderman leading Cahill 50-34 percent overall, 52-33 among women polled.

NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Andrea Miller said, "Eric Schneiderman has been a lifelong supporter of women's rights, especially reproductive freedom, and his advocacy for and commitment to enforcing the existing buffer zones around reproductive health clinics will ensure the safety of New York women, doctors and health workers."

Ideology matters
Considering that the role of the Attorney General is to uphold and implement state law, the question of ideology becomes tenuous. A Democrat would have the same powers and influence as a Republican, in so far as their official capacity. Beyond that, it is hard to tell whether voters will be choosing the top lawyer of New York State based on personal choices, party affiliation, or professional responsibilities. In a largely liberal bastion where Republicanism is often demonized and equated with the most conservative of national counterparts, the choice may be a simple one for most.

It is abundantly clear, of course, that there is discretion involved in interpretation and enforcement of any law. And, there's room for the Attorney General to influence legislative and legal processes in a variety of ways. As they approach the October 30 debate and November 4 election, the two men vying for the post will continue making appeals to each and every voter - women and men - that they can.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

City Council Takes on School Segregation

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 1:00am

Council Member Brad Lander visits a school (photo: @BradLander)

Schools in New York State, and in New York City in particular, are the most segregated in the entire country, and the New York City Council is taking measures to fight that trend.

At a forum held at Brooklyn's John Jay Educational Campus in June, co-sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca, the District 15 Community Education Council (CEC) adopted a Resolution on Diversity to lobby the Department of Education into action against school segregation. Lander pointed out that segregation was a problem in his district. Unfortunately, his district is just a slice of a bigger pie.

A report released by the UCLA Civil Rights Project in March found that, in the last two decades, New York has become home to the most segregated schools in the country. According to the report, in New York City, out of the 32 school districts, 19 had 10% or less white students in 2010. Nearly three out of four charter schools (73%) were considered "apartheid" schools with less than 1% white enrollment, and 90% percent were "intensely segregated" (less than 10% white enrollment).

Before Wednesday's full-body Stated meeting of the City Council, at 11:30 a.m. Council Member Lander will announce from the steps of City Hall new legislation that will bring the Council's focus to promoting diversity and setting new goals for integrating city schools.

Lander and his colleagues will introduce a bill and two resolutions to the Council on Wednesday. The bill will direct the Department of Education (DOE) to report on the measures taken and progress made in increasing diversity in city schools, including charter schools and special programs. One resolution will call for the DOE to acknowledge prioritization of school diversity in decisions regarding admission practices, new schools, rezoning and strategies for improvement. The other resolution calls on the State to change the law that dictates how the city's specialized high schools run their admissions. According to Capital New York, the bill being introduced by Lander also has co-sponsor Council Members Inez Barron, Ritchie Torres, Daniel Dromm, Ydanis Rodriguez, Mark Levine, Mark Treyger and Alan Maisel. Dromm is the chair of the Council's education committee.

Lander and his colleagues, it seems, are hoping to build off momentum gained in the last few years in which more districts have been dealing with complicated issues of segregation in the face of gentrification and an affordability crisis, especially when it comes to housing.

In 2012, the Community Education Council (CEC) from District 13 and from District 15 in Brooklyn collaborated to create a new admissions process for an expanded facility that would house PS 133. The first-of-its-kind plan scrapped considerations of zone and choice and instead established admissions based on socioeconomic factors. PS 133 became an 'unzoned' school with applicants from both districts; and priority was given in 35% of seats to English Language Learners, or those eligible for free and reduced price lunch.

Earlier, in 2010, when the DOE announced plans for a new school in Kensington in District 15, community residents and educators recognized that accompanying rezoning could affect the existing PS 130. Both schools would have become less diverse with the neighborhood split in two. But after consultation with the District 15 CEC, the DOE announced a plan this month which alleviated concerns about the soon-to-open PS 437. In effect, PS 130 will become a 'split-sited' school with different grades attending classes in separate buildings, some of which will be in the new school.

"Diverse schools and diverse classrooms offer children skills for citizenship, higher education and employment in the 21st century," said David Tipson, director, New York Appleseed, a non-profit advocacy group. "By 2040, this country's going to be minority white. Our children need to be prepared for that. Already, in Kindergarten this year, for the first time in U.S. history, a majority of students were children of color."

Advocates for reform have hailed the Council's move. Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference, said she was "elated" to hear that the Council is focusing on school segregation. "I think it's long overdue since Brown v. Board of Education," she said, referring to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared segregated public schools as unconstitutional. "It's about time this issue became one of the priorities of the Department of Education and the City Council. Education is not just learning how to take a test. A well-rounded individual should be exposed to different cultures and different forms of art."

Kesi Foster, coordinator of the Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC) said, "We're really excited that the new education committee chaired by Daniel Dromm is taking on issues of equity within the system. This is one of those issues that is going to have a big impact." UYC is an umbrella organization of youth groups that campaigns for education reform.

Next month, the Council's education committee will hold a hearing on the new legislation and to discuss proposed changes to DOE policy. A date has not been officially set, but discussions surround the third week in November.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local
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