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New York won't celebrate 350th birthday

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 4:07pm

New York

On Aug. 26, 1664, 350 years ago Tuesday, a flotilla of four British frigates led by the Guinea, which was manned by 150 sailors and conveying 300 redcoats, anchored ominously in Gravesend Bay off Brooklyn, between Coney Island and the Narrows.

Over the next 13 days, the soldiers would disembark and muster at a ferry landing located roughly where the River Cafe is moored today, and two of the warships would sail to the Battery and train their cannon on Fort Amsterdam on the southern tip of Manhattan.

Finally, on Sept. 8, the largely defenseless settlement tolerated a swift and bloodless regime change: New Amsterdam was immediately renamed New York. It would evolve into a jewel of the British Empire, endowed with a collective legacy — its roots indelibly Dutch — that distinguished it from every other American colony.

Do not take it personally, though, if you have not been invited to the 350th birthday party. None is scheduled in the city. Neither the British nor the Dutch are planning any official commemoration. Nor is Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The reasons behind New Yorkers' nearly unanimous indifference are, well, historical, chief among them an ambivalence toward the British and a dispassion for the past.

Until around the time of World War I, Evacuation Day, which marked the belated departure of English troops from New York after the American Revolution (on Nov. 25, 1783), was celebrated with considerable brio, especially when compared with the periodic commemorations of 1664 anniversaries.

In 1974, Paul O'Dwyer, the Irish-born and Anglophobic president of the New York City Council, seized upon the 700th anniversary of the founding of Amsterdam in the Netherlands to actually expunge "1664" from the city's official seal and flag and replace it with 1625, to coincide with the arrival of the Dutch.

Alluding to the current lack of any hullabaloo, Michael Miscione, the Manhattan borough historian, said, "This year, Paul O'Dwyer is smiling in his grave."

Mike Wallace, a City University historian and a co-author of "Gotham: A History of New York to 1898," said the British might have their own reasons not to observe the milestone.

"I doubt the English see this as something to carry on about, particularly at a moment of the Scotch independence drive," he said. "I'm trying to imagine what it would look like: a re-enactment of British ships threatening to bombard the Wall Street area? But nothing actually happened, not a shot fired, except for Peter Stuyvesant's temper tantrum. Not sparky stuff. Lowering a Dutch flag somewhere and raising a British one instead? Doesn't set the pulse a-pounding."

Nor, apparently, did the anniversary inspire much celebration in the past.

In 1914, New York City chose not to commemorate its 250th birthday, instead honoring the 300th anniversary of the chartering of the New Netherlands Co. In 1964, fewer than 300 people showed up at Bowling Green for a party thrown by the Mayor's Committee for the 300th Anniversary of the Founding of the City of New York. The mayor, Robert F. Wagner Jr., was not among them; however, a George Washington look-alike was.

This year, the typically undemonstrative British have no plans to mark the occasion, perhaps mindful that in 1673 they proved no better at defending Manhattan when the Dutch attacked and that a little over a century later they were kicked out of the country altogether.

Categories: State/Local

'Garage raising' a way to say thank you

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 1:07am


The Amish are famous for their barn raisings, in which an entire community turns out to help a neighbor.

In northern New York, members of an extended Amish family plan to hold a "garage raising" for the couple who returned two kidnapped Amish girls to their home.

Jeffrey and Pamela Stinson told the Watertown Daily Times that the garage at their home in St. Lawrence County recently burned down while they were on vacation in Maine. The fire was believed to have been started by a stray cat knocking over a battery jumpstart box inside.

Earlier this month, the Stinsons were shocked when two Amish girls knocked on the front door of their home in Richville, about 15 miles from where police say the girls, ages 7 and 12, were abducted while tending to their family's roadside farm stand in Oswegatchie, on the Canadian border.

The Stinsons said the girls were cold, wet and so hungry that they quickly consumed a watermelon Jeffrey had just picked from the family's garden. The girls then asked to be driven to their home. After a brief discussion with his wife on how to proceed, Stinson decided it was best to take them home rather than call police.

Two days after the girls were abducted on Aug. 13, police arrested a local couple and charged them with kidnapping. Police said Nicole Vaisey, 25, and Stephen Howells Jr., 39, of nearby Hermon, used a dog to lure the girls into the couple's car.

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 1:07am

Russian tourist charged for climbing Brooklyn Bridge

NEW YORK — A Russian tourist climbed to the top of the 277-foot-tall Brooklyn Bridge to take pictures for fun in the landmark's second security breach in a month, authorities said Monday.

Yaroslav Kolchin was charged with reckless endangerment, trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Police said they spotted the 24-year-old ascending a cable at about 12:15 p.m. Sunday. Authorities say the Moscow man reached the top of the tower, took pictures with his phone and was arrested as he descended.

He told police he did it for fun, according to a court complaint.

Prosecutors said his arrest required a "high allocation of resources." He posed a danger to the high volume of pedestrians gathered who passed beneath him on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, they said.

A recent graduate from a Russian university, Kolchin works in advertising, he told his lawyer, Paul Liu, through a Russian translator. He was visiting New York with a tour group, but the group has returned to Russia.

Kolchin was being held on $5,000 bond after his arraignment Monday in Brooklyn and ordered to hand his passport over to prosecutors.

Associated Press

Woman seeking to erase atomic spy case conviction

NEW YORK — A 98-year-old New Jersey woman convicted of conspiracy in the run-up to the atomic spy trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg has come back to a New York court to clear her name.

Miriam Moskowitz said after a brief court hearing Monday that she needs an official vindication that she was wrongly convicted in 1950. She was sentenced to two years in prison after she was convicted on a charge that she conspired with two men to lie to a grand jury investigating atomic espionage.

A judge directed lawyers to handle the case expeditiously. A government lawyer said he was not yet prepared to say if prosecutors will oppose Moskowitz's request.

She filed the request two weeks ago, saying documents now prove the government withheld evidence that would have exonerated her.

Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

Rep. Chris Gibson brings hometown feel to DC

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 1:07am


On a sunny Saturday afternoon last month, Rep. Chris Gibson greeted paradegoers lining Route 9 in Kinderhook.

The attendees cheered as Gibson's daughters — accompanied by a 10-foot-tall blow-up of Uncle Sam — tossed candy from the back of a jet-black pickup truck branded with a gold and blue U.S. House of Representatives seal, a logo that also adorned Gibson's black polo shirt.

Prior to the parade, Gibson stood on the porch of his late-1700s olive-green home, an American flag fluttering in the breeze and a pitcher of orange juice flanked by a pair of Coca-Cola glasses laid out on a wicker table in wait of a guest's arrival.

The scene was pure small-town Americana, an image the two-term congressman and career military man deploys against his opponent, Democrat Sean Eldridge.

"Very rarely do I walk these streets (and not) have somebody grab my arm and tell me how upset they are that this guy is coming here to move into our area to try to buy a seat in Congress," Gibson said. "And it's not going to happen."

Gibson's defensive rhetoric follows a theme that has become central in the 19th Congressional District race: money.

On one side is Eldridge, a 28-year-old tuned-in sparkplug who's married to New Republic publisher and editor and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

"This young man, the only explanation for the fact that he's the candidate ... is money," Gibson, 50, said after describing corporate and PAC donors to Eldridge's campaign.

Some on the left have tried to turn that charge around on Gibson, arguing that he's beholden to corporate influence and PACs. Gibson defends himself by noting he was listed as the second-most independent House Republican in a Washington Post survey earlier this year; his donors are "teenagers to senior citizens and everybody in between," plus small businesses, union workers and teachers.

Gibson was born on Long Island but raised in Kinderhook, where he captained the Ichabod Crane High School basketball team. He enlisted in the Army a day after he turned 17, while still a junior in high school. At Siena College in Loudonville, he studied history while participating in the ROTC program. After graduation, he served in the Army for another 24 years — including four combat tours in Iraq and a humanitarian mission to Haiti just before his retirement.

"Look at where I came from. In my seminal years, when my dad was a laborer, he was making about $15,000 a year," he said. " ... We didn't have a lot of money growing up. But we did have love and discipline."

Gibson comfortably took the 20th Congressional District seat in 2010, ousting then-Rep. Sean Murphy by roughly 27,000 votes. In 2012, Gibson beat lawyer Julian Schreibman by almost the same margin.

As the 2014 race inches toward November, it appears that Gibson is again in a comfortable position.

A United Transportation Union poll released earlier this month showed Gibson holding a cushy 27-point lead over his challenger; Eldridge and others noted that the labor group donated to the congressman's re-election campaign.

Gibson's goals for the next two years include tax reform and helping veterans, though he is especially impassioned on the Farm Bill, a piece of legislation that he thinks of as a rural development measure. "Look, you can have any ideology you want ... but you don't vote no on the Farm Bill, because you've got to look people in the eye," he said.

Gibson points to his work on the "No Labels" bipartisan budget deal as proof of his willingness to act in a bipartisan fashion.

The backers of that plan "are focused on bringing people together to bring functionality back to Congress, and we're making a difference," he said. "This first budget that we got in five years was influenced by No Labels."

The group brought forth a bill that would have stopped pay to congressional representatives if they didn't pass a budget.

Despite being well-liked, Gibson plans to serve just two more terms, limiting himself to four terms total. Barring a run for a different office, by 2018 his path will likely lead him back home to Kinderhook.

But Gibson insists he won't settle down before his eight-year cap is reached.

"We are focused," he said. "After four combat tours, when I tell you I've never been more motivated and focused to deliver for my people in upstate New York, and to be sure that we continue to move forward in our country, I think that's saying something." • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Third parties galore on 2014 ballot

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 1:07am


This summer, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino codified his opposition to the Common Core standards — by creating the Stop Common Core Party ballot line to run on.

His Democratic counterparts trumpeted their support for women's issues — by creating the Women's Equality Party.

While the two major-party standard-bearers in the race for governor, their running mates and a wealth of other candidates statewide have joined those fresh issue-based lines, the phenomenon of creating a spot on the ballot that will likely bring only a small number of votes is nothing new. Historically, pop-up third party lines often have garnered candidates no more than a couple hundred to a couple thousand votes.

In the past five state election cycles, 36 different minor parties — other than the more mainstream Independence, Green, Working Families and Libertarian parties, among others — have appeared on the ballot.

Since 2004, multiple parties have been on the ballot more than once, including the Tax Revolt, School Choice Party and School Tax Relief parties. Some years, gubernatorial candidates have led parties that gained statewide support, including 2010's Taxpayers Party of New York, which Republican Carl Paladino also ran on.

There also have been ultra-specialized parties, including the People 4 Chuck Party (2010 Assembly candidate Carlton Berkley's only ballot line), the Rent Is Too Damn High Party (Jimmy McMillan's perennial line for governor) and the Had Enough Party (2010 Assembly hopeful Roxanne Donnery's line).

This year, besides the Stop Common Core and Women's Equality parties, a handful of incumbents have filed for their own lines, including state Sen. Terry Gipson, a Hudson Valley Democrat, who filed more than 5,000 signatures for his Tax Relief Now Party.

"Securing this line really drives home the point that this campaign is not about whether you are Democrat or Republican, it's about who is the most prepared, who is the most committed, who has the most experience at bringing tax relief to your local area," he said.

While tax relief may be popular, just how many voters decide to check the box next to Gipson's name on that line remains to be seen.

In 2010, Paladino's tax-related line earned him an extra 25,825 votes. For legislative candidates, the numbers have been lower. Patty Ritchie and Jack Quinn, Republicans who signed on to the Taxpayers Party of New York line for their 2010 state Senate runs, earned fewer than 400 extra votes. In 2012, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos took an extra 468 votes on the Tax Revolt Party line

Asked if he thinks starting a new ballot line will actually bring him more votes, Gipson said "I certainly hope so."

He may have an advantage over other issue-based third-party candidates, though: The first-term Democrat also will have his name next to a mainline party. Candidates who rely only on a new or less-well-known line often don't win.

In 2012, Clyde Vanel of Queens, running for an Assembly seat on the More Jobs Party line, took just over 4,000 votes, nearly 30,000 fewer than Democrat Barbara Clark received. Berkley's People 4 Chuck Party line got him 465 votes, roughly 34 times fewer than winner Democrat Robert Rodriguez's total.

So if the lines add only a marginal number of votes that would help only in close races, why go through the effort of creating, gathering signatures for and running on one? In tight races, a few extra votes can be crucial.

State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, who beat Republican George Amedore by a mere 18 votes, has signed on to the Women's Equality line. Amedore, who is challenging her again, has countered with an extra line himself — Stop Common Core. "There's a lot of frustrated people who may be irritated or frustrated with the major mainstream parties," he said, noting that Common Core has been a top issue he's heard this campaign season. "This is a good ballot line that will allow them to express their right to vote on a line that they can vote on." • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Sean Eldridge says independence, not wealth, is key to campaign

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 1:07am


Sean Eldridge doesn't carry himself like he's a member of New York's political elite.

The 28-year-old is plain-spoken and often dresses casually on the campaign trail, rolling up the sleeves on his slim-fit button-up shirts. He's more conversationalist than orator, and though obviously confident as he speaks with voters, he isn't an imposing presence in the room. He embodies today's liberal Democrat: young, hip and relatable to the newest generation of voters. His staff, who look like 20-somethings, appears to be more like a get-out-the-vote team for Barack Obama's presidential runs than hardened campaign trail veterans.

Eldridge's unassuming nature contrasts with the portrait drawn by his opponents of a wealthy political climber trying to buy his way into representing the 19th Congressional District — by acreage, the second-largest in the state. But when someone suggests that's who he is, Eldridge offers the verbal equivalent of a shrug, and spins that the wealth Republicans have slammed him for is actually a positive.

"Obviously, the voters will decide this election and no one else," he said following an endorsement announcement in Poughkeepsie in early August. "I am in a position where I can be independent, where I can reject special interest contributions and corporate PAC contributions, and do what's right for families in our community and be accountable to only them and nobody else."

Nobody can deny that Eldridge has money. His husband is Facebook co-founder and New Republic publisher and editor Chris Hughes, who at the time of Facebook's initial public offering in 2012 held an $836 million stake in the company, according to Bloomberg News.

As of the end of June, Eldridge had put more than $1.3 million of his own money into his campaign coffers, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

While Eldridge says he has been "very fortunate," he grew up in a small-town, middle-class Ohio family. Eldridge's father was the first member of his family to graduate from high school, and he described his mother as coming from a working-class family of immigrants.

Eldridge met Hughes in Boston, where Hughes roomed with Facebook's other founders. They married in 2012 and moved to the 19th District in January 2013.

Eldridge's activism in New York has been well-documented. He was part of the Freedom to Marry movement in the latter part of the last decade, served as a board member for Planned Parenthood in the Hudson Valley, and is currently president of Hudson River Ventures, a small business investment company.

Demographic shifts in the southern part of the district could help Eldridge in November, said Gerald Benjamin, the director of SUNY New Paltz's Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach. That has helped make the district more Democratic, though the rural portions — Gibson's home base — are still largely Republican.

Districtwide enrollment leans Republican by nearly 7,000 active voters, though Democrats in Ulster and Sullivan counties hold a comfortable margin.

"The northernmost portions of the districts are Republican, but the southern parts are increasingly Democrat," he said. "This is no longer Republican territory."

Despite his easygoing, non-political presence, Eldridge fluidly moves from talking point to talking point as if he studied what the conversation will be about before it began. Asked about money, he shifts from saying he's fortunate to noting his support for campaign finance reform backer — including a partial-match system for small contributions. Asked about what he has heard from voters on the campaign trail, he launches into a three-minute soliloquy that moves swiftly from the need for high-speed broadband Internet access in rural areas and his opposition to hydrofracking to reproductive health and his support for access to abortion.

Eldridge's jabs at his opponent are carefully placed. In a 30-minute interview, he rarely referred to Republican Chris Gibson unless prompted, and released a pair of ads last week that make an obvious effort to spin positively about himself rather than nail the congressman for his record — something even the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has done little of lately.

"I hope we will really have a debate and have a campaign that's focused on the issues," Eldridge said. "I respect Congressman Gibson, but I think that we need to make a lot more progress right now than we are in Congress." • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

State National Organization for Women chapter backs Teachout

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 1:07am

ALBANY — The state chapter of the National Organization for Women has endorsed Zephyr Teachout, who is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in next month's Democratic primary.

The endorsement came after state NOW leader Zenaida Mendez told City & State last week that the group was considering backing Teachout and hadn't received a completed questionnaire from Cuomo. That application was subsequently submitted.

The Teachout campaign said the endorsement "comes despite an intense behind-the-scenes lobbying effort by the governor and his staff to influence board members and fight for the endorsement."

Cuomo has shown support for women's issues and passage of the Women's Equality Act with the creation of the Women's Equality Party.

— Matthew Hamilton

Categories: State/Local

Veterans Treatment Courts Offer Hope, But Only in Three Boroughs

Gotham Gazette - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 1:00am

Samaritan Village Veterans' Program Color Guard (

BROOKLYN—Courtroom 1928 on the 19th floor of the New York State Unified Court System building in Brooklyn is not your average courtroom. On Fridays the walls are lined with military posters from past and present generations. On State Supreme Court Judge Michael Brennan's bench sits a small red United States Marines flag alongside an American flag, paying homage to his past military service.

Brennan's courtroom houses Veterans Treatment Court, a drug treatment court with programs specially designed to provide services and mentoring for military veterans. It is a place where respect is given, honor restored, and justice served.

When a participant graduates from each phase of veterans treatment court, Judge Brennan comes off the bench and salutes, then gives a certificate.

"I get into the military culture with them," Brennan said in a recent interview. "I know everyone did basic training somewhere."

On August 1, the four wooden pews of courtroom 1928 were packed, but it wasn't a verdict everyone was awaiting. Nine military veterans were being sworn in as new mentors. Their mission: to help veterans through the court's substance abuse program by offering peer support only a fellow veteran can offer.

During the ceremony, a judge called up a retired Vietnam Era veteran, who we'll call James. James had served in the Army from 1969 to 1972. He stood up from his seat in the back row and began to walk toward the judge. Tears filled his eyes and began to stream down his face faster than he could wipe them away. It was graduation day for him after 15 months in treatment; he was clean and sober, the transgressions of an ill-fated night finally behind him.

"This was my first time I have ever been in something like this," James said during an interview following his court proceeding. "I realized when you are naive and get into certain things, it is easy to get into trouble—and so hard to get out."

James, who lives on Long Island, was lucky he was arrested in Brooklyn. Had he been taken into custody in Manhattan or Staten Island, he would not have been given the same opportunities veterans get in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

Manhattan and Staten Island are the only two boroughs without veterans treatment courts, although Staten Island has one in the works. Despite the success of the veteran treatment court programs in the other boroughs, the expansion of veterans treatment courts all over the country, and federally-funded grants to help start programs, Manhattan currently has no plans to add a veterans treatment court to its drug court system.

Buffalo Beginning
Nationally, Veterans Treatment Courts began in Buffalo in Judge Robert Russell, Jr.'s courtroom in January of 2008. Judge Russell had seen first-hand how helpful a military mentor was to a veteran in his courtroom and decided to create a program designed specifically for veterans. It allowed Russell to tap into the military culture instilled in the those who serve and harness the camaraderie of service members.

As Judge Russell's program began to gain notoriety, a Vietnam Era veteran named Cesar showed up in front of Judge Jo Ann Ferdinand in Brooklyn Drug Treatment Court. She sentenced him to a treatment program, where he did well at first, but left the program before completing it and wound up back in jail.

Cesar told his case manager he was a Vietnam veteran and Judge Ferdinand sent him to a treatment program designed for military veterans. He began to do well in the program and one week he appeared before her and asked for permission to take a trip to Washington D.C. to visit the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial Wall.

She granted permission and as Cesar turned to exit the courtroom, Judge Ferdinand heard him mutter, "Maybe this time I will get up to the wall." She asked if he had been before, to which he replied, "yes, many times."

Naively thinking it was just a simple logistical problem, she asked, "You weren't able to walk to the wall?"

"I couldn't face seeing the names of my buddies," Cesar said.

His answer shook the Judge.

"The war was 30 years ago and he is still carrying those invisible wounds—and they are effecting his behavior today," Judge Ferdinand said in a recent interview.

Shortly after her experience with Cesar, she arranged a trip to Buffalo and visited with Judge Russell to see how his program worked. That visit got the ball rolling on what was the first Veterans Treatment Court in New York City, which opened in Brooklyn in January of 2009. Judge Ferdinand enlisted Judge Brennan, himself a retired marine, to preside over the court (Judge Ferdinand sees veterans with DWIs in her courtroom).

The program is not for every veteran arrested in Brooklyn. Since April 2012 (the farthest back records were available) Brooklyn Veterans Treatment Court has had a total of 44 participants, 10 of whom have graduated (some are still in the program). In 2013, a total of 1,410 defendants in Brooklyn checked "have you ever served in the military" on their arrest intake form, according to stats provided by the New York State Unified Court System.

To get into the program, participants plead guilty and have to agree to seek treatment for their addiction. Instead of leaving the defendant to find treatment themselves, Brooklyn Veterans Treatment Court (BVTC) pairs them with veteran-friendly treatment facilities. If they follow the course of treatment their guilty plea is withdrawn and their record is sealed. In addition, BVTC assigns a veteran justice outreach (VJO) specialist to help veterans navigate the federal Veterans Administration (VA) to ensure they receive any and all benefits they are entitled to.

The biggest advantage of a veterans treatment court versus a traditional drug treatment court is the veteran mentor program. The strictly volunteer position is considered a "keystone" to the veterans treatment court program. The mentors are veterans, but don't necessarily need to be in recovery themselves. Mentors are not designed to be another authority figure, but as a brother or sister—akin to fellow service members in the military.

James spoke with his mentor early in his treatment when he was having trouble adjusting to the group discussions. They formed a bond that proved valuable months later when he failed a urine test. James claims he had not used, and believes his urine was switched at the VA where the monitoring is less strict than at BVTC. It was his only failed test, so instead of throwing him in jail, Judge Brennan decided to extend his treatment by three months. James said his mentor helped him accept his punishment and look to completing the task instead of dwelling on being wronged.

"If we can't take care of those who [put on a uniform] then we are failing," Judge Brennan said.

Missing in Manhattan
In the short time since Judge Russell began his veterans treatment court in Buffalo, the program has caught on, spreading not just in New York, but nationally. As of July 28, 2014, the latest data available, there are 197 veteran treatment courts nationwide, according to Justice for Vets.

But Manhattan does not have a dedicated veterans treatment court. The Midtown Manhattan Court has programs tailored to veterans, but only handles misdemeanors and does not have a mentor program. Manhattan Mental Health Court handles felony cases, but to be accepted into the treatment program, a veteran would have to be diagnosed with a mental illness first. The treatment would then go through the VA, where the veteran could be paired with a mentor if it is offered at a particular treatment facility. For veterans that are not eligible for benefits with the VA (due to dishonorable discharge, for example), the Manhattan courts will refer them to veteran community organizations.

The lack of a formal veterans treatment court lies in staffing and funding, according to Valerie Raine, acting statewide drug court coordinator for New York's Unified Court System. Raine has spent 18 years working in the drug courts, including most recently being the director of drug treatment projects at the Center for Court Innovation.

"It is not that they don't want to or haven't talked about it but...the bottom line is they have staffing issues," she said of Manhattan Court in a recent interview. "It probably will happen, but they just don't have the resources to actively plan right now."

Raine pointed to the recent reforms made to the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws. The April 2009 changes, signed by then-Governor David Paterson, eased the sentencing for drug offenders and greatly expanded eligibility for drug treatment in lieu of jail.

The reforms were applauded, but did not come with an increase in staffing for the courts. In fact, due in large part to the recession, budget cuts at both the federal and state level resulted in substantial layoffs in 2011.

Even with the cuts, boroughs were able to follow Brooklyn's lead, start and maintain veteran treatment courts: Queens opened its in 2010, and the Bronx in the fall of 2013. Both were able to get programs started with federal grants.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) began issuing grants to help pay for training and staffing to start veterans treatment court programs. In (federal) fiscal year 2013, BJA issued $2.5 million in grants specifically designated to implement veteran treatment courts around the country. That was up from just over $1 million the previous fiscal year and $199,990 in fiscal year 2009 when it issued the first grant to Buffalo.

Despite the uptick in available grants and the support of Veterans Justice Outreach agency, the District Attorney's Office, the defense bar, and some community programs, Manhattan has yet to apply.

"There has been significant work done to prepare for applying for the Veterans Treatment Court Planning Initiative (VTCPI)," David Bookstaver, spokesperson for New York Unified Courts, said by email. "The Manhattan Treatment Court may very well apply to participate in the VTCPI. But due to current operational concerns, they have not done so yet."

Bookstaver did not return two follow-up emails when asked to elaborate on what he meant by "operational concerns."

Funding would provide a push start for a program in Manhattan, but according to Raine, that may not be enough. She said due to the 2011 funding cuts, there is concern about applying for grants that would support new staff positions.

"When times were better, you could pretty much count on when the grant funds ran out—assuming the program did well—the court would assume the continuation of that position," Raine said. "But that is no longer a guarantee. Funding is never in perpetuity."

While the Manhattan Court system continues to consider if and how it will begin a veterans treatment court, there continues to be no shortage of need. The day prior to her interview with Gotham Gazette, Judge Ferdinand said she received a call from a lawyer who was representing a veteran who had been arrested in Manhattan. With no options for her client in Manhattan she called Ferdinand to see if she could take the case. Since the offense happened in Manhattan, there was nothing she could do.

"When you think about what people did in military service, certainly those are people you don't want to just ignore and forget," Judge Ferdinand said. "If you restore them to full health, you have really made a great impact on all of us."

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

Debates of the 2014 NYS Election Cycle

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 7:45pm

Sen. Tony Avella, left, debates John Liu on Inside City Hall; host Errol Louis, middle (@InsideCityHall) 

Debates of the 2014 New York State Election Cycle - see below for upcoming and video/audio/print of those already having occurred. This list is surely incomplete, please send us others - notice of upcoming debates or recaps of those that have occurred - by email to


Friday 8/29 60th AD @ Church of God of Prophecy, 71 Malta St, Brooklyn via DNAinfo & Food Bank NYC

Tuesday 9/2 72nd AD @ Fresh Youth Initiatives, 505 W 171st St, Manhattan via DNAinfo & Food Bank NYC

Tuesday 9/2 52nd AD @ St. Francis College via Brooklyn Heights Blog.

Wednesday 9/3 20th SD on NY1

Wednesday 9/3 52nd AD on BRIC

Wednesday 9/3 14th SD @ The Salvation Army Jamaica Citadel, 90-23 161st Street, Queens via DNAinfo & Food Bank NYC

Thursday 9/4 Zephyr Teachout v. Rob Astorino on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show

Thursday 9/4 31st SD on NY1

Thursday 9/4 55th AD @ 1768 St. John's Place, Brooklyn via DNAinfo & Food Bank NYC

Thursday 9/4 79th AD @ McKinley Community Center, 751 E 161st St, 7:30 p.m.

Food Bank NYC/DNAinfo debates listing/rsvp page

Already Occurred 

14th Senate District in Queens

8/20/14 Malcolm Smith, Leroy Comrie and Munir Avery appear on NY1: Inside City Hall Debate video 

76th Assembly District in Manhattan

8/11/14 Gus Christensen, Ed Hartzog, David Menegon and Rebecca Seawright appear at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House for Citizens Union and Our Town debate. Recap: Our Town

8/22/14 Christensen, Hartzog, Menegon and Seawright appear on NY1: Inside City Hall debate video

8/24/14 Christensen, Hartzog, Menegon and Seawright appear on MNN: Represent NYC debate video 

52nd Assembly District in Brooklyn

8/25/14 Doug Biviano, Jo Ann Simon, and Pete Sikora appear on NY1: Inside City Hall debate video

8/27/14 Biviano, Simon and Sikora debate at a forum hosted by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. Recap: Brooklyn Daily Eagle

9/2/14 Biviano, Simon, and Sikora debate at St. Francis College 7 p.m., sponsored by the Brooklyn Heights Blog. Recap:

9/3/14 Biviano, Simon, and Sikora appear on BRIC: B-Civil debate video

72nd Assembly District in Manhattan

8/24/14 Mayobanex Villalona, Melanie Hidalgo, Guillermo Linares and Manny De Los Santos appear on MNN: Represent NYC debate video

31st Senate District in Manhattan

8/24/14 Robert Jackson and Luis Tejada appear on MNN (incumbent Adriano Espaillat opted not to participate): Represent NYC debate video

9/4/14 Candidates appear on NY1: Inside City Hall debate video

34th Senate District in the Bronx

8/25/14 Jeff Klein and Oliver Koppell appear on BronxNet: BronxTalk debate video

8/26/14 Klein and Koppell appear on NY1: Inside City Hall debate video

11th Senate District in Queens

8/19/14: Avella and Liu appeared at a forum hosted by "a coalition of community-based, advocacy and social services organizations." Recaps: Queens Chronicle and The Observer

8/27/14 Tony Avella and John Liu appear on NY1: Inside City Hall debate video

19th Senate District in Brooklyn

8/28/14 John Sampson, Dell Smitherman, and Sean Henry appear on NY1: Inside City Hall debate video

20th Senate District, Brooklyn

8/12 Rubain Dorancy and Jesse Hamilton appear on BRIC: B-Civil video

8/27/14 Dorancy and Hamilton appear on WNYC: The Brian Lehrer Show audio

8/27/14 Dorancy and Hamilton debate at forum hosted by Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. Recap: Brooklyn Daily Eagle

9/3/14 Dorancy and Hamilton appear on NY1: Inside City Hall debate video

54th Assembly District in Brooklyn

8/19 Erik Dilan and Kimberly Council appear on BRIC: B-Civil debate video

79th Assembly District in the Bronx

8/28/14 79th AD @ Word of Life International, 813 Westchester Ave, The Bronx via DNAinfo & Food Bank NYC


Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) page with all Represent NYC 2014 debates 

NY1 Inside City Hall page with all televised debates on that network 


Categories: State/Local

State at fault in fatal group home fire

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:07am


A state Court of Claims judge has found New York state to be "100 percent liable" in the March 2009 death of a developmentally disabled woman who perished in a fire that tore through her state-run group home in the Adirondack community of Wells.

Judge Diane Fitzpatrick cited a variety of problems, including delays in contacting firefighters and the failure of the two staffers on duty to immediately evacuate Gloria Bonilla from the Riverview center. The facility was operated by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

Bonilla, 44, was one of the four disabled residents who died in the fire.

"She lacked preservation skills," said attorney Evan Foulke of Goshen, who is representing Bonilla's family. "She was entitled to be protected from any form of danger."

The precise amount of damages is unclear, although it could be in the millions of dollars, Foulke said.

Following the fire, investigations by the state as well as a Hamilton County grand jury found a number of oversights and lapses in safety procedures that contributed to the loss of life, such as a lack of realistic fire drills and the state's failure to enforce a smoking ban, which likely led to the blaze in the first place.

Bonilla, who could not express herself verbally and was unresponsive to fire alarms, endured a particularly gruesome fate, according to court filings. Those documents reiterated earlier reports that workers initially moved her to the house's "mud room" and tried to extinguish the fire rather than immediately evacuate her.

She was found alive but badly burned more than two hours later and died en route to the hospital.

Other lapses cited in the court papers was the practice of workers at the center calling the alarm company rather than the local fire department right away.

In this case, an assistant fire chief lived across the street, but he didn't learn of the blaze until three minutes after the call had first gone out to the alarm company.

Nine residents lived in the facility and two aides were working when the fire broke out at around 5:30 a.m.

Foulke said the state is appealing the ruling, which could take nine months or more.

After the tragedy, OPWDD toughened its fire drill and other safety requirements.

Bonilla belonged to the "Willowbrook class," people who had earlier lived in the former Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. After media exposes on bad conditions, Willowbrook was closed in 1987.

People who resided there are afforded special oversight and protections, such as close monitoring of their care. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Lennon killer denied parole

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:07am


The state Board of Parole has decided that Mark David Chapman, who shot John Lennon in December 1980, will remain behind bars for at least two more years.

The decision was announced Friday.

Chapman, 59, was interviewed by the board Wednesday via videoconference at the maximum security Wende Correctional Facility in Erie County.

It was his eighth appearance before the board since he became eligible for parole in 2000.

Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life for shooting the former Beatle outside his Manhattan apartment building, just a few hours after Lennon had autographed a copy of his most recent album for the disturbed 25-year-old.

In its decision, the board told Chapman there was "a reasonable probability that you would not live and remain at liberty without again violating the law."

The decision recalled the events that landed Chapman in prison.

"You stalked and waited for your victim and thereafter shot him multiple times causing his death," the board stated.

"This victim had displayed kindness to you earlier in the day and your actions have devastated a family and those who loved the victim."

Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, has been a vocal opponent of Chapman receiving parole.


Categories: State/Local

Pot use, fracking divides state

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:07am


A Quinnipiac University poll released Friday found continued division of opinion over state approval of two things that are currently not legal in New York: recreational pot use and hydrofracking.

The poll found only 35 percent of state voters want to legalize marijuana for personal use, while 44 percent approve of legalizing it for medical use only, and 19 percent say it should not be legal for any purpose.

If personal use of marijuana were legal, 62 percent of voters say they definitely would not use it. Only 4 percent said they would definitely take a puff, or several.

More men (43 percent) than women (27 percent) support personal pot use, but differences in opinion based on age were less pronounced: Support for personal use is 43 percent among voters 18 to 34 years old; 40 percent among voters between ages 35 to 54; and 29 percent among voters older than 55.

Other recent polls have shown variations in opinions on legalization: In February, for example, Quinnipiac found that voters approved by 57-39 percent the legalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

In June, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a limited medical marijuana system that could go on line by the end of 2015. While Cuomo has advocated for the decriminalization of small amounts of pot as a way to defuse controversial "stop and frisk" police tactics in New York City, he opposes legalization for recreational use.

Friday's poll also found opposition to the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as hydrofracking ticking upward, with 48 percent of voters opposed because of environmental concerns while 43 percent support drilling because of economic benefits.

By a 2-to-1 margin (41-20 percent), respondents said that Cuomo has been dragging his feet on the issue instead of merely devoting careful consideration to the question of legalizing fracking.

State approval of fracking is awaiting completion of the Health Department's review of the Department of Environmental Conservation's assessment of the potential health impacts of the technique.


Categories: State/Local

Astorino touts jobs plan

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:07am


Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino stopped in Albany on Thursday to tout his new seven-point jobs plan.

The plan's reforms and new initiatives range from making the state's property tax cap permanent to investing bank settlement money in transportation infrastructure. It also includes some measures that have proven difficult to accomplish, such as repealing the state's controversial Scaffold Law.

The plan outlines more specifics about key issues for Astorino's campaign, which is based on the question, "Is New York winning or losing?" Goals outlined in the plan include cutting or holding steady state spending over the next four years and passing mandate relief that includes reforming the Medicaid and public pension systems.

"We get large bills handed to us by Albany, and programs that are forced on us without any way to control costs," Astorino said at a news conference at the Capitol. "Unless those mandated programs and expenses are dealt with here in Albany, you're going to have out-of-control expenses and a limit on the revenue. That's a recipe for disaster."

The Republican has been a fierce critic of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's START-UP NY program, and while the Astorino plan does include tax incentives for new businesses in New York, it stops well short of offering tax-free zones. Included in Astorino's blueprint is a state income tax credit to encourage private investment in qualified start-ups, and plans to offer avenues for students and professors at state schools to more easily commercialize their inventions.

Astorino said that while START-UP is targeted toward specific industries, his plan would allow qualified start-ups to take advantage of the tax credit — which he did not provide a specific amount or percentage for.

"We would say, if you want to have a true start-up, we will give you a tax credit to do that — and I don't care what it is but do it here in New York," Astorino said. "That's the way venture capitalists will come into this state and pour money into development of an idea or product. ... The government should not be picking and choosing. Everyone would have a fair playing ground."

A state Democratic Committee spokesman countered the plan by citing Cuomo's economic accomplishments.

"When Gov. Cuomo took office, New York faced a $10 billion deficit and state government was dysfunctional," Peter Kauffmann said. "After four consecutive on-time balanced budgets, with 500,000 new jobs created and the most jobs in state history, New York's economy is on the move once again." 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:07am

Cops: Dog used to lure 2 Amish girls

FOWLER — A couple used a dog to lure two Amish sisters from their family farm stand with a plan to turn them into slaves, an investigator said Thursday.

Nicole Vaisey admitted she and her boyfriend, Stephen Howells Jr., got the girls to their car with an offer to pet the dog and he shoved the 7-year-old and 12-year-old sisters in, St. Lawrence County Sherriff's Sgt. Brooks Bigwarfe said.

Bigwarfe said she told him they shackled the girls and intended to turn them into slaves.

He said they released the girls about 24 hours later, frightened by news reports.

Fowler Justice Paul Lamson ruled Thursday there's reasonable cause to believe Vaisey committed felony kidnapping.

He ordered her held without bail.

— Associated Press

Elections a focus of 'NewYork Now'

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

Times Union state editor Casey Seiler talks to Republican candidate for attorney general John Cahill about the Moreland Commission, hydrofracking and abortion.

Jessica Bakeman of Capital New York and Ken Lovett of the Daily News discuss Zephyr Teachout's latest court victory, the gubernatorial debate wars and political endorsements from some of the state's most powerful unions.

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

— Staff report

Categories: State/Local

Albany naturalization office falls short of state goal

Albany Times/Union - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:07am


When Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 launched the state Office for New Americans, he said the more than two dozen centers across New York would be located in communities with high concentrations of immigrants.

But the Albany center will lose its main contractor in September due to a lack of people seeking citizenship.

"The state did not renew our contract," said Sylvia Jimison, executive director of Literacy New York Capital Region, the organization that runs the Albany office.

Under the New Americans program, there aren't necessarily state offices to handle new immigrants. Instead, the Secretary of State contracts out with community groups to run the programs in various localities.

Jimison said her group was told its contract wouldn't be renewed because it hadn't hit a goal of helping 100 people per year process their applications for naturalization.

But she said the program got off to a late start, and it has received 60 applications. The office provides free English classes in a number of sites, including public libraries in Albany, Guilderland, Schenectady and Colonie.

The office has served immigrants from across the globe, including people from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Mexico.

State officials say they are looking for a new contractor to serve the Capital Region.

"The Office is committed to working so that there is no discontinuation of services," said Laz Benitez, a spokesman for Secretary of State Cesar Perales, in an email.

But those offering services such as language lessons were wondering about continuity.

"We will have to transition to something different," said Roman Vidal-Guzman, who coordinates the English classes in the Capital Region. "I don't want to stop the English-as-second-language classes."

One issue, he said, centers on maintaining the trust of some immigrants, especially those who have come as refugees or who have fled oppressive regimes.

A number of families who belong to the Karen ethnic group, which has been in conflict with Myanmar's brutal military dictatorship, have settled in the Capitol Region as refugees.

"We've had to gain the trust of people first," Vidal-Guzman said.

Categories: State/Local

Opening Doors for the City's Small Businesses, Neighborhoods, and Job Seekers

Gotham Gazette - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 1:00am

SBS Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, the author (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

There are more than 200,000 small businesses in New York City, which represents nearly 98 percent of all businesses across the five boroughs. Small businesses give our neighborhoods their unique character, and employ more than half of New York City's private sector workforce. But they also achieve much more. As the daughter of immigrant entrepreneurs, I personally understand that for many people, owning a business can be their first chance for economic self-determination and a path to the middle class.

When Mayor de Blasio appointed me as Commissioner of Small Business Services earlier this year, he tasked me and the leadership of all City agencies with fighting inequality in all its forms, on all its fronts, and building a city where everyone can rise together. With this charge in mind, my vision for the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) is to ensure that every job seeker and business owner has access to the resources they need to succeed. I plan to achieve this by impacting three key pillars: good jobs, stronger businesses, and a fairer economy.

SBS is dedicated to addressing the unique needs of local entrepreneurs through a variety of free services that help businesses in all five boroughs start, operate, and grow. We work with business owners like Maggie Kwok, who utilized our agency's NYC Business Acceleration services to open her first restaurant, Shanghai Asian Manor, in Lower Manhattan. Maggie was so happy with the City's services, when she was ready to open a second location in Flushing, Queens, she knew to come to the City for help. NYC Business Acceleration guided Maggie through the City's regulatory process, helping her interface with numerous agencies to open both locations faster, providing jobs for more than 60 New Yorkers.

Small business owners like Maggie Kwok face many challenges. In my first few months at SBS, we have launched numerous new initiatives to ensure that government's infrastructure works better and harder for the small businesses and neighborhoods that most need our help.

- NYC Business Acceleration is one way we are helping small businesses cut through the City's red tape and open their doors faster. This service has helped more than 2,000 restaurants across the city open an average of 2.5 months faster, and we recently announced that we are expanding the program to serve small businesses in retail and manufacturing as well.

- Small Business First: We are not only providing direct services to small businesses, but we are also working with City Hall and more than ten partner agencies to help reduce fines and violations on small businesses through Small Business First. This multi-faceted inter-agency initiative is about changing the way government interacts with small business owners by improving the regulatory climate in New York City and helping businesses avoid penalties and fines through collaboration, simplification, and education.

- Immigrant Small Businesses: As we expand our services and collaborate with partner agencies to help small businesses, we are also working to fundamentally change the way government provides services to New York City's immigrant entrepreneurs, who make up nearly half of the city's small businesses owners. Already, we have doubled our agency's non-English business course offerings and are launching our NYC Craft Entrepreneurship program in Spanish, so unemployed and underemployed New Yorkers with craft skills can earn supplemental income from selling their crafts online. With support from Citi Community Development, we have launched the Immigrant Business Initiative, developing partnerships with community-based organizations to help identify and execute new services to strengthen immigrant-owned businesses, particularly in the Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Haitian-Creole, and Russian communities.

Stronger small businesses mean stronger neighborhoods and more good jobs for New Yorkers. Last year, SBS assisted more than 15,000 business owners, helped nearly 7,000 new businesses open across the city, and connected entrepreneurs to more than $45 million in capital. The City can help with free services including pro-bono legal advising, business courses, access to capital, recruitment services, certification, help navigating government, incentives, and more. I encourage anyone with an interest in small business services to call 311, visit our website, or drop by an NYC Business Solutions Center in one of the five boroughs. 

by Maria Torres-Springer, Commissioner, New York City Department of Small Business Services


Do you have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Send it to Executive Editor Ben Max:


Categories: State/Local

Many fingers point over debates

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 1:07am


Before the debates, we have the debates over the debates.

That political axiom is in full effect this week as Gov. Andrew Cuomo's three most prominent opponents needle him for his refusal to agree to debates with any of them.

While Cuomo's Democratic primary opponent Zephyr Teachout has been sounding that theme for weeks, it was hammered home Thursday by Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, whose spokeswoman Jessica Proud said Cuomo's aversion to debating Teachout was due to either his "acting like a total jerk — and we refuse to believe he would do that — or his criminal defense lawyers have shut the debate option down."

Proud was referring to the ongoing scandal surrounding Cuomo's meddling in the work of the Moreland Commission on public corruption, and his ultimate decision to shut the panel down this spring.

Teachout and Cuomo have been invited to take part in an hourlong Time Warner Cable News/NY1 debate planned for Sept. 2. Their running mates, Tim Wu and Kathy Hochul, have received similar invitations to a Sept. 3 tussle. An Aug. 28 RSVP was requested by the media hosts, though Teachout and Wu immediately agreed to take part.

Asked Thursday at the State Fair in Syracuse about his participation in the upcoming debate, Cuomo said he would "leave that to the campaigns to work out, whatever they decide." Asked to explain what he meant, the notoriously take-charge governor simply repeated the answer.

Also Thursday, Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins chided Astorino for failing to agree to debates that include the third-party candidate — a format that would tend to dilute the potential anti-Cuomo impact of such an event.

"If Rob Astorino is so committed to having Andrew Cuomo debate Zephyr Teachout in the primary, why is he so opposed to debating me in the general election?," Hawkins asked in a statement.

Proud did not respond to a request for comment. Astorino has also offered to debate Teachout one-on-one before the Sept. 9 Democratic primary.

A three-way matchup in this week's Quinnipiac University poll showed Cuomo at 52 percent, with Astorino at 27 percent and Hawkins bringing up the rear at 7 percent.

Hawkins finished third in the 2010 election, and took part in a slightly chaotic Hofstra University debate that included all seven gubernatorial candidates on the ballot.


Categories: State/Local

UPS is latest retailer with customer data breach

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 1:07am

Some customers of The UPS Store may have had their credit and debit card information exposed by a computer virus found on systems at 51 stores in 24 states.

A spokeswoman for UPS says the information includes names, card numbers and postal and email addresses from about 100,000 transactions between Jan. 20 and Aug. 11.

United Parcel Service Inc. said Wednesday that it was among U.S. retailers who got a Department of Homeland Security bulletin about the malware on July 31. The malware is not identified by current anti-virus software.

The company is not aware of any fraud related to the attack, spokeswoman Chelsea Lee said.

Atlanta-based UPS said it hired a security firm that found the virus in systems at about 1 percent of the company's 4,470 franchised locations. At many stores, the intrusion did not begin until March or April.

Lee said that the problem was fixed by Aug. 11 and the company took additional steps to protect systems at other stores. She said the affected stores were not linked electronically, and UPS is still investigating how they were compromised.

UPS said it is providing identity protection and credit monitoring help to affected customers.

The affected stores were in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

From the company's description, the breach appeared far smaller than one that hit Target Corp. during the holiday-shopping season, when hackers stole credit and debit card information involving millions of customers. Fallout from the incident is still hurting profits. Target, which said Wednesday that second-quarter profit fell 62 percent, has spent $235 million related to the breach, partly offset by $90 million in insurance payments.

The UPS breach won't have a material financial impact on the company, Lee said.

Last week, Supervalu said that hackers might have stolen names, account numbers, expiration dates and other information from card holders who shopped at up to 200 of its grocery and liquor stores. Restaurant operator P.F. Chang's, Goodwill thrift stores and other retailers have been hit by data breaches.


A list of the 51 locations of The UPS Store where malware was discovered is at

Categories: State/Local

Drafts on Scaffold sought

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 1:07am


The Center for Popular Democracy, a labor-backed advocacy group that supports New York's controversial Scaffold Law, wants to see all the drafts of a controversial report authored by SUNY's Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government and paid for by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance, a business-backed organization that opposes Scaffold Law.

The Alliance paid almost $83,000 for the Institute's analysis of the law's economic impacts. That report, made public in February, has been the subject of fierce debate — over both the details of the study as well as larger issues of academic integrity. The Rockefeller Institute, which insists its work was done with independence and integrity, subsequently backed away from the most controversial chapter of the report, which included a statistical analysis that concluded gravity-related accidents fell in Illinois after the state ditched its version.

The law, which places "absolute liability" on employers for gravity-related workplace injuries, is supported by labor unions but opposed by business groups that claim it needlessly drives up construction costs. Opponents would like to see New York follow other states by adopting a "comparative negligence" standard that would make workers proportionately responsible when their actions contribute to an accident.

An initial Freedom of Information Law request from the Center for Popular Democracy resulted in SUNY's release of email communications between Rockefeller Institute researchers and Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance — contact that was required by the contract for the report.

On appeal, SUNY released an initial draft copy of the report that had been attached to one of those emails. The Times Union last week offered a side-by-side comparison of the draft and final versions. Changes between the two tended to increase the report's toll of the cost and impact of the law, though the researchers argue those edits represented good-faith efforts to seek the best data. The Center is now requesting to see all interim drafts of the report submitted to the Lawsuit Reform Alliance for review. "Given that the anti-worker groups behind this debunked report are still trying to use its flawed findings to weaken New York's safety laws, SUNY should release all of the drafts that we know exist," said Josie Duffy, a policy advocate with the group.


Categories: State/Local

Teachout still on ballot, but numbers are low

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 1:07am


Game on — again.

An appeals court ruled Wednesday that Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout can remain on the Democratic primary ballot for governor, upholding a lower court's decision to toss Gov. Andrew Cuomo's challenge to her candidacy.

The governor's camp contended that Teachout did not meet the minimum five-year residency requirement, but the appeals court agreed that Cuomo's lawyers failed to prove their case.

"Today's unanimous decision by the appellate court comes as no surprise," said Teachout, who declared "game on" after her first court victory. "With this frivolous lawsuit behind us, I'm hopeful the governor will now agree to debate. We have very different visions for where we want to take the state. ... Democratic Primary voters deserve a choice."

A Cuomo campaign spokesman declined to comment.

Cuomo has rarely lost in recent years when he has flexed his political muscles. But Wednesday's ruling may not be much more than a psychological blow: According to recent polls, Teachout is known by few voters, Democrats as well as Republicans, and many Capitol watchers say that while she might be able to bruise the governor by reducing his margin of victory in the Sept. 9 contest, she faces insurmountable odds of winning.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed that 88 percent of registered voters haven't heard enough about Teachout to have an opinion of her. Among those who have heard enough, just 6 percent view her favorably. The numbers are similar to those in other recent polls, which have not shown her with name recognition any better than 22 percent.

"She's got the potential — not to beat him, not to even come close, but to embarrass him," said Mickey Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, in a radio interview Wednesday morning prior to the court's ruling. "I would suggest that Cuomo in pushing to legally get her off the ballot, he's doing exactly what he ought to be doing — ram her if he can. Because she can embarrass him."

Teachout has tried to spin her low recognition by playing up her team's projections that voter turnout for the Democratic primary will be similarly low.

"Let's take a look at the numbers: turnout in the Democratic primary is going to be somewhere around 15 percent, and already 15 percent of Democrats know who we are," Teachout campaign manager Mike Boland said in a statement. "Most of the people who know us are voting for us."

Still, most people know Cuomo and appear poised to vote for him — despite declining numbers among voters knowledgeable about the scandal surrounding his defunct Moreland Commission on public corruption, and his office's alleged meddling in its work. Cuomo continues to lead Republican challenger Rob Astorino by 28 points, and 55 percent of voters view him favorably, according to the new Quinnipiac poll.

The Moreland mess has moved the needle, though, with only 39 percent of respondents saying they approve of the way Cuomo has handled ethics in government — down from 48 percent in May. This marks the first time that more voters (50 percent) disapprove of the way he has handled ethics than approve of his policies.

While only 51 percent of voters say they've heard about Cuomo's decision to end the panel, they view the decision with a cynical eye: Only 11 percent said the decision was based on good government; 77 percent said it was a political deal with legislative leaders.

There are still nearly three weeks until primary day, and plenty of time for more Moreland headlines to be made by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is investigating the Moreland Commission's work, and the factors that led to its demise. • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local
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