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State Medicaid official resigning

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 11/25/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

In an email sent Tuesday, state Medicaid Inspector General James C. Cox said he will leave the watchdog agency at the end of the year.

"I am exceedingly proud of the job we have done," Cox wrote, "and I can declare today that together we have now achieved nearly all the goals we established at the outset."

Tom Meyer, first deputy Medicaid inspector general, who has been with the office since 2006, will lead it temporarily after Cox departs.

Cox said in his message that "a national search" was under way to find a permanent replacement. A job listing was placed on the recruitment site Monster.com earlier this week.

Cox was appointed in 2011 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. His exit comes a week after Jerome Hauer, commissioner of the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said he would depart on Dec. 3.

In his email, Cox cited accomplishments including developing audit protocols that "have contributed to record recoveries," as well as "a productive working relationship with the Medicaid-provider industry and regulating agencies; and recognized, rock-solid standards, which people know have been thoughtfully developed."

His tenure has not been without controversy, including criticism that the office has been adrift and suffers from low morale — allegations that Cox and Cuomo's office denied.

In June 2013, representatives of the U.S. House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform chastised Cox's office for advising an employee to get permission to talk to its investigators, and for not providing requested documents.

In July of the same year, the Times Union reported that the state Medicaid office waited nine months before informing almost 18,000 Medicaid recipients that their private health records may have been breached after an employee sent 17,743 recipient records to a personal email account.

It's unclear what Cox will do after leaving; an agency spokesman declined to provide an answer.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Expert says state toll hikes 'inevitable'

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

The nearly $4 billion Tappan Zee bridge replacement project will almost certainly double the $5 toll currently charged on the existing bridge by 2019, a government finance expert warned Wednesday.

And the cost of the new span will create a financial ripple effect that could drive up tolls across the entire 570-mile state Thruway system.

"The Tappan Zee bridge ... really threatens to overwhelm the Thruway capital plan in the next decade," said Nicole Gelinas, a fellow with the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute, during a Wednesday symposium on the future of New York's highway system.

"It's almost inevitable that this will happen," she added.

In a written response to the warnings, Thruway Executive Director Thomas Madison said motorists using other parts of the highway won't be tapped for Tappan Zee bridge costs.

"The Thruway Authority will ensure that any future toll increase on the bridge is dedicated to paying for the new bridge and other regional transportation projects," Madison said. "We have consistently said there will be no system-wide toll increase to support the New NY Bridge project."

But Gelinas and others note that the bridge, which spans the Hudson River between Rockland and Westchester counties, has historically subsidized the entire Thruway system through its toll revenue.

Located in the commuter-rich New York City suburbs, Tappan Zee toll dollars have for decades provided 20 percent of the Thruway's revenue but handled 10 percent of the traffic, Gelinas said. Going forward, though, the debt burden following construction of a new bridge will upset that equation.

Former Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch — in Albany on Wednesday to discuss his new work on Detroit's recovery from bankruptcy at the Rockefeller Institute — concurred with that general analysis.

"They're no longer paying the cost of the original Tappan Zee Bridge," Ravitch told reporters at the Capitol, "and when they close this (old) bridge, the revenues are going to disappear. There will be new revenue from the new bridge, but you can't use all those new revenues to service the new debt because you still have to cover all the expenses that are currently being paid out of the existing Tappan Zee Bridge tolls."

So tolls in other parts of the highway will likely rise not to pay for the bridge, but to offset the loss of what has been a Tappan Zee-fueled subsidy to the system.

Like Madison, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has insisted there won't be any steep or double-digit increases and continues to argue that it's too early to talk about tolls since the final cost of the project isn't settled.

"I haven't the vaguest idea why he says that," said Ravitch, who believes the administration must have current estimates can predict the cost of the bridge "within half a billion dollars."

Cuomo is looking at multiple options to pay for the bridge beyond tolls.

The governor is proposing an infrastructure bank that could conceivably be used to help offset the cost. And he may very well tap into part of the more than $5 billion budget surplus that has appeared thanks to settlements with banks that violated financial regulations.

The state also is appealing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's denial of the bulk of a proposed $511 million package of low- or no-interest loans from a federal water-quality fund that the administration wanted to allocate toward the bridge project.

Gelinas and others said the Thruway faces demographic challenges, too, notably a drop in the number of people who use the road.

She said 275 million vehicles used the Thruway in 2005, compared to 250 million in 2012.

"People are driving less," she said, although Thruway officials have said the drop was recession-related.

Moreover, some of the first bonds sold to help pay for the bridge, a $1.6 billion offering, came in the form of "junior indebtedness," which means that those notes would take a back seat in repayment if there were a problem.

"It's not senior debt for a reason," said Gelinas at an Empire Center symposium about the future of highways.

A toll rise upstate or on other sections of the Thruway system wouldn't go over well with the motoring public, and would likely inflame upstate-downstate political tensions.

The Thruway Authority provoked an outcry in 2012 when it floated a possible 45 percent toll hike for commercial vehicles. Upstate lawmakers and business leaders said it would be a blow to the region's fragile economy, which relies heavily on the Thruway.

Cuomo agreed, and Thruway officials eventually dropped those plans in favor of achieving limited savings by shifting the cost for State Police services away from the authority.

That approximately $85 million expense is now reflected in other parts of the state budget.

Casey Seiler contributed.

Categories: State/Local

Palenville Pagans keep tax exemption

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 1:07am

The Pagans of Palenville will get to keep their tax exemption.

The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled that a community of neo-Pagan and transsexual women who live in a former resort/boarding house not far from the Hunter Mountain ski area meet the guidelines for religious or charitable organizations and are therefore not required to pay property taxes.

The town of Catskill, which includes the hamlet of Palenville, had been trying to collect what they said was more than $30,000 in unpaid taxes dating from 2007.

But the state's high court concluded that Maetreum of Cybele, which adheres to an ancient form of goddess worship or recognition of what they term the divine feminine, meets the threshold for an exemption granted to "religious and charitable purposes."

In their decision, the judges reasoned that "auxiliary uses" such as housing or hosting seminars would not void the exemption.

"Petitioner adequately established its entitlement (to the exemption)" read the memorandum issued by the court.

The group's founder, Cathryn Platine, could not be reached at the group's headquarters Tuesday, and their Kingston-based lawyer, Deborah Schneer ,was unavailable.

But the town of Catskill's Albany-based lawyer, Daniel Vincelette, said he wasn't surprised, since the court tends to give religious groups the benefit of the doubt in such matters.

"The way the Court of Appeals has been ruling over the last couple of decades; they've been giving property tax exemptions,'' he said.

Vincelette noted that the decision came in the form of a short memorandum running less than three full pages.

By contrast, another ruling issued on Tuesday regarding an Auburn-based not-for-profit theater company, ran more than seven pages.

In that decision, the judges upheld the property tax exemption for Merry-Go-Round Playhouse and its 30 apartment units that serve summertime actors and staffers who are recruited nationwide.

While the summer stock theater charges admission, the theater company says it either breaks even or loses money.

While the Maetreum of Cybele harks back to ancient times, there are some modern aspects and they offer what appear to be more than religious services or ceremonies.

The group's website and earlier reports note that they provide housing for homeless transsexuals.

They also put on "pagan brunches." Located in the former Central House inn, they also appears to embrace a back-to-the-land lifestyle. Their website refers to plans for obtaining chickens and milking goats as well as to create a haven for people who are suffering due to the economy.

The group's Facebook page also notes they are planning a fundraiser to help out the local volunteer fire department.

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

Categories: State/Local

Silver: Use surplus for infrastructure

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

As Albany buzzes about a potential pay raise for lawmakers, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has another item to add to the agenda of any pre-holiday legislative session: an infrastructure investment package using funds from a state surplus that has swelled to more than $5 billion.

Speaking to reporters in the Assembly chamber before heading into orientation sessions for new members ("I'm on my way to class"), the Democratic leader said he wants to settle the investment package before state budget season, which kicks off with the governor's State of the State address in January and runs to the April 1 start of the new fiscal year.

"I don't want it to get into the budget — I want it to be a one-shot," Silver said. "It's a one-shot revenue, it should be a one-shot expenditure, and we should invest in infrastructure."

The surplus has grown on the strength of several very large settlements reached by state and federal authorities with large financial institutions. On Tuesday, it grew by another $315 million thanks to a settlement reached between the state Department of Financial Services and Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, which admitted it misled auditors about its transactions with unsavory regimes in Iran, Sudan and Myanmar.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others have argued against using the surplus to fund recurring expenses such as general support for education — costs that will remain after the windfall is expended. Instead, New York's crumbling infrastructure — including bridges that have been found to be overdue for repair or replacement — is seen as an especially worthy investment.

Asked about Silver's comments, E.J. McMahon of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy, said, "That's a great thing — the key question is how do each of the main players define infrastructure."

McMahon, who will host a Wednesday panel discussion on state infrastructure, noted that Cuomo has defined the term rather broadly, including non-brick-and-mortar projects like economic development in upstate cities.

A generally accepted rule of state politics is that budget battles become most vicious when resources are plentiful, as various interest groups clamor for their share. Dealing with the surplus early would shift some of that rancor out of the budget process — but it would steal a great deal of thunder from Cuomo's budget proposal, due in mid-January.

"It's only going to get done if the governor wants to do it," McMahon said. " ... One might say that the speaker is concerned about a feeding frenzy, and rather than see his members nibbled to death by the education lobby, he'd rather see it done all at once."

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi declined to comment on Silver's suggested timeline for doling out the surplus.

Asked how much of the infrastructure package should go to covering the cost of the state's biggest one-time expense, the $4 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, Silver said, "I think that should be the subject of discussion."

He reiterated his support for a legislative pay raise, which if it passes would be the first increase since 2000. "I believe the members work very hard — both sides of the aisle — and I believe they're entitled to one after 14 years," Silver said.

Lawmakers currently earn an annual salary of $79,500, which is augmented by bonuses for performing leadership duties.

Despite the pleas of progressive advocates, Silver was not insistent that a raise in legislative pay should be linked to a boost in the minimum wage.

"We raised (the wage) last year; I've been the advocate for (an additional increase); I have the bills for it," he said, adding that "we didn't raise the members' pay when we did the minimum wage."

Salaries of state commissioners "should be adjusted accordingly," as well, he said. Cuomo and others have complained that the current maximum salaries for commissioners makes it hard to recruit top talent to run the state's large and complex agencies.

Silver said he was "fine" with reforming the current per diem system for lawmakers' expenses, which has been subject to embarrassing cases of fraud and abuse in recent years. "There are a number of ways to do it, and I'm obviously open to suggestions," Silver said.

The speaker emphasized that there are no settled plans for members to return.

"I have no idea at this point. ... If it works it works; if it doesn't it doesn't," he said.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

NYRA's governing structure under review

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 1:07am

ALBANY -- The Assembly's Racing and Wagering Committee held a hearing on the future governing structure of the New York Racing Association in the Hamilton Hearing Room at the Legislative Office Building in Albany on Tuesday.

The committee heard testimony from those interested in the future structure of the New York Racing Association, which has been under state control since 2012.

The two lead witnesses, Jeffrey Cannizzo of Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. and Rick Violette Jr. of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, offered recommendations that include maintaining board positions for breeders' groups and supporting year-round racing downstate.

The remainder of the testimony was devoted to advocates hoping that NYRA's next leaders would do more to reduce equine injuries and improve care for horses after their racing careers end.

Categories: State/Local

Council Moves to Enhance Voter Registration Through City Agencies

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 12:00am

CM Jumaane Williams at a city council hearing (photo: William Alatriste)

At a hearing Monday, the New York City Council's Committee on Governmental Operations approved the latest drafts of two bills that enhance the responsibility of city agencies to conduct voter registration and a resolution calling for the State Legislature to pass similar legislation.

These measures are an attempt by the Council to improve the compliance of City agencies with Local Law 29, also known as the Pro-Voter Law, which was passed in 2000. The law requires 19 city agencies to handle voter registration applications for customers.

The new legislation is headed to the full Council for a vote on Tuesday and then, if passed as expected, to the desk of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bills expand the mandate of the Pro-Voter law to seven additional agencies and create a standard for enforcing the law, including required semi-annual reports from participating agencies. Implementation of the existing law has proven to be a problem, with city agencies failing to uphold their responsibilities to offer registration forms to New Yorkers doing other business with the City.

The accompanying resolution calls upon the State Legislature to augment existing agency-assisted registration laws to include codes on registration forms that would help track agency performance and registration statistics.

Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of what he called the "good government committee," introduced Intro 493 A which expands scope of the Pro-Voter law and sets a deadline of December 1, 2015 for agencies to integrate their forms with voter registration.

The second bill, Intro 356 A, which establishes reporting requirements for the agencies, and the accompanying resolution, were introduced by Council Member Jumaane Williams.

"The last election was abysmal," Williams said of voter turnout in response to questions from Gotham Gazette. Stating that the city and state are falling behind in civic participation, he said, "This should be an issue that all parties - Republicans, Democrats, third parties - every party should be working to increase participation."

The push for increased voter registration began in July with Mayor de Blasio's Directive 1, which ordered agencies under the Pro-Voter law mandate to create plans for implementing the law. Then, in October, the City Council introduced the two new bills in response to a report released by a coalition of good government groups which showed the City's lax compliance with Local Law 29.

According to the report, 84 percent of clients at 14 of these agencies were not provided registration applications when they should have been. Additionally, only 2 out of 5 applicants with limited English proficiency were given translated applications, and agents were not trained in the application process.The report was compiled by the Pro-Voter Law Coalition, comprised of the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, Citizens Union of the City of New York, and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). Their investigation was aided by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The report's importance is highlighted by the fact that over 30 percent of New Yorkers who were interviewed at the agencies were not registered to vote.

The de Blasio administration initially rejected the two bills over privacy concerns and on the grounds that they came too close on the heels of Directive 1 and wishing to see agencies given more time to comply. Taking those concerns into consideration, changes were made to Williams' bill on reporting mandates. Williams disagreed with the administration but eventually came around to ensure changes were made in the proposal which will protect applicants' information while still allowing the Board of Elections to track registration data from agencies.

"I'm expecting (the) resolution to have a serious impact in Albany," said Council Member Kallos to Gotham Gazette. "Whether it's the Assembly or the Senate, we can all agree that government works better when we measure what its doing and this will take a step towards that."

Representatives of the good government groups that authored the report also testified at the hearing. Steven Carbo, director of Voting Rights and Democracy Initiatives at CPD praised the proposals, asserting, "Likely hundreds of thousands, if not millions of eligible voters were never given the opportunity to register to vote over the years, perpetuating regrettably low rates of voter registration in New York particularly among lower income, of color and immigrant citizens," he said.

Peggy Farber, legislative counsel for Citizens Union, called the proposals "meaningful steps to improve the pro-voter law, to codify the important work of the administration."

On Tuesday, the bills and the resolution will head to the full Council for a vote at the Stated Meeting, where they are very likely to pass.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union

Categories: State/Local

Text Me the Money: New Form of Donations Coming to City Campaign Finance Program

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 12:00am

Come 2017, Lena Dunham will be able to text $10 (or more) to Scott Stringer (photo: Andrew Walker/Getty)

NEW YORK—We are a few years from the local elections of 2017, but changes to the campaign fundraising process are well underway.

By year's end the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) is expected to pass new rules that will govern how campaigns accept contributions via text message. The rules stem from Local Law 11 of 2013 which allows candidates running for local offices to accept contributions through what is typically a cell-phone-based format. If a text-message donor is a New York City resident, the given funds will be eligible for public matching dollars from the CFB.

"Text message contributions provide candidates with the potential to engage a wider set of contributors and the Board with an opportunity to expand the reach of New York City's landmark small donor matching funds program," CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn said on Monday at a public hearing on the proposed rules. "There are, however, practical challenges to text message fundraising."

The CFB held Monday's hearing on the proposed rules to address some of those challenges with stakeholders. The proposed rules will limit text message contributions to $99, a cap the CFB says will help ensure eligibility compliance. There was no objection to the donation limit at Monday's hearing, but there was a hearty discussion about the rules regarding the timing of texted contributions and how candidates will verify donors are using their own phones.

Text message contributions will be fairly easy to make, but the process is more complex than a simple credit card or cash donation. For starters, the fees for such donations are exponentially higher than credit card fees, in some cases reaching 50 percent. Non-profits like the Red Cross, which was among the first to use text message donations in 2010 following the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, are able to negotiate a lower rate because of their humanitarian missions.

But campaigns do not have that ability (at least not yet). The question for the CFB is how to take a fee into account when establishing limits and matching funds. With credit card fees, which are significantly lower than text messaging fees, the CFB currently counts the amount delivered to the candidate, not the original donation amount. The fee is considered an expense and goes against candidate spending limits. When considering matching funds, the CFB matches the full contribution to the candidate, not what is delivered after fees are deducted.

"Though there are strong advantages to text contributions, there are certain drawbacks to new technology," Peggy Farber, legislative counsel for Citizens Union, said in her written testimony. "The public should not compensate for drawbacks in service."

Citizens Union, a good government group, wants to see the credit card rules continue with text messaging. Since the technology is new, it is unlikely the CFB will stray far from its current rules, although that could change before 2017 when text message donations may be used widely.

Another thorny issue the CFB must consider is the timing of its release of matching funds. Text message donations are not paid to campaigns until the cell phone bill of the donor is paid, leaving a much larger gap than traditional credit card or cash donations.

To help get money to campaigns faster a third party messaging vendor is often used. The messaging vendor buys a campaign's accounts receivables at a discount, giving the campaign a portion of texted donations up front. Once the cell phone bill is paid and the balance received, the messaging vendor gives the rest to the campaign (this is, in part, why fees are so high on text message donations).

The CFB will have to decide when eligible funds are to be matched: at the time of donation, when the messaging vendor pays the campaign, or when the cell phone bill is paid. No decision on this matter was reached at Monday's hearing, but guidance is expected in the final rules.

(All of the specifics of the CFB's current public matching fund program can be found in its website.)

Lauren George, associate director of Common Cause New York, another good government group, suggested campaigns focus on soliciting text message donations earlier in election season to allow for the longer process.

"Candidates who reach their matchable contribution limit earlier in the campaign will receive their matching funds earlier, alleviating the end-of-campaign scrambles and delay, but will also be freed up to engage in that most effective campaign tool, extensive voter contact," George said.

Verification, especially for funds a candidate is trying to have matched, will be a critical step in the text message donation process. But how that will be done is still up in the air - simply using the name and address on the cell phone bill as verification does not always work.

Many cell phone users are a part of family plans where the bill comes under one name and address, but users may live elsewhere. Robert Bishop, a lawyer representing several candidate committees, pointed to his own family plan with his wife and three daughters as an example. The bill is in his name, but his children live all over the country.

"Taking into account the overwhelming popularity of family plans among the wireless community, the Board should define a registered user as not only the plan's subscriber but also the users whose phone numbers are covered by the account," Bishop said in his written testimony.

The Board is expected to adopt a set of rules for text message donations by the end of this year, but those rules may change drastically depending on how the technology is used in the 2016 presidential election. In 2012, President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney both accepted text message donations. They were used, though, on a very small scale because the Federal Election Commission approved the regulations only a few months before Election Day.

As potential presidential candidates begin to ramp up their fundraising, text message donations are expected to play a factor in fundraising, although it is too early to tell how much of one. How the issues the CFB is facing locally are dealt with at the federal level could have a major impact on how the rules shake out in New York City for 2017.

"A lot of innovation for campaign technology is driven by the presidential campaigns," Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs, said following Monday's hearing. "[Text message donations] may need to go through 2016 for the market to change."

That could mean finding a way to lower fees or identifying an easier verification process.

"It is on us to make it as easy as possible so everyone can take advantage," Friedman said. 

***
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union

Categories: State/Local

Board closing in on casino picks

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 11/23/2014 - 6:07pm

Albany

The panel charged with issuing up to four casino licenses may be picking its winners — but we won't know them this week.

"We expect to be able to make a decision at our next meeting," Kevin Law, head of the New York Gaming Facility Location Board wrote in a letter Tuesday to state Gaming Commission Chairman Mark Gearan.

The letter outlines their plans for a Friday meeting at Long Island's Hofstra University; the subsequent meeting — where the picks would become known — has not yet been scheduled.

Much of Friday's discussion will take place in executive session as board members are expected to discuss financial data of the 16 applicants, who are competing for up to four casino licenses in three regions: the Catskills/Hudson Valley, the Southern Tier, and the Capital Region.

Amid the competition, boosters from various communities in the Capital Region were continuing to push their cases for where such a facility should be located.

Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer said he has heard that Schenectady is now the front-runner for the region's license — but he said he's still betting on the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in his own community as the winner.

Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group are proposing a casino in Schenectady, while developer Hard Rock as well as Capital OTB are proposing a casino at De Laet's Landing along the Hudson River in Rensselaer.

Dwyer and John Signor, head of Capital OTB, turned to the numbers to bolster the De Laet's Landing site as the best choice.

"We're the site that makes the state the most money," Dwyer said. "We fit the requirements to perfection."

Drawing from the submissions to the state Gaming Commission, the Rensselaer team says it will generate annual revenue of $100 million for the state and local municipalities.

They said that's higher than the $82 million estimated to be generated by Capital View Casino and Resort, which Churchill Downs and longtime businessman James Featherstonaugh is proposing for East Greenbush.

They also said those projections are higher than the $74 million projected for Schenectady and the $50 million to come from a proposed facility at Howes Cave in Schoharie.

Also on Tuesday, Turning Stone resort casino, operated by the Oneida Nation in Verona, said they plan to announce plans for a "massive" development on Wednesday.

According to Syracuse.com, the announcement will be made at Exit 33, an entertainment venue on the casino property.

Ken Crowe contributedrkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Desperate letters of farewell

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 11/23/2014 - 4:07pm

At one point during her 13-hour ordeal, Karen Rossi got out a pen and paper and wrote farewell letters to her two daughters.

Her car became stuck in a snowbank at Transit Road and William Street in Lancaster, not far from home. A passing plow pushed her farther into the snowbank, and then the intense lake-effect storm completely buried the blue Chevy Cobalt.

Rossi couldn't tell if it was day or night from inside the car.

"It felt like I was underground, buried in a casket," she said. "It was surreal."

As the hours went by, she became wet from trying to dig her way to daylight and her car was running out of fuel. As someone who had worked in an emergency room, she knew it didn't look good.

Rossi had started out at 3 a.m. Tuesday from Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo, where she works as a pharmacy technician, for her home in Lancaster.

"On a clear road, it takes me 20-plus minutes to get home," she said, "but I didn't get far before I started getting stuck. There always seemed to be someone behind me to push me out."

However, she had no such luck. She stayed in the car, and before her phone died, she called her daughter, who advised her to keep the car's tailpipe clear of snow so she could run the engine to keep warm without poisoning herself with carbon monoxide.

"I kept watching the news, and it was freaking me out," said Madelyn Rossi, 17. "

Karen Rossi couldn't open the car door.

"So I rolled the window down and used a sweatshirt to dig along the car to make a tunnel to keep the tailpipe clear," she said.

As her phone battery began to run out, she texted her daughter repeatedly, telling her, "My phone's going to die. I love you."

Eventually, Rossi decided she had to try to attract attention to her plight.

Once again, she climbed out through the car window. This time she dug upward with the sweatshirt and a snow brush.

"I finally got up to where I could see the sky," she said. "I was standing on the window frame, but I couldn't see out. I started waving the bright red snow brush. Little did I know, there was no one coming."

She climbed back down into the front seat and waited.

"Sitting in the car, it's funny what you think about," she said. "You get punchy. You realize the magnitude of the situation. You never think this is the way you're going to pass away. I started to think about my life and my family and my daughters."

Rossi, who just turned 47, found a scrap of paper in her purse, tore it in half and started farewell notes to her daughters.

Although she was wet, cold and exhausted, she continued to climb out the window, crawl her way up and wave the red snow brush, hoping it would attract someone's attention. "I waved that forever. My arm would get sore," she said, "and I would stop, and then start again."

Then she heard a voice.

"I see you. I'm going to get you out," a man yelled out. "I have a shovel."

Categories: State/Local

The Next Two Weeks in New York Politics

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 11/23/2014 - 12:00am

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week *and next* in New York politics:

This week will be a short one for public political events, but there's quite a bit going on at the start of the week, not the least of which is a busy Monday schedule of committee hearings at the City Council, followed by a full-body Stated Meeting on Tuesday, at which several bills will be passed and others introduced. Tuesday also features a City Council training hosted by Council Member James Vacca aimed at helping council members and their staffs learn to better utilize the City's open data portal.

We're also continuing the watch for word from the Staten Island special grand jury convened by District Attorney Dan Donovan in the aftermath of the death of Eric Garner. We should know soon if the grand jury is recommending charges against the police officer whose chokehold around Garner's neck led to Garner's death. And now, many will be watching for more fallout from the killing of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black teenager shot late Thursday night by a white police officer in the stairwell of a NYCHA building in Brooklyn.

Mayor Bill de Blasio begins his week with only one event on his public schedule, though it is closed to the press: "Mayor de Blasio will host a community meeting with local elected officials and community members at City Hall as part of the administration's ongoing efforts to engage the community and build more support for the City's bid for the 2016 Democratic National Convention."

Public Advocate Tish James and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will begin their weeks at "Food Bank for New York City Legislative Breakfast" in Manhattan.

What we have for the next two weeks in detail:

Monday, Nov. 24
The New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a public hearing Monday morning at its Manhattan office on rules regarding text message campaign contributions: "on proposed rules setting minimum requirements for receiving text message contributions to be eligible for public matching funds." Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, among others, will testify. "SMS contributions provide candidates with the potential to engage a wider set of contributors and the CFB with an opportunity to expand the reach of NYC's landmark small-dollar matching funds program. Read more about the challenges and opportunities posed by SMS contributions at the CFB's blog."

On Monday morning, "New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito joins Hunter College President Jennifer Raab, Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank For New York City and others at a legislative breakfast to release a report on the state of hunger and the emergency food network in the city a year after cuts to SNAP, Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College," according to City & State NY. According to her public schedule, Public Advocate James will also be in attendance. This will be followed on Monday by a Council General Welfare Committee oversight hearing on hunger in New York City, among other agenda items (see below).

Monday, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Bureau of HIV/AIDS will launch "New York Knows" in Manhattan (after iterations in the Bronx and Brooklyn), "bringing together Manhattan community partners to encourage those who do not know their HIV status to get tested—and to link those who test positive to care and support services."

On Monday at 1 p.m., "Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance convenes a roundtable with law enforcement partners to discuss a new grand jury report on fraud related to minority and women business enterprises," according to City & State NY.

Monday's City Council schedule will include: a meeting of Committee on Transportation to see the introduction of new bills relating to "increasing the number of accessible pedestrian signals"; the Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on "Hunger in New York City"; a meeting of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations to consider a resolution: "recognizing and commemorating January 13th as Korean American Day in the City of New York"; and a meeting of Committee on Health to consider new bills relating to pet shops:

  • Proposed Int. No. 55-A - Regulating pet shops.
  • Proposed Int. No. 73-A - Updating the definition of "pet shop" within the animal abuse registration act.
  • Proposed Int. No. 136-A - Spaying, neutering and licensing of animals sold in pet shops.
  • Proposed Int. No. 146-A - Microchipping animals sold in pet shops

Monday evening is The Riders Alliance 2014 Gala in Manhattan. BP Brewer, among many other elected officials, will be in attendance. [Read our look at the advocacy work of Riders Alliance as it and others seek a more responsive, effective MTA]

Tuesday, Nov. 25
Tuesday's City Council schedule includes: a meeting of Committee on Finance to consider the following:

  • Resolution concerning the increase in the annual expenditure for the Steinway Street, 34th Street, 125th Street, 47th Street, 86th Street Bay Ridge, Columbus/Amsterdam, Forest Avenue, Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn, 161st Street, and Sunnyside Business Improvement Districts, and the setting of the date, time and place for the hearing of the local law increasing the annual expenditure for such districts.
  • Resolution approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.
  • And other such business as may be necessary

And the City Council will hold a full-body Stated Meeting in the Council Chambers at 1:30 p.m., presaged, as always by a pre-Stated press conference led by Speaker Mark-Viverito.

Tuesday evening, NYC Department of Education will hold 2014 Panel for Educational Policy meeting at the High School of Fashion Industries in Manhattan.

Wednesday, Nov. 26
Watch for pre-Thanksgiving news dumps, everyone!

Thursday, Nov. 27 through Sunday Nov. 30
Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you enjoy the holiday. As always, lawmakers, advocates, and many other volunteers will be spending time at food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other places serving those in need.

It's a quiet weekend politically, of course. But, things pick up again starting Monday, December 1 - here's what we have for the first week in December as of now, we'll update for Sunday Nov. 30, and please do send us items to include any time:

Monday, Dec. 1
The League of Conservation Voters will host its annual New York Dinner on Monday, December 1, featuring Hillary Clinton, and honoring the retiring president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Frances Beinecke.

Also Monday evening, Citizen Action of New York's annual gala. The event will feature Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a speaker and will honor former Citizen Action board member Catherine Abate; Eddie Bautista of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance; Dr. Joan Mandle of Democracy Matters; and John Samuelson of TWU Local 100. The host committee is a long list of Democratic elected officials, activists, and organizations.

Tuesday, Dec. 2
The City Council schedule for Tuesday, December 2, is set to include: the Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet for an oversight hearing regarding "Examining DYFJ's Juvenile Justice Oversight Board"; and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will hold an oversight hearing on "Cablevision Franchise Agreement and Collective Bargaining."

Tuesday morning, Dec. 2, the CUNY Graduate Center will host a seminar looking at the implementation of universal free lunch in all New York City middle schools: "This fall, universal free lunch was implemented in all New York City middle schools, feeding 160,000 middle school children in grades six through eight. At this seminar we'll discuss progress, challenges, successes and the way forward."

Community Voices Heard will hold its annual Shirley Chisholm "Lights of Freedom" Awards dinner on Tuesday evening, Dec. 2, celebrating "the hard work of our honorees and members who have been fighting for justice and equality for all low income and working New Yorkers" and honoring NYS Senator and Democratic Conference Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, among others. The event's host committee includes Co-Chair and New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera; Council Members Lander, Rosenthal, Mark-Viverito, and Torres; and Assembly Member-Elect Michael Blake, among others.

Tuesday evening, Dec. 2, will see the latest installment of the popular monthly NY Tech Meetup in Manhattan: "Join fellow technologists for an evening of live demos from companies developing great technology in New York."

Also Tuesday evening, Dec. 2, Comptroller Stringer is hosting a Jewish Heritage & Culture Celebration.

Wednesday, Dec. 3
Wednesday, Dec. 3, will feature the "2014 Campaign Roundtables: Reflecting on the NYS Governor and State Senate Races" at the New School, featuring two impressive panels:

Panel on the 2014 Governor's race: 9 am to 10:45 am, moderated by Rob George, The New York Post:

  • Kate Albright-Hanna, communications director, Teachout campaign
  • Alexis Grenell, City & State
  • Peter Kauffmann, senior advisor, NYS Democratic Committee
  • Michael Lawler, campaign manager, Astorino campaign
  • Brian Murphy, CUNY Baruch College
  • William O'Reilly, consultant, Astorino campaign
  • Jessica Proud, spokesperson, Astorinio campaign
  • Zephyr Teachout, Democratic primary candidate
  • Matt Wing, Cuomo communications director

Panel on the NYS Senate Race race: 11 am to 12:30 pm, Moderated by: Jeff Smith, assistant professor of politics and advocacy, The New School, and Brigid Bergin, WNYC Radio:

  • Gerald Benjamin, SUNY New Paltz
  • Tom Doherty, Mercury strategy firm
  • Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group
  • Naomi Konst, The Accountability Project
  • Ben Lazarus, StudentsFirstNY
  • Janos Marton, former special counsel, Moreland Commission
  • David Nir, Daily Kos
  • Jeff Plaut Democratic pollster
  • Basil Smikle, Basil Smikle Associates

Wednesday morning will see "Diane Ravitch on the Uses and Abuses of Education Data" at the CUNY School of Journalism: "Education historian Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University, is one of the nation's leading scholars warning about the uses and abuses of testing, privatization, charter schools and other education strategies. In conversation with Prof. Andrea Gabor of Baruch College and Errol Louis of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Ravitch will talk about the crisis inflicted on public education in the name of reform."

Wednesday, Dec. 3, will also feature the Manhattan Institute Book Forum: Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, with the author and former chancellor of the New York City schools Joel Klein: "In this revealing and provocative memoir, the former chancellor of the New York City schools offers the behind-the-scenes story of the city's dramatic campaign to improve public education, and an inspiring blueprint for national reform."

Wednesday's City Council schedule will include: a meeting of the Committee on Civil Rights to examine a bill aimed at "Prohibiting discrimination based on one's arrest record or criminal conviction"; a meeting of the Committee on Transportation regarding oversight of "App Technology and the Transformation of the Taxi and For-Hire Industries" and evaluation of a bill aimed at "Removing the off-street parking requirement for base station licenses."

Wednesday, Dec. 3, is World Aids Day and there will be a City Council event that evening at City Hall to commemorate the day, with City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, Council Member Corey Johnson, and the LGBT Caucus.

An event on Wednesday evening: "The Responsive City: In collaboration with the Program on Profits and Purpose at New America."

Thursday, Dec. 4
Thursday's City Council Schedule will include: a meeting of the Committee on General Welfare regarding oversight of " EarlyLearn NYC" and a meeting of the Committee on Environmental Protection regarding the oversight of "Citywide Localized Flooding" and consideration of a bill in relation to "Filing semi-annual reports on catch basin cleanup and maintenance."

Thursday, Dec. 4, will see "Rebuilding Our Neighborhoods: The Koch Plan 25 Years Later: Join the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development and JPMorgan Chase, with Special Speakers for a policy conference on the 25th anniversary of the historic Koch affordable housing plan and the lessons it holds for today's NYC housing policy. The conference will honor the very first affordable housing Financed with the LIHTC program – Equality House – built on the Lower East Side by Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE)."

SCEC Demo Night will also be Thursday, December 4th: "Interested in learning how teams of NYC teachers are evaluating edtech tools based on real classroom challenges? Come hear from the EdTech Evaluation Fellows about their emerging practices and lessons learned and see their matched companies demo their products. You might just find like-minded teachers and new solutions to common education challenges."

Also look for "Invisible Child: One Year Later," an event at Brooklyn Historical Society that will follow up on the important New York Times series focused on a young homeless girl, Dasani Coates. WNYC's Andrea Bernstein will speak with Andrea Elliot, the author of the Times series, and one of Dasani's teachers.

Friday and the weekend, Dec. 5-7
Friday, Dec. 5, will see the Crain's 2014 Best Places to Work Awards.

Friday will also see "NYC Latino Civic Engagement Forum" hosted at CUNY's Murphy Institute and by a number of organizations including Bridgeroots, El Puente, Citizen Action of New York, and more.

Saturday, Dec. 6, will include continuation of the "Fall 2014 Chancellor's Parent Conference Series: Middle School" at Tweed Court House.

Beginning Sunday, Dec. 7, "The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will visit the United States of America," arriving in New York and attending "a private engagement on behalf of the American Friends of The Royal Foundation that evening." The Duke will head to Washington, D.C. on Dec. 8 while The Duchess remains in New York, where she will be rejoined by the Duke. [All of the details included here come from this press release]

"On his return to New York, His Royal Highness will attend a reception organised by the Royal Foundation, in recognition of the conservation work carried out by Tusk Trust and United for Wildlife partners: Wildlife Conservation Society; Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy.

"The Duchess of Cambridge will carry out two engagements in New York while The Duke visits Washington. Her Royal Highness will be accompanied by The First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, on a visit to a local child development centre. They will learn about how this organisation fosters the healthy development of children and families by providing high-quality mental health and educational services, which is an issue strongly supported by The First Lady. Her Royal Highness will also attend a lunch, hosted by the British Consul General in New York, to celebrate the achievements of a successful British community in New York from the culture, arts, hospitality and business sectors.

"On Monday evening, Their Royal Highnesses will attend an NBA Basketball game to help launch a new collaboration between the Royal Foundation, United for Wildlife and the NBA.

"On Tuesday 9th December The Duke and Duchess will visit a youth organisation to see the work they carry out in partnership with an inner city youth development foundation. Both organisations focus on programmes and projects that promote positive youth development and social learning. During the visit, The Duke and Duchess will learn about the wide-ranging support services on offer to young people to help them reach their potential, particularly through an arts-in-education model that supports the artistic and intellectual development of the participants.

"The Duke and Duchess will then attend an event celebrating the wealth of British talent in the creative industries based in New York. The reception will be in association with the UK Government's GREAT campaign. The Duke will also attend a technology themed event, hosted by a New York-headquartered technology company, which will bring together entrepreneurs from both the UK and the US.

"The final engagement of the visit will be the University of St. Andrews 600th Anniversary Dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The evening event will support scholarships and bursaries for students from under-privileged communities, new student sports facilities in St Andrews, investment in the university's medical and science faculties and a lectureship in American Literature at St. Andrews."

Note: we will update this post on an ongoing basis over the two weeks included - please don't hesitate to send us additions!

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? Email Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Rati Mukhuradze and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Categories: State/Local

City Council Course Offering: Open Data 101

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 11/23/2014 - 12:00am

Council Member Vacca (photo: William Alatriste)

For civic technologists and the data savvy, New York City's Open Data Portal has been a blessing. After years of limited transparency, City data, which is extremely useful for solving civic problems, is now out in the open to a much larger degree than ever before.

 

But members of the New York City Council, who are the front lines of constituent services, have not been actively using the portal. Most council members are not software engineers or data scientists; with only one known exception (Council Member Ben Kallos), they don't write software code.

While none of those are requirements to use the Open Data Portal, having a minimum understanding of what the portal offers and how to use it would help council members and their staffs access the wealth of information available. Some guidance for how to take advantage of available information is needed to turn the rows of data into useful formats for analysis and policy-making.

At an October 27 City Council Technology Committee oversight hearing on open data, committee Chair James Vacca mentioned offering an open data training for council members. Less than a month later, that training will become a reality. On Tuesday, November 25, from 10 to 11 a.m. at council office space in 250 Broadway, Council Member Vacca will host a training session led by members from the City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and the Mayor's Office of Data Analytics (MODA).

The training, closed to the press, will focus on navigating the Open Data Portal, showcasing the data sets that may be most useful to council members, and answering questions.

"I realized that if other Council Members' offices were armed with the knowledge about how to tap into this resource, it could hugely shape the way we craft legislation and conduct constituent services," Vacca said by email Friday. "As Chair of the Committee on Technology, it is my hope that the open government tools that we have sought to uphold through the Open Data Law are also being used by government staff."

As of Friday there were roughly 16 RSVPs from council members or staff representatives, according to a spokesperson for Vacca's office, who declined to provide specific names.

***
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

Categories: State/Local

Vacca Offers City Council Class on Open Data

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 11/23/2014 - 12:00am

Council Member Vacca (photo: William Alatriste)

For civic technologists and the data savvy, New York City's Open Data Portal has been a blessing. After years of limited transparency, City data, which is extremely useful for solving civic problems, is now out in the open to a much larger degree than ever before.

But members of the New York City Council, who are the front lines of constituent services, have not been actively using the portal. Most council members are not software engineers or data scientists; with only one known exception (Council Member Ben Kallos), they don't write software code.

While none of those are requirements to use the Open Data Portal, having a minimum understanding of what the portal offers and how to use it would help council members and their staffs access the wealth of information available. Some guidance for how to take advantage of available information is needed to turn the rows of data into useful formats for analysis and policy-making.

At an October 27 City Council Technology Committee oversight hearing on open data, committee Chair James Vacca mentioned offering an open data training for council members. Less than a month later, that training will become a reality. On Tuesday, November 25, from 10 to 11 a.m. at council office space in 250 Broadway, Council Member Vacca will host a training session led by members from the City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and the Mayor's Office of Data Analytics (MODA).

The training, closed to the press, will focus on navigating the Open Data Portal, showcasing the data sets that may be most useful to council members, and answering questions.

"I realized that if other Council Members' offices were armed with the knowledge about how to tap into this resource, it could hugely shape the way we craft legislation and conduct constituent services," Vacca said by email Friday. "As Chair of the Committee on Technology, it is my hope that the open government tools that we have sought to uphold through the Open Data Law are also being used by government staff."

As of Friday there were roughly 16 RSVPs from council members or staff representatives, according to a spokesperson for Vacca's office, who declined to provide specific names.

***
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

Categories: State/Local

Building lots proposed for site

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 9:07am

Bleecker

A proposal to turn a former Boy Scout camp in Fulton County into 24 residential lots will be explained at a presentation on Monday by the Adirondack Park Agency.

The APA says the subdivision proposed by New York Land and Lakes Development would turn the former Woodworth Lake Boy Scout Camp into lots ranging in size from 6 to 145 acres and five commonly held lots, for a total of 29 lots.

The site is near Woodworth Lake, Hines Pond and Woodworth Lake Road in the towns of Bleecker and Johnstown.

The developer's representatives will describe the project and will answer questions. Park agency staff members will also accept public comments about the project.

The APA will take written comments on Project 2014-0048 until Dec. 4. Written comments can be addressed to:

Ariel Lynch, Environmental Program Specialist, Adirondack Park Agency, Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977.

Monday's meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Bleecker Highway Department building at 575 County Highway 112.

Categories: State/Local

Man shoots at dead deer on cart, hits other hunter

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 9:07am

EAST FISHKILL (AP) — Authorities say a man who had shot a deer in the Hudson Valley woods was hauling it away on a cart when he was wounded by second hunter firing at the dead animal.

Police in Dutchess County tell the Poughkeepsie Journal that a hunter had shot a deer Saturday morning and was using a cart to bring it out of a wooded area 60 miles north of New York City.

Officers say another hunter saw the deer moving, thought it was alive and fired, hitting the first hunter in the hand and buttocks.

The injured hunter was treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

Police say both men are from nearby towns.

The incident is being investigated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation police.

———

Information from: Poughkeepsie Journal, http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com

Categories: State/Local

Thruway, other highways closed in western New York

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 9:07am

BUFFALO (AP) — Most major highways in western New York are closed due to hazardous conditions caused by lake-effect storms, including a 105-mile stretch of the Thruway.

State police and the Thruway Authority say Interstate 90 is shut down in both directions between Exit 46 outside Rochester and Exit 59 at Dunkirk. Interstate 190, the Niagara Thruway, is closed southbound from I-290 to I-90.

Routes 219 and 400 in the Buffalo area have also been closed, and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has issued a driving ban for the southern sections of the city.

Officials in many of the towns south of Buffalo have issued driving advisories as they deal with clearing roads from a foot to nearly 3 feet of snow that has fallen since Monday evening.

Categories: State/Local

Raises still on the 2014 agenda

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 9:07am

They would have less than six weeks to do so, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said he'd like to see lawmakers vote on a legislative pay raise before the year is over.

But he added that he's unwilling to trade a raise for any number of items that have been on the wish list of progressive lawmakers, and there haven't been serious talks with Gov. Andrew Cuomo about a pay hike.

"The pay raise was mentioned by me, not that there were any discussions going on with the executive branch," Skelos said Monday after a closed-door meeting of the Senate Republican conference.

"I said I'm in favor of the pay raise on numerous occasions. It's been 14 years," Skelos added, referring to the last raise that lawmakers received in 1999.

Legislators earn a base salary of $79,500, but many receive more for extra duties such as taking leadership roles in the various committees.

Skelos' remarks came after Senate Republicans gathered for the first time at the state Capitol since Election Day, when they gained outright control of the chamber with a 32-seat majority.

Prior to that, Skelos and Republicans had been leading the Senate in a coalition with breakaway Democrat Jeff Klein and his Independent Democratic Conference.

Despite holding a majority, Skelos on Monday said he would like to continue the coalition with Klein, although the details of how that would work haven't been settled.

Two years ago, Klein and Skelos struck a deal in which they would serve as Senate leaders in alternate times, but it wasn't clear if that precise arrangement would stay. With 32 votes, Republicans wouldn't need the coalition to pass or block controversial measures.

Along those lines, Skelos said he wouldn't pass a pay raise for items that his conference has opposed but which are sought by Democrats, including a DREAM Act that would provide taxpayer-funded college aid to undocumented aliens who are living in New York, or public campaign financing.

"We're not doing the DREAM Act. We're not doing minimum wage, we're not doing taxpayer financing (of campaign expenses. If there are other reforms we can come up with, then I'm for it.''

Among the reforms he would favor would be changes to the per-diem system in which out of town lawmakers get a daily payment of $172 for each day they are Albany. That system has occasionally been abused by lawmakers — most recently, Democratic Assemblyman William Scarborough has been charged with allegedly submitting bogus travel expenses.

Several things would have to happen for lawmakers to get a pay raise.

The Assembly would also have to come back in a special session and approve it, although Democrats who control that chamber have long been agitating for a raise.

Cuomo would also have to sign off on a raise, which has led to talk that a legislative hike would be twinned with a pay hike for agency commissioners.

The governor has complained that pay restrictions make it difficult to attract top talent to head the state bureaucracy.

All of this would have to happen by January, since a legislature can't vote itself a raise.

By coming before the end of the year, they would actually be voting for a raise for the next legislative body, whose members start their session in January.

Skelos said his conference discussed several other items on Monday, including the $4.8 billion state surplus, which is due to a series of bank settlements. Republicans would like to see that money go toward infrastructure improvements throughout the state, he said.

As for Democrats' push for a higher minimum wage, Skelos noted that it's already scheduled to go from $8 to $8.75 at the end of this year.

Skelos added that Binghamton-area Tom Libous will remain as deputy Senate majority leader.

Libous is battling cancer and has been indicted for allegedly lying to federal agents by telling them he didn't recall how his son was hired by a politically connected law firm.

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

Categories: State/Local

Senator packs bags for Lone Star State

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Greg Ball isn't just leaving the state Senate. He's leaving the state.

"I think I may be one of the first in line on Jan. 1 to get both a Texas driver's license and an AR-15," Ball said Monday in an interview on Time Warner Cable News' "Capital Tonight."

The Putnam County Republican, who did not seek re-election this year, has flirted with a move to the Lone Star State before. He will maintain close ties to New York, however, as the CEO of Black Stone Global LLC, which was announced early Monday morning as "a multifaceted technology, political consulting, marketing and investment company."

Ball, who according to the firm's news release "has established himself as a global leader," will be joined by several of his legislative staffers: Communications Director Joe Bachmeier will be Black Stone's chief marketing officer, and Director of Operations Colin J. Schmitt will be its president.

Charles V. Miles of Chicago, identified in the news release as an "international entrepreneur" who hails "from a multigenerational banking family" (and whom Ball refers to as "my upperclassman at the United States Air Force Academy") will serve as CFO.

The political consulting section of the firm's website displays the flair for colorful language that has become a Ball trademark.

Its "opposition research" page promises candidates the campaign strategy equivalent of "One shot, one kill. ... Prevent yourself from being taken out in a body bag, or ensure your opponent is."

Ball returned to Albany on Monday to take part in the Senate GOP's conference at the Capitol.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Board of Elections vote slows enforcement

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

In another sign of the evolving relationship between the state Board of Elections and its new independent enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, the board's four commissioners balked at granting "special investigator" status to her and three former law enforcement officers who have been hired to handle campaign finance probes.

Instead, Sugarman will be the only one to be designated as a special investigator, and that status will be effective only until the conclusion of the board's next regular meeting on Dec. 15.

The commissioners initially considered the required resolution at their September meeting. Republican Commissioner Greg Peterson expressed concern that the status would allow the investigators to carry guns. At Monday's meeting, Peterson said those worries had been allayed.

"We have experienced law enforcement officials ... I would have no problem with them carrying (firearms)," Peterson said. "They're not the type that they're going to whip back their coat to show that, 'I got something here — it's a Glock,' or whatever the heck they might be carrying."

Peterson said his concern was the prospect that some "Joe Bagadonuts" in the future would be designated as an investigator and allowed to carry a gun without the board's approval.

In the meeting, Sugarman emphasized that carrying a firearm was "a very small part of peace officer status," and that the designation was needed primarily to allow investigators to conduct background checks for individuals and vehicles, as well as checks of financial records.

"Without this designation, my investigations are hamstrung," she told the commissioners.

Sugarman's independent unit went into operation in September, five months after it was created by the ethics reforms included in the state budget agreement that was swapped for the demise of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Moreland Commission panel on public corruption.

After a long and sometimes testy discussion at Monday's meeting — necessitating a recess that involved a number of sidebar conversations — the resolution was revised, with the names of the three other investigators struck out.

A board spokesman declined to comment on why the commissioners chose to make Sugarman's designation temporary.

In a phone interview, Sugarman said the commissioners' decision would delay the investigators' training, required for all peace officers by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services, in firearms use, defensive tactics, penal law and criminal procedure law.

Sugarman has already received such training, and will therefore be able to conduct background checks immediately.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Delay sought on GOP leader vote

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Not so fast.

That's the message four members of the Assembly's Republican minority have for their colleagues as a vote on the conference's leadership nears. Assembly members Steve McLaughlin, Claudia Tenney, Steve Katz and Kieran Lalor penned a letter to fellow Republicans Monday that expresses concern about the direction and purpose of the conference under its current leadership and calls for a delay of Thursday's leadership vote.

The legislators say the vote comes on short notice and "without adequate time to reflect on the successes and failures of the conference," which is piloted by Finger Lakes Assemblyman Brian Kolb.

In asking to delay the vote until Dec. 4, the four Republicans cite concerns about the leadership's actions on various happenings in the chamber and state government. They write that the Republican leadership was "notably silent during the most embarrassing episode in recent Assembly history when Democratic member Vito Lopez sexually harassed staff members." The legislators write that Republican Assembly leaders "stood silent" when members of the conference were subject to "unwarranted inquiries," part of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

They also propose an "Unleash New York" agenda that includes expected items, such as repealing the SAFE Act and ending "crony capitalism" (ending START-UP NY and subsidies to "favored" businesses and industries).

Lalor said Monday afternoon that the letter isn't a signal of an attempted coup and that the four Republicans aren't promoting a particular candidate for the minority leader position. He added that he is not interested in the position.

"I'm interested in having a leadership that wants to A) grow the conference and B) get our ideas out there and C) stop the bad ideas and the bad policies of the Sheldon Silver-led Democrats," he said. "We're not promoting a particular candidate for the minority spot."

Kolb, who has been minority leader since 2009, was blindsided by the letter.

"To send this out sort of in the middle of the night and then release it to the press without even having discussed it with me is disingenuous and really a disservice to the conference because these sort of matters are generally talked about in conference," said Kolb, who added that he has an open-door policy and offers opportunities for members to reach out on any issue.

While Lalor said the letter was well-received, Kolb said he has recently spoken with all but two members of the conference (Tenney and Lalor) about the leadership vote and expects to receive 90 percent Thursday. The minority leader said the vote will take place as scheduled. The conference will need a quorum of its 40-plus members of the new Legislature to vote. Kolb said three members indicated they will send proxies to Albany for the vote. "I feel very strongly I will be overwhelmingly elected," he said.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449

Categories: State/Local

A fatal subway shove

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 1:07am

NEW YORK (AP) — A man standing with his wife on a Bronx subway platform was pushed onto the tracks Sunday morning by another man and was struck and killed by an oncoming train, police said. The assailant fled.

Police said an unidentified man pushed 61-year-old Wai Kuen Kwok of the Bronx off the platform at the Grand Concourse and East 167th Street station in the Highbridge neighborhood, an act that appeared to be unprovoked. Kwok was struck by a southbound D train at around 8:40 a.m. and pronounced dead at the scene; his death was classified a homicide. His wife was not injured.

There was no indication that Kwok knew the man or had had an altercation with him before he was pushed, police said. Witnesses told police they believed the man fled the subway station after shoving Kwok and jumped on a city bus.

Police later released video surveillance showing a man wearing a dark jacket getting off a city bus and walking into a store. The man emerges moments later smoking a cigarette and strolls away. Police said the man was wanted for questioning in connection with Kwok's death.

The victim's son, Gary Kwok, 29, a doctoral student at Adelphi University, told The New York Times that his father was a "fine, regular family man."

There have been three other incidents in recent years that involved a person being pushed onto the tracks.

In April 2013, a train ran over a man desperately clawing at a Manhattan subway platform after being pushed onto the tracks by a homeless suspect with whom he'd been arguing.

In December 2012, another homeless man was arrested for pushing a Queens straphanger in front of a Times Square train that fatally crushed him.

And later the same month, a mumbling woman pushed a man to his death in front of a subway train in Queens.

Categories: State/Local
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