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The Week Ahead

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

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

MONDAY

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

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

TUESDAY

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

WEDNESDAY

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

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

THURSDAY

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

FRIDAY

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

— Casey Seiler, NYSNYS.com

Categories: State/Local

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

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

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

Fewer than 300 of the people on the list had handgun permits, which would then have been revoked, according to The New York Times' report, based on records obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———

Information from: The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com

Categories: State/Local

Assembly races on the less competitive side

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

Albany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

111th District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

110th District

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

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

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

Other districts

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

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

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

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

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

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

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Enterovirus waning in Capital Region and New York

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

Albany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: State/Local

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

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

Albany

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democratic lawmakers as well as activists were pleased.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stein hasn't been solely focused on the law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All but Lippmann were Pataki appointees.

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

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

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

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

New lab is ready to begin its work

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

Bolton Landing

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: State/Local

Aiming for an 'Age-Friendly' City

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

Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

Categories: State/Local

Candidates for Attorney General Pursue Women Voters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

Categories: State/Local

City Council Takes on School Segregation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@SamarKhurshid

Categories: State/Local

How Bright is the Smart Schools Bond Act?

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

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)

In addition to selecting state representatives in this November's election, registered voters will also get to decide on three ballot propositions, one of which is the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 (Proposition 3 on the back of your ballot). If approved, the Act would allow the State to borrow up to $2 billion for school-based capital projects.

If Prop 3 passes, what will the money be spent on?
The (very quiet) pitch to voters has been primarily focused on the technology benefits of the proposal. School districts could spend the bond money on new equipment such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, and desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. They could also use the money to beef up internet access by installing high-speed broadband or wireless service.

Additionally, schools could choose to install high-tech security features inside buildings or on campus.

In what has been a less-discussed option for the bond money, school districts could opt to spend their allotment on two non-tech initiatives. Districts could "construct, enhance, and modernize educational facilities to accommodate pre-kindergarten programs" or provide space to replace portable classrooms (also known as trailers).

How much would my school district get?
Part of this year's State budget included a way to calculate how much each district would receive if the Smart Schools Bond Act is passed. The State will allocate the same proportion of the district's share of school aid, excluding Building Aid, Universal Pre-kindergarten Aid, and the Gap Elimination Adjustment. For example, if a district received two percent of the total State school aid in the budget, then they would receive two percent of the $2 billion (assuming the State maxes out the bond), which is $4 million, minus the amounts from those exception categories.

Note: Several very small school districts (under eight teachers) would not receive any funding in this initiative.

The interactive map below allows users to see how much money a school district stands to receive. The amounts assume the full $2 billion bond.

Smart Schools Bond Act Allocation By District
(click to zoom & move)


Who decides how the money is spent?
If voters approve Prop 3, the Smart Schools Review Board, which is comprised of the Chancellor of the State University of New York, the Director of the Budget, and the Commissioner of Education (or "their respective designees"), will issue guidelines.

Using the guidelines, each district will be required to submit a Smart Schools Investment Plan.

According to the rules, school districts are required to consult with parents, teachers, students, community members, and other stakeholders on how the money will be spent. But it is unclear when the public will be given the opportunity to provide input (i.e. before or after a district draws up a plan).

Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for Prop 3, though he has not been actively pushing for its passage. Gotham Gazette reached out to the governor's press office for clarification, however calls were not returned. In the governor's campaign ad, "Education," released on Monday, he says, "I want to invest $2 billion to build the new technology classrooms of tomorrow," but does not directly name Prop 3 in any way.

A New York State Education Department (NYSED) Office of Facilities Planning Newsletter issued in September encouraged districts to "review district needs in relation to these project categories and have a plan to proceed if funding becomes available." The newsletter includes limited information on how to put together that plan, saying "more information will be provided as it becomes available and once a successful bond act is authorized."

The Smart Schools Commission
In April, Gov. Cuomo announced the members of the Smart Schools Commission: Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google; Geoffrey Canada, former president and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone; and Constance Evelyn, superintendent of the Auburn School District. According to the press release the commission will be charged with "advising the State on how to best invest" the $2 billion.

Since April, the commission has hosted three public symposiums around the state. At these events, the benefits of technology in education were the topic, with leading industry experts speaking at each. The public was invited to submit suggestions to the commission.

The commission will file a report this fall with recommendations and the individual districts will submit proposals for funding. It is unclear what role the commission report will have in how the smart schools bond money will be allocated to districts. Gotham Gazette sought clarification from the governor's press office, but calls were not returned.

Other voting considerations
-The governor has spun this proposition as a tech initiative, a way to "transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow," as he said in his January State of the State speech when he first pitched the Smart Schools Bond.

New York City stands to receive up to $783 million from the bond, which is by far the most money of any district (it being the largest). Buffalo would be the next highest, at $56 million. Just over 300 of the state's 674 districts would receive under $1 million in funding. But how much of that money will actually go toward technology in each district remains to be seen.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had hoped to secure $340 million annually for his pre-k program through a tax hike on the city's top earners. But Gov. Cuomo did not back the tax, choosing to allocate $300 million to the city from the state's budget instead. That left de Blasio $40 million short annually, and the windfall from the Smart Schools Bond Act would be used to help to cover the difference over the next several years.

The mayor plans to allocate roughly $310 for the restructuring of existing buildings to create additional seats for his pre-k initiative, according to a spokesperson for the mayor.

As the proposition is currently written, there is no requirement that a certain percentage of the money be spent on technology.

-The legislation that authorized the bond act assumes an eight-year shelf-life for the technology products. That is a very generous estimate considering how quickly technology changes and pieces of it become obsolete.

For some technology perspective: the first iPad was released in April of 2010. It was discontinued in March of 2011. In less than five years since the introduction of the iPad there have been five iterations as well as three versions of the iPad Mini (introduced in November 2012) and an iPad Air. Unless districts are able to work out leases with manufacturers, schools could be dealing with outdated equipment for years.

-The debt this $2 billion bond will create is no small amount in the annual budget. E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, puts the total at roughly $130 million per year, but that figure could change drastically depending on how long the note is for.

The State Comptroller will make that determination using a weighted average, assuming 30 years for pre-k investments, 20 years for connectivity investments, and eight years for technology hardware. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's April 2014 preliminary budget report issued a warning on this issue, saying, "mandating the use of the weighted average method could result in higher overall borrowing costs for the State's taxpayers even though annual debt service payments in the early years may be less."

In addition, approving the bond will push the state very close to its statutory debt ceiling. If the entire $2 billion is authorized, the capacity under the cap will shrink to just $366 million, or 0.3 percent of capacity by fiscal year 2017, according to figures provided by Citizens Budget Commission (CBC). In fact, given its analysis of the proposal, CBC is now encouraging New York voters to vote "no" on Prop 3.

At $2 billion, the Smart Schools Bond Act is the largest authorization of debt in the fiscal year 2015 budget. But as Comptroller DiNapoli noted, the public will get a say.

"Engaging the public in borrowing decisions is a positive step," DiNapoli said in his budget report.

Recently, DiNapoli declined to say if he thought voters should approve the proposition, citing his office's involvement in issuing the bonds. He did say, though, "certainly to improve the infrastructure for our schools, especially those that need expanded classrooms with regard to implementation of pre-k, a lot of value in that."

-There is no shortage of lobbying in education, but when it comes to the Smart Schools Bond Act, the regular cast of characters seems to be surprisingly quiet.

"I know of no state education groups—or any groups, for that matter, that are actively advocating for passage of the act," David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, said, according to Capital New York.

Gov. Cuomo's official state website has plenty of information about the proposal, but he has been quiet publicly in regards to Prop 3. Asked about it at the Columbus Day Parade on Oct. 13 in New York City, Cuomo said, "I'm supportive. I've spoken publicly on the bond issue...I support."

***
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

Categories: State/Local

Proposal asks $2B for school tech

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:07pm

Buffalo

New York voters will decide whether the state should borrow $2 billion so that schools can buy computers, connect to the Internet, install high-tech security features and build classrooms for prekindergarten students.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the Smart Schools Bond Act — Proposal 3 on the Nov. 4 ballot — during his State of the State address in January as a way to "remake our classrooms for tomorrow."

School districts see the proposal as a way to upgrade and install technology without relying on tax increases. About 56 percent of New York's schools have insufficient broadband capacity, including 31 schools with no broadband at all, according to the state Broadband Program Office.

Critics, however, oppose going into debt for things like iPads, interactive white boards and laptops that have a relatively short shelf life.

"To create state debt up to the amount of $2 billion for the purchase of technology equipment that will be outdated long before the eight-year bond is repaid is not reasonable or practicable," a statement from the Conservative Party said.

Districts would have to meet with parents, students and community leaders to decide how to spend their share of the money, which would be allocated based on the school aid formula, and get plans approved by the state before receiving funding.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Auburn School District Superintendent Constance Evelyn and Geoffrey Canada, president of Harlem Children's Zone, were appointed by Cuomo to an advisory Smart Schools Commission which has overseen a series of public forums since spring. Speakers said the technology was crucial for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instruction to support the state's nanotechnology, biotechnology and energy industries.

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo to reveal pick on top court

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:07pm

Albany

After giving himself a two-week extension of the legal deadline, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is on Friday expected to announce his nominee for a slot on the state's Court of Appeals.

The space is created by the imminent end of the term of Judge Victoria Graffeo, who was originally nominated by Republican former Gov. George Pataki.

GOP appointees currently hold a 4-3 majority on the state's highest court.

Earlier this month, the Democratic governor said he would ignore the deadline — a transgression that carries no punishment — rather than make his pick in a way that would require the narrowly divided state Senate to return to Albany for confirmation just before the Nov. 4 election.

Cuomo's desire to keep the nomination untangled from electoral politics might not be realized: Advocates on the left and right have spent the week advocating for and against the possible renomination of Graffeo.

"I commend Judge Graffeo for her years of outstanding service, however my hope would be that the governor chooses someone from the new recommendations to continue the forward momentum of our state," said Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement.

"New Yorkers deserve the most qualified Court of Appeals Judge regardless of their political affiliation," said Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos.

"Judge Victoria Graffeo, who has served New York with distinction for the past 14 years and is well regarded by legal scholars and her peers, certainly meets that standard."

Graffeo, Skelos noted, has received the highest rating from both the New York State Bar Association and the New York City Bar Association.

Similarly polarized arguments were issued by reproductive-rights groups and LGBT advocates in opposition to Graffeo, and conservative organizations such as New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms in support of maintaining her on the court.

If re-elected next month, Cuomo will have the opportunity to select several additional members of the Court of Appeals due to mandatory retirement rules.

A constitutional amendment that would have pushed back the rules was on the ballot a year ago, but was defeated.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

New York Now: Cuomo memoir, Ebola response

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:07pm

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

Innovation Trail correspondent Jenna Flanagan looks at a new company with roots in the Capital Region and has dreams of traveling to Mars.

Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio talks to E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center about his opposition to a $2 billion education bond act that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

TU state editor Casey Seiler convenes the Reporters Roundtable with Ken Lovett of the Daily News and Laura Nahmias of Capital New York to discuss Gov. Andrew Cuomo's new memoir and the state's response to Ebola fears.

"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday

— Casey Seiler

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo: State on alert for Ebola

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:07pm

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gathered state officials on Thursday to assure New Yorkers that the transportation and health care systems are on guard for the potential arrival of the Ebola virus in one of the world's most densely populated metropolitan regions.

"We're preparing if the situation presents itself — which we do not have any reason to believe is going to happen," Cuomo said in a Thursday briefing. He described New York as one of the best-prepared states in the nation for such a crisis.

There are no identified cases of Ebola in New York, though the governor said he would not be surprised if one were to occur.

"The anxiety is higher than the probability right now," he said from the Manhattan briefing, citing a degree of "semi-hysteria" surrounding the disease.

Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said eight hospitals, most of them in the New York City area, were being designated as special centers in the event of an outbreak. SUNY Upstate and University of Rochester Medical Center were the only upstate facilities, though more may be added to the list.

All 200 of the state's hospitals are being prepared to identify possible Ebola cases, Cuomo and Zucker said. Once identified, the patient would be transferred to one of the eight hospitals that will receive enhanced training in treating the disease.

"You don't get one mistake, you don't get one breach of a protocol, and that's been the problem with this disease," Cuomo said.

Two health workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to develop Ebola symptoms in this country, have contracted the disease. Federal officials have blamed breaches in protocol for the disease's spread to the workers, though they have not identified the specific problems. Ebola is spread through contact with an infected person's body fluids.

The workers' illnesses prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to announce earlier this week that it would dispatch within hours a specialized response team to any hospital in the country that has a confirmed case of Ebola. The teams would then determine whether the patient should be transported to a hospital that has successfully treated Ebola patients, such as Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Zucker also issued an order Thursday detailing actions medical facilities must make within 10 days to prepare for Ebola cases. The order applies to hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers, satellite emergency departments and ambulance services.

Among other things, the order requires health institutions to:

Establish written patient registration protocols for identifying, isolating and evaluating anyone with a history of travel in the previous 21 days to a country that has a widespread Ebola outbreak and who has symptoms consistent with the disease. These include fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or unexplained hemorrhage.

Post signs prominently in at least eight languages asking all patients to disclose their international travel history. The required languages are English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Korean and Haitian Creole.

Designate a room, close to the registration area, for isolation of a patient being evaluated for Ebola.

Maintain a list of all people who come within three feet of a potential Ebola patient, even before evaluation.

Take the temperatures twice daily of all workers who come within three feet of an Ebola patient or perform laboratory tests on specimens from the patient.

Provide workers involved in an Ebola patient's care with protective gear and give them in-person training on how to don and remove it.

Hospitals must also develop written protocols for either the continued care of confirmed patients or safe transport of a patient to another facility.

The order also requires funeral directors to comply with rules regarding the safe handling of human remains of Ebola patients.

State officials said they would help prepare medical responders to address an Ebola case at transportation centers, including upstate airports and train stations, and work with schools and colleges to protect students from exposure to the virus. Many students at New York's universities travel here from other countries, Zucker said.

Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, said personnel at JFK International Airport have since Saturday been conducting special screenings of travelers from the three West African nations grappling with widespread Ebola outbreaks. He said officials were in close contact with staff from the CDC, and had a comprehensive plan in place to transport and treat any potential Ebola patient.

With less than three weeks to go before a general election, it was inevitable that Ebola would be taken up as an issue. Cuomo's Republican opponent Rob Astorino on Thursday called on Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (a Republican leader who has not been helpful to Astorino's campaign) to shut down flights from the West African nations most affected by the outbreak.

"America must err on the side of caution and take an all-of-the-above approach to protecting U.S. citizens, airline employees, and health care workers," Astorino said in a statement. " ... If the FAA won't act, New York and New Jersey must. Why wouldn't we do everything possible to stop Ebola from coming to New York?"

In the briefing, Foye said there are no direct flights from those nations to any part of New York. Most people arriving from those regions, he said, are coming via Brussels and Paris.

"That would have to be a federal determination. ... The governor of New York has no authority to do that," Cuomo said, adding that a nationwide suspension of such flights was being discussed in Washington.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

House debate offers civility after ad blitz

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:07pm

North Greenbush

Despite an increasingly bitter campaign for the 19th Congressional District seat, Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson and Democrat Sean Eldridge kept their attacks civil and on-message in a prime time debate Thursday.

The WMHT Ch. 17-hosted debate was a chance for the candidates to address each other face-to-face after months of back-and-forth advertising and swipes at each other in media coverage. The two stuck to their talking points but took shots at each other wherever they could. Perhaps the one place they agreed was that the debate could only help both of their campaigns.

"I think it went well. I think some important differences between the congressman and myself came out," Eldridge said, later adding that the debates are an opportunity for him to introduce himself to voters in a campaign against a well-liked incumbent.

Gibson said, "I appreciate these debates because I don't have as much money as my opponent, so he can run these commercials (but) nights like this, where he's sitting next to me, he can't run."

Gibson came across as a seasoned-political veteran and stuck to his everyman tone, while Eldridge came across as an exuberant newcomer, though he showed experience beyond his years. While both spent the evening playing offense, Gibson seemed to play more defense, trying to dispel misconceptions he says Eldridge has put out there about him.

The candidates taking swipes at each other started from the first question, which played to one of the central themes of Gibson's campaign: That Eldridge is an outsider who hasn't lived in the district for long enough to be a good representative.

Eldridge pointed to the work he's already been able to do in the district, whether it's with Planned Parenthood or through his Hudson River Ventures, a small business investment fund, while saying Gibson has focused on personal attacks because he doesn't want to talk about his voting record. Gibson responded by saying he is proud of his record and his legislation has been constituent-driven, pointing out legislation he has passed for constituents, including a bill to help boost Lyme disease research that has become a cornerstone of his campaign. He then shot back that Eldridge registered to run for office before he registered to vote in the district.

Environmental and energy issues were a constant theme throughout the evening. Gibson said he supports the reduction of emissions at power plants and repeatedly said he supported a reduction of energy costs, while opposing energy taxes. Eldridge continually bashed the Republican for signing a Koch brothers' climate pledge, which includes a promise to oppose legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue, and said he supports capping carbon and methane and other greenhouse gas emissions at the source by taxing the companies producing them.

Among the more divisive issues in the campaign is abortion rights. Gibson was adamant that he does not support late-term abortions or taxpayer funding of abortions, save for cases of rape, incest and the mother's safety, adding that he thinks he is where the districtwide view is on that issue. Eldridge countered, saying that in 2014, a woman's right to choose shouldn't be controversial in New York state.

Among Gibson's most used were bipartisan and moderate.

"I'm a pragmatist. I get to that place by experience in life," he said following the debate. "When you're leading paratroopers in Iraq, you can have any theory you want, but at the end of the day, you better be able to get your mission done. You have to deal with the reality that you're in. ... When you take a look at where our district is, they want a leader that will be able to work together with both sides. That's who they have in me."

Eldridge took a different view of Gibson, drumming away at his point that Gibson is part of "the least productive Congress in the history of our country."

Gibson enjoys a cushy lead over his opponent in both public and internal polling. A September Siena College poll had him up 24 points. Internal polling released by Gibson Thursday showed a 26-point lead for the incumbent.

"The poll that I'm really focused on is the poll on Nov. 4," Eldridge said. "I think this is very much going to be a turnout election."

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

Categories: State/Local

Senate race: Delivering the message, dead-tree style

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

You've got political mail — lots of it.

Voters in the 46th Senate District have been inundated so far this election season with stacks of campaign mailers, most of them related to the race between Democratic state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican George Amedore. The avalanche of oversized postcards flows into mailboxes from various political committees, whether playing up their side or trashing the opposition.

The tone of the other mailers ranges from straightforward to nasty and mildly humorous. One piece from the state Democratic Committee depicts an altered image of Amedore wearing '60s country-folk garb and strumming a guitar next to text that reads, "George Amedore's Economic Plan: TAKE THIS JOB AND SHIP IT" — a reference to the former assemblyman's opposition to a bill that would have punished New York companies for moving jobs out of the state.

Another from state Republicans features warm then-and-now photos of Amedore with his daughter, Bria, and provides information about his desire to pass women's rights legislation — although Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 10-plank Women's Equality Act, which Amedore opposes due to a controversial reproductive rights measure, isn't explicitly mentioned.

Tkaczyk is targeted in a state Republican Committee mailer showing a baby wearing a graduation cap surrounded by stacks of money: "While it will take this little guy 20 years to pay off his college education ... Cecilia Tkaczyk wants to use your tax dollars to give FREE college tuition to illegal immigrants." The Democrat supports the DREAM Act, which would enable the children of such immigrants to tap into education assistance funding.

At least one political action committee has gotten in on the mix: New Yorkers Together, funded by the Communication Workers of America union, sent around a "Wheel of Fortune"-themed mailer bashing Amedore for taking campaign donations "from the wealthy and well-connected."

In an age in which digital technology seems to have the edge over dead-tree methods of doing pretty much everything, campaigns still view non-electronic mail as one of the most effective tools for reaching voters directly. And even in the polarized world of state politics, both parties agree that paying for postage is worth it.

Mailers "are much more targeted to an individual voter, whereas TV speaks to everyone who has got their television on at the time," said Sen. Michael Gianaris, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. "Mailers are sent to an individual at their own address, so the messaging can be much more specific and tailored. It's also more cost-effective."

"Irrespective of the march of technology, as long as mail is delivered and as long as people look at their mail before they throw it out, it'll be an effective tool for political communications," said state Republican Committee spokesman David Laska. "Mailboxes are a place where people still expect to see political ads. ... In the age of DVRs and streaming content, a lot of TV advertising has become obsolete, maybe even a little anachronistic — maybe not quite, but it's certainly getting there."

Because of the ability to target voters geographically, mail can be especially effective in so-called "down-ballot" races, including state legislative contests with limited volunteer and cash resources.

Still, there's a risk that voters could be turned off by the sheer abundance of mail — positive or negative — piling up on the kitchen counter, or ending up unread in the recycling bin.

While acknowledging the risks, Gianaris said that after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision unleashed the floodgates of independent-expenditure campaign spending, "there is no way of knowing what other organizations are doing."

With three weeks until Election Day, it's also hard to know if voters in the 46th District are tossing the mail aside as junk. In the Tkaczyk-Amedore race, each side blames the other for any overkill — and emphasized that it was the other guys who were spreading lies and distortions.

"We have had a huge response from residents who are tired of the negative and disrespectful tone of Cecilia Tkaczyk's mailers," Amedore campaign spokeswoman Eileen Miller said.

Senate Democratic Conference spokesman Gary Ginsburg said Amedore's campaign "has been littering the mailboxes of the 46th Senate District."

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

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:07am

Gibson and Eldridge to debate on television

ALBANY — Republican Rep. Chris Gibson and Democratic challenger Sean Eldridge will debate live on WMHT Ch. 17 at 8 p.m. Thursday as they vie for the 19th Congressional District seat.

In addition to questions from a panel of regional reporters, this special edition of "New York Now" will cover topics raised on social media. Ask them on the "New York Now" Facebook page or Tweet to @NYNOW_PBS using the hashtag #NY19.

The debate can be viewed live on the Capitol Confidential blog, http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol. Times Union Capitol Bureau reporter Matthew Hamilton will be tweeting at @matt_hamilton10.

The 19th District includes parts of the Hudson Valley and Capital Region, including all of Greene, Columbia and Schoharie counties and parts of Rensselaer and Montgomery counties.

— Staff report

Comptroller candidates square off in debate

ALBANY — New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Wednesday night in a candidates' debate that his office is continuing to review expense payments to state legislators, like the audit that led to criminal charges against an assemblyman two weeks ago.

Republican challenger Robert Antonacci is seeking to replace DiNapoli as New York's chief financial officer. In their debate, DiNapoli was asked if he was doing a broad-based review of the 213 state legislators' expenses.

"We do it in a careful way. We don't do it in a cavalier way," he said. "If we find a problem we work with prosecutors because we're not prosecutors."

One current and one former legislator were indicted from the work that came out of the comptroller's office, among 80 officials were charged and $12 million was recovered from criminal cases, he said.

"We are doing it right. We do continue to review payments in this area," DiNapoli said. "If we find others who are violating the rules of per diem, they are going to be hearing from the prosecutors as well."

Assemblyman William Scarborough, a 68-year-old Queens Democrat, pleaded not guilty Oct. 1 to state and federal charges that he improperly spent campaign funds and expense money.

Antonacci, a certified public accountant and lawyer in his second term as Onondaga County's comptroller, said DiNapoli should have been doing more with his former colleagues.

"It's very easy to go in and see money that is stolen after the fact," Antonacci said. "It's how you set up internal control apparatuses so money is not stolen in the first place."

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

All N.Y. hospital workers to learn use of protective gear for Ebola

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Hospitals around New York will soon receive a directive from the state Health Department requiring that all staff be trained in the proper technique for donning and removing personal protective equipment.

The action will be taken in the wake of Wednesday's news that a second health worker from Dallas has contracted the Ebola virus.

The state Health Department will send personal protective gear to hospitals that require more supplies, a department spokesman said.

The imminent directive will also stress that hospitals follow protocols for identifying, isolating and evaluating patients who arrive for care, according to the spokesman. In a telephone news briefing Wednesday, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection Director Tom Frieden said health workers most likely to use protective gear correctly are those who have repeated practice with it. Those who do not use it regularly may do something that seems like a good idea but actually increases their risk of contamination.

Some health workers at Dallas' Texas Presbyterian Hospital, for instance, put on triple or quadruple layers of protective gear, or taped down parts of it.

"They were trying to protect themselves better," Frieden said. "But by putting on more layers of gloves or other protective clothing, it becomes harder to put them on and take them off. The risk of contamination in the process of taking these gloves off gets much higher."

A site manager is now monitoring all activity at the Dallas hospital, Frieden said. On Tuesday, the CDC announced it would dispatch expert response teams within hours to any hospital in the country that had a confirmed Ebola diagnosis in the future.

According to the state Health Department, New York hospitals continue to identify and train staff who would care for Ebola patients, identify areas where Ebola patients would be cared for, and conduct exercises to assess their ability to identify the likelihood of Ebola and address it correctly.

Albany Medical Center spokesman Jeffrey Gordon said that the hospital's staff are carefully following the regularly updated guidelines from state and federal officials.

"There are a lot of infectious diseases that we have to be ready for on a daily basis," Gordon said. "This is obviously a very serious disease, and we have to take every precaution."

chughes@timesunion.com518-454-5417@hughesclaire

Categories: State/Local

N.Y. awards tech firms for making health data user-friendly

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

The California-based developers of DocSpot, a website to help consumers choose doctors, were poised for something just like New York State's Health Innovation Challenge.

They were already working on software applications that would allow consumers to compare doctors using a variety of measures, said company founder and product manager Jerry Lin. Then New York made all kinds of data on doctors available, and offered a prize to developers to come up with ways to make it useful to everyone.

Seizing the opportunity, the developers used the New York data to get a beta version of DocSpot online, and Wednesday were awarded the $30,000 prize to help launch the website commercially.

The prize was awarded at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, where state health officials and researchers were involved in a day-long event on innovative uses for health data.

Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker highlighted the need for making the data usable to consumers, noting that few Americans spend as much time shopping for doctors as they do for cars or televisions.

"New York state wants to change all of that. And now we have the data that will allow citizens to take better control, greater control, of their health care options," Zucker said.

(Zucker did not linger after his prepared remarks, referencing his need to focus on the developing Ebola virus crisis emanating from Texas as his reason for leaving.)

In the world of software development, $30,000 won't go far, Lin said. But the startup tech firm expects the publicity from the state challenge will get them the notice they need to propel forward.

The challenge was announced in March, a year after the Health Department made information available through Health Data NY, part of the state's OPEN NY initiative. Coders and developers were invited to create solutions to help consumers access the great mass of information about the quality and cost of health care services.

In addition to data from the state Health Department, DocSpot uses information from Medicare, state medical boards, hospital and clinic physician directories and reviews from the web.

The website currently allows users to search for doctors by specialty and rank them by patient reviews or distance from their home. The developers hope to be able to refine the search function and integrate more data, Lin said.

The second- and third-place winners, awarded $10,000 and $3,000 respectively, were prototypes of applications that allowed consumers to search for hospitals using various criteria. The prize money came from a New York State Health Foundation grant, according to Pat Lynch, Health Data NY project manager.

chughes@timesunion.com518-454-5417@hughesclaire

Categories: State/Local

The Cuomo Record: Government Reform

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:00am

Gov. Cuomo with Kathy Hochul (photo: John Kenny @jjk607)

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

Ask good government groups what New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has done on ethics and reform in his first term in office and you will get strikingly different accounts.

One version goes that Cuomo is a dedicated public servant who has slowly and carefully worked for reform and achieved some important changes to how the state polices legislative corruption, but has ultimately been defeated on major systemic reform by a recalcitrant legislature.

"He has been the most active governor in recent memory on pushing wide-range reforms," said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, who notes that Cuomo implemented a new ethics commission with joint oversight (JCOPE), mandated legislators disclose their outside income, secured tougher bribery laws, and got some concessions from the Legislature on issues "that are core to their power."

The other version is less kind. It goes something like: Cuomo is a governor who has broken many promises because he is unwilling to risk political capital for major reform.

To hear Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters tell it, Cuomo has "Squandered opportunities for reform that we won't see again for a generation." Bartoletti insists Cuomo has failed to capitalize on openings where he could have used his bully pulpit to push the Legislature harder or galvanize the public on full public financing of elections and ending loopholes in New York's campaign finance law that allow unlimited corporate donations; given the attorney general more power to pursue legislative corruption; or addressed the Board of Elections' lack of enforcement of existing campaign finance laws.

Despite some differences in assessment of Cuomo's first term, just about all in the good government community agree that Cuomo has not clearly communicated whether he intends to pursue any sort of ethics or campaign finance reform agenda should he win a next term.

"It seems he is trying to argue he has solved Albany's problems and he is not saying what he will do going forward," said Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). "He said he was going to stop Albany from being a punchline, but the minute Preet Bharara starts handing down indictments Albany will be a punchline once again."

Dadey of Citizens Union agrees that Cuomo has been quiet on his second-term agenda noting that "ever since the Moreland debacle the governor has not been visible on reform issues or second-term plans and I think it has been a loss."

Dadey contends that "the big black eye of Moreland has clouded some people's memories of the significant reforms this governor achieved during his first term."

Bartoletti, who served as an advisor to Cuomo's Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, says that the governor promised massive systemic reform in his 2010 campaign policy book and was handed major opportunities to achieve it.

"It started with a chance to reform redistricting and he gave it away and the Legislature said: 'This guy is all bark and no bite. He isn't serious about reform.'" From there Bartoletti notes that Cuomo has seen a swath of legislators indicted during his term (11 according to NYPIRG's Mahoney) and had the backing of a major, monied push to reform the state's campaign finance system, but rather than hitting the stump and rallying the voters for change, Bartoletti says Cuomo "Moved the ball maybe 10 yards...There wasn't a touchdown."

So what did Cuomo promise voters during his 2010 campaign?

"We must fundamentally reform our system to give voices to all New Yorkers, not just the special interests.To accomplish this, we must enact a voluntary system of public financing, make sure legislative lines are drawn independently of self-interested legislators and enact other campaign finance laws to give New Yorkers a real voice in their government," Cuomo's policy book read.

The 250-plus page briefing book criticized the loopholes in New York's campaign finance law that allow major donations to party coffers but rather than offering a specific solution the book simply asserts "New York State needs a system of public campaign financing."

Cuomo has not reformed the state's loosely regulated campaign finance system - instead he is the largest beneficiary of it - raising over $45 million for his 2014 campaign, mostly from large corporate donors.

On the campaign trail Cuomo promised he would give the Attorney General a blanket referral to investigate legislative corruption if he was unable to stop it with other reforms. Despite a tidal wave of legislative indictments Cuomo has not issued such a referral. Instead he empaneled the Moreland Commission, which he eventually bargained away for a set of reforms that good government groups regarded at the time as "small potatoes."

Accomplishments
Cuomo's first major action on ethics came in June 2011. After long negotiations with the Legislature a deal was announced that replaced the state's old ethics watchdog with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Staffed by legislative and gubernatorial appointees the ethics commission quickly came under fire because legislative appointees can easily team up to vote against investigations.

Furthermore, Cuomo's appointees all owed their careers or political position to the governor. JCOPE quickly ran into trouble over the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal. It was reported that JCOPE members blocked an investigation into Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's handling of the matter. JCOPE has also seen turnover of members who have expressed frustration about how the body operates.

Further troublesome to good government officials is that JCOPE often operates behind closed doors and without any transparency.

The JCOPE deal also included major reporting requirements relative to lawmakers revealing their outside income, with lawyers also required to reveal their clients if they do business before the state.

Mahoney describes that point as "a real step forward." Legislators' outside income has certainly become more public, but there's been little movement in terms of further regulating it.

Moreland and beyond
In the spring of 2013, after a rash of indictments, Cuomo held a press conference announcing a series of reforms he wanted to help fight corruption. Good government groups were unimpressed as his plans did not include major items like a new campaign finance system. The Legislature didn't seem to think the reforms were minor as they balked at the idea of enacting any of Cuomo's proposals into law.

Later in June Cuomo moved to create his long-threatened Moreland Commission. Despite the months of investigations, public hearings, and an initial report that detailed how Albany's campaign finance laws allow for corruption, Cuomo quietly announced the commission's demise over an atypical conference call to discuss a budget deal.

What Cuomo got in exchange for ending the commission was not insignificant, but was far weaker than what many had hoped for and Cuomo had promised from the Moreland Commission. The deal included stronger bribery laws, a trial campaign finance system that only impacted the 2014 comptroller's race, and a new position at the Board of Elections (BOE) that oversees enforcement issues. Legislators rejected tighter restrictions on campaign donations and a larger campaign finance system that Cuomo had proposed in his budget.

Mahoney of NYPIRG says it is important that the BOE now has an individual whose job it is to speak out about enforcement issues. However, Mahoney also contends that it is concerning that the head of the unit that investigates election law violations keeps in regular touch with Cuomo's aides.

Mahoney calls the trial campaign finance system for the comptroller's race "an unmitigated disaster" (incumbent Tom DiNapoli opted not to participate and his challenger is unlikely to qualify for the program).

Dadey, however, insists that Cuomo has often fought the good fight and been hamstrung by a legislature that is determined to maintain its power. "The governor was an effective champion on campaign finance reform. To place the failure of the movement entirely at his doorstep is wrong because he did do a lot given the Senate's opposition."

When asked about criticism that Cuomo did not expend as much energy on campaign finance reform as he did on same-sex marriage or gun laws Dadey responded, "I think that misses the point. The core power of the Legislature is at stake with redistricting and campaign finance reform in a way that it is not with marriage or gun laws. Those issues are not core to where they draw their power."

The main spot of contention among good government groups surrounds Cuomo's promise to enact independent redistricting and veto the Legislature's lines if they are partisan. Rather than making good on those promises, Cuomo cut a deal with the Legislature creating an amendment that would have a separate redistricting commission largely appointed by the Legislature draw lines. To go into effect, the plan must be approved by voters via a ballot proposal, number one ("Prop 1") on the Nov. 4 Election Day ballot.

According to the proposed amendment, the Legislature would review the lines drawn by the commission and if it twice rejects plans from the commission it could then change the plan to its liking - within certain legal parameters that those in favor of Prop 1 call extremely important. Common Cause NY and NYPIRG have come out against the amendment saying that it provides window dressing that allows the Legislature to continue controlling who its members represent and helping them win re-election.

Citizens Union and The League of Women Voters, on the other hand, back the amendment saying that Prop 1 is progress because it allows for a separate commission to draw the lines rather than the Legislature and that it includes key language preventing the drawing of lines "for political advantage" that would open gerrymandering up to significant legal vulnerability to court challenge.

Despite supporting the amendment Bartoletti believes Cuomo has mishandled the endeavor. "Prop 1 is supposedly being backed by the governor but has he been out there supporting it on the stump or in TV ads? I've not seen it. And if that goes down some people will say 'good, we can do better,' but it's just as likely the governor will say, 'we tried and the people have spoken so go away.'" Dadey says Cuomo's absence on Prop 1 has just been par for the course for the governor, who has avoided ethics and reform issues since the Moreland scandal and is not indicative of his support for the amendment. Cuomo recently reiterated his support for Prop 1 when asked, but has not been an active advocate for it - yet, anyway.

Mahoney disputes that permanent damage has been done to the chances of good government reform, but he agrees that Cuomo has missed major opportunities to rally the public. "He had a big opportunity in 2013. It seemed like there was an indictment every other week, and there were many groups who had his back on campaign finance reform. He could have used that time to rally the public but he really didn't push hard," Mahoney said.

Bartoletti acknowledges that corruption issues don't poll as well as economic issues with voters and that it will take "A governor who is willing to go to the mat for principles and we haven't seen that. 'Present company' included."

Bartoletti said she had deep belief that Cuomo's Moreland Commission would effect change. "Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats were scared to death of what Moreland might reveal and this is what we get," she said, disappointedly referring to allegations that Cuomo interefered with the commission when it started investigating interests he was close to and then traded it away for minor reforms.

Of course, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office has picked up on Moreland's initial work and may still bring about further results - though these would be in the form of indictments, which require a far higher bar, not necessarily recommendations for reform. As Bharara has said, often the real scandal is what is legal, not what is illegal. Moreland was on track to expose the many problems involved with the legal systems in place that indictments from Bharara and others often help highlight, but only when legislators have taken things even past what is legally sanctioned.

Asked whether she thought the fallout from Moreland would damage future attempts for reform Bartoletti responded, "I can't really imagine a positive scenario. The governor alienated an awful lot of people from the Working Families Party to my colleagues in good government. I don't have an awful lot of optimism anything is going to happen on reform in the next four years. I think we are going to have to wait for an entirely different governor and an entirely different legislature."

***
This article is part of The Cuomo RecordGotham Gazette's series looking at the governor's first term. Find the other articles in the series here.
***
by David King, Albany Editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Note: Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation, the sister organization of Citizens Union

Categories: State/Local
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